Friday, September 27, 2013

Peace, Consciousness, Community Weekend in St. John's

Check out this call out for an event happening this weekend, September 28-29.


We are human:  we all feel, we all have real beating hearts, we all need nourishment, we all need care, we all matter.  On what grounds do any of us dare to presume who is “worthy” and who is not?  And once we've recognized each others' intrinsic value, how can we continue to support an economic system that thrives on exploitation and inequality?  And how can we not question a political system that calls itself 'democracy' and yet is so entwined with such inhumane economics?
We know our lives are fundamentally interconnected with other humans and with the natural world that generously serves as our life support system.  How can we not see the insanity in continuing to harm each other and our planet?
The few have constructed many systems, structures & institutions, and now we, the many, are awakening to collectively reclaim them and re-imagine them in the spirit of basic human decency.
We are a beautiful multitude, with wide-ranging concerns, united in our compassion, our creativity, our commitment, and our spirit of cooperation.
This movement, this moment, is a call to conscience.  WE KNOW BETTER, so how can we not DO better?  With what excuses can we continue with such unfairness?
We speak from the heart and we celebrate our collective courage, imagination, and power!  We are truly all in this together. 

In that spirit, all are invited to participate this weekend:


Peace, Consciousness, Community Weekend in St. John's

Using our personal & collective wisdom (empathy + reason ;) to explore & enact truly new possibilities for 'Life on Earth' ~ from local to global levels! 

Saturday Sept 28 & Sunday Sept 29
10am-ish to 8pm-ish each day
War Memorial / Harbourside Park green spaces

A relaxed space for human-to-human conversations about things that matter.

A place for citizens to engage ideas, to use our IMAGINATIONS, to meet others who care, to get meaningful actions on-the-go, & so much more.... 

Kids & youth very, very welcome!

(If you want, bring along: blankets to sit on, paper or white boards to write on, sidewalk chalk, musical instruments... you get the idea ;)

The time is NOW!  Everything is a-changing... Look forward to seeing you there. Please spread the word far & wide!

- 30 -

Contact: Krista Koch, (look for me at the event ~tall, blonde, smiling! ;)

Monday, September 16, 2013

St. John's City Council candidates openness to electoral reform

One of the questions on the Independent survey of municipal candidates concerned electoral reform.  Candidates seemed fairly open to the idea - at least more open than I anticipated. I have tried to classify their answers into those supportive,  those open to the idea, and those who are happy with the status quo.

Question: The City of Toronto is planning to move to a ranked ballot system for municipal elections. This system reduces the problem of vote splitting in races with more than two candidates. Would you support a similar reform in St. John’s? Would you support some other kind of reform? 


Sherwin Flight: I would support some kind of reform, although exactly what that would be I am unsure of at this point. I believe this would require significant public consultations before determining the best approach to take.

Sandy Hickman: Toronto has a full ward system. This makes sense in ward and I would fully support for St. John’s. however, at large is a different situation and I like the current system. You can vote for four people or as few as you want. I like that flexibility. But I have always been open to new ideas. I thought the vote by mail was great idea when it came along but now feel we are behind the times in not having online voting (again this is held up by the government).

Lorne Loder: I would support electoral reform efforts, such as moving to a ranked ballot system, which would result in a council that better represents the residents. The first past the post system has been proven to produce a democratic deficit.

Fred Winsor: I believe we should explore other voting options.

Walter Harding: I actually would support that system. I feel a change is as good as a rest and this might entice otherwise apathetic voters to once again join the democratic process. I am saddened to see almost half of the ballots go in the trash during a municipal election as it costs hundreds of thousands of tax payers dollars to put off an election and I have worked hard over the past year to try and get 60 percent of voters to actually vote. An informed voter has my complete respect.

Scott Fitzgerald: I would support this type of reform. I would also support term limits. In my opinion, once a councillor serves two terms in one position they should have to run for something else. For example, after two terms as a ward councillor you could run at-large or for Deputy Mayor or Mayor. This would encourage new people to get involved in the political process.

Jennifer McCreath: I am always looking for ways to improve democracy. I would be open to looking at any possible electoral reform, that would promote and increase voters turnout and produce election results that best reflect what the electorate wants.

Open to the idea

Sheilagh O’Leary: Electoral reform, in all its many and varied forms, is a great interest of mine. Keeping in mind that one person’s “vote splitting” is another person’s “freedom to choose,” I would certainly be open to exploring this, and other, methods of reform to ensure clear majorities in all our electoral races.

Tom Badcock: While studying at university I had some very heated debates on this subject and I trust you will explain to your readers what a ‘ranked’ system is. Our system has flaws but it’s our system. Unfortunately, in a multi party system or in the case where there are many people running for the same position, the majority of voters do not select their party or their councillor. In Israel for example they have a party list system. This is a great example of democracy at its best but it leads to many more elections than we have in our fixed term system. I truly don’t know if the ranked system is the way to go.

Dave Lane: I’m always open to exploring options to improve our democratic system.

Deanne Stapleton: I would like to see the outcome of a ranked ballot system before I would support this reform.

Lionel West: I am in no rush to change the current voting process. I would consider viable options and discuss with citizens. Internet voting may be an option and one that is currently under consideration by the city. I would like to hear what citizens have to say about “term-limit councillors” and full-time councillors. If full-time councillors are employed, it may mean the number of councillors could be reduced.

Cecil Whitten: I am not familiar with the ranked ballot system, I look forward to learning about it. I would support the implementation of electronic voting.

Derek Winsor: I would like to look at a fair system of election that allows all taxpayers to consider themselves for election and not be based on who can put up the most signs and print the most flyers. I would like to see one area in each ward where signs can be posted from all the candidates. Once candidates declare their intention to run, there should be a section on the City of St. John’s website that posts links to candidate’s websites. I think that it would be worth looking at other options of voting procedures.

Lou Puddister: I believe in researching best practices from other jurisdictions, studying their merits, and implementing those best suited to our needs. I will take the time to review the proposed ranked ballot system and will post a response to this question on my campaign website.

Sarah Colborne Penney: I am not sure that this is needed here. I would have to fully examine this issue before taking a position on it.

Happy with status quo

Paul Sears: A. As a former member of St John’s Electoral Reform Committee I believe there will always be room for improvement in the electoral protocol and process. Having that said I would support having a review every 2 years to review the system and ensure we are maintaining the best approach for our city and citizens. B. No at present, I am content with our current system.

Bernard Davis: If our current system is working why would we change it?

Bruce Tilley: I feel that the current ballot system of mailing is fair but I would rather the old system (that of the Provincial and Federal system).

Andrew Harvey: I am never against looking at other options, but the current system seems to be sufficient at present. One piece of electoral reform I would like to see is a change in the provincial legislation to allow online voting.

Ron Ellsworth: I have never heard a complaint regarding the current system in place in St. John’s. If residents are satisfied with the electoral system we are using then there is no reason to change it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mapping urban sprawl

Population density and urban sprawl are big issues in this month's municipal election, talked up by the St. John's Board of Trade in particular. Here are a couple of maps that put the issue in perspective.

The first chart shows population density in the St. John's area by census tract (from the 2011 census). The darker the colour, the more dense the population (click on the image to see the legend).

Population Density - residents per square km

Next we see the percent change of population between 2006 and 2011. Dark red means the population is growing quickly. The palest colour is where the population is shrinking. 

Percent change in population between 2006 and 2011

With the exception of Georgetown and Bannerman Park, the population actually shrank in central St. John's. The big growth is happening in the suburbs and in the satellite communities of Torbay, Paradise, and CBS.  People are spreading out.

Source: Statscan Geosearch

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Battery Hotel and public transit

The former Battery Hotel was bought by MUN last year and is likely to be used as a student residence.  Students often use public transit and the closest busline to the Battery is line 15 running to MUN campus. It would be good for both Metrobus and MUN to build a couple of shortcut walking trails as indicated below in blue. These would reduce the distance to a bus stop to under half a kilometre and also help transit users avoid the steep climb from Military Road.

Monday, July 29, 2013

More on crime rates

****** Updated ********

In my column yesterday on crime rates, I noted that recent increases in the violent crime index were mainly caused by increased recording of minor crimes like uttering threats and common assault (meaning assault without a weapon and no bodily harm).  As an experiment, I put together a couple modified crime indices that use only serious crimes.  These indices use only crimes listed by Stats Can as having above average weight for severity and normalized so that 100 is the Canadian average in 2006. Here are the results.

Serious violent crime in Canada has fallen about 20 percent since 2006, which is very impressive progress.  St. John's has held pretty steady and remains below the Canadian average.

Serious nonviolent crimes have fallen about 40% in Canada since 2006 and have fallen about 30% in St. John's.  Impressive progress all around.

Here are some tables ranking Canadian metropolitan areas in terms of these crime indices.

Serious Violent Crime Index

Winnipeg, Manitoba (9,10,47)
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Regina, Saskatchewan
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Vancouver, British Columbia (12,13,14,28)
Edmonton, Alberta
Halifax, Nova Scotia
MontrÈal, Quebec (38,50,53)
Toronto, Ontario (33)
Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia (8,28)
Canada (50)
Kelowna, British Columbia (8,28)
Sudbury, Ontario
Peterborough, Ontario (8)
Windsor, Ontario
Calgary, Alberta
Hamilton, Ontario (33)
London, Ontario
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario part (6,52)
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario/Quebec (6,52)
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ontario
Victoria, British Columbia (28)
Saguenay, Quebec (5)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec part (6)
Brantford, Ontario (8)
St.Catharines-Niagara, Ontario
Moncton, New Brunswick (8)
QuÈbec, Quebec
Barrie, Ontario (8)
Sherbrooke, Quebec (32,37)
Kingston, Ontario (8)
Trois-RiviËres, Quebec

Serious Nonviolent Crimes Index

Kelowna, British Columbia (8,28)
Brantford, Ontario (8)
Regina, Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Vancouver, British Columbia (12,13,14,28)
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador 
Winnipeg, Manitoba (9,10,47)
Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia (8,28)
London, Ontario
MontrÈal, Quebec (38,50,53)
Edmonton, Alberta
Sudbury, Ontario
Trois-RiviËres, Quebec
St.Catharines-Niagara, Ontario
Moncton, New Brunswick (8)
Canada (50)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec part (6)
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Windsor, Ontario
Calgary, Alberta
Saguenay, Quebec (5)
Hamilton, Ontario (33)
Peterborough, Ontario (8)
Victoria, British Columbia (28)
Saint John, New Brunswick (4,47)
Sherbrooke, Quebec (32,37)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ontario
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario/Quebec (6,52)
Kingston, Ontario (8)
QuÈbec, Quebec
Barrie, Ontario (8)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario part (6,52)
Guelph, Ontario (8)
Toronto, Ontario (33)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Muskrat Reckoning

You may be sick of hearing about the Muskrat by now. For the last year it has dominated the political discourse and is likely to continue to cast a shadow for some time (may as well resign yourself to that).

This most recent round of Muskrat folly centers on a court case by Hydro Quebec and a further twist in the tale from Nova Scotia. Good theater, but it's hard not to wonder if the curtain should have already come down.

What would have been the outcome had the province's public utilities board been allowed to do its job and review the project before it was sanctioned? What outcome had government listened to voices of protest and opposition? What need is there for such intransigence on the part of government if pitfalls have apparently gone unidentified? These are the most troubling questions, beyond even specific concerns raised from various perspectives.

No matter how legitimate concerns are explained away, it is increasingly difficult for people to be confident. The evolution of the project has produced a bottoming out of popular support for the government and the premier, creating an atmosphere where many feel it is no longer possible to simply believe. This sets the stage for a reckoning, one that has the potential to sweep government from office and bring Muskrat to a halt, which even for some of the project's soft supporters would now come as a welcome relief.

Otherwise, you have to practice ever more subtle feats of logical gymnastics in order to say, I support the Muskrat. Because now, when people say they support Muskrat, what they really mean is that they believe in the technical capacity of hydro dams to produce electricity, for who can speak to other outcomes of a project whose architects appear unaware of so many variables. It begins to look as though without a reckoning, if the government is allowed to continue the project and serve out its mandate, we should prepare to get what they deserve.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Proud Labradorian's response to Dunderdale

Premier Dunderdale's recent comments about the Nalcor - Hydro-Quebec dispute provoked a passionate response from a proud Labradorian.  Update: here is a video recording of Dunderdale's remark.

***** update *****

I've cut and pasted the comment so it is accessible to search engines.
"Dunderdale says Quebec doesn't believe that Newfoundland owns Labrador, saying it all goes back to the boundary dispute." 
good to know we are owned in the Big Land..we always knew we were just a resource warehouse for Nfld governments..something so insulting and sickening when the leader actually talks in the language of possessioon...not a response of NL working together on a project..but simply Nfld owns Labrador and will do whatever it wants to our Big Land..yeah thats about how history keeps showing it to. 
Now my question is will the leaders of Labrador roll over and be owned...will the people demand some respect and finally begin to get its independence..or will everyone have an opinion but no one will take any action...time will tell. 
Let's not forget that only last week Nunatsiavut government filed suit against NL government for not respecting their land claim rights... 
What will be the straw to break the camels back I each project devastates our land more and we are continually given nothing but a few jobs

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Q&A with Ward 2 candidates for St. John's City Council

********* updated *********

The following question was posed and answered in the Facebook group St. John's Municipal Elections 2013. If you would like to participate in future discussion, you are more than welcome to join in.

Q: Question for Ward 2 candidates Jonathan GalgayAndrew HarveySimon Lono.

This Metrobus transit study recommends upgrading route 10 (which joins Downtown to MUN/HSC/Avalon Mall) to provide buses every 15 minutes during peak hours. Would you support this? Would you push for this?

Andrew Harvey's answer:  Absolutely. I think that far too often the city pays thousands of dollars on studies which sit on a shelf and are never acted on. There are also many other issues which need to be addressed with Metrobus but that would be a good start. 

Jonathan Galgay's answer: I would support any recommendation which increases bussing for those who require efficient and reliable transportation, including the example you provided such as route 10.

Simon Lono's answer: I looked at the report and there are great things in it. Public transit is the kind of issue that really should be evidence/data based and it looks like that’s this report has done. It’s been a little while since I relied on Metrobus to get around (used it much more when my kids were younger) but in general the report jibes with what I recall and what I’ve been hearing more recently.
Should there be better, more and regular connections between Downtown to MUN/HSC/Avalon Mall (Route 10)? I’m not sure what route would have a higher demand than that one. I’d like to see what reasons Metrobus would have for NOT doing that because it seems to me pretty obvious that’s a heavily used route that many more would use if it ran at more convenient times.
One item that needs to be explored in more detail is the use of variable sized bus fleet. Why do all the busses have to be large, standard-sized, even during low traffic times? Why can’t we use smaller busses during low traffic times but still keep up the frequency schedule instead of a standard bus on a once in a blue moon schedule?

Scott Fitzgerald's answer:  I would definitely support improving the Metrobus services to the downtown. Ultimately we have to encourage fewer cars in the downtown if we ever hope to tackle the parking problem and make this a more livable city. Without a public transit system that people can depend on no one is going to opt for leaving the car at home.

It was also revealed in discussion that one of the candidates, Jonathan Galgay, lives in the neighbourhood of Airport Heights and not in Ward 2.  I wrote to him to confirm this and received the following reply.

Jonathan Galgay: As indicated on my web site, I live on Cherokee Drive which is in the east end of the City, the neighbourhood of Roncalli Estates. My wife and I moved to this neighbourhood a few years ago after living on Hamilton Ave, where my mother currently resides. I was raised and educated in Ward 2, and my father operated a business there for over 40 years until his death a few years ago. I would like to point out that there is no requirement for any member of City Council, or MHA to reside in their constituency. Like many others, Councillor Frank Galgay resided outside Ward 2 for the 16 years he represented the Ward. Where one lays their head at night should not be a determining factor in their ability to represent the best interests of residents.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's bridge the gap between the city and Confederation Building

I went for a walk along the beautiful Rennie's River trail today and I had an idea: why not build a pedestrian bridge where the river meets Prince Philip Drive?  See the map with the trail outlined in white and the bridge drawn in brown.

It wouldn't cost much and would provide a convenient (and very pretty) walking route between the Confederation Building and Elizabeth Avenue.  This idea might appeal to city councillors promoting a more walkable city and provincial politicians looking for ways to "engage the public" since the Confederation Building is a hassle to reach without a car.  It might even take a few cars off the road.

The only obvious problem I can see is that people crossing Prince Philip could disrupt car traffic, though in my experience it is usually easy to cross during breaks in the traffic by using the median.  What do you think?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tuition rates and geography

I'm playing around with some numbers to better understand what level of tuition is appropriate at Memorial University.  There are lots of ways to approach the question.  Here is one.

In an earlier post I cited a Stats Can paper titled "Too far to go on?  Distance to school and university participation".  From the abstract:

"This study assesses the role of geographic distance to school in the probability of attending university shortly after high school graduation. Students who grow up near a university can save on costs by staying home to attend the local university, and thus may be more likely to attend. [....] After controlling for family income, parental education, and other factors associated with university participation, students living “out-of-commuting distance” are far less likely to attend than students living “within commuting distance” are."
The study finds that high school grads who live more than 40 km from a university are only 60% as likely to attend university as someone who lives closer.  Distance seems to be especially important for low income families:  a low income student is three times more likely to attend university if she lives near a university than if she lives more than 80 km away.

When the study was done in 1996,  67% of Canadians lived within 40 km of a university, compared to only 43% of NLers.  If distance was the only factor affecting participation in university, then we would expect NLers to attend at only 87% the rate of most Canadians.

Now suppose we want to lift accessibility in NL to the Canadian average.  One way would be to establish new university campuses.  Unfortunately, there is no obvious place to put them.  There are already MUN campuses in St. John's and in Corner Brook.  The next most reasonable population centres are probably Bay Roberts or Grand Falls, but they are both too small to justify the investment.

An alternative is to offer low tuition at the existing campuses.  How low?  Studies I cited here estimate that lowering tuition by $1000 will increase enrollment by 3%.   Thus to compensate for distance, we would need to set tuition about $1000 x (100% - 87%)/ 3% =  $4333 dollars per year cheaper than the Canadian average. This is very close to the current difference between tuition in NL and tuition in Ontario.  Food for thought.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A (very) quick response to SRBP

A (very) quick response to this SRBP post before I go out of town.

Ed seems not to have read my previous post very carefully, because he hasn't really responded to the methodological problems with the FCPP study he quoted.  Instead he links to another study by Institute Economique de Montreal (IEM) that uses the same methodology!  The IEM report also explicitly says: 

"These results obviously do not mean that increasing tuition fees in a given province will lead to a rise in enrolment rates, but they do suggest that the opposite cannot be maintained either, namely, that higher fees will necessarily reduce enrolment rates."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tuition Rates and University Participation: a rebuttal

A recent post on the popular provincial politics blog The Sir Robert Bond Papers strongly implies (but does not explicitly state) that raising university tuition has no effect on levels of university participation.
"Now for all those who believe that lower tuition fees allow more people to go to university guess again.  There’s actually evidence that low tuition fees won’t make it easier for promising students from low income families to attend university."
In support of this view, he cites a paper from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.  This paper turns out to be seriously flawed.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

More on the unemployment rates of youths and seniors

In a recent post and Indy column I presented evidence that younger workers have fared much better in the NL economic boom than older workers.  The more I look at the data, the more amazed I get.  What is happening in NL today is in many ways unprecedented in recent Canadian history.

For example, consider youth unemployment.  The unemployment rate for youth (aged 15-24) has always been high, because young people have little work experience and are trying to break into the workforce for the first time.  Over the last 40 years, the youth unemployment rate in Canada has been 5% to 12% higher than the unemployment rate for people over 55.  There has not been a single year in any province in which this difference has fallen to less than 2.5%.

Until now.

The following chart shows the difference in provincial unemployment rate between people aged 15-24 and people over 55.  The blue line in Newfoundland and Labrador and every other province is green.

During the 25 years from 1976 to 2000,  NL had the largest difference in Canada.  Today it is the lowest in Canada.  In fact, the difference in the first half of 2013 is the lowest recorded in any province in 40 years!  If this trend continues, the youth unemployment in NL will fall below that for people 55+ by next year, for the first time in recent Canadian history.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Deer Lake Fracking Awareness Seminar Raises Difficult Questions for Black Spruce

From the 4 O'clock Whistle
     Thirty five people showed up to a fracking awareness seminar in Deer Lake on the 19th of June at the Hodder Memorial Stadium. Entitled “Facts on Fracking” the seminar presented a wide array of information on the history of the process and what is known about its potential effects. As those present learned, while some of the basic technology of fracking has been around for quite some time, slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new phenomenon. 
       For example when companies assert that they have been conducting hydraulic fracturing since the 1940’s they are referring to vertical hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal slickwater “fracking,” by contrast, can be traced back to as early as 2002. Since much of the fracking fluid, which contains a complex mixture of chemicals (some of which are known to be carcinogenic or to have other health effects) remains underground after the process, the potential area affected by seepage into aquifers and towards the surface is greatly increased during horizontal fracturing. The fracturing could extend out as much as three kilometers, if not more, horizontally from each drill site in multiple directions, and one key problem is trying to control the fractures during the process. Several countries and states currently have moratoriums on fracking awaiting more information, as does the province of Quebec, and in many others there are growing demands for the institution of moratoriums.

Chicken Little?

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