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Live from Toronto

This is the current webcam view of Roy Thomson Hall at 60 Simcoe St. in Toronto as seen from the Southwest and looking Northeast. See the location here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Globe and Mail - Statistical black hole opens door to foreign workers

There are more than 30 First Nations reserves in northern Saskatchewan, many of which struggle with exceptionally high levels of unemployment. Yet none of the people living on those reserves are reflected in the regional unemployment rate, a key trigger that determines whether employers can apply to bring in temporary foreign workers for low-skill jobs.

This statistical oddity – reserves are not and never have been included in the labour-force survey – skews Canada’s true picture of unemployment and throws into question one of the government reforms meant to encourage employers to hire aboriginals and other Canadians before looking overseas. Despite a clamp down on the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program, the door to foreign workers remains open on First Nations, as illustrated by a Globe investigation that found a cafeteria owner on an Alberta reserve was granted approval to hire foreign workers even though an estimated 70 per cent of residents don’t have a job.

Read the rest of the article here

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Globe and Mail - Canada-U.S. drifting apart? Blame America

The Nanos poll revealing growing divergence of views between Canadians and Americans should not surprise anyone. But Canada is not to blame for the fact that we are drifting apart on so many issues, as some allege. Partisan sniping, or the well-known proclivity of Canadians to blame themselves when things sour – our ingrained apologist streak – should not blind us to reality. Canadians must wake up to what many of America’s erstwhile allies learned much earlier: The Obama Administration is one of, if not the weakest U.S. administrations on record in terms of global leadership and constructive bilateralism. That, together with a polarized, dysfunctional Congress and, more generally, an America that is turning inwards are among the reasons why the neighbourhood ardor is waning. And it is not simply Canadians who feel that way. Our Mexican friends feel jilted on immigration and border security, two issues that matter greatly to them. So too do America’s allies across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans whose profound sense of frustration with an America in retreat is palpable.

Read the rest here

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The year rolls on and here we are again at Thanksgiving time in Canada. While I will not be home (in the U.S. for a couple more days, still), I called my family in Canada to wish them a blessed day and year ahead. I can tell I'm becoming more and more Canadian with each year when I come to think of Thanksgiving in October, rather than November as it is in The Old Country.

I celebrate both Thanksgivings though, and will continue to.

You can't be too thankful after all!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Globe and Mail - Poll finds Canadians, Americans moving apart

Canadians and Americans continue to drift apart, souring a relationship that’s likely to get worse as long as Prime Minster Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama remain in power, according to a leading Canadian pollster.

“More of the same,” a relationship adrift, said Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research, adding: “We won’t get a reset until Obama and Harper are no longer leading their respective countries.”

Read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

"Buy American" - another bad idea from the people that brought you "Too large to fail"

"Buy American" programs in the U.S. are well intentioned: The idea that the federal government will spend it's money on American products and not foreign ones. But like many good concepts, it can get a bit messy in implementation; especially when you have something called NAFTA. Oh wait - NAFTA is only free trade for the U.S. - my bad.

Here's the story of American protectionism gone wrong: A small public bridge in Colorado was built with American steel, but because that steel was rolled in the American company's Canadian plant, it became "foreign", and no longer qualified for federal dollars.

Buy America ruling reversed on Colorado bridge made with Ontario steel

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

it's official - I've lost touch with the U.S.

Two weeks into my latest visit to 'The Old Country" and I have to say, the overwhelming feeling I am having about the U.S., home, and everything here is that I've lost touch with it. The issues that matter to family and friends don't ring with me; I've lost track of changes around me; but the saddest thing is the state of friends and family.

Most of my friends and family know I only come home a few times a year at best, and know in advance when I'm coming. But I guess leaving is leaving, and they don't seem to make much effort when I'm back to see me. Only my closest friends (count them on a few fingers of one hand) reach out to me when they know I'm coming home.

Maybe it's more of a reflection of how I lived my life when I was here than anything else. Maybe I have a faulty, romantic memory that we were all closer than I believed? I understand that everyone lives their own life, and gets on with it; maybe the issue is I wanted to believe I mattered more than I do. I guess everyone wants to feel that way though.

So, save for my closest family and a couple friends, I might as well not be home at all. Maybe in the future I wont bother to let anyone know I'm coming back. As it is, I mainly feel like a ghost, haunting my old neighbourhood, making sounds no one can hear.

Monday, September 29, 2014

More U.S. madness - Seattle METRO bus cutbacks

Seattle is a tough city to get around in. Water is everywhere and you mainly have to drive around it to get where you want to. There are always a lot of cars on the road. Commutes can be a nightmare, The current drive times during rush hours from Everett to Seattle (28.3 miles) can average over 2-hours. You would think the city would embrace mass transit.


Seattleites don't want to lose their cars and they don't want to pay for mass transit either. When they don't vote to fund these initiatives, the powers that be take things away. This week, they eliminated 28 bus routes. It's one thing if the routes were unused, but METRO, in what can only be seen as a vengeance ploy, eliminated routes in Seattle's busy and densely populated Capitol Hill neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, I personally witnessed four idle articulated coaches in a holding pattern in SW Seattle; part of a "Rapid Ride" system METRO built on top of their core transit system. The build out included a fleet of specially branded coaches and new, premium bus stops. So METRO can't cover the routes they already have, but they can launch an entirely other service?

The citizens of Seattle see this mismanagement and refuse to vote tax dollars to support it, Who can blame them? The bus and train services they do get don't run all the time and the coverage is spotty - maybe that's why ridership isn't as high as it could be.

But it's madness that a city in perpetual gridlock doesn't deal with this priority effectively. They don't. They never did when I lived here, and it's more of a mess than ever.

Oh, and then today METRO decided some of the cuts to service they had announced wouldn't be necessary after all. You can trust them on that.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Back in the U.S. - Fall 2014 edition

It started on the flight from Buffalo to Chicago. The American sitting next to me was on her way to Paris. "This is my last international flight." she told me. "With those bombings today and the terror alerts, it's just not safe..." What bombings? I asked myself. Terror alerts?

When I landed in Chicago, the TV monitors turned onto CNN told me that the bombings she was talking about had been carried out by the U.S. in Syria. WE had bombed THEM. The terror alerts? Well, when you bomb someone, they tend to get a little upset about it.

Then I listen to the news commentary, and a word has entered the vocabulary of the press that to me is a little disturbing - a little Orwellian.

The U.S. press has followed the government lead like good little propagandists and now refers to the U.S. as "The Homeland". When I hear this term, all that comes to mind is Hitler on a podium, spewing about "der faderland". Protect The Homeland: Threats to The Homeland... Am I the only one who is bothered by this?

So here I am, a few hours into my U.S. visit, and I am not only in another country; I am literally in another world. The U.S., as I see it, is a country living in a perpetual state of fear, involved in a never-ending state of war on an enemy that is not a nation, but instead a political philosophy. And this fear, and this war, keeps the population from noticing how everything that should matter to their own well being is being stripped from them.

And the population drinks the Kool Aid of distraction. They will debate for hours about al-Qaeda (sorry, I meant ISIS), and Ferguson, and the latest mass shooting...all while they go without healthcare, millions live in poverty, bankers get richer after breaking the law, and since 2002, the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world.

I thank God every day that I am only visiting the country. I will never live here again.

You people are crazy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Violence in Toronto - it's personal

All in all, Toronto is a very safe city. I can't really say that there are neighborhoods that I avoid or fear to be in at any hour of the day. In my three years here, "random" acts of violence seem to be very rare.

There is a particular form of violence that was new to me, however. Stabbings. Because of two conditions, it seems stabbings happen almost as frequently as shootings. I think the two reasons are: Gun control in Canada is pretty rigorous and violence is personal.

It's hard to get a gun in Canada in general. Handguns in particular (the favourite guns of the U.S.) are hard to come by legally, which makes them extremely expensive illegally. There aren't many around, so they aren't the weapon of choice. As I noted before, violence is less random here, and more about one person's direct conflict with another. It's personal. And stabbing someone is a very personal act. You can't stab someone from 20-yards; you have to get right up on them to accomplish it.

So while you do hear about shootings here, there really aren't many (and for the population in city of around 2.1 million, there are only around 140-170 incidents each year, 20 of which resulting in death). The total number of stabbings in Toronto each year isn't publicly noted, but deaths from stabbings take 40-60% of the same number of lives as shootings when all is said and done.

So Canada has its share of violence. And in general, it's personal. While no violence is something I'm sure we'd all be happier with, knowing that the random violence of the U.S. just isn't prevalent here does make this country a safer one to live in, and another reason I am thankful to live in Canada.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

A sense of home

In Seattle, where I come from, "home" was the house I shared with my brother and our dogs. I felt at home when I was there. The neighbourhood, the city, Seattle, was "the city". Home city, but not "home"

Here in my new Canadian life, Toronto - the whole city, feels like home to me. I was wondering why this was. As I was walking this morning in the College Park neighbourhood, then later in the St. Lawrence Market/Old Town neighbourhood where I live I think I figured it out.

In the U.S. I drove everywhere. If something I needed was more than a few blocks away - and I mean two blocks away, I'd hop in the car to go there. It's a very American way to get around. We love our cars. But getting in a car isolates you from everyone and everything. You forget what the area just a few blocks away looks like or smells like, or what's on this corner and who lives on that corner...

In Toronto, we don't have a car. We walk or take transit (primarily the subway) everywhere. I am in connection with the city everywhere I go. I have to pay attention. I see it at walking speed, not in the blur of driving speed. I think because I experience Toronto in this way, the whole city feels like home to me - my connection to it is as broad as my walks - and in the city, a 45-minute walk to get somewhere is not all that exceptional. I would never walk 45-minutes to somewhere in the U.S. Don't ask me why, but it just doesn't make sense.

I love this broader sense of where "home" is. I love being in Canada and with my love in Toronto.