Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Elections Canada fun...

Hmmm, according to Wells, the Bloc has introduced a motion in the House of Commons:

"That this House express its complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Federal Elections Commissioner" (Wells' translation).

This ought to be fun!

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"Essential Service"??? Maybe it is that, but we'd be better off not to acknowledge it....

So, there are calls afoot throughout Toronto to have the TTC declared an "essential service" and limit the workers right to strike.

"Hell no", says I. "HELL NO!"

However, I disagree with the idea of making them an "essential service" for very different reasons from so many bloggers who are opposed.

I don't think we can afford it.

History shows that in most arbitrated settlements the union ends up getting MORE than they would have received through regular negotiations. Often, even more than they'd get if they'd gone on strike.

I'm with Andrew Coyne and the National Post on this one.

Some of my favourite quotes:

Coyne: "It won’t put an end to strikes, for starters: making strikes illegal, at least in this country, only brings on illegal strikes. The transit workers’ last walkout was illegal, as was the last teachers’ strike".

NP: "When Toronto's largest union went on strike in the summer of 2002, the city was trying to roll back concessions made in 1999 that promised a job for life to city staff who had more than 10 years on the job -- a majority of the work force. That provision made it impossible to save money by contracting out services and laying off high-priced union workers. Soon after the province sent workers back to the job and appointed an arbitrator, the arbitrator called a press conference, scolded Toronto officials for not "buying into improved [labour] relations," and by November had awarded the union almost everything it was demanding".

Coyne: "But even if [making the TTC an "essential service"] did achieve the goal of ending service disruptions, all that would ensure was uninterrupted TTC service: slow, infrequent, obstructive and unpleasant".

I've got to say, I've thought about it and I now firmly oppose making the TTC an "essential service". We can't afford it, and if we ever do it we'll be giving up hope until the end of time of ever fixing public transit in the big smoke.

Nope. Keep the status quo. It's the only way we'll ever change things.

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The problem's not between the Union and the TTC, it's between the Union, and the Union

As many suspected it seems there's nothing but trouble within the executive of ATU Local 113. Apparently, there's an internal battle going on within the Union (an attempted "coup" the Globe and Mail calls it) and the Toronto Star reports extensively on the battle. That Star mentions the "venomous atmosphere" and several pamphlets floating amongst the membership (apparently distributed by the Union executive's dissidents) which misstated the nature of several provisions of the proposed contract, such as language on contracting out and benefits.

It really seems as though the rank and file has been HORRIBLY served by the leadership of their union.

The result?

Well, City Council can't "ignore" the TTC anymore which might sound good, but post-strike, union-friendly Mayor Miller and TTC Chair Adam Giambrone aren't nearly as opposed to making the TTC an "essential service" as they once were.

Finally, in case you're wondering just what exactly the union voted no to, the G&M provides a handy chart, with comparisons to the top wage rates for unionized transit workers in North America:

And if you wonder why I'm focusing on wages, and not "contracting-out" issues, it's because it's pretty clear to me this morning that the "contracting out" stuff was a mirage meant to attack Bob Kinnear. As one of the G&M's union sources says "We've got the best contracting-out language anywhere. And they've been told that by our lawyers and everything." Leave aside the GTA. The contract they rejected would have made the TTC's drivers among the best paid in North America, and it's mechanics the second best paid, all with some of the best job security anywhere.

Seems to me as though the Union was doing pretty good until the executive (apparently) turned on each other.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm afraid perhaps TTC drivers are having a bad day today...

As promised, I tried to be extra nice to my driver this morning when I got on the bus. Sadly, although it was still early(ish) in the morning (8:30) I have to conclude from his response that he was already having a horrible day. I basically got a look somewhat akin to the look Darth Vader gave Obi Wan Kenobi right before he chopped him in half.

The ride was a bit of a slice too (fast, fast, fast, BREAK AT THE LAST MINUTE, fast, fast, fast, KNOCK PASSENGERS OVER WITH THE BREAKING) but that could be totally unrelated. Sometimes you just get a driver who drives like that, and you have to hold on tight.

Anyway, maybe it was the weather, maybe my driver was getting towards the end of the shift, maybe it was totally unrelated to the strike. But my driver was not at all a happy camper this morning. I'll be extra nice again tomorrow though. And hopefully my driver will have a better day tomorrow.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Toronto Transit workers ordered back to work...

Well, the legislature just unanimously passed legislation ordering TTC workers back to work, and the TTC has announced that some service will be back up and running within hours.

I've been quite critical of the strike, but allow me to take this opportunity to encourage those of you who take the TTC every day (like me) to be extra nice to your drivers, operators and collectors tomorrow. Even if you feel the need to express your displeasure, please keep in mind that PLENTY of people in the GTA are going to be giving these workers a hard time tomorrow, so there's no need for you to add to their bad day.

I certainly intend to be extra nice to my driver tomorrow morning (not that I'm not always nice!), and give an extra smile, and an extra cheerful good morning, and I encourage you to do the same. They're bound to take a lot of crap tomorrow no matter what you say or do, so you might as well be the bright spot in their day.

This is assuming of course that they'll all return to work, but I imagine that's a no-brainer. Refusing to return would be the labour negotiation equivalent of shooting yourself in the face, so I'm quite certain the buses will be running tomorrow.

Hopefully it won't be too horrible a day for the drivers.

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Ask me who I have sympathy for...

the generally well-paid, benefit-rich workers of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, or the mostly poor, powerless people they're screwing with, and I'd say my answer is pretty clear.

I plan to be extra nice to my bus driver on Monday morning, and I'll bet he or she will need it, 'cause I'm in a TINY minority.

Most people I know are truly incensed.

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As with most things public transit related, I've got to agree with Steve Munro...

I think Local 113 may well be out of their minds!!!

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

TTC on strike...

Can you freakin' BELIEVE THIS????

They just went on strike effective midnight.


Imagine for a moment that you're waiting for a bus in the middle of the night all alone.

And waiting.

And waiting...

The safety implications alone are STAGGERING!!!!

It's like they're BEGGING the province to declare the TTC an essential service and take away their right to strike forever. And I can't imagine many people would argue against it.

I'm a big time union supporter, generally, but after this?


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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Conservatives were NOT "doing what everyone else does"...

People, really.

The in-and-out scandal is not that complicated.

What you CAN do: Transfer money from the national party to local candidiates so that the local candidates can spend that money on local advertising.

What you CAN'T do: Buy a national ad campaign, and then temporarily (and I mean for mere hours here in some cases) transfer money from the national party to the local candidates and RIGHT BACK AGAIN to make it SEEM as though the candidates had paid for local advertising within their local spending limits, when we all know what happened was that the national party exceeded the national spending limits and then tried (incompetently to boot) to cover their tracks.

It's not rocket science people.

Local candidates can't have been "buying local advertising" with the money when most of the candidates only knew that money was going to appear and then disappear from their accounts at the behest of the national party for Pete's sake. If you never saw and ad, never approved an ad, never got an invoice, and have never heard of the advertising company that produced the ad then you didn't buy the advertising!

It's totally transparent for God's sake!!!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The "In and Out" scandal....

First, let me ask if we could rename this scandal slightly to the "Inside and Out" scandal, so that it can have it's own theme song! And, with all due respect to the Bee Gees, I mean the Feist version:

OK, that task completed, let's get to the scandal. There are any number of places you can go to learn more, but allow me to point to a few of particular interest.

First, from the G&M, there's: "Spending scheme raised eyebrows within Tory ranks". This is a great 3 page article on the scandal, including lots of information about how uncomfortable many TORIES were with the financial maneuvering, how little local Tory campaign officials knew about a supposed "local" ad buy, and how at least two Tory candidates outright refused to go along (good for them, I say!).

Second, there's this articles from the Globe and Mail: "Search Warrant suggests Tories overspent by $1 million". Here's my favourite passage:

As the probe expanded, Elections Canada reviewed other questionable invoices that were provided by Conservative candidates and related to Retail Media, the Toronto-based firm that made the ad buys for the national party. Of these invoices, 15 allegedly included the names of individual candidates on Retail Media letterhead, even though Retail Media told Elections Canada it dealt only with the party and “did not generate invoices to candidates or electoral districts.

For instance, one invoice in the amount of $39,999.91, filed on behalf of Steve Halicki, candidate for the Ontario riding of York South-Weston, was on Retail Media letterhead, the affidavit states.

When executives with the company were shown the invoice, one said “the invoice must have been altered or created by someone, because it did not conform to the appearance of invoices sent by Retail Media to the Conservative Party of Canada with respect to the media buy,” the affidavit states.

Barbro Soderberg, Mr. Halicki's official agent, told investigators she did not provide written authorization to anyone to incur expenses on behalf of the campaign and that she had no knowledge whatsoever of Retail Media, the affidavit states.

Ms. Soderberg said she was approached by Conservative Party campaign manager Rom Cimaroli, who proposed a deposit of about $40,000 into Mr. Halicki's campaign account. The funds would be immediately transferred back to the party and recorded as an advertising expense, the affidavit states. Despite some misgivings, Ms. Soderberg said she was reassured by party officials that the transaction was legal.

“I had contacted the Conservative Party in Ottawa and was reassured that this was okay,” Ms. Soderberg told investigators, according to the affidavit.

As a bookkeeper I know that sometimes you have to use creative accounting between two small companies, but I found this move was being a little too creative.

- emphasis added -

Paul Wells finds the (allegedly) faked invoices particularly funny. He also gets credit for this post, titled "Books the Tories will wish again and again had never been written" and his post on how this isn't the first time the Tories have been caught in "election-time fancy footwork". He also hilariously suggests that if this is their form of chess, perhaps the Tories should switch back to checkers.

Then, Mr. Wells' commentary lead me to Mr. Aaron Wherry's blog at Macleans, where he's diligently reading through the warrant for interesting quotes. I was going to post the most interesting (read "damning") quotes, but this post is already horrendously long, and there are a lot of them. So, beyond "Reading the Warrant: Part One" may I also suggest checking out:

Part Two

Part Five

Part Seven

Part Nine

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen

Part Seventeen

and Part Nineteen.

All of that in the first 56 pages of an apparently 700 page document.

This is gonna take a while.

Thank God for Feist.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Jon Stewart on Wednesday's Democratic "debate" (sic) on ABC...

As promised, here's a clip of Jon Stewart's reaction to Wednesday's Democratic "debate" (sic) on ABC (H/T to Daily Kos which also has clips of Colbert mocking the debate, and Colbert's three big guests last night, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barak Obama!!!).

The best part of Jon's analysis was this bit:

"The first hour of last nights debate was a 60 minute master class in questions that elevate out of context remarks and trivial insipid miscues into subjects of national discourse; WHICH IS MY JOB!


That's what I'm here for!

I'm the silly man!"

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ABC's Wednesday night Democratic "debate"...

Well, for those of you who didn't suffer through ABC's Democratic "debate" last night between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, man, did you dodge a bullet!

Here are some articles that should give you an idea of what it was like:

Keep debate focused on the serious, not the trivial - "in a word it was awful".

Debates moderators face stinging questions - "Nearly 17,000 comments flooded ABC News' Web site, many of them pouring scorn on the moderators, who were booed by the auditorium crowd near the end of the debate".

The ABC Debate: A Shameful Night for the U.S. Media - "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years".

Andrew Sullivan's live blogging of the debate - "I have to say I am actually shocked at the appallingly poor quality of the questions: the worst of the campaign so far. Pure MSM process bullshit. Again: it's now halfway through and there has not been a single question on the economy, foreign policy, healthcare, terrorism, Iraq or any other actual policy issue in this campaign. How much longer can ABC News avoid the actual policy issues in this election?

and there's much more here: Blogosphere buzzing with criticism of ABC news debate

So, if someone talks to you about how "on the defensive" Obama supposedly was in this "debate" (sic), ask them if perhaps that is a reflection on Obama, or on Gibson and Stephanopoulos's "shoddy, despicable performances".

As one of Andrew Sullivan's readers writes, "Has Obama's message of a new vision of politics ever looked more attractive than after this display?".

I'll try to post the video of tonight's Indecision 2008 from the Daily Show as soon as it goes up too, as Jon Stewart was as shocked as anyone else. Making a mockery of the political process in the U.S. is supposed to be HIS job after all, not the job of ABC "News" (sic).

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The call for someone to fight for Net Neutrality is answered?

Well, here we go.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers have officially called on Bell Canada to Cease and Desist it's throttling activities. By filing a Part VII application with the CRTC asking it to direct Bell Canada to cease and desist from throttling its wholesale Internet service, the CAIP have launched the first salvo of the net neutrality battle.

Now, initially, this is just about Bell's throttling of their third party competitors who get their ADSL access from Bell. As CAIP explains: "Bell's traffic shaping measures have impaired the speed and performance of the wholesale ADSL access services that it provides to independent ISPs and other competitors, to the point where the quality of the service has been degraded beyond recognition." However, it also threatens to bring to light just how Bell has been "managing their bandwidth" as some euphemistically like to call it.

Read this:

"In order to throttle the Internet traffic originating from/or destined for end-user customers of independent ISPs, Bell is using measures to first, open each data packet, examine the packet data and header information, and then apply certain rules to the content in question. This aspect of Bell’s wholesale throttling activities give rise to concerns that Bell’s actions violate the privacy of the communications of its wholesale customers (as well as that of their own end-user customers). It also gives rise to concerns that Bell has violated its duty under section 36 of the Act not to control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public."

Now, I may not be a total techy, but that says to me that Bell is looking at the content people are sending across the internet, and then determining what content goes fast, and what content goes slow.

Are you freaking kidding me?!?!

CAIP continues:

"by examining the packet data and packet header information of GAS customer traffic, Bell can identify, inter alia, the type of data being transferred, the ISP upon whose network the data is being transferred, an end-user’s intention to acquire certain types of Internet content and the IP address and, hence, the identity of the end-user customer who is sending/receiving the data. The collection and use of such information by Bell, which in this case would have clearly been done without the prior consent of the end-user customers so affected, violates the privacy of such individuals."

Uh, yeah, it sure as Hell does!

If you haven't been paying attention to the Net Neutrality debate to this point, it's time to start.

Here's a good primer on Net Neutrality from the CBC (who found that people were having trouble downloading CBC videos from their website because the internet had bee throttled by their ISPs thanks to Bell). And drop by Neutrality.ca to learn more about the issues surrounding Net Neutrality in Canada. If you're on Facebook, consider joining the Canadians for Net Neutrality group to show your support for Net Neutrality in Canada. Maybe if it gets 40,000 members like the Fair Copyright for Canada group did, then Minister Prentice will decide that letting private corporations exert a form of control over the internet, and the information that flows on it, that we would NEVER allow a government to exert is JUST PLAIN WRONG.

H/T to A Limerick Ox.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A primer on Net Neutrality in Canada....

Yesterday, NDP MP Charlie Angus rose in Question Period to ask the Minister of Industry about Net Neutrality, and the latest moves by Rogers and Bell to throttle the internet (thereby taking it upon themselves to determine what internet traffic gets priority, and what doesn't):

Of course, Minister Prentice's response is A) to be expected, and B) moronic.

The Minister is quite correct that the internet is not regulated in Canada. And that can be viewed as a good thing. However, if the government has decided that it would be wrong to interfere in the free and unbiased flow of information across the internet, why would they then let PRIVATE COMPANIES determine what information goes in the "fast lane" and what information goes in the "slow lane". If Rogers and Bell are allowed to continue throttling the internet, then it will no longer be true that we have "unregulated" internet in Canada. It'll be regulated all right, just not by the government. We're essentially allowing Rogers and Bell to restrict access to bandwidth in a way that we would NEVER allow our government to do. Is the Minister really saying that Rogers and Bell (who have a virtual monopoly over communications infrastructure in Canada) should be able to take on the role of shaping the nature of internet traffic in a way that they feel the SOVEREIGN GOVERNMENT OF CANADA could never jusitfy. If we wouldn't sanction GOVERNMENT control of the flow of information (and we don't... hello China) why should we be expected to put up with PRIVATE control of the flow of information? "The government can't infringe on your freedoms this way, but if a corporation wants to, that's just an issue between the consumer and the company"??? What's next? Private food companies that don't need to sell safe foods? Private police forces that don't need to respect your rights under the constitution?

Here's a good primer on Net Neutrality from the CBC (who found that people were having trouble downloading CBC videos from their website because the internet had bee throttled by their ISPs). And drop by Neutrality.ca to learn more about the issues surrounding net Neutrality in Canada. Hopefully Professor Michael Geist (who's on this, and was a big pusher behind stopping the Copyright fiasco from going to Parliament in December) will be able to similarly help rally support for true net neutrality in Canada.

If you're on Facebook, consider joining the Canadians for Net Neutrality group to show your support for Net Neutrality in Canada. Maybe if it gets 40,000 members like the Fair Copyright for Canada group did, then Mr. Prentice will decide that while having private groups regulating the flow of information on the internet may be different from having the government regulate the flow of information on the internet, that doesn't make it better.

Or remotely acceptable.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ontario's Sunshine list part 2....

So, I railed earlier on my blog against some people's annual reaction to the publishing of Ontario's "sunshine list" of public sector workers making over $100,000 (keep in mind that "public sector" isn't just bureaucrats, it's surgeons, judges, professors, University Presidents, hospital CEOs etc...) and as I work in a university, I wanted to add the following context with regards to the leaders of our universities in Ontario.

Of interest, for comparison to Ontario's sunshine list, is this article from Bloomberg. It’s on some of the top paid university leaders in the U.S.

Now, the highest paid University President in Ontario is apparently McMaster President Peter George ($494,807.14). The highest paid University President in the U.S. is Lynn University’s Donald Ross at $5.04 million.

Ross is followed by the heads of Willmington and Vanderbilt at (MUCH further down) $1.37 million and $1.33 million respectively. There are nine University President’s in the U.S. making over $900,000 a year. Now, I’ll admit many of these are anomalies, and not useful for comparison (they're also all private institutions but patience, we'll get to that in a moment...).

In the Ivy League (and while I’m not sure about Mac, I’d like to think U of T deserves a President who commands an Ivy League salary) the President’s salary ranges from $460,000 (Dartmouth) to just over $900,000 (University of Pennsylvania). U of T’s David Naylor makes $380,100.00 (though with almost 50,000 in taxable benefits, one could argue he's at least close to the absolute bottom of his Ivy League colleagues, at $429,682). So the President of Ontario's largest (and arguably best) university makes ALMOST what the lowest paid Ivy League President does. Almost.

But if you don’t think U of T is “Ivy League” (or deserves to strive to be) and/or you're hung up on the private versus public distinction, then let’s just look at the public universities in the U.S. The highest paid public university President in the U.S. is Michigan’s Mary Sue Coleman at $724,604. Just $300,000 more per year than U of T President David Naylor. What's more, there are 23 public University Presidents in the U.S. making over $500,000. TWENTY-THREE.

So, no University President in Ontario would crack the top 20 in compensation when compared to U.S. public universities. Not Karen Hitchcock at Queen’s ($340,000.02), nor David Johnston at Waterloo ($458,571.58), nor Paul Davenport at Western ($355,890.00). Not one University President in Ontario is being compensated at the level of the leader of a top 20 public university in the States.

None of which is to say that absolutely every person on the sunshine list deserves what they’re making, but I’m always sickened by some people’s reaction to the sunshine list every year.

You get what you pay for people, and if you’re not willing to pay for it, someone else will.

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Amazing new BBC documentary....

The BBC has a fabulous new nature documentary on one of the most rare bird species on the planet:

H/T to mans laughter
via The Galloping Beaver.

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Ontario's Sunshine list...

So, Ontario just published it's annual sunshine list of people making over $100,000 in the public sector. (this includes colleges and universities as well, plus the judiciary, big hydro, etc...)

This year there are 42,527 people on the list, up from about 34,000 last year. The article in the Toronto Star has some interesting features.

One, it refers to these people as "
well-paid mandarins". Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think of an experienced university professor, or the head of a major metropolitan hospital as a "mandarin". Some might argue that we should be slashing these salaries, to which I say, if you want all of our best professors to move to the U.S., and all of our crown corporations to be led by people who couldn't get a job in the private sector, go ahead. Most of these people could make a lot more money if they left the public sector for a private company, or left U of T or Queen's to go teach at Harvard or Yale. If that's what you want, fine. Start saving to send your kids abroad for their education, and don't complain when the power goes out because all the power executives who know what their doing have left to work for private companies.

Second, the article points out that the $100,000 cut off is not indexed to inflation. So, even if these people's salaries are just keeping pace with inflation, the number of people on the list is virtually GUARANTEED to go up every year. If you wanted to make a fair comparison to 1996 (the year the list was introduced by the Harris government) then this year's cut-off should be $125,000, not $100,000 ($100,000 in 1996 dollars = $125,000 in 2008 dollars). This makes the list kinda meaningless (and direct comparisons to past years TOTALLY meaningless) as ignoring the effect of inflation is like trying to buy a candy bar for a penny because a candy bar used to cost a penny.

Third, and most humourously, both of the people quoted attacking the list (Bob "oh MY, the DRAMATIC increases" Runcimen and Howard "think of what a minimum wage earner makes" Hampton) are ON THE LIST. Howard Hampton - $153,571.20, Bob Runcimen $143,303.03. Now, I don't begrudge our elected officials making good money. God knows I don't want Queen's Park to be filled with people too under-educated, and under-qualified to get a private sector job, but still, it's funny. Some politicians will rail against what some professor with seven years worth of graduate education makes, but never mention that they're making more.

Good thing we have a Sunshine list, I guess.

Still, this has to be the one day a year when all the "outrage" over these "high" salaries makes a lot of these people re-consider staying in Canada, or staying in the public sector. I'd imagine a lot of Ontarians are wishing today that they were sitting pretty at Harvard or GE, or working at some high powered corporate law firm instead of getting attacked for making less money at U of T or Ontario Power Corp, or sitting on the bench.

It's not often one can sympathize with people making over $100,000. But the day after the sunshine list is published is always, for me, one of those days.

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