Archive for the 'Canada' Category

Secret Ballot

ART: Yellow background, green foreground; Modern take on an old style telephone, near the elevator at the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco

When I answer the phone and hear that the caller is a Bot (electronic robot), I usually hang up. But this isn’t normal life right now, it’s election time in Ontario.

There is legislation in place to protect citizens from automated telemarketing calls and spam, but political parties are exempt. (Funny how that works.)

So far, my house has received four – count them – FOUR – automated calls from the Conservative Party.

[And none from any other party.]

Yesterday I was called by the Conservative Party Phone Poll Bot. It wanted me to tell it who I would vote for, and it ran through the list of parties, expecting me to push the corresponding number of the party I support. I didn’t.

In these days of identity theft, when we are hounded by telemarketers, as we drift on oceans of spam, I don’t give information to live human beings on the phone, and certainly not to a bot.

The automated Conservative Poll didn’t allow me to choose “None of the above” or “none of your business.” So I didn’t push any buttons. But then the phone bot thanked me for participating and disconnected.

So what did it count my abstention as?

An Ottawa Sun story cites an Abacus Data poll alleging the Conservatives have 41% of decided voters, the Liberals at 32% and the NDP 20%.

This poll was answered by just over a thousand people, which sounds like a lot until you consider Ontario’s population exceeds thirteen million. That is a TINY sample.

Through a chain link fence in an East End Toronto waterfront  parkinglot

I Hate Polls

One reason I hate polls is that they can be skewed to prove almost anything. If polls told the absolute truth, why would we need to bother with the inconvenience or expense of elections?

Another thing no one ever even talks about is the fact that anyone can lie to a pollster.

Some say that poll results fluctuate depending on when they are held. On September 14th The Mark did an article about the results of two polls from the same day. The poll trumpeted by the Toronto Sun boasted the PC party has “a nine-point lead over the Liberals” while the Toronto Star proclaimed “the PCs are polling in third place in Toronto, well behind the Liberals and NDP.”

Depending on who you ask as well as what you ask, a good pollster can get the exact results they want. Polls could be used to obtain valuable feedback, but they are seem to be used as a marketing tool.

Used in this way, propaganda polls do a great deal of damage to what passes for democracy in Canada. Many people hear the majority is going to vote for this party or that, and they change the way they vote.

strategic voting

Canada needs electoral reform so bad that most of us who haven’t given up on voting altogether spend most of our energy trying to figure out how to beat the system. We get pelted with political ads and told how we should strategically vote to get sort of what we want. Strategic voting is the order of the day in the vain hope that our votes might actually count for something.

Many Canadians have been convinced if we vote “strategically” (i.e., not for the candidate we want to elect) there is a better chance to stave off the other party’s bogeyman. But, of course, in a first past the post system, we will never get what we want if we don’t vote for it.


As bad as our electoral system is, one of the few protections we have is a secret ballot.

In a first-past-the-post system, even when we get a so-called majority government, only a fraction of the citizens actually voted for that government. (Canada’s current federal “majority government” received votes from only about a quarter of eligible voters.) The theory is that once elected, all Canadians are supposed to be represented by that government. However in a 2001 scandal Canadians were faced with the fact that is not actually the case. A legally blind 81-year-old Canadian WWII Veteran named Jim Baxter appealed to Liberal MP Tom Wappel for help in getting the veteran’s benefits to which he was entitled. This is the basic assistance due to any constituent, but MP Tom Wappel sent Mr. Baxter a nasty letter instead.

“According to my records, you were a past supporter of mine, yet it seems that in this past election you supported the Canadian Alliance. How is that you are writing me for help if you did not think enough of my abilities to justify voting for me?”

~ MP Tom Wappel, CTV: MP who scolded blind war veteran relents

This is precisely why we have a SECRET ballot.

Anyone naive enough to tell a political party who they will vote for could well suffer the consequences.

Who we vote for is secret, as a democratic protection.  It protects us from them.

balancing act

The government is big and powerful, citizens are small and weak. The government’s vast powers range from deprivation of liberty to denial of assistance. We lowly citizens have but a single super power: we can vote.

A secret ballot ensures that we do not suffer repercussions for voting “the wrong way.”

We are under absolutely no obligation to tell a polling company, a political party, or even our mother who we will vote for. Just asking us is an invasion of privacy.

X is the symbol for Elections Ontario

Think how much cheaper the election process would be if we dispensed with the secret ballot nonsense. Instead of going behind the cardboard barrier to mark our “x” we could just tell the official who we’re voting for. Of course, if you want to vote Conservative and your boss supports the NDP and she’s standing in line behind you, well, you might find yourself looking for work. Or if you support the Ontario Socialist Party and your doctor is a Liberal your treatment just might not be the same. Or if you are a small business owner, and you vote against the party that sweeps into power, you might just find yourself being audited. Over and over again.

Funny. I was just called by the Liberal Party.

At least it was a real human being. But nonetheless, he wanted to know who we would support if an election were called today. When I told him we never give out personal information over the phone he promised that if I answered the question, he could mark my answer “not disclosed.”

The letter  “ X ”

I had to insist that who I will vote for is none of his party’s business. He still didn’t get it.

So I asked him if he’d heard of the infamous Tom Wappel. He hadn’t, of course.  But then if he had, would he have admitted it to me? By the end of the conversation, I still don’t think he understood why it is even a problem. But it is.

They act as though they have a right to know.   They don’t.

It is none of their business.

Because it’s our secret.

[Telephone photo art by Trace Meek, and licensed for reuse with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License


Driving Photography

I’ve been playing around with taking photographs when driving.

Of course, only when I’m a passenger.

the sun is setting behind three hydro towers at the side of the road.

I expect taking photos while driving the car would be even more dangerous than driving while on the cell phone 🙂

Sunset photographed from a moving car

The twin advantages digital photography has over film is that you can see immediately if what you’re doing is working…

Zooming past a tree with the sun behind

…and you can take zillions of photos until you get what you want.

Sun sets behind a bare tree and a highway traffic sign frame

I’ve been known to shoot a few thousand pictures on a two hour drive. So I thought I’d share a few.

Sometimes you capture the most extraordinary images:

an aerial view of the traffic and pedestrians in my wake reflected in the glass of the new addition to the ROM.

Or stumble on a serendipitous moment:

the biplane dives past a highway light standard headed for the trees

close n the biplane diving for the trees

A red biplane marked "Lucas" trails smoke in a deep dive

And sometimes even ordinary scenes can appear extraordinary…

rainy street at night; the traffic lights reflect on the road and in the raidrops on the windshield

… or provide a new way of looking at things.

looking at the following traffic reflected in the side view mirror

I love it when I catch a glimpse of art

A mural adorns the side of a corner building in Chinatown (cc by

or even architecture.

disgorging traffic on the last day of the Canadian National Exhibition

There is always something.

this pgoto of the CN Tower dome has been enhanced and filtered to make it brighter

Because art is all around.

city scape of Toronto at night

Elmira is NOT a DUMP

Woolwich Bio-En Inc. has applied to build an anaerobic digester at 40 Martin’s Lane
and is seeking approval from the province. If you agree it’s a bad idea, contact the
Ministry of the Environment and tell them so.  That’s the only way to stop it.

The deadline is Sunday, August 21st, 2010

The flag on the left, “A” is the edge of Riverside Public School; the property is bounded by the William Street at the front, and Riverside at the back. The flag on the right, “B” marks the proposed Bio-En site. Google says the two points are 750 meters or 2 minutes apart.

That’s measuring from the front; the schoolyard in back is closer still. My child attended Riverside Public School, and I served on the PTA and volunteered there for years. I feel sorry for the children who will go there in future if the Bio-En facility is built two minutes away. So much of elementary school life is lived out of doors; recess, phys-ed, track and field, fun fairs, Hallowe’en parades…

It’s half that distance from Bio-En to Bolender Park, the greenspace that is the traditional site of the town’s annual Easter Egg Hunt, school picnics, and family outings. And of course the Kissing Bridge Trail runs right beside the proposed Bio-En Site.

Children gather easter eggs in the park located a minute away from the proposed Bio_En site.

1 minute away from Bio-En: Bolender Park, home of the annual Easter Egg Hunt

I live twice as far away, but there are days I smell the pet food plant adjacent to the proposed Bio-En Site.  If the Bio-En facility is built on this site in this town, it will negatively impact on the quality of life for all the people who live and work in the town of Elmira.

And it will devastate the downtown core. Would you want to take a leisurely stroll down the main drag, buy a camera, rent a movie, pick up a summer sausage or stop for a donut with the smell of compost stuck in your nose?

They say the odour will be contained. Yet they plan to truck the waste through town in open tarpaulin topped trailers.  It will not smell nice.

The settlement of Elmira is small enough that no matter what route they take, the Bio-En trucks will rumble through or alongside residential neighborhoods, churches, stores and schools, including the high school attended by students from all over Woolwich Township.

At the Bio-En plant, the waste will be unloaded. Disturbing waste material and releasing additional mold and compost odors begun in transit into the air. Although we can’t see it with the naked eye, smell is actually made up of particulate matter. We breathing in microscopic bits of whatever we smell.

smell is an important issue

Bad smell sounds frivolous until you have to live with it. When I was a child the name of the town of “Rothsay” was guaranteed to strike terror into our hearts.  Whenever it was our misfortune to have to travel through the town, we’d roll up the car windows, no matter how hot it was, and try valiantly to hold our breath until we came out the other side. I never quite made it. Living in Rothsay would be inconceivable, because bad smells impact heavily on the quality of life. 

No one puts their back yard composter beside the patio table. We even locate our kitchen garbage can away from where we eat. There is good reason city planners don’t situate the garbage dumps in the center of town.

Proximity to a dump site dramatically lowers property values.

If the bad smell isn’t bad enough, the dramatic increase in diesel truck traffic through the town of Elmira will risk residents health and safety at the same time it breaks down the roads. The road repairs of the last few years have really driven home the fact that there are only four roads in and out of town, and all three of the routes to the new facility will go through the center of town.

it isn’t even really “green”

Even though Woolwich council stands in opposition to the project, the authority rests with the Ministry of the Environment, since the Biogas project is supposed to generate “green energy.”
It doesn’t matter that any environmental benefit will be more than wiped out by environmental impact of trucking the waste to Elmira.


The Bio-En folks want us to think it will not smell bad, property values will not plummet, and that there really won’t be very many trucks. If this is true, it’s no problem.

But what if it’s not?

There is a huge difference between a back yard composter and a biogas facility. It’s like the difference between a pig farm, and a factory farm.

There is no remedy in place to compensate residents if this is not true. If the smell proves unacceptable to residents will the Bio_En Facility shut down until it can be remedied? If the smell of the trucks coming through town is too strong, will Bio-En alter the mode of transport to hermetically sealed tankers and add an enclosed “airlock” to the facility for unloading?

Before approving the Bio-En Plant, shouldn’t provision be made for an independent air quality monitoring facility (funded by Bio-En but answering to residents) equipped to measure strong odours both on site and en route to the site?

For the residents who choose to leave the area because of Bio-En, will Bio-En Inc. make up the difference between today’s pre-waste facility property values and what homes will actually sell for when Elmira smells like a dump?

If Bio-En Inc. is unable to compensate residents, will the Provincial Government step in?

Who will compensate residents?

looking down Arthur Street at the tents of the Festival Mall, an area sure to be hit by Bio-En odors

2 minutes away: The downtown core; home of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival

we MUST speak up

If we don’t speak up now (we have until Sunday) we might as well cancel the Syrup Festival, bulldoze our parks and prepare for a shocking drop in property values.

We need to say “no.” To add your voice, you can:

  • call Kristina Rudzki, at the MoE Toll Free (800) 461-6290
  • or email
  • Or Fax: 416-314-8452
  • Or you can comment directly on the MOE Website by clicking the comment tab in the right side bar

Be sure to note the EBR registry number: 011-3923

Tell the Provincial Government this is a bad idea; people live in this town.

residents fill up the part at the sunday evening concert at Gore Park

4 minutes away; Bio-En trucks will pass beside Gore Park, Located on Arthur Street

for more information:

Elmira Citizens’ Bio-En Response Group blog:
Stop The Stink

Elmira Independent: Biogas concerns sent to MOE
Woolwich Observer: Biogas debate heats up as comment period starts to wind down

Robin in the Hood: Thunderstorm Aftermath

For ten years the Robin In The Hood medieval festival was blessed with great weather.

Robin the Hood 2010 - royalty

One year there was a tiny spritz of rain in the morning that cleared up later.

A princess and an outlaw cross the tournament field.

A couple of years had unseasonable heat.

four fighters in the tournament ring

But the company made jokes about festival organizer D.J. Carroll’s magical ability to garner good weather for Robin In The Hood, always held on the first Saturday in June.

Robin in the Hood 2010 - outlaws cheer

Unfortunately, the weather did not co-operate this year. A series of thunderstorms scrolled across Ontario, buffeting Elmira’s Gibson Park with high winds and a series of torrential downpours.

branches down

Branches came down throughout the park,

the blacksmith is surrounded by puddles of water

and the volume of rain was so great that it left standing pools throughout the venue.

Robin stands at the edge of a puddle which reflects his image

Safety considerations due to the instability of the forest floor and canopy dictated the festival’s first cancellation in 2011, in what would have been the 11th year of operation.

Trebuchet sits in the sodden field, 2011

Robin in the Hood 2010 - Castle take down

Crispin stands by the door of the new castle

The new castle

Taking down the castle

members of the company hold up the castle walls

people carrying away a side wall while the rest of the castle is dismantled in the background

The wet forest with downed branches

Next year is bound to have better weather.

“Making Democracy Work”

Participate text clockwise along right border

Are we sick of politics yet?

I don’t know about you, but I am frustrated with the Canadian political system.
Fairvote Canada logo

Everyone who feels this way should look for the closest FairVote branch and find out what could be different, and what different systems might give us a more open, transparent government. If you have time to get involved and maybe volunteer with their organization, I’m sure they’d appreciate that too.

The Waterloo Fairvote branch has been working with CAPP (the Canadians Advocating Political Participation facebook group) in putting on different information nights ever since last year’s premature prorogation. They had this “Making Democracy Work” scheduled long before this election was called. So if you’re sick of attack ads and want solutions, not name calling, and you live in range of Waterloo Region, I suggest checking it out.

Although Fairvote and CAPP are non-partisan, the members are politically aware, so while they might support a particular candidate by wearing a button, they try very hard to keep the events non-partisan. I’ve actually come to recognize several local politicians from the various political parties in attendance at previous Fairvote events.

Everyone is welcome to attend:

CAPP/Fair Vote

“Making Democracy Work”
Thursday April 28

7 PM

at the Adult Recreation Centre
185 King St. S, Waterloo

And even if you can’t attend this meeting, make sure to get out an vote on May 2nd.
If we don’t vote for who we want elected, they will never be elected.

Freedom is Sexy: Julian Assange

I support WikiLeaks.

And even though I support WikiLeaks, I can believe that Julian Assange is innocent.

The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they’re in.

That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don’t create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable. ”

—Julian Assange 21 December, 2010 BBC Transcript: The Assange interview

The man who said this does not sound like a rapist to me.  Maybe he’s mistaken.  Of course, he could be a sociopath (though if he were, there ought to be other victims popping up).   Yet there’s not a breath of any.   Whatever. I don’t know.  People are innocent until proven guilty.

So unless proven otherwise, that’s my guess.  If there is ever is actually a trial in Sweden, maybe it will come out that I guessed wrong.   But I doubt it.

WikiLeaks is fighting for freedom. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has my vote for the 2010 Sexiest Man Alive.

Because he is a freedom fighter.  It doesn’t get any sexier than freedom.

Freedom Fighter Poster Julian Assange

This image should print reasonably well as a 4"x6" photo

If you like this mini poster feel free to copy and share it.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License by

I’m sure WikiLeaks would appreciate donations.

deprivation of freedom

Over the holidays think too about the young Private Bradley Manning who may well be the biggest hero of the 21st century. Bradley is under military arrest because the US Government thinks he is the one who leaked the “Collateral Murder” video and the Cablegate cables. Think of Bradley over Christmas. If you can spare a bit for his defense fund, or if you can send him a card, that would be good too.

Bradley Manning

c/o Courage to Resist
484 Lake Park Ave #41
Oakland CA 94610

You can mail things direct to him through

And in Canada there’s another young man who is in jail, not just for the holidays but for the forseeable future because of what he said on Twitter before the #G20 even happened. Canadian activist Byron Sonne has been punitiveley denied bail, which means he will be in jail until his case goes to court, which could be years. Find out more about Byron: Free Byron
You can write to Byron here:

Byron Sonne

c/o Maplehurst Complex
PO Box 10
661 Martin Street
Milton, ON
L9T 5E6

Happy Holidays.

Happy Canada Day

A Canadian Flag: Happy Canada Day

From me and mine to you and yours!

Have a great day, and if you’re driving, drive safely! 🙂

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