Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Help Save the South March Highlands by Voting it One of Canada's Great Places

The Fifth Column has written many times about the most biodiverse natural area in Ottawa adjacent to urban Kanata and threatened by urban sprawl and development.

Now is your chance to help save the South March Highlands by raising the profile of its cause by voting to have it designated one of the Great Places in Canada. We can win this designation if we all take the time to vote daily in the Canadian Institute of Planners Great Places in Canada contest.

Click Here to Find Out More About the Contest

Click Here to Vote for the South March Highlands

Even if you do not believe we can save all of the South March Highland it is still worth the struggle to save as much of it as we possibly can. The more of the South March Highlands we can save, the more of a sustainable ecosystem we will be able to protect for future generations.

Learn more about the South March Highlands below:




Just 20 minutes from Parliament Hill, this is Ottawa's Great Forest: an old-growth paradise that is recreationally enjoyed and spiritually revered. It has untapped ecotourism potential, but threatened by urban sprawl. Spanning over a thousand hectares, this Canadian Shield ecosystem is more than a billion years old. Rich in wetlands and mature forest, it is home to more than 654 species, including 18 species that are at risk of becoming extinct.

This area contains hundreds of mammal, bird, and vegetation species. The fact that they’re all in one place within a major urban city is astounding. No other major city in the world has the biodiversity that this region has. For citizens and tourists alike, the South March Highlands offer an immersive glimpse into Canada's pre-colonial ecology. The forest attracts birders, nature lovers, scouts, biologists, archeologists, hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, photographers...and dreamers.

What makes this forest so special? It's biodiversity is exceptional. The South March Highlands area is rated as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) for both its Life Science value (895 hectares) and its wetlands (114 hectares). There are 679 known species including 160+ bird species, although there remains much to be discovered. Scientists believe there could be thousands of species in this wilderness. There are also two rare coldwater streams that run through the highlands, providing a life source to many animals that wouldn't normally survive in an urban environment.

The highlands have also been sacred ground for area Algonquins – forming Turtle Island at a time when Ottawa was submerged by the Champlain Sea thousands of years ago. At least three 10,000-year-old archaeological sites have recently been discovered here and are awaiting further study.

Being so close to the city's downtown core, the highlands understandably face growing pressure from groups wanting to develop the land. Many community, recreational, and cultural groups have been champions for protecting this fragile forest. On behalf of aboriginals everywhere, the late Grandfather William Commanda, recipient of the Order of Canada, was dedicated to protecting it. Just before his passing in 2011, he said the South March Highlands are a "national heritage site, one of significant Indigenous importance and as an Algonquin in the unceded, unconquered, and unsurrendered Ottawa River Watershed.”

Other community groups include the South March Coalition, which has put forth a stewardship plan for the area (www.southmarchhighlands.ca). To help protect ecological sensitive areas, a trail system is maintained by the Ottawa Mountain Biking Association. Numerous national groups have recognized South March's special ecology, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Club of Canada, and CPAWS.

This great forest is important not only to Ottawa's residents and visitors, but to all Canadians. It's a rare old-growth environment that is home to many species on the brink of extinction. It's a living history lesson in pre-colonial ecology. It's a sacred place that holds cultural and archeological secrets. It's a place to explore, to breathe, and to appreciate Mother Earth – all this only 20 minutes from Parliament Hill!

As Ottawa's suburbs began to grow westward in the 1970s, then-Kanata City planners and provincial environmental officials recognized that the highlands deserved special protection. Engineers also recognized that South March's wetlands were very effective at managing watershed issues – the natural system protected the developed areas from flooding. This foresight in planning is the reason we still have the South March Highland today.

Monday, 30 January 2012

A Non-Satirical Look at Ottawa's PIN Messaging "Scandal"

Is Ottawa's PIN scandal really a tempest in a teapot.

You cannot legislate or regulate integrity. The only thing that can ensure someone's integrity is their integrity.

As it stands now there is a possibility for Ottawa City staff members to discuss public policy matters without there being a record of it, by holding those discussions in person, on the telephone or via PIN messages, none of which is recorded.

If the City was to start recording PIN messages, staff members could still conduct unrecorded conversations on the telephone or in person.

So the debate should not be about ensuring staff do not conduct unrecorded conversations or enforcing some code of integrity.

The debate should be about whether PIN messages are the type of interaction that should form part of the public record. My understanding is that, even more than phone and in person conversations they are not.

Normal documentation and even e-malls that often contain lengthy information, explanations and reasoning for policies often do and should be documented and archived. In the case of phone conversations or in person meetings the usual practice is to take notes during, or make them after, to record key information shared or decisions taken. This can easily be done for PIN messages when warranted and avoid a massive and costly archiving of every mundane exchange.

We could record every PIN message and phone call and in person conversation and if people wanted to have a private and secret conversation it would not be hard to do, barring attaching 24 hour recording devices to all staff members bodies, and then the satirical take wouldn't seem so far out after all.

You cannot legislate or regulate integrity. The only thing that can ensure someone's integrity is their integrity.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

City Plan to Develop Municipal Mind Monitoring Software Expected to Jump Start Local High Tech Industry

In a move described by some observers as onionesque, the City's Policies and Procedures Committee is recommending the city issue an RFP for the development of what will be known as MMM Software. The Request for Proposals for Municipal Mind Monitoring software comes after a review of the latest moves by the City to fully document the decision-making process at City Hall.

In response to concerns by the City Auditor that some discussions relating to City decisions were not being recorded and archived, the City brought in new measures to capture all discussions amongst City staff, including the tapping of all staff telephones, including cell phones, and the planting of listening devices in City offices and hallways as well as microphones on all Members of Council and senior staff members.

As well as concerns about proper documentation there were concerns about the potential for secret meetings. When asked for comment former Mayor Larry said - "if people want to have secret meetings they will do what they have always done, meet at a strip club". He added "You know we are losing all rights to privacy. Even your tweets are broadcast to the whole world".

In reviewing the new measures the audit discovered yet another missing component in the documentation of the City's decision making process, After consultants interviewed a cross-section of staff it was discovered that much of the analysis part of the decision-masking process took place in the minds of the staff members. While some criticized the high cost of the consultants report, others praised it for identifying an until then unknown factor in the process.

Mayor Jimmy has praised the recommendation stating it provides the first opportunity for the City to invoke his policy of direct involvement in economic development to promote the private high tech sector to fill the void caused by federal cutbacks.

The Municipal Mind Monitoring Strategy will include the development of both hardware (brain monitoring devices) and software (thought analysis software) and is seen as a potential huge boost for the local economy in jump starting a whole new industry.

Promoters see huge potential for this kind of software from monitoring convicted criminals thoughts to those of suspected terrorists. Some say this would be the perfect tool to install on all school students to ensure they stay on the right track. The BBSA (Big Brother Society of America ) has even offered to provide grants to jump start the project.

It is expected that, once proven, this will become a standard business tool, as widely used as instant messaging, such as PIN, is today.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

NCC "Grand" "Massive" Greenbelt Expansion More Wish List Than To Do List

According to the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA — The National Capital Commission brought forward a massive expansion Wednesday of the Greenbelt that will see the “emerald necklace” grow by 2,400 hectares in a bid to cement Ottawa’s reputation as one of the world’s greenest capitals.

(View Greenbelt expansion in a larger map)

The effort is part of a grand plan to protect the natural environment and ecosystem of the National Capital Region and connect the Greenbelt to features such as the Carp Hills, South March Highlands, Cumberland Forest and even across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park.

Over 50 years, parcels of land — large and small — belonging to provincial and city governments, as well as private holders would be added to the Greenbelt through outright purchase or negotiations. By 2067, the Greenbelt would grow to about 24,000 hectares (23,875) from 21,875 hectares today. Overall, 57 per cent would be natural environment, up from 50 per cent today. Nearly 5,800 hectares would be set aside to promote sustainable agriculture, mostly small-scale operations of varied crops and livestock.
...

The biggest parcels of land the NCC hopes to add to the Greenbelt include privately owned land in Shirley’s Bay and provincially owned woodlands and natural areas near the Mer Bleue Bog. The NCC believes it can negotiate with provincial and city governments to make their land part of the Greenbelt while maintaining ownership. Other pieces of land would be part of a study to determine if they should be added to the Greenbelt. The trickier part for the NCC, which is hard-pressed for cash, is to find the money to buy private lands.
...

(NOTE: map in this article is the same map previously released on March 18, 2011 with the NCC Greenbelt Concept Plan documents - rww)
The old saying goes "if it sounds too good to be true ..." and unfortunately this sounds more like good intentions than a real plan. We have a 50 year time span over which much can change, including the NCC Board and leadership. We have no apparent budget but an admitted shortage of funding. And most importantly, some of the most environmentally sensitive lands, such as much of the South March Highlands, are in private hands and planned for development. Are they going to be put in limbo for potentially 50 years - not likely.

And talking about the South March Highlands and other similar lands, just what does "connect the Greenbelt to features such as the Carp Hills, South March Highlands, Cumberland Forest and even across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park." mean. To me that implies that the Carp Hills and South March Highlands would be added to the Greenbelt and protected - why else connect to them. The Greenbelt is already "connected" to lots of subdivisions. The Ottawa Citizen article is annoyingly vague here and we can only assume the vague wording originated with the NCC. Unfortunately we could not find any official statement on the NCC web site last time we were able to access it (currently appears to be down).

We need more details. We need a timeline telling us when specific lands will be added to the Greenbelt. We need assurance that the NCC has the funding necessary and the willingness to expropriate private land if necessary. And we need to know that all the proposed additions will be protected from development until they are added to the Greenbelt.

Otherwise all we have is a pipe dream.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Ultimate Solution to Electoral Reform in Canada

Yes indeed, I do have the ultimate solutions to all of our electoral system problems and I will share them with all of you. Now some of you might think this is too comprehensive and complicated to propose all at once, but for voters it will be just a simple two step process and will eliminate the most difficult part of the voting process.

We need to do this fully and comprehensively because people have a reluctance towards change when it comes to our electoral system. They are not going to want to make multiple incremental changes. We have to do it once and we have to do it right.

The Problem

My proposals are aimed at solving the most important flaws in the process, those that make it undemocratic:

  • - the pressure for people to vote strategically, rather than for their actual preference, to try to avoid the next two factors
  • - the possibility, and likelihood in many cases, for the last choice of most voters to get elected because of "vote splitting" among like-minded voters
  • - a House of Commons whose party seat distribution does not reflect the popular vote
  • - an unelected, unaccountable and unnecessary Senate
The Solution

My proposals are based on these principles:
  • - maintaining the constituency representative system as the main basis of House of Commons membership
  • - eliminating the need and pressure for strategic voting
  • - a House of Commons whose membership, by party representation, reflects the total popular vote
  • -solving the Senate problem
A Constituency Representative Based System

The vast majority of Members of the House of Commons would be elected, as they are now, as constituency representatives. But, to avoid the necessity for strategic voting and the possibility of the least popular rather than most popular candidate being elected, a transferable vote system will be used where voters rate the candidates in preferential order, rating as many or few candidates as they wish.

A House of Commons Reflecting The Popular Vote

In order to ensure the party representation in the House of Commons reflects the popular votes a number of seats will be added to the House of Commons, and the members selected from party lists in a manner that brings the overall party representation equal to the popular vote.

This will be done by having voters select a party preference separate from a candidate preference.

The Numbers and Solving The Senate Problem

Looking at the last federal election we see that with 308 constituency representatives we have to add 107 Members of Parliament from party lists to get a fully representative House of Commons. However we can actually do this without adding any additional federal representatives by eliminating the Senate and the 100 Senators and limiting the number of constituency representatives to 300 and the number of list representatives to 100. This might not always enable adjustments to get the party representation fully equivalent but certainly enough to prevent any one party from forming a majority government without a majority of the popular vote. Note that current plans call for increasing the size of the House of Commons to 338 while retaining the Senate.

And yes eliminating the Senate may seem like an impossible task but all that it really requires is political will and is making our government truly democratic not worth finding that political will.

The End of Strategic Voting

The two new parts of the system - transferable votes and separate votes for party representation remove the most difficult part of the voting process - the antagonizing decision by voters on whether to vote strategically, an act that is itself undemocratic. Voters should be able to vote for the candidate and party of their choice and not feel that they have to vote against someone or some party to avoid the worst of all possible outcomes.

The transferable vote allows voters to rank their preferences so that in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The separate vote for party representation means that no matter how votes divide up by constituency the parties representation in the House of Commons reflects their support nationwide.

These provisions also allow voters to choose independent candidates as their constituency representative without losing their ability to affect the party representation in the House of Commons.

Municipal and Provincial Elections

The transferable vote provisions are ones that should also be adopted in municipal elections. Since most municipal elections do not involve political parties the likelihood of many candidates with similar views running is even greater than in federal and provincial elections and the pressure to vote against the least desirable (rather than for the most desirable) candidate is even greater. A transferable vote prevents the last choice of most voters from being elected due to vote splitting because in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The full proposal (except for elimination of the Senate) could also be adopted and adapted for provincial elections.

Representation by Population and Community Representation

One of the effects of our attempt to maintain representation by population (rep by pop) as much as possible without even further enlarging the geographic size of rural and remote constituencies has been the continual increase in the number of Members of Parliament. Current plans call for the House of Commons to increase from 308 to 338 with no end in sight.

One of the things that the separate ballot for party representation will ensure is that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote of voters. This makes pure representation by population, which we have never had, somewhat less important and enables us to put more focus on making constituency representatives community representatives.

To achieve this we should put a limit on the number of Members of Parliament at 300 constituency MPs and 100 list MPs. We should also redraw constituencies, taking rep by pop into account as much as possible, making constituency boundaries more consistent with actual community boundaries as well as keeping geographic size manageable for an MP to represent. We should retain these configurations for much longer periods so these new community reflecting constituencies do not change with every election.

We should also retain PEI at 4 constituency MPs and Quebec at 75 constituency MPs for historical reasons.

We have to recognize, of course, that the list MPs will come from across Canada and are not necessarily going to accurately reflect rep by pop, though I suspect they may be more urban than rural somewhat correcting the effect of limiting rural and remote constituency geographic sizes.

There is going to be, as there always has been, a trade-off between rep by pop and ensuring effective representation for less densely populated parts of the country. However with the separate vote for party preference based on popular vote that becomes less of a problem.

The Benefits of List Representatives

There has always been criticism of the concept of having Members of Parliament selected from party lists but there are also significant benefits of it beyond ensuring that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote.

We have to remember, that just as voters take into account candidates party affiliation when choosing a constituency MP, voters will also take into account who the parties have placed on their lists when choosing a party preference. Thus the parties will need to be mindful of this when drawing up their lists.

One aspect that might be criticized is parties placing people who could not get elected as individual MPs on the list. I think that is a good thing. There are undoubtedly many competent qualified people capable of doing an excellent job as an MP who would be a complete failure as a political candidate. It would not hurt to have some MPs who are lousy as "political operatives" in the House of Commons.

It might also not hurt to have MPs who are less partisan in the House of Commons and I would encourage political parties to place capable candidates that might not be card carrying members but share the parties philosophies on their lists.

There is a question as to whether parties should be allowed to place individuals who are seeking election as constituency representatives on the list. While I understand that parties might want to "protect" key candidates it is somewhat offensive that candidates rejected by their constituency voters could end up in the House of Commons (somewhat like appointing failed candidates to the Senate).

Towards a New Co-operative and Democratic House of Commons

Most individual voters would probably say that they want a majority government led by (and composed only of) the party they support. But what do the voters collectively want. It is rare that a majority of voters votes for one political party and when they do the seat representation is far from proportional to the popular vote.

The last time Canadian voters gave one party over 50% of popular votes was in 1958 when Diefenbaker's Tories received 53.7 % of the votes and 78.5 % of the seats, although Mulroney's Tories received 50% of the votes and 74.8% of the seats in 1984. (Source: Canadian Election Results: 1867-2006)

We usually get majority governments, not because we vote for them but, because of how our political system is structured.

This proposed new electoral system will ensure that voters get the representation they want and will almost always reflect the fact that their is a wide variety of political preferences in our country.

We might all be very surprised by how much better a governing process and government we get if our elected representatives are forced by the voters to actually compromise and work together without one party, or even one man, controlling the agenda.

Although we have become used to it, an "elected dictatorship" is not necessarily the best way to run a country.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

We Must Stop Stephen Harper and the 20% from Destroying Canada

There has been lots of discussion about how Stephen Harper's majority only represents 40% of voters because of the way our electoral system works. But, in reality, his agenda has much fewer supporters.

We must remember that the Conservative Party is a coalition. It is not a coalition in the sense that the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition (with an accord with the BQ) was. That proposed coalition was the product of compromise and an agreed to written common program.

This Conservative coalition is a coalition of perceived necessity where the old Progressive Conservative Party supporters have been convinced that the only way to keep the Liberals out of power is to support a Reform Party Canadian Alliance dominated Conservative Party. It is clear that Stephen Harper's agenda does not represent the values of the former Progressive Conservative Party, but it did get elected with the votes of it's supporters.

So now we have a ReformaTory government dominated by the 20% of Canadians who support the extreme right wing American-centric Reform Party Canadian Alliance ideology of Stephen Harper.

And they want to turn Canada into a mirror of our American neighbour, clearly a failed state if there ever was one. Have no doubt about it. Stephen Harper was not lying when he said we would not recognize our Canada when he was finished with it.

Stephen Harper's values are not Canadians values.

Canadians chose Tommy Douglas as the Greatest Canadian because he gave us Medicare, our public health care system, and we have consistently stated (as documented by public opinion polls) that public health care is the most important Canadian value and the most important thing that defines us as Canadians.

Stephen Harper wants to destroy our national health care system. He is on record as wanting to eliminate the Canada Health Act provisions that require provinces to meet national standards to receive federal funding. The next step will be to eliminate all federal funding, likely under the guise of trading tax points for direct federal funding. He has stated, using constitutional provisions as a justification, that the federal government should turn health care completely over to the provinces. We all know he wants to do that to promote more privatization and weakening of the public system and it's deterioration into a two-tier system, or worse.

Stephen Harper and the 20% do not represent Canadian values and what the vast majority of Canadians want when it comes to our cherished public health care system.

Stephen Harper believes that there are Canadians whose lives are less worthy of protection than other Canadians. He believes this because he believes in dividing Canadians into good people and bad people and those that are addicted to drugs are bad people that should be punished rather than provided with the treatment they need.

He opposes harm reduction measures (more properly called lifesaving measures) for addicts such as safe injection sites and needle exchange programs, even though they have been proven to save lives and even help rehabilitate addicts, because these programs may inconvenience or offend "good Canadians". He knows the "bad Canadians" these programs serve do not vote Conservative, because they do not vote.

But this is all part of the ReformaTory Conservatives war on drugs and tough on crime agenda that has been proven to be such a failure in the United States that even right wing governments and politicians in states like Texas are abandoning it. But Stephen Harper likes it because it fits in with his anti-science anti-fact ideology-based strategy that preys on peoples fears.

And even though crime is declining in Canada, the reporting of crime in the media is increasing, as is it's depiction on American television shows, and some Canadians do fear our country, and especially our cities, becoming the crime-ridden places they see portrayed in the media.

Of course logic would say that if you were really concerned about crime your policies would emulate those countries where crime is lowest, not the country where crime is highest. But facts and logic are not part of Stephen Harper's ideology. Fear and the desire for revenge are better vote-getters, so Stephen Harper thinks.

Stephen Harper and his 20% of supporters are clearly out of touch with Canadian values. What we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. If he is elected to another majority, no matter how phony a majority it is, he will see it as a mandate to finish the job of destroying the Canada that we all know and love.

Stephen Harper and his 20% must be stopped. We must put our political differences aside to save our country.

We need a one time electoral coalition agreement for the next election that provides that Liberals and New Democrats do not run against each other in any constituencies that the Conservatives have any chance of winning.

This coalition agreement should be short term only to allow for the election of a government pledged to undo the worst of the Harper ReformaTory measures and bring in democratic and electoral reforms that will see the next election run under a form of proportional representation.

Because it will be short term, with an agreed to program, and will be followed by an election under proportional representation, neither the NDP nor Liberals need worry if the candidate selection process is not perfect. There is no need to let partisan protectionism come before the necessity of saving our Canada from Stephen Harper's desire to destroy it. That is what it is about and we must put all partisan differences aside to save our country.

The next election will then be run under proportional representation and will be the first to elect a truly representative House of Commons. I have my own ideas on how such a proportional representation system should be structured which I will write about in a future post.

This election will, in all likelihood, not produce a majority government because all Canadians do not think the same way, but most do share similar values and the elected representatives will reflect this.

This new way of electing governments will require parties and Members of Parliament to work together. It will eliminate one party, and more importantly one despotic leader, from having complete authoritarian control of the government. Indeed it will, no doubt, reduce the powers of all party leaders and increase the powers of individual Members of Parliament.

We have, not only a chance to not only save our country from Stephen Harper, but a chance to reform our electoral system so that 20% of the people that want to destroy our country will never be able to seize power again.

We must seize that opportunity or our children and grandchildren will never forgive us.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Sometimes I Really Wonder

I think we all have friends, relatives or acquaintances that are caught up in Islamophobia and regularly send out e-mails warning that the Muslims are immigrating and breeding and going to take over the country.

Their usual solution to the "problem" is to force the minorities to abandon their "evil ways" and adapt to the majority culture, essentially for them to assimilate.

It seems to me that, from their point of view, their solution is misguided.

Should they not be welcoming newcomers, respecting their beliefs and accommodating the cultures of the minorities as much as possible while helping them integrate into our multicultural society.

At least that would be the precedent I would want to set if I saw myself as part of a majority that was soon to be displaced and become the minority.