Friday, 29 March 2013

Lakes and deserts

Related to my last post, I received this this in my inbox yesterday:

Media Advisory
March 28, 2013

Council of Canadians plans on-site protest at the Experimental Lakes Area this weekend

The Council of Canadians will stage a protest this weekend at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in a last-ditch effort to save the institution.

Mark Calzavara, the Council of Canadians’ Ontario organizer, will be on-site at the protest and available for interviews via satellite phone.

“Canada needs the ELA’s scientific research to develop sound and long term policies on water, climate and public safety,” says Emma Lui, Council of Canadians water campaigner. “Despite the Harper government’s reckless water policies, we’re not giving up yet.”

The ELA – a world-renowned water research facility – costs as little as $400,000 per year to keep open.

If a protest takes place in a forest and nobody is there to film it, are people still angry?

I hope that the media does turn out because I think it's an issue worth attention. Given the remoteness of the location and the Easter weekend timing I'm not sure how it will work out. In any case, I wish them well and hope people take notice.


Something else that came out recently -- the Canadian Government's decision to back out of the UN droughts and deserts convention -- is not unlike their move to cut the ELA.

The move was ostensibly to save money. "It’s not an effective way to spend taxpayers’ money" says PM Stephen Harper, but the amount of money being saved is negligible. The government has spent $283,000 over the past two years on this program according to the Maclean's article, although our commitment is for $350,000.

Harper claims that only 18% of the funds are being spent on anything useful. My question is: how is this different than any other UN program? In fact, with 18% of the funds surviving the UN bureaucracy and getting applied in a productive way, I would consider this astonishingly successful.

The point, of course, is not the money. The real story here is how this reflects the priorities of the current administration, the optics that a move like this generates among the public, and the impression it leaves on the other 193 countries (every other country in the UN, in case you're wondering) that are signatories to the convention.

The damage done to Canada's goodwill among other nations as a result of not being a team player on this matter, whatever that damage may be, must certainly exceed the $350k that we're saving, if one were able to quantify it.

I also find it bizarre that a government that spends $21 million per year on Economic Action Plan advertising would risk the negative publicity that a move like this generates to save a paltry $350k.


The government might argue that these small and supposedly wasteful expenses add up to a significant amount, and at a time when the government is struggling to return to a balanced budget every expense needs to be carefully vetted (except Action Plan advertising apparently).

I agree that small things add up. Small polarizing decisions such as the two mentioned above, as well as others like the Conservative's reluctance to stop the importation of shark fins, combine to create a growing distaste of the government and it's intransigent approach to the environment and social issues.

This may be a miscalculation on the part of Harper. The negative impressions that these actions leave could accumulate to the point where they threaten to overcome people's fear of what Justin Trudeau might do to the country, and could spell the end of the conservative majority next election.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Experimental Lakes Area Travesty

In spite of my somewhat conservative leanings, I gotta say that I've been disappointed with a great many things that Stephen Harper and the Federal Conservative government has done. There have been a whole slew of things from wasting money on misguided "stimulus" programs to their embarrassing response to Palestine's promotion to non-member observer state at the UN.

Some things are big. Some things are small. The closure of the Experimental Lakes Area in western Ontario near Kenora could be considered small. A below-the-radar operation that survived on a budget of less than a million dollars for most of it's existence, the ELA is a modest operation but has had a tremendous impact.

Some people will cite research done at the ELA as being a fundamental part of the effort to reduce acid rain in the 1980's. (Interestingly, this effort was led by another conservative PM, Brian Mulroney, proving that being environmentally friendly and right-of-center are not mutually exclusive concepts.) This is a notable example, but at any given time dozens of research projects might be on the go, impacting many industries or aspects of life in some small way.

The closure of the ELA strikes me as a particularly harsh move, simply because it costs so little and it does so much. Of all the things that the government spends money on, this operation must be near the top in terms of bang for the buck.

Money is not wasted at the ELA. That, at least, is my experience. As a summer student one year I spent some time there assisting with experiments and collecting lake-dwelling bugs for further study back at the lab. There was a communal eating area, small buildings with bunk beds, a sand volleyball court on the compound, and not a whole lot more. Our showers in the morning were limited to 5 minutes. There was a schedule, so if your shower lasted much longer than 5 minutes you risked having a naked biologist walking in on you.

The place was nerd central. Scientists from all over the place, dressed in cargo pants, would gather and chat about their respective projects over dinner, go to bed early, and wake up at ungodly hours to continue their research.

Most governments brag about supporting research. Besides directly providing science and technology-related jobs, research often leads to development and the additional jobs that go with that. Some research also leads to a better understanding of the world we live in, which in turn can lead to policy enhancements.

This is the primary objective of the ELA: a better understanding of how human activity impacts our environment, and this is why some people think the Conservative government has pulled the center's funding. They portray this as a "war on science":
“The Harper government is gutting all and any tools, rules, and science projects that stand in the way of corporate abuse of our freshwater heritage,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “No ELA means that the damage done to water from extractive industries will forever be hidden.”
The language I would use would be less inflamatory, but it's hard to argue against the notion that this is an ideological move by the government, because there are few other plausible explanations. The government's purported reason, saving money, doesn't wash when you consider how little money is being saved in relation to the value of the research being done and the uniqueness of the operation. At the very least, this speaks to how little the government values environmental research.

The ELA may live on. The government is not locking the doors and throwing away the key -- they are just locking the doors. There is a chance that the Ontario government (yeah, they have money to spend ...) or some other party may take over the funding of the facility, but until that happens there is to be no research done there ... even if the federal funding agreement is still in effect and research grants are in place.

This may not seem like an tremendously important issue for many people, but to me the closure of the ELA and the government's handling of it has a spiteful tone. This is not an isolated thing either: the end of the mandatory long form census is another similar issue. As somebody who had to merge longitudinal data sets for quantitative studies in university, I can appreciate the value of having consistent information, and the census change will cause more problems than you might imagine.

While individually these issues may be small and you may not care a great deal about them, they reflect poorly on the character of the government, and you should at least care about that.

Fun fact: if you fry these guys in pure acetic acid they become transparent.
Another fun fact: frying chironomus larvae in acetic acid does not smell good.

*** UPDATE ***

Also published in Winnipeg Free Press: Sorry, Harper, it just doesn't wash Blog of the week: Anybody Want a Peanut?

Another interesting link: As dismantling begins, shuttering of research station called a 'travesty'
"The doors of the old sleeping cabins at the 45-year-old Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) are being ripped off, the appliances are being taken away, and the personal belongings of researchers are being removed.
this brings into serious doubt the government’s sincerity to actually transfer the facility over to another operator."

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Exchange Brew Pub

A column in the Free Press this weekend - Exchange brew pub might make Irish eyes smile - correctly points out that Winnipeg does not have a brew pub. I am not quite sure why this is, but it is shameful.

The author, a Benjamin Gillies, also reminded us of the complete lack of foresight that our civic government had when it rejected a proposal to sell an abandoned pump house in the exchange district to an entrepreneur to create a unique brew pub: the Pump House Restaurant and Brewing Co. This, and the nonesense that followed whereby the city lost $600,000 in a failed attempt to do something with the building, is also shameful.

Benji (can I call you Benji? Good... thanks) goes on to propose a reviving that old brewpub idea:

"Should another developer approach the city with a solid business plan for establishing a microbrew restaurant, the government should seriously consider donating the pumping station to the project (as it did for the Red River College's downtown campus).
Instead of holding onto an empty building as it slowly succumbs to demolition by neglect, the city would be putting the heritage structure to productive use and earning tax revenue in the process. It would also be contributing to the growing list of unique attractions that make Winnipeg a more dynamic place to live in and visit. And that is definitely something worth raising a glass to."
The location is great. It's an area that growing in popularity with condo developments springing up, and an interesting development directly across the street where Sunstone Group is developing a boutique hotel and outdoor plaza area on the waterfront.

The concept includes a restaurant and wine bar to be built in another old building: the Harbour Master building that juts directly out onto the Red River.

If the James Avenue Pumping Station doesn't work out, that doesn't mean that we should give up on a brew pub in the exchange district. It's a great idea, and a natural fit in my opinion. There are lots of heritage buildings with wood beams and rustic brick walls -- not to mention space for vats and equipment -- that could make a great brew pub location.

There is certainly more to this absence of brew pubs than a shortage of appropriate spaces, and I suspect part of the answer lies in mounds of red tape. I haven't had an opportunity to compare the Manitoba brew pub application process to those of other provinces, but given that the MLCC has 12 different types of liquor licenses, one could guess that anything having to do with booze in this province is probably unnecessarily complicated.

Nevertheless, I am hopeful that our local beer diversity may increase. One reason: The Government of Manitoba is slowly relaxing some of it's liquor laws. Some initial changes were made in 2011 and 2012, and you can view some more proposed changes here. (Thanks Ben). Though the changes are mostly incremental, the general tendency is to make liquor regulations less restrictive, which is a good thing for consumers. For brew pubs, one of the most important changes I think is this one:
"Brew pubs will be able to sell their product on an off-sale basis and through other retailers such as Liquor Marts."

There is also a brew pub concept brewing in Brandon MB. The Brewtinerie, to be established in an old fire hall, is not yet a sure thing but it's an exciting proposal for beeries, especially those in Brandon, and I see it as a good omen for Winnipeg.

Another local beer development that is worth mentioning is Farmery Brewing: a true made-in-Manitoba beer. Read more about it here.

While the old Waterfront pump house might have missed it's opportunity to become a brew pub, I am optimistic about the beer landscape expanding beyond our existing local beer heroes Half Pints Brewing Co. and Fort Garry Brewing Co. because of the developments mentioned above.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Proposed new Winnipeg Jets logo!

Now that we have the matter of selecting a pope over and done with, we can get on with other priorities like creating a new Winnipeg Jets logo.

Why do the Jets need a new logo? It's a perfectly fine logo, although I did nit-pick it somewhat when it came out.

However there is a reason all teams except the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils have come out with so-called "third jerseys" or alternate uniforms: marketing. There is always more money to be made from the fans, and a new jersey with a new logo is one way to do that. It also gives the fans more choice.

By the way, it makes sense to me that the Red Wings would resist creating an alternate jersey and logo -- they have a classic original six look that's hard to improve upon. Possibly the best overall uniforms in the league -- but the Devils?? The Devils have one of the worst logos in the NHL: an "N" and "J" fused together into a deformed faceless demon. There are sooo many things you could do with their logo, like this or this.

I am sure the Jets will come out with an alternate jersey at some point. Whether it's a WHA-era retro jersey or something completely new, it's going to happen.

An alternate logo should be a different look and feel than the original. For example, if the original is cartoonish or playful, then the alternate should be more sedate or formal. Some teams choose to go with throw-back uniforms and logos pulled from the past, or designed to look like they came from the past. Some replace their picture-based crests with plain text logos. This is fine too.

Phoenix shows us an example of what not to do. Their alternate logo is in the same style as their regular crest, making it almost completely pointless ...

The Jets' crest is of the more serious variety, therefore I envision something a little more playful or whimsical as their alternate crest. For this I look to their farm team, the St. John's Ice Caps. I happen to like the Ice Caps logo. It has a nice bold aesthetic.
It is certainly in a different style than the Jet's current logo, and it has the additional shade of blue which could be worked in to the redesigned uniforms, along with the grey.

So what might this new logo look like?

Ladies and gentlemen .... the new Winnipeg Jets logo!

The alternate Jets logo above is the property of the author of this blog. If you wish to use this logo for commercial or personal use, please contact the author in the comment section of this blog post or by email at: cherenkov *at* live *dot* com

Monday, 4 March 2013

Around This Town: Safety, PechaKucha, blogs and other stuff

Downtown safety
I'm not sure what brought this on, but a big discussion among the on-line community about downtown safety emerged recently. I guess it started with this article in the Spectator Tribune ...

Winnipeg’s most perpetuated myth: Downtown is dangerous

"Get downtown.  Break the cycle of lies and misdirection that our local media outlets propagate.  See for yourself what is going on.  And remember, just because someone is brown doesn’t mean that they are going to gut you."

... which spawned this response in the same alternative media outlet ...

Winnipeg’s most perpetuated myth: A response

"saying that Winnipeg’s downtown is safe simply because I haven’t experienced violence, or so that my family isn’t worried about visiting in my ‘edgy’ neighbourhood doesn’t cut it if we are going to be real about the problems of race and class in the city."

... and this blog post ...

 Entry number "I've lost count" re: safety in downtown Winnipeg
"Men don't have the same fear complex as women because in a purely physical sense, it is MUCH EASIER to physically intimidate a woman. As a woman, I know we're a much easier target than the average male. We carry giant purses and vaginas everywhere we go. We have much more to lose on very, very extreme levels.
Here is the discussion. It's so simple. Downtown Winnipeg has a crime problem, but it's also a great place with a lot to offer. How do we reconcile the two? How do we make people feel safe to be here, and how do we deal with what makes people afraid to come down here?"
... and an on-going twitter conversation. The Winnipeg Internet Pundits will carry on the conversation on Wednesday with the author of the previous blog and some of the usual pundits.

I worked downtown for 14 years and never had a problem, but I also know people who have been assaulted, including somebody who was shot in the head and killed, although those incidents were a while back.

It's a complicated discussion and one I should probably stay out of ... actual safety vs perceived safety; safety of women vs men, safety during the day vs at night, et cetera. And what is safe? Is there some metric of Assaults per 1000 People Hours that defines the threshold of "safe"? Everybody agrees that more safe is better than less safe, but how safe is safe enough?

Oh look, somebody got stabbed.

Community centre funding

Arenas and swimming pools are crumbling all over the city. When Southdale Community Centre launched it's $9.4 million expansion, some accused it of queue jumping. Some accused elected officials of buying votes in a swing riding. Some complained about preferential treatment for a relatively affluent part of town.

But what's done is done. The expansion was completed one year ago, and now it's time to focus on spending scarce tax dollars on those other facilities that are in dire need of attention in areas of town were kids rely on ...

Wait... What's that? Southdale needs another half mil? Sure, here you go!

Oh stop complaining. They did have a Bud Spud & Steak to raise some of their own money you know.


PechaKucha is kind of like a mini Ted talk with shorter presentations. Volume 13 of PechaKucha Winnipeg is taking place this Thursday at the Park Theatre.

There is an interesting and diverse group of speakers. Should be a good evening. Maybe see you there.

New blog

Somebody named after my favourite Thanksgiving meal has started a new blog called Winnipeg Spends. He or she is monitoring the contracts that the city is awarding and all money that is being spent, and summarizing on the blog with bar charts and analysis.

Did you know that the city just spent $95,000 on gloves? Well I do, and that's because I read Winnipeg Spends !

Audience participation blog

As far as Winnipeg bloggers go, James Hope Howard is about as famous as they come (second only to Winnipeg Cat). If you're a fan of Slurpees and Murder, now is your chance to find out more about the author, because ... March is Ask James Anything Month at Slurpees and Murder!

Random act of heritage

Another one of Winnipeg's top local bloggers, Christian Cassidy, held a Random Act of Heritage this Sunday. It was a presentation and tour of the intrepid Arlington Bridge, which is really much more interesting than it sounds. The Arlington Bridge is the second oldest bridge in Winnipeg and was built using surplus parts from the Eiffel Tower.

That might not be true. I didn't actually make it to the event. I took advantage of the nice day to go for a big long bike ride up the Seine River instead, however I do have a picture from somebody else who was able to go:

This random act of heritage thing is a great idea. It is encouraging to see that the media picked up on it, and hopefully Mr.C does more of them. He needs to schedule them around my bike rides though.

Well, that's it for this week's edition of Around This Town. Tune in 3 months from now for next week's edition.

RIP Nick Ternette. Very few people worked harder to make their city a better place than him.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Downtown surface parking lot to be filled?

About 8-10 years ago, around the time I was living in Osborne Village, I remember a decrepit building being torn down on the corner of Osborne St N and York Street. I joked to one of the workers as I walked by that they should keep going and tear down the old Red Cross building next to it.

Of course I envisioned at the time that something new and exciting would rise in it's place, but sadly the lot on the corner of Osborne and York became nothing more than another unfinished surface parking lot blighting downtown Winnipeg; a signboard with an optimistic picture of a new building mocking us year after year.

Google Maps. I am lazy.

Well, it may actually happen. Something resembling that building on the sign may get built after all. The owner is seeking rezoning approval for a 10 story mixed use building...
"This building will house 50,000 square feet of residential space in 42 condominium units on the top eight storeys (sic), and office and commercial space on the first two floors."

Their web site says 28 residential units, not 40 as in the zoning application, but whatever ... this could work. I don't know about the commercial space, but the condos could fill up. They are close to work or University for many people, and walking distance to Osborne Village and the increasingly trendy West Broadway area.

The floor plans are diverse, but larger than the Glasshouse condos I reviewed earlier. They range from a tidy 750 sq ft, about the size of the largest Glasshouse units, to a massive 1,650 sq ft. I can't imagine what the asking price for that will be.

Perhaps the commercial space will work too. I'm envisioning an art supply store. Just a block away from the Winnipeg Art Gallery Studio, and with Lewis Art Supplies having abandoned Graham Avenue nearby, this might be something that could work. Just throwing ideas out there.

It will be nice to see something fill this space finally, assuming the numbers work and the zoning changes are approved.

(h/t: headhorse at Skyscraper Page)

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