Friday, December 29, 2006

Not In My Beach

Both the Globe and the Star have good articles on how some residents of the Beach (or the Beaches, for the holdouts) are objecting to a proposal by an Anglican parish to once-weekly for twelve weeks host twelve homeless people overnight. I thought this quote from a local councilor was particularly choice:

Local Councillor Sandra Bussin said the residents are concerned about supervision and wonder whether there is a need for this program. Ms. Bussin also wonders whether the program is effective.

"I understand a number of the Out of the Colds are very volunteer-driven, there's many hours, people are exhausted by this level of service and there's a move away because of the amount of effort that goes into it," she said.

The Good Councilor obviously has first the concerns of the worst-off. And she's probably right: housing people in a church just doesn't make much sense. There are no beds, maybe no showers, and it's just not comfortable. So, maybe we could find a better place. I propose 316 Glen Manor Dr. It's in a great part of the Beach, and I suspect that it's quite nice digs. And, since Sandra Bussin has no trouble telling a church how it's resources should and shouldn't be used, I am sure she would have no trouble with me telling her how her living room should be used.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ripping up ballots in Nova Scotia

Today's Chronicle-Herald reports that the Chief Electoral Officer for the Shubenacadie band has been charged with destroying ballots, among other offenses. This makes a further case for the Department of Indian Affairs handing over the administration of band elections to a more competent party, like Elections Canada. On the same note, Tom Flanagan had an interesting if provocative article about the need for (better) elections on reserves in yesterday's Globe.

"L'énigmatique Monsieur Mazhari"

I am sitting in a friend's unbelievable apartment in Toronto reading La Presse. Figures, as I read the Star religiously when I am in Montreal. Anyways, there is a great article today on the absolute whackjob to whom Miriam Bedard is married. This, for me, is the killer paragraph:

Ceux qui ont croisé la route de Nima Mazhari s'entendent sur une chose : c'est un homme qui raconte des histoires abracadabrantes. Genre : il fut ami de Picasso. Il est devenu riche grâce à une usine de fabrication de fausses pièces de Mercedes. Il a convaincu Jean Chrétien de ne pas participer à l'invasion de l'Irak. Et il a tenté, en vain, pendant un an, de prévenir les autorités américaines des attaques de 2001.

All in all this is a sad story of a bizarre couple.

UPDATE: Dennis, you want it, you got it. A poor translation:

Those who cross paths with Nima Mazhari come across the same thing: he's a man who tells unbelievable/incredible/magical stories. Example: he was a friend of Picasso. He became rich through a plant fabricating Mercedes parts. He convinced Jean Chretien to not participate in the invasion of Iraq. And he tried for one year, in vein, to inform American authorities of the attacks in 2001.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pinocet at the Hitchens Post

What the National Post gives, Christopher Hitchens takes away. And he's right.

Hello Harper, goodbye Rupert

Stephen Harper made a visit to Quebec yesterday. Aside from affirming that English Quebecers and are not a part of the Quebec nation, he also announced that the Eastmain power generation project will go forward, meaning that the government will divert the Rupert River.

I've written earlier about the Rupert; about its spine-shattering rapids, its route across the bottom of the Taiga, its absolute magnificence. But I've also witnessed the material wealth and security afforded to Cree communities in Northern Quebec which shames that of the Crees on the Ontario side of James Bay. So, I am torn about the value of this project. The benefits are clear, but the drawbacks are perhaps harder to put into numbers. What I am certain about, however, is that everyone who can you should hop on the James Bay Highway and see the Rupert before it's gone.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

East Coast Mount Allisons

The East Coast Music Awards nominations were recently announced, and they might as well name them the East Coast Mount Allisons. Jana Starling, a professor of music at MTA, was has been nominated in for best classical recording. And, closer to home, In Flight Safety - of MTV Live and Dell computers commercial fame - have been nominated for four awards including Group Recording of the Year, Rising Star(s), Video of the Year, and Alternative Recording of the Year (where they'll be going up against the indefatigable and probably unshirted Jon Epworth, another Allisonian).

But, most significant to me is that David Myles has also been nominated for the Rising Star award. Now, I knew David back when he was the shy and unassuming leader of a ten piece funk band that used to pack Hesler Hall. And I knew him when he used to host the what was probably the most popular radio show in China, which is the same time that he was playing to a stadium of people in a blues band. Yes, I can see talent that others cannot. So, I am not surprised, but quite pleased. Good luck, David.

Friday, December 15, 2006

You think?

You think his personal problems have taken a toll? It will only get worse before it gets better.

The moral hazards of Liberal fundraising

The Globe has a story today about how the Liberal Party is going to hold fundraisers to pay off the collective leadership debts of all leadership candidates. On the face of it, this seems like a nice show of unity. But, on deeper thought, it obviously invites a moral hazard, especially if candidates are given money proportionate to their debts. The only way the party can avoid this is by distributing the dollars entirely evenly between the candidates (i.e. total raised/# of candidates), or, even better, by giving them a share of the money equal to the their first ballot placement (i.e. total raised*share of first ballot). If the money is distributed proportionate to debt, then it just encourages behaviour like Bob Rae's (borrow tonnes of cash from corporate donors) and discourages action like Michael Ignatieff's (work your tail off through countless small fundraising endeavours).

I am glad that there is unity in the Liberal party. It's good for them and good for our democracy. But unity shouldn't overcome reason, and there seems little justification, in my mind, for rewarding foolish behaviour during the leadership race. If they do, expect to see a lot of blown banks after the next race.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Brock, RIP.

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rodney MacDonald and Liquor

The Herald has a most interesting editorial on the privatization of NS liquor stores. What's the phrase? Ah, yes, the jig is up.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why aren't journalists helping Mahar Arar?

The Globe features a story today on the government's continued search for RCMP officials who leaked false information to the press about Mahar Arar. Colour me confused, because I don't understand why journalists who were lied to just don't give up their sources. I have all the respect in the world for people like Juliet O'Neill, who stood up for her journalistic rights in the face of an illegal RCMP raid. But now, given that she's been lied to, why doesn't she reveal who deceived her? And why not all the other journalists who received false tips? If they believe the Arar case is a tragedy, then they should square up to their role in its furthering.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Leslie Bruce

I received awful news on Saturday. Leslie Bruce - a fellow Allisonian and a person of the finest character - was killed in an accident on Thursday. I cannot imagine the depth of loss experienced by her family and close friends. Her obituary follows in full. It does not capture the depth of the imprint she's left on the earth, but it awes nonetheless.

BRUCE, LESLIE ELIZABETH - The family of Leslie Elizabeth Bruce is saddened by her accidental death in Fredericton on Thursday, December 7, 2006. Leslie was born on December 26, 1979 in Saint John, graduating from St. Malachy's High School (1997) with high honors and receiving her Bachelor of Science degree from Mount Allison University in 2001, with a major in Biology and a minor in Women's Studies. Leslie also received the "Flying A" award from Mount Allison, which represents leadership in both the Community and the University. Leslie was currently attending the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton) and was to graduate this spring with her Bachelor of Education degree, specializing in elementary studies. Leslie was a leader in so many of her endeavours whether it was student councils, Camp Glenburn as "Fee", or pursuing her passion for the care of the environment. Working at Lake O'Hara, British Columbia held a special place in her heart where she hiked many mountain trails. Leslie loved the outdoors and, in particular, her travels across Canada by bicycle with the Climate Change Caravan which she was instrumental in organizing. Her travels also took her to Australia, China, Britain, the Carribean, and most recently, Boston and Florida. While at Mount Allison University, Leslie was Chairperson of the Blue Green Society, a member of the press for a group of World Trade Organization protesters in Seattle, Washington, and a participant in an exchange program in Britain, learning to build straw bale homes. In addition to pursuing her scholastic endeavours, Leslie was often busy sailing, canoeing and camping along the Saint John River, predominantly at her family cottage in Glenwood. She loved Birkenstocks, music, dancing and playing the guitar. Everyone who knew Leslie admired her compassionate and adventurous spirit. Always a true friend, Leslie made a special impact on all those she knew. Devoted to her family and friends, Leslie will be deeply missed by her mother, Marilyn (Marr) Bruce; father, Michael Bruce and Anne Musgrave; brother, Andrew Bruce; maternal grandmother, Constance (Mooney) Marr; aunt, Ann Devereaux (Andy); uncle, Dr. David Marr (Judy); cousins: Alex and Martinique Devereaux and Colin, Sara, Jeffrey and Brian Marr; several great aunts, cousins and extended family. Leslie was predeceased by her maternal grandfather, Ralph B. Marr and her paternal grandparents, Andrew E and Jean (Thompson) Bruce. Resting at Brenan's Select Community Funeral Home, 111 Paradise Row, Saint John (506) 634-7424 with visiting on Sunday from 7-9 pm and Monday from 2-4 and 7-9 pm. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated from Our Lady of the Assumption, 360 Dufferin Row, Saint John West on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 12 noon. A private family interment will be held on a later date. Remembrances may be made to Mindcare N.B. Foundation, Nancy Clark Teed Charitable Foundation or a charity of the donor's choice.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Silly me. I thought it was a victory for accountability and the non-deportation of citizens to be tortured.

From today's Globe article on the long-overdue resignation of Zaccardelli, we get this great tidbit:

Retired RCMP superintendent Ben Soave, now a security consultant, blamed the news media and politicians for the resignation of his close friend.

“It's going to be very difficult to find a man of his integrity and commitment to public service and law enforcement. This is a sad day for the organization. As far as I'm concerned it's a victory for terrorism, organized crime and the scum of the earth,” he said.

Sorry, Ben, but when the Commissioner of the RCMP either fails to inform his minister that he's helping someone be tortured or he is too incompetent to know this, and either way he lies to Parliament, then he has to resign. And it's not a victory for the scum of the earth. It's a reminder that no one is above the law, even those we charge with enforcing it (or not, in this case).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Jack Layton on Dion's citizenship

Jack Layton proves himself a boor today: "I would prefer that a leader of a party hold only Canadian citizenship, because one represents many Canadians, and for me that means that it's better to remain the citizen of one country," Layton said. "But for a person that isn't in a position of representing others, holding dual citizenship is fine with us." Well, I am glad it's ok with you, Jack.

I presume Jack will also request that any future Jewish Prime Minister deny her right of return, lest we not know where her loyalties lie. Layton once again shows that he is just a politician like the others.

I can't believe this debate is even occurring. Does anyone really question Mr Dion's loyalty to Canada? Or do they have no argument beyond a birthright and a knowledge that some will respond prejudicially to anything French?

UPDATE: I'd say the following site might hold relevant information for any member of Parliament of Austrian descent who may be interested in running for Prime Minister someday.

I wonder if it's too dark in a Syrian prison to prepare a new resume?

Things are looking worse for Mr Zaccardelli and better for all Canadians. The response of the PM in this article doesn't sound like much of an endorsement. Even worse, Conservative MPs seem to have turned on the Good Commissioner.

Zaccardelli suggests at the end of the article that the reason why the RCMP top brass failed to intervene in the torture of Mahar Arar is not because they didn't give a shit, but because they didn't know. Now, normally this would be a firing offense, but the Good Commissioner has suggested that no one is at fault because the problem is "institutional." Who, pray tell, is in charge of that institution?

It warms my heart to think that this man will be out of work, probably in a few days. I am not sure it does terribly much for Arar, however, and that's the point.

Coyne on Dion

It's no secret Andrew Coyne is a long-time fan of Dion. In his latest column, I think he captures the essence of Dion well. He is a man much like Harper, but different in at least a few important respects. The next election should be one for the ages:

His is a singular political persona; we have not seen anything quite like it before. In intellect, courage, and conviction he is a match for Mr. Harper, as he is also in diligence, perseverance and integrity. Beyond that he is a paradox: outwardly humble, yet immensely self-assured; gentle in demeanour, yet tough as nails; respectful of opponents’ views, yet divinely certain of his own.

And overarching all is a quite unblemished authenticity: there is not an ounce of phoney in this man. Mr. Harper has, perhaps inevitably, acquired something of a Machiavellian reputation in the course of his rise to power. Mr. Dion has not. If anything, he is regarded as almost too sincere (on the environment, in particular, he risks coming across as a fanatic, even if it is “the issue of our time”). But authenticity, besides being a virtue, is a potent political weapon. The public can sense it, and hungers for it.

Liberal Loans and C-24

This Globe article raises the quite interesting question of what Liberal leadership candidates will do to retire their quite considerable loans (especially in the case of Bob Rae). There are basically three options: devote large amounts of time in the next 18 months to raise money to retire the loans; write off the loans and see what action Elections Canada takes; or leave it to the party to pay off the debts. The first course of action is bound to failure and is just purely unwise from the party's perspective. The collective debt of candidates is around 2.5 million. With $1000 donation limits soon to come into effect, this means that for all candidates to retire their debts they would need to find 2500 donors willing to give all the money they are allowed to in a year to retire debts from a race which is over. It is unrealistic and maybe imprudent.

The second course of action, however, runs the risk of exposing a major loophole in C-24 and putting Elections Canada in an awkward position. Moreover, it opens the Liberals up to ethics questions.

The third option is for the party to retire debts using the funds it raises from individuals. But this, it seems, will create a major moral hazard in future races. This is a no win for the Liberals.

Oh, to be back in the days when one could retire leadership debts without having to tell us how it was accomplished.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Liberals Conservatives delight in Harper's Dion's election

February 2004 December 2006 - Liberals Conservatives today were privately and sometimes publicly thrilled with the election of Stephen Harper Stéphane Dion as leader of the opposition. Liberal Conservative strategists have pointed out that Harper Dion is bookish, sometimes solitary, intellectually demanding, a poor gladhander, and not known as a team player. Moreover, they point out that the Conservatives Liberals have elected a leader from the West Quebec. They are doubtful that Mr Harper Mr Dion will be popular among Ontarians Central Canadians, and are certain he will not appeal to Quebecers Westerners. Among his greatest handicaps are his years as a bright light in the Reform Liberal caucus of Preston Manning Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

Wanker Levant

Ezra Levant has a brilliant column in today's Calgary Sun. He spends about 90% of it questioning the loyalty of Stephane Dion, based on his French citizenship (his mother was a French citizen). And this despite the fact that he's never held a French passport or voted in a French election. He then polishes up Ted Morton a bit, without mentioning that he's an American citizen. Now, I don't think it matters for either of them, but you think Ezra could at least try to be consistent.

Anyways, it's just amazing to witness Ezra Levant calling into question the loyalty of a man who has suffered countless indignities for his defense of a united Canada. And never once has he resorted to a lawsuit, which is more than you can say for Ezra, who would sue his own mother.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dion was never in fourth

I have read at least six articles today which have suggested that Dion was in fourth on the first ballot. This is not true. He was perhaps fourth in regular delegate count, though we cannot be certain without knowing the distribution of registered delegates, alternates, and the distribution of spoiled ballots. But, when the all votes were counted he was in third. Arguably, he could never have gone from fourth to first, because he would have been obligated to move to Kennedy. So, no more of this fourth to first. It's incorrect, incomplete, and unhelpful in the analysis of the convention outcome.

Goodbye Zaccardelli

UPDATE2: Just when I thought Zaccardelli couldn't be more capable of incompetency and outright dishonesty this comes out. Either he was complicit in Arar's torture or he had no control over his organization. Either way, any self-respecting minister would ask him to resign. I am beyond believing this man has the integrity to resign on his own accord. As for Julian Fantino, get to work. You have no business giving Zaccardelli "a show of support" when you have duties to attend to in Ontario.

It's all a little rich for our government to be criticizing the Chinese on human rights when they condone this type of action by their top cop.

UPDATE: Scanning Coyne's backpages, I came across this article on Zaccardelli. He makes the case much more compellingly than I ever could. To be clear, the RCMP took deliberative action to keep Mr Arar in prison in Syria, while fully aware he was innocent. And while being fully aware that he would be tortured there. How this man sleeps at night is a question for the ages. And how Mr Day, normally a champion of human rights, does not request his firing leaves me counting sheep.

I'd say this was the last straw, but then I thought that complicity in the deportation of a Canadian citizen to be tortured in Syria was enough. I also thought that covering it up and deceiving ministers of the crown was enough. So let's just say that this is the third fireable offense. And I hope the government sends this man packing. This is a lot worse than expensing a pack of gum.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ignatieff leads turnout

According to TDH Strategies, Ignatieff's campaign is leading in registration/turnout. This should help push Ignatieff up into the low thirties. Regardless of whether a measurable share of these people will leave him after the first ballot, this further demonstrates his organizational superiority. This bodes well for his on the floor organization.

I will be interested to see the numbers from Dion, which a good friend and operative of his claimed would be quite promising. Indeed, the Dion to Kennedy turnout ratio will be our best indicator of who finishes ahead of whom for third place and thus a shot at facing Ignatieff on the final ballot.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Correction on Wells

So, Paul Wells has on his blog a little note I wrote last September/October and sent to him last night after we shared a pint. He basically suggested that everyone's predictions about the outcome of the Liberal leadership were just full of wild assumptions and countless unknowns. And he's quite right. So, I sent him the memo I drafted which I think demonstrates that if you were betting on the convention with no knowledge of the preceding campaign, but a knowledge of every other leadership convention that's occurred, then you have to bet on Ignatieff. History is quite clearly in his favour. And I think the memo demonstrates why, particularly that the ratio of his support to the second place candidate, Bob Rae, is quite high. However, one statistic I did include is incorrect.

I stated that "In the history of federal leadership conventions, the largest first ballot first place showing of an eventual loser was Claude Wagner (22.5). Michael Ignatieff is fully 7.5 points above that number." This is incorrect. In 1983, Joe Clark scored 36% on the first ballot, only to lose to Mulroney three ballots later. I missed this case, though it is in my dataset. So, I was wrong. Fortunately, I think it does just about nothing to take away from the core argument, for two reasons:

* 1983 was not really an open convention so much as the defense of a leadership and a referendum on Clark, which suggests delegates where much more polarized. This is a substantive difference, but an important one nonetheless.
* More importantly, Clark's ratio to Mulroney (1.24) was much smaller than Ignatieff's, and I think that remains the most important number. This means Mulroney needed much less time (i.e. ballots) and coordination (i.e. the undiscounted support of other candidates) to push over the top. None of Ignatieff's opponents have that in this case.

So, I apologize profusely for the mistake, and I shall be more slope-shouldered than usual this evening. But the facts remain.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Am I Québécois?

Would someone mind bringing me up to speed on where I fit into tonight's motion? I moved to Quebec in 2002 to attend grad school. I've learned some French, but not much. Senneville might be my favourite place on the Island. I'd love to stay here and teach for the rest of my life. I'd even raise a family here, though I think my kids would speak English at home. Pray tell, am I Québécois? Why or why not?

On the Nation(s)

A quick post before I dash for the early bus. Gordon Campbell has said that natives should now be recognized as nations. This certainly has as much merit as recognizing the Quebecois. And, as he argues, it almost certainly confers more power on them. Whether the solution to inequality in our country - and especially among aboriginals - lies in parcelling them out from the population further is quite open to debate. But, either way, Campbell's declaration is clearly demonstrative of the direction this type of talk takes. We're down to founding nations or peoples, however inconsistent this is with historical fact and however marginalizing it is of all the other Canadians who have built this country. I am not keen to start a movement for the recognition of some Mennonite nation in Canada, but I sure know that my ancestors are as deserving of it as anyone else: they have a language, a more or less identifiable territory, a unique culture, and an ocean of blood and sweat spilled clearing land and settling the Prairies. But, unfortunately, it wasn't the right blood, so I suppose it will be a futile endeavour.

Update: Whatever.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Seven thoughts on a Montreal Saturday

Today's a great day. It's cool and crisp outside, but soon the streets will be full. Seven thoughts before I write and then head to breakfast:

1.) The Small Sins are a great Toronto band. Stay, their single, is ringing in my head.
2.) Today's Alberta Tory contest could be a nailbiter. And all bets are off if Morton finishes first. If it comes down to their campaign songs, Morton is clearly ahead of Dinning.
3.) Justin Trudeau's endorsement of Gerard Kennedy can only be good news for GK. Still, for a guy who evokes his father at every turn it's hard to believe that Kennedy's French is not a dealbreaker. But, then again, Kennedy represents youth and renewal and revitalization. Whatever all of that means.
4.) Duceppe must not feel terribly clever this morning.
5.) This is good news for Dion. I think.
6.) Bobby is worth the price of admission. Provided you have a student card.
7.) Finally, this is an extremely interesting paper by one of the smartest people I know.

Friday, November 24, 2006

And I'll wear underwear

I spent Wednesday in Waterloo with my sister and brother-in-law and their great family. The highlight was listening to my 2 year old nephew's reasoning. It basically goes like this: "Uncle Pete, my mom has a baby growing in her belly. When it comes I'm gonna be a big brother. And I'm going to wear underwear." Naturally, as the baby will need diapers. I am still smiling thinking about this.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Greatest Democratic Convention Speeches Ever

I've turned my mind lately to what I think would constitute a great speech at the Liberal convention. I've already stated that I thought Dion's closing in Toronto was the best political rhetoric I had yet heard in the campaign. I am anxious to see what happens at the convention.

Until then, these two speeches (here and here) should be enough to hold anyone over. Jesse Jackson delivered the two greatest convetion speeches of the 20th century. He is alternately apologetic, bold, poetic, angry, arrogant and humble. He has lost, but he's not fighting a losing cause. These are speeches so great that I remember one summer when I lived with Pierre Poilievre - no soft heart he - we listened to them over and over again, always chilled by his words. I have my favourite parts, but I encourage you to listen and find your own. This is great stuff.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stan Rogers and David Myles

This may be the first time those two names have been used in the same sentence. But certainly not the last. My good friend, David Myles, has been nominated as Best New/Emerging Artist at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. It's well-deserved. David's written bagfulls of great songs, including Something I Can Feel, which for me captures the wistfulness of being a young man better than most songs I know:

I wanna build a house
Up on a hillside
I wanna sing my songs
I won't need money
I'll just need time

And no song, I think, is as great as Stan Rogers' Northwest Passage in capturing the young man's desire to leave home-bound pleasures and security for a heroic adventure only "to find there but the road back home again."

If you've not listened to either of these guys you are poorer for it. But now you can be a rich man.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More on Advance Polls

This article on advance voting in the US midterms suggests that of the estimated 25% of electors who are casting early ballots many are doing so because they prefer the certainty of paper ballots over machine voting. Great. The unreliable nature of voting machines is driving advance voting. Whatever you make of advance voting, this reasoning should give us pause. When are Americans going to get better and more consistent electoral administration?

Monday, November 06, 2006

On Voting Machines

While I am writing about electoral administration, I thought I might point you to this great video, which is the key part of a recent HBO documentary on voting machines.

I don't think many things are simple, but this is: the best way to run an election is with simple paper ballots for one office at a time where vote choice is made by a written mark and ballots are later counted by hand. Fact. Voting machines are a disastrous technology which increase the rate of spoiled ballots, disadvantage the less informed, and increase arbitrary effects.

These guys do a lot of really interesting and sophisticated work on ballots. But you can learn most of what you need to know by watching this.

Advance Voting: the early bird doesn't get the worm

This is disturbing. The trend of releasing advance vote participation rates is going to soon be followed by releasing advance vote results. For various ethical reasons - persuasively articulated by Dennis Thompson - this is a bad idea.

I've written a little bit about advance voting in Canada and I think that the benefits of it are fairly unclear: it hives off part of the electorate from a potentially important 10 days of campaigning, it decreases the coherency of the mandate conferred by the election, and it doesn't seem to increase turnout. And while election results wouldn't yet be different in the absence of advance voting, you can bet that the potential for that (in Canada at least) would definitely increase if we started reporting exit polls from early voting. I have a nice paper on this for anyone interested.

For those not interested, check out this guy. He must be one of the the most productive academics going. This guy, as well. And check out these guys. They're mystery men, but given the productivity of their blog I will suggest they are slightly less productive academics than Bostrom or Fowler. But aren't we all? Alas.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bill Black to the Bank of Canada

Bill Black is a great man. Razor-sharp, he graduated from Dalhousie with two degrees at 19. He then started his long and methodical ascent to the top of Maritime Life, a company of which his great-grandfather was a founder but which was long since owned by The John Hancock. He became President and CEO in 1994 and led the company through incredible expansion (He can spellbind you with his acquisition tales). When Hancock (and thus Maritime) was bought out by Manulife, Bill chose to stick it out in Halifax. He left business with a record paralleled by few and a loyalty among employees rivalled by even fewer.

Bill entered politics about a year ago, seeking the nomination in his Halifax riding, and then running for the leadership of his party when John Hamm resigned. I left school to work full-time on his campaign. Bill took a gamble on having a kid from Montreal who knew politics by the book but not by practice write his campaign plan and help him set up his ground organization. I can't say the gamble paid off. He lost a close race when the party closed ranks. The merits of that party's choice are now pretty apparent, I should like to think. One can't know for certain. But I can know this for certain: Bill Black is one of the smartest people I have ever met and one of the most decent. He is unfailingly proud and loyal to his family. He has ethics of the highest order. He is incredibly demanding of those who work for him but incredibly forgiving of mistakes made in good faith. And he's a decent golfer (though I think it was a draw between he and Andrew and I at Mahone Bay this summer). So, this is a great appointment. Well done on Jim Flaherty.

Big Crocodile Tears

P.W. Botha died today. Die Groot Krokodil was, as far as we know, unrepentent to the end. I remember an old girlfriend's father - a wonderful man who moved to South Africa as a young man before moving to Canada - describing Botha as the toughest politician he had known. But those unbending in the face of truth lose more than they win, for turning or not. So, let's cry some crocodile tears for the old man. And let's remember who won in the end.

Wells on Lapierre: Blackmailer-in-chief

Paul Wells has just said everything that needs to be said about Jean Lapierre. The man doesn't understand the first thing about civilized democratic dialogue: that you cannot threaten to take your marbles and go home everytime you don't like an outcome. Democracy depends on the losers' consent and it would be helpful if Lapierre and all others who prefer knives to throats over proper dialogue could learn this.

By the way, that applies to Dion as well when he claims that any talk of a fiscal imbalance is separatist rhetoric.

In other news, those who have figured out how to discern the Book of Revelation can now take on an infinitely more difficult task: keeping up with Cherniak's seventy-eight condition metaphor on the leadership race and Quebec.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

So long, Schumacher

Michael Schumacher retired last weekend. In my estimation, he is among the greatest athletes in modern history. He dominated F1 racing with his unmatched combination of absolute aggression and perfect technique. There isn't a driver who approaches the corners faster or who can find a better line through a crowd. And in the rain - the great equalizer - he is unmatched and well-deserving of the title Regenkönig. He won more races, more championships, and more in a row than any other driver.

My brother made me a F1 fan and a partisan of Schumi. We watched him win in Montreal in 2003 and place second in 2001. The affection for him runs so deep that our family dog is named after him. So, it was with some sadness that I watched him finish in second place overall last weekend. The world has lost a great sportsman. And a gentleman, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Calling Stephen Taylor

I presume that a posting from Stephen Taylor is just around the corner pointing out that CTV news didn't note that Kory Teneycke, now shilling for the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, is a (young) old Reformer. Now, I don't actually think that the media has to mention everyone's past, but Stephen does, so I'll be waiting for his post.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A final post for today...

This is a clip I watch when I want to be reminded of the singular power of a logical mind.

Canada may never, I think, see another politician of his skill.

On Dion's Academic Work

This is a nice piece on Dion's academic work in the Tyee (which I was pointed to by Cherniak). I should lay out my bias: I study in Dion's former department, my advisor was a frequent coauthor of his and I aspire to publish in the same types of journals he did. More than that, he is empirically rigorous and dedicated to setting aside seductive but ultimately wrong arguments. This is what made his letters to Bouchard so compelling, and so unsurprising to those who knew him in the academy. Whether it makes him smarter than other candidates is quite beside the point. I leave you the article.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

And in Quebec...

...Bouchard does him one better.

Meanwhile, in Britain...

... Tony Blair is showing what happens when you're freed from the need for reelection.

Jonathan Kay on the war in Iraq

Jonathan Kay lays bare his misjudgement on the war in Iraq in today's Post. His piece is a clear-eyed account of what he believed to be right and what he found to be true. Given that the two do not match up, he has changed his mind on Iraq. It's a fine piece of journalism and especially worth the read if you're someone (like me) who believed that good could come from the invasion of Iraq, but now see that it was all for naught.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Phelps on Rawls and economies

This article confirms that one does not have to be efficient with language to win a Nobel in economics. Nonetheless, it's a nice piece, especially in its treatment of Rawls.

My Two Sheckles

For what it's worth, I think Dion gave the best closing today I have yet heard in the Liberal debates. In fact, I think it's the best closing I have heard in a long time. Liberals should learn something Conservatives learned in the 1990s. You can make a lot of mistakes in government and still be proud of your achievements. And other candidates should learn something relatively fundamental about political communication: rather than blather on about Mats Sundin, pose a series of questions and present yourself as the answer to them. Dion did that well today. And have a good text. That way you won't have to deal with Dominic LeBlanc's stopwatch.

On another note, Ignatieff was quite right on Afghanistan on two fronts. One, we can only realize our objectives to the degree that they have a credible commitment to military action undergirding them. This is as important for our allies as it is for our enemies. Second, Rae clearly has adjusted his position, for which it is reasonable to call him to the carpet.

A final question. Could someone please remind Bob Rae that it doesn't reflect terribly well on him to continue to remind people that he had no expectation of becoming Premier in 1990 and that he had no idea what to do when he did? It's not the comment of a man who has yet come to terms with the depth of his failure as Premier.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Twins and Turnout

Political scientists are late to the game in the use of twins to understand the genetic components of behaviour. Psychologists have been doing this for years, and biologists, of course, have been doing it for centuries (though not with humans).

But we're catching up, and this paper is a great example of using comparisons of monozygotic (identical) and dyzygotic (fraternal) twins to understand how much a behaviour is attributable to genetic characteristics and how much is due to environment. In this case, Fowler et al are interested in whether there is a genetic basis to voter turnout. Their paper is a fairly good first indication that there is. Something to think about over the weekend, if nothing else.

For a guy who's not running on ideas, this is a good one

Over at Daifallah's Blog, Adam trots out Bob Rae's polluter pays proposal as an example of the desire for Liberals to tax anything that moves. Of course, he doesn't acknowledge that Rae concurrently proposes an equivalent cut in income taxes, and he more or less ignores the empirical evidence that cogestion charges do reduce congestion.

Frankly, Bob's idea is a good one, and it's not terribly out of line with what the vast majority of economists believe (even or especially conservative ones). You know, the ones who accept that taxes are more or less a reality, and that you can use them to incent some behaviours and discourage others. Economists like this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy. You know, the types who win Nobels and Clark and lead organizations like the IMF. Rather than the type of analysts who ignore facts for politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bridges don't have fainting spells

This is a fairly inauspicious start to Porter Airlines' ferry service.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

LeDrew this yourself?

Either Stephen LeDrew thinks he's running for high school president or this is the most brilliant political website ever. I honestly can't tell which is true.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On the Liberal Leadership Race

Let me be the thousandth person to admit to pressing refresh endlessly on the Liberal delegate counter. And let me be the third or fourth to observe that those numbers represent only earned delegate spots, which must be filled according to the relevant demographics and allow for only two substitutes. They have pretty wide margins around them. And if you couldn't organize your troops enough to win the close ones this weekend, you likely can't organize your troops well enough to carry your numbers to Montreal. Keep that in mind when you're thinking wishfully.

Back to writing about experiments and wishing - but not really - that I was a Blackberry-Wielding Operative.

Shout Out Loud

Amos Lee released his new album today. It's a fine piece of work. His phrasing and melodies are subtle, and the backing - including his own guitar work - is very subtle and layered. I am a fan. And I am green-haired with jealously when I think that he is just a year older than me.

Freedom is the kind of song John Mayer would write if he were more self-aware. Careless is a soul-piercing and reflective recounting of infidelity. And Supply and Demand captures the rat race as well as any of the other million songs that try. Lee is an Old Soul worth your $9.99 on iTunes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Qu'est-ce que tu pense, Gerard?

Suppose a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal party didn't really speak French. Would this disqualify him, at this time, from leading the party of official bilingualism? Perhaps not, especially if he could demonstrate that it was not an issue for the one-third of Canadians who speak French. But, suppose he won less than 50 delegates among the French-speaking regions of Canada. Is this the stuff of a qualified candidate? I should think not.

Friday, September 29, 2006

David Myles on the Vinyl Cafe

For those who are inclined, tune into the Vinyl Cafe tomorrow or Sunday and catch Halifax and Fredericton's best badly kept secret, David Myles. "When It Comes My Turn" will be kicking off the show. So, not only do you get to listen to Stuart McLean somehow entrance you with a story about a ticket stub and a lost love (or some other seeming banality), but you'll get to hear David's great anthem.

For those not interested, I suggest you take your bow and go do some hunting.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hey Porter, bring me that bag with $20 million

I've posted earlier on the launch of Porter Airlines. I think it's an interesting project, though I wondered about the economics of it. The Globe is reporting today that the federal government paid Robert Deluce $20 million after it cancelled the building of a bridge to the Island Airport (Torontonians will recall that this was David Miller's principal campaign issue in the last mayoral election). This, apparently, did harm to both Deluce (who was in the hole $11 million on the project) and the Toronto Port Authority. I don't know about the merits of either claim, but I do know that it's a lot easier to start an airline with a $9 million headstart.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Call me Bob, at 1.866.910.7531

I am not a Liberal party member, so I am yet to receive one of the automated "poll" questions that is going around. But, I can tell you a few things about:

1.) It's not a poll, it's a canvass.
2.) It's probablybeing run by Bob Rae's campaign, which indicates that while he's polling well he has so little organization on the ground that he is resorting to automated calls to identify his supporters.
3.) If you'd like to talk to the person running this poll, give Jim Zagak a call at 1.866.910.7531. Perhaps ask him who he's working for. Or, better, ask him why he is pretending to do a poll.

Apparently this race is not only not about ideas, it's also not about having an organization on the ground.

UPDATE: Solus One doesn't claim to be a polling firm, apparently. And, if they were, I hope they'd have some shame over breaking every one of the ten simple industry standards expected of pollsters. This is just more evidence that this is most certainly a canvas. If this is the Rae campaign, I wonder how Bob Rae feels about his campaign using deception to identify supporters?

UPDATE2: I've qualified two statements above using italics. Alex Swann from the Bob Rae campaign emailed me this afternoon. He wrote: "I have talked to people in my organization this afternoon and can say we are not behind this poll/canvass. Can you tell me how you determined our campaign was running this?" The following is the logic I used to come to this conclusion:

1. I know this is not a poll bought by a private firm because:
a. it makes no sense for any firm to know the voting intentions of every party member;
b. presumably no campaign would sell their entire list to a firm as fly by night as Solus 1.
2. It is thus a canvas being run by a campaign.
3. As only four names are mentioned – Ignatieff, Dion, Rae, and Brison, it most certainly has to be run by these campaigns.
4. I know with certainty the Ignatieff and Dion campaigns are not running the poll.
5. I presume it is not being run by the Brison people because it is being fielded in areas where he has no delegate candidates, so a canvas of his support in those areas is useless.

I am thus left with the conclusion that it is the BR campaign. Moreover, I think this fits with the general understanding of the depth of Rae's ground organization. Anyways, we should know with certainty whether this is the case in the next two days, as any number of people have selected Bob Rae just for good fun. Should they receive a call from one of Bob's phonebanks encouraging them to attend the DEMs, then this is fairly good proof that it was his campaign. Until then, I am willing to wait and see.

Wells gets 15 yards for facemasking

At the end of third clip on this page you can see Paul Wells try to pull the mask off of one of Volpe's ghosts. He then appears to chase him down the street. He apparently takes his opposition to this kind of ratf__king quite seriously. Well done, Paul.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sam Harris on Liberalism and Religious Extremism

This is a fine fine article I just picked up off of Arts and Letters Daily, one of the finest sites on the web.

On Polls and Pollsters

There have been two recent polls on the Liberal leadership race: a Strategic Counsel poll of 1000 Liberal members nationally, and an Ekos poll of 1000 members in Ontario and Quebec. Both purport to show a more or less even run between Ignatieff and Rae, with Dion polling strong.

Should we believe these numbers? Here's two reasons why I don't believe them yet. First, it's quite hard to draw a good sample of party members. They aren't always keen to share their opinions. And, as is becoming clear, a good portion of them probably don't even know that they're members, meaning they won't attend the DEMs. One good indication of how good the sample is the screens used to weed out effective non-members. Another is the number of calls each firm made to a name drawn from the list before giving up (the more the better). A final one is the response rate. To my knowledge, neither Ekos nor the SC have provided this information.

Second, the weighting of responses matters a lot. I assume that provincial weights have been applied. But, given that ridings have vastly uneven numbers of members, unless weights were applied to ridings (and the sample was inordinately large), it's unlikely that the regional support levels are anywhere near accurate to the conventional margins of error.

I've emailed principals in both firms with questions about their samples. Fairly straightforward ones, in fact. I've heard nothing back.

Now, this may just be because they don't respond to lowly PhD students who only know this stuff in theory but not in practice. Or, it may be because they don't care. But, either way, it speaks to either their professionalism or the quality of their polls, or both. All I know is that I can answer straightforward and simple questions about all the modelling decisions that I make.

Polls aren't magic, but they are good tools for understanding how a population thinks. Provided they are done correctly. I'd love to be assured that this is the case.

James Bay Trip. Day 3 and 4: James Bay to Ottawa

After Sam and I left the shore we headed to Chisasibi for dinner. Food in our bellies, we would ride in the dark to the Rupert River at kilometer 257. For those counting, that’s 90 kilometers out from Chisasibi, and then 343 kilometers on the JBH.

On the way out of Chisasibi we took a quick detour to see LG1, one of the great hydroelectric dams of northern Quebec. My eyes don’t see well at dusk, so it was a fine time to get off the bikes for a few minutes. We soon discovered that we could ride across the top of the dam, and then to a viewing platform downriver. It is hard to capture the scale of the barrage, but it is 1.3 kilometers wide and 160 meters in height.

Downstream at Le Grande


The sun completely down, we set off for the JBH. By the time we reached the highway I was freezing. The temperature had dropped close to freezing, which makes it several degrees colder at speed. We stopped to regroup, adding whatever layers we had. We also used the last of our heatpacks. It was ultimately all for not. Within 100 kilometers I could barely keep my legs from shaking, and my speed was dropping continuously, a tell-tale sign of fatigue. Soon after that I was convinced I could see frost on the trees, and the miles rolled by dreadfully slowly. What seemed like an hour would pass and we’d be just ten kilometers closer to our goal. The steady stream of northbound logging trucks soon proved a hazard, as I began to fear drifting across lanes, especially as it became more difficult to hold our lines through the corners. Then, at km 470, we hit a fog which swallowed our front wheels. It was only with good fortune that we were alongside Lake Mistanikap, dotted with Cree summer camps. We set up camp as quickly as we could. Chilled to the core, I slept in all my gear.

I woke up late the next morning. It had been an awful ride the night before. And today we had 1100 kms to home. Still, I looked forward to the challenge. Even when I pushed my head outside of the tent and proceeded to cough up a bunch of blood.

The camp in morning

We tried to be efficient in cleaning up camp, but the long night had gotten the better of us. Sam dropped his bike in the sand twice. I almost dropped mine once (and had dropped it twice the day before). But we soon resolved ourselves to the task and set out. We rode a hard pace to Relais 381 where we would gas up for our longest stretch yet without fuel. Then, filled up on some mixture of Red Bull, ginseng, and Gatorade, we headed for Matagami. It’s hardly heavy fuel, but it will keep you eyes up on the bike.

At km 257 we finally hit the Rupert. We had crossed it earlier on the North Road, but there the river was nothing like it is here. By the time the Rupert crosses the JBH is has collected much more water, as several more lakes spill into its stream. I had seen pictures before, but they did nothing to capture the scale of the rapids. It takes little to imagine the most calm line leading to smashed canoes. And it is inconceivable that one could run the roughest section of the cataracts. This is, quite literally, a deadly river. It is a kilometer of crashing. crushing rapids. There is nothing calm or serene about it. The Queen of the North, it is one of Quebec’s greatest possessions. As I’ve written below, this is not for much longer. Sam and I briefly discussed the merits of damming the river, given how much power it will provide and how much wealth will accrue to the Cree nations as a result. But it really doesn’t make up for the loss. We had little time to stay – we had to get back to jobs and studies. Life rolls on like the Rupert, apparently. Until it doesn’t.

The Rupert River

From the Rupert we rode a little less than 900 kilometers home. I rode about 80 more than Sam, on account of his bike breaking down in the Gatineaus. The cause remains unknown, despite he and I performing a number of simple tests on the roadside, guided by my dad on a cellphone. I ended up winding the last 80 kilometers home following a tow truck with Sam’s bike. It was a poor ending to an extraordinary trip, the thoughts of which keep flowing.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Earlier, I suggested that the only thing more unscrupulous than suggesting that Canadian losses in Afghanistan were unnecessary is admitting that they are necessary but claiming someone else should do the heavy lifting. This guy crossed that line today. Count him among those whose internationalism doesn't matter when it really counts.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

James Bay Trip. Day 3: Nemaska to James Bay.

You can see the first two days of our trip here.

Sam and I woke up early in Nemaska with all the narrows covered in fog. We could only take the locals’ word about the beauty of Lake Campion.

We made a quick breakfast and packed up the bikes. We would ride another 100 kms of gravel north west, and then meet the James Bay Highway at kilometer 275. Pushing along near top speed on the gravel we ate up the road in an hour’s time.

The JBH – North Road intersection

When we reached the JBH we had only 434 kilometers to Chisasibi. It is counterintuitive how the miles accumulate when you are this isolated. When you ride through a populated area every town and rest stop reminds you that you are traveling a long distance. But left with only long sweeping curves, burned out forests, small mountains in the distance and lake after lake, the distance becomes arbitrary. Instead, the mind is on holding the finest line through the corner and keeping the bike at top speed despite admonitions to drop to 85 km/h. The KLR is a fine bike, and bulletproof. But it’s on roads like the JBH – wide-open and unpatrolled – when I wish I had a bike that could easily cruise at 150 or 160 km/h, like this or this. All in good time.

About an hour after entering the highway we came upon Relais 381. It is a town – of sorts – at kilometer 381 of the JBH. It exists to pump gas at exorbirant prices and charge $1 for two day old hard boiled eggs. Sam says it’s the crappiest town in Canada. I reserve comment.

Relais 381 on the ride back

Fuel tanks filled, we took off at just after noon for Chisasibi. On the way we passed the Trans-Taiga road, a 700 km eastward ride into the middle of nowhere. At its end you lie farther from a town than on any other road in North America. We were taken by its isolation, and pointed the bikes down it. But time would not permit the trip this time.

The start of the Trans-Taiga

We arrived three hours later. A mostly native town, Chisasibi sits 90 kilometers west of the JBH on the La Grande river, just downstream from the great LG1 hydroelectric dam, and just ten kilometers upstream from James Bay. We pushed beyond the town looking for some trail to James Bay.

Somehow we ended up on ATV dual track which kept getting thicker and thicker, turning towards and then away from the river. When we decided this was not the way to the bay we turned around and started a back track. Anxious to get to the bay I kicked up the speed of the bike and upshifted a couple of times. Riding in deep ruts, this was a bad idea. It was only a matter of seconds before I hit a bad series of bumps and inadvertently hit the throttle. The bike rocketed ahead, then over, they into a tree. I ended up beside it and ahead of it. Laying on the trail I took a few deep breathes and gave everything the once over. Trailing not far behind, Sam inspected everything. I then made my way back to the bike, which fared better than the tree. The front wheel and fork where fine. Nothing was broken, and the mirrors but needed adjustment. At this point I got mad at Sam for not taking pictures of the crash. He wanted to make sure I was fine before snapping pics. That’s what friends are for, apparently.

The bike after the crash

Back at speed, we left the trail and then found the three lane wide dirt road which leads to the Bay. Apparently our observational skills match our navigational skills.

We passed a steady stream of pick up trucks and cars on our way to the Bay, and arrived after ten minutes. All the riding had been worth it. I cannot imagine a better scene. The water stretches past the horizon, the sky goes on forever, rocks come up from the water at low tide, and fishing boats and drying racks dot the shore. The flow of Le Grande is great enough that you can taste just a trace of salt in the water. We considered cooking dinner on the shore, but the air was getting colder and we knew we had a long ride to the Rupert River at km 257, where we hoped to spend the night. So we decided on dinner in Chisasibi and a long ride through the night to the Rupert. We’d never make it that far.

James Bay

Juste un petit question

When Bob Rae travelled to Iraq to help the Kurds set up a constitution, did he mention that the war which liberated them was a big sham which he thinks should not have occurred?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Small pleasures, pt 2

Three small pleasures:

1.) When you realise that You Forgot It In People is exactly the length of time it takes to walk door to door from home to office;
2.) When someone like this teaches you more about research design in five minutes then you can figure out in five days;
3.) And when people like this and this and this and this make a paper you've been working on for a year several times better by taking an hour to read and comment.

Friday, September 15, 2006


I've never been happier to see a New Democrat win. Let's put away this rapid response garbage now, ok? It makes us all look silly, especially those who now stand in clear contradiction of the judgement of the people.

UPDATE: Kinsella clearly didn't get the memo. Why does he so pride himself on simple attacks and incivility, especially after it backfires?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fata Morgana

I thought I might post this separately, as Don Domanski's work deserves space all its own. Throughout our ride, especially across the North Road, I thought about the isolation of northern Quebec. And I thought about crashing. We were really all alone on the road. There were no phones, no traffic, no hospitals. This was the essence of the adventure. But it is a sense as bone-chilling as it is thrilling. It is, I think, best captured in Fata Morgana, a wonderful Domanski poem. I remember seeing him read it six years earlier in the Owens Art Gallery at Mount A. It is with me still:

You’re walking alone in the forest
The moon is directly overhead
Eating her supper of astronomy
And wedding-gifts

There’s a thousand miles of trees
In every direction
Which means there’s just
Enough blood to go around
So you musn’t spill a drop

Of course every second tree
Is the Tree of Death
Every third one
The Tree of Life
While all the others
Are doors to atonement
But you mustn’t knock

You’re like me
And want a straight line
Through everything
But there aren’t any here
No path from A to B
No A or B

You’re just lost
This is the earth
You’re not human
But a fox or a rabbit

Your life behind a desk
Was an illusion
The shining city a madness
Brought on by fatigue
There aren’t any cars or telephones
There never were
Not a single clothesline or shoelace
In all the world

Your heartbeats are so many
Peapods being cracked open
Your footprints swallow themselves
As you walk along

What I said about the moon was a lie
There were never any weddings
Or any gifts
Not an astronomer to be found

The moon is devouring you
Just you tonight
With your long ears pricked up
In their sad salute to fear

This hour is called Abandonment
This night Bottomless
I would call you Insignificant
If you weren’t already named Essential
If you weren’t the very centre of the world

James Bay Trip. Days 1 and 2: Montreal to Nemaska

Sam and I left for James Bay on Friday night. We’d been planning for a couple of months to travel to Chisasibi, a native town on the northeast corner of the bay. It’s a fairly simple, if long ride. After winding your way 670 kms from Ottawa to Matagami, you get on the James Bay Highway and drive north on the same road for 600 kms. Some time after passing the 52nd parallel you turn left and head to the Bay. However, we decided to complicate the trip. We would first head to Chibougamau, 250 kms north of Lac Saint Jean, and then travel the Route du Nord 400 kms to the JBH.

We suited up on Friday night and left later than we should have. Michael Ignatieff is to blame, but that is another story.

Leaving the Plateau

We rode through a heavy rain as far as Trois Rivieres, and then turned north for Shawinigan. I watched Sam avoid a collision on a combined on/off ramp. I soon did the same. Add another small blessing to the pile.

The bikes performed admirably, as did my gear. Pushing through the rain at 110, I was quite certain I was prepared for the elements farther down the road. After a couple of hours of solid and straight riding we stopped in Shawinigan for dinner. We had set reaching Roberval as our goal, but night and fatigue overcame our best intentions. Winding along the Grane Mere, we finally stopped in Parc des Chutes, just south of La Tuque. We’d pushed 300 kms through the fog and rain. We quickly found a patch of grass beside a parking lot and set up tent. My head went down at 2 am only to be followed by a fitful sleep. I was nervous about the North Road.

Camp in the morning

Sam and I were both awake at 6 am. I think his sleep was like mine. We were both staring down a long day in the saddle and we both wanted to make time. We packed up and scored breakfast in La Tuque at a small truckstop. We then saddled up and pushed into grey clouds and fog.

The gray lifted as we crested a hill over Lac St Jean. Lucien Bouchard once said he would have been a federalist if he had visited Vancouver when he was young. Seeing the sun shine over the Saugenay, with blue mountains across the lake and farm land stretching out forever I was for a moment a sovereigntist. This is enough beauty for one country.

We turned left at Roberval and stopped in at a Canadian Tire for some gear additions. It was noon by now, but we were still cold. We bought more gloves and hot packs for the ride up north. All told, would we finish the day about 450 kilometers farther north, and in near-Taiga. We tried to prepare for the worst.

After we suited up again we headed for Chibougamau, doing to 250 kms in one hit. Sam led most of the way, and I was happy to follow. He is the perfect riding partner. Cautious, but not slow. Adventurous, but not careless. And he is always willing to push a bit farther.

By late afternoon we had reached Chibo. Fifteen kilometers north of the city we found the Route du Nord. Originally built to access cut blocks and hydro projects, the road winds some 400 kms across northern Quebec, running west and then turning North. During the week, the road is filled with logging trucks. As we are running on a Saturday, we are all alone. In the 300 kms we cover on Saturday, we see less than ten cars! Mostly, it is just skimming along on top of the gravel. The guides I have read suggest observing the speed limit, which is just 70 km/h. This is clearly too slow, and soon Sam and I are pushing 110, eyes peeled for large rocks, fighting occasionally against front-wheel dives in the berms, and always keeping an eye out for animals. The bikes love this terrain. We let a distance grow between us, so we are not riding in each other’s dust. We stop to meet up ever hour or so. This is the ride we’ve been waiting for: challenging, isolated, fast, and adventurous. We grin from ear to ear.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere

It is in the corners that the counter intuitions of a motorcycle become clear. At speed, your wheels want to slide out under the gravel, and the bike wants you to take a straight line to the outside of the corner. The mind tells you to slow down, lean forward, and steer into the corner. The mind is wrong on three counts. Rather, you punch the throttle, stand up a little on the outside peg, and push the bars away from the inside corner. The bike leans and grabs a line and shoots out the corner. Everything you thought was right was wrong.

After 250 kms the sun is diving behind the hills and night is coming fast. We resolve to push as far as Nemaska, where we can get gas for the first time in 300 kms. We will decide then whether to spend the night.

Soon after this we cross the Rupert River. Seeing the river is part of the reason for the trip. The Rupert flows like an artery across the middle of Quebec, emptying millions of gallons of fresh water into the bottom of James Bay. It is spine-shattering rapids and wide, sweeping swathes of water. It will be diverted next year for a hydro project. But for now it flows, and we were keen to see it in all of its majesty. It was literally breath taking.

As we looked out over the river we saw a campfire on a landing above the rapids. We then turned around to see a fellow casually strolling down the bridge toward us. In the middle of nowhere we met Benoit, a Frenchman now living in Trois Riviere. He regularly camps alone in Quebec’s wilds. We enjoyed his brief company immensely, and he obliged us and took a picture of Sam and me above the rapids.

We then pushed on for Nemaska, a native town at kilometer three hundred. We had traveled 700 kms by the time we arrived, and decided to call it a day. But first we rode across a narrow isthmus into the town and gassed up. David, the station attendant, told us we could stay on the beach of the narrows. He said normally we could stay on the beach at the other side of the town, but everyone was there for a wedding party. So we headed back out the narrows and found the most beautiful campsite. A beach ran along a bay on Lake Campion. We pitched our tent and set to making dinner. We soon welcomed what seemed like a parade of visitors. Each one stopped to make sure we were alright. A village elder named Sam offered us the hospitality of his home. We declined, but he did accept our invitation to tea. He told us the story of his birth, brought forth in the bush by the light of embers. The candles had run out. He told us how Nemaska had been built after Hydro Quebec flooded his old home. He told us of his camps all over the region, explained the Caribou and moose hunting seasons, answered all our questions about the local fishing. And then he moved on, but not before extending an offer of lodging again. His welcome warms me still.

Tuesday Thoughts

I am sitting in Sam's apartment in Ottawa, about to hop on the bike to head back home. We travelled 3000 kms in four days. We ran the North Road, the highway to Chisasibi, the dirt track to James Bay, and then the length of the James Bay Highway and 109/5 back to Ottawa. A trip report will follow.

More importantly, I've decided to stop criticizing Jason Cherniak. He's a nice chap, and good hearted, too. In return, I hope he never again suggests that I am a Dal grad. Just kidding.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Not Biden Time Yet

I like Stephane Dion. A lot. He was almost singularly brave among Quebecers during and following the 1995 referendum. And he's sacrificed much for his views, not least of it the collegiality of some colleagues. He is a cut above.

I should also say that he invokes great loyalty in his staffers. I shared an office with one of his close assistants for a year at UdeM before he left to work for Dion. He remains one of my favourite people, in or out of politics. His belief in Dion vouches further for the man.

In short, I have not a bad word to say about M. Dion. Except that he has to straighten out this cut and paste job on environmental policy. Plagiarizing the David Suzuki Foundation - which is exactly what happened - makes his campaign look amateur. Denying it makes it look even worse. He should simply admit what is true: in looking for expressions of his policy a staffer directly borrowed unattributed sections from the David Suzuki Foundation. And he was not aware.

This isn't Biden mugging Kinnock, but if the Dion campaign doesn't restrain the likes of Cherniak it will be soon.

In the meantime, I shall continue to admire Mr Dion.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Flock of Sheep Near the Airport

I was reminded of this poem when I was sitting in Logan yesterday. Enjoy.

A Flock of Sheep Near the Airport, Yehuda Amichai, The American Poetry Review, Sep/Oct 1996

A flock of sheep near the airport or a high voltage generator beside the orchard: these combinations open up my life like a wound, but they also heal it. That's why my feelings always come in twos. That's why I'm like a man who tears up a letter and then has second thoughts, picking up the pieces and pasting them together again with great pains, sometimes for the rest of his life.

But once I went looking for my son at night and found him in an empty basketball court lit by a powerful floodlight. He was playing all alone. And the sound of the ball bouncing was the only sound in the world.

Tragedy and Farce

This is a tragedy, but this is a farce. This, too. You cannot have development absent security. And you cannot have security without sacrifice. Kennedy and Layton may feel these lives were lost unnecessarily, that their sacrifice was unneeded (which is admittedly less morally unscrupulous than conceding that it is necessary but expecting someone else to do the heavy lifting, which I suspect they may feel down deeper). But that these lives were lost is just the point: they demonstrate a willingness to actually pay the cost of rebuilding failed states. Some politicians get this. Those who do not can join the list of those throughout history whose internationalism never mattered when it counted.

Small Pleasures, pt 1

I used to read Mark Steyn regularly. Somewhere along the line he fell out of my regular rotation. I was recently pointed by Daifallah to some interviews of him, and was reminded again of his wit and broadsides. And I came across this, which has stuck with me for the last week. Asked about why one would engage in battle against the illiberal elements in our world, Steyn responds:

"You want to do it because you want to enjoy all those small personal pleasures like being able to walk into a piano bar in London and hear a fantastic new singer singing The Way You Look Tonight. That is one of the small pleasures of life, and it's those accumulated pleasures that are something very important and something valuable.”

There’s much to be said in this, I should think. From freedom comes choice, from choice our ability to engage in the things we desire, and from these things the steady stream of pleasure which makes going forward worth the work.

I returned yesterday from three days in Philadelphia at the APSA ( I participated on this panel, and it captured so much of what I like about political science: questions about institutions and democratic performance, about information and participation, and about how these things don’t work together in the simple ways we often expect. And this, of course, was just one of many great undertakings, like this one on survey response, this one on the neuroscience of politics, and this one on causation and measurement. All in all, three days well spent, small pleasures all.

Today was equally well-appointed. I saw the Brian Jungen exhibit at the Musée d’Art Contemporain with Maskull and Holly, two fine fine artists. Jungen fashions incredible art from the most ordinary objects; Haida masks from Air Jordans, whale skeletons from lawn furniture. These works, I am informed, speak to modern consumerism, to the commercialization of the sacred, the changing relationship between labour and economic relations, etc. Most of this seems good and reasonable. Stumbling around art as I do, I cannot really say. But the sheer beauty of his work makes it worth your patronage. It is a small pleasure not soon to be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Someone get me the porter...

The Globe has a nice article on the political fall-out of Porter Airlines. The Star also has a nice piece. Porter landed its first plane yesterday. David Miller was not invited.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Barbarians, Squids, and Bikes

I've passed a couple of strangely enriching days. This evening I finished Waiting for the Barbarians. It is Coetzee’s allegory of colonialism, a story of an Empire’s army awaiting the incoming barbarians; an army perhaps never coming. Its protagonist is a frontiering Magistrate, soon orthogonal to the interests of the Empire. Perhaps Coetzee’s best work, it is typically clinical and cold. It captures the essential brutality of the Empire in one sentence: “The jackal rips out the hare’s bowels, but the world rolls on.”

On Sunday, Sam and I watched The Squid and the Whale. The third in a promising line of films by Noah Bambauch, it is a dark and drawing account of a divorce of two middling writers and their children's struggles in the aftermath. It is The Royal Tenenbaums with no happy ending, no sense that arrogant and dirt cheap fathers can come round, and no appeal to genius as an explanation for bad behaviour. And aside from this, it’s wonderfully shot and as given to detail as Wes Anderson’s work (which is little surprise as Anderson was a producer of the film, and Bambauch was his partner on The Life Acquatic). I, of course, am late in seeing it, but if you’re as behind the times as me, please do take it as recommended.

Last evening, Sam and I pulled apart the bikes for some routine maintenance. It was gas tanks on the lawn, fairings and side panels off, down to the frame stuff. I shall not be the first to take motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for life, but it is still cause for reflection. These machines are so human – they have symmetry and a modularity about them which is so like us. And underneath all the plastic they are just a few simple parts held together by a bucket of bolts. But it’ll carry you as far and as long as you want to go. The only limits are your ambitions, the elements, the occasional chance meeting with something much larger, and the way things occasionally break down without reason. With some recklessness and a good bit more thought you can go forever on these things, however simple they are underneath.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Elizabeth May in it for the green?

Elizabeth May has been elected leader of the Green Party. She is a most impressive person and should do just fine as leader of the party.

Her election probably marks an ideological break from the party under Jim Harris. More interesting to me is whether it marks a real strategic break. Specifically, is the party going to focus on actually winning a seat, or just on cashing in after each election?

When Bill C-24 (Chretien's campaign finance legislation) was introduced it provided a per vote subsidy to parties, rather than refunding them on money spent. Andre Blais and I have spent a little bit of time figuring out the effects of this on party mobilization strategies and voter turnout. In a paper coming out in the CJPS we find that it likely had no effect by way of the major parties (you can read a draft of the paper here). However, it does appear that efforts of Green party candidates may have increased turnout marginally (Andre and I explore this in a forthcoming chapter in Lisa Young's volume on C-24. I have an addendum on this for anyone who is interested). This is because the party began running candidates in every riding in 2004, most of whom used the "Vote for us and we get $1.75" pitch at the door. To be clear, Jim Harris was not principally interested in winning seats, but in expanding the financial basis of the party. Based on the money they received last year - about a million and half dollars - he was successful.

Ultimately, the purpose of a party is to win seats and represent interests in Parliament. For the Greens, this probably requires focussing on a few ridings and gearing party efforts towards them. Whether Elizabeth May accomplishes this remains to be seen. But I suspect she is in it for the Green and not the green.

Blue Helmets

Even with the grain of salt one should take when reading the Weekly Standard (or the Nation for that matter), this article is a bit disturbing, no? (h/t to SDA).

Racoons on Toronto Island Airport

The Toronto Star has a nice long feature this morning on Porter Airlines, which is soon to commence flights between the Toronto Island Aiport and Ottawa. It's an airline with a pretty serious management team and ambitions of flying to 17 destinations. I've never understood the economics of running a successful airline very well. But it is my sense that if I was ordering 10 new planes at a cost of $25 million each I would want to be sure that the airport I was flying them from would be functional ten years out. As it stands, there certainly seems to be a lot of uncertainty around the Toronto Port Authority and the island airport, not to mention the ensuing squabble between the airport and Air Canada Jazz. So let's hope they have their racoons in a row.

More generally, if the merits of new turboprop planes are what they are said to be - they are comparatively quieter than jets and less consumptive of fuel - then perhaps it's a shame that the Mayor of Toronto is so opposed to a successful commerical airport in the city's waterfront. My limited experience of flying into city airports and my more extensive experience of flying into far-flung airports (hello Halifax, hello every RyanAir destination) suggests that nothing matches getting from your flight to your downtown destination in less than twenty minutes. What is more, the Star article suggests that the Porter additions to the island airport should make it among the world's nicest small, public airports. I wish them all the best.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mo Money Mo Problems

Bill Cross taught me an important metaphor when I was an undergrad trying to figure out political science . He described campaign finance regulation like a bucket full of holes and cracks. As soon as you plug one hole the water finds or creates another. It's not any different with C-24, I think. (For an academic cut on C-24, I self-servingly point you here and here).

This is most likely true with the widespread use of loans by Liberal leadership candidates. As I understand the legislation (and I am happy to stand corrected) a candidate can only draw out loans at a rate of prime or higher and must demonstrate intention to pay them back. In other words, the loans are real. However, if the loans remain 18 months after the election's conclusion, they can be forgiven. This is most obviously important, as otherwise a candidate could be permanently indebted, paying all of her or his future donations from here to eternity towards their loan. But there is also a clear problem with this legislation: it clearly allows donations larger than the limit to be made. Indeed, lenders need only forgive the loan after 18 months and forgo a tax credit.

Which brings me to Stephane Dion and Maurizio Bevilacqua. First, in the case of Bevilacqua, I think we should all wonder rather loudly if Bob Rae or members of his team offered to pay off his debts. This can probably be done in the C-24 context with only a minor stretch of the rules. And given the money around Rae, we ought to think it a possibility. But Liberals ought to know prior to the convention.

Now, in the case of Dion, this story suggests that he has borrowed $550,000 from people who have then committed to fundraising to pay off those loans. In other words, John Smith loaned Dion X thousand dollars and will now fundraise in Dion's name to pay this off. First, this is a bad fundraising strategy, as individuals are less receptive to hearing that their money will go to pay off debt rather than going directly to the candidate. Second, if Dion were not of absolutely unimpeachable character, I would seriously question the appropriateness of this scheme. Essentially, he is allowing individuals to fundraise in his name for their own private gain. And, he is risking either having serious personal debts after the race or having to consider the possibility of anxious lenders running around figuring out how to recoup their money following the race. There's not a lot of money in the race right now, and they'll be even less for the 9 losers following the race. Who knows what promises get made when it's time for debts to be forgiven.