Friday, 27 May 2011

The Deal isn't final, yet!

Now is not the time to celebrate. There have been many "near misses" in the past to Winnipeg getting an NHL Franchise again. Bettman has done everything possible to obstruct an NHL return to the 'Peg and his recent quotations aren't promising.

"Bettman refutes reports about 'done deal' in Winnipeg" -

While various media outlets are reporting there is a deal in place to relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants fans to know one thing: Nothing is set in stone yet.

On his weekly radio show Thursday night, Bettman addressed the increasing speculation about the franchise's relocation.

"Maybe at some point there will be a deal, maybe there will never be a deal," Bettman said during the "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman." on NHL Radio. "But there isn't one now."
The fact of the matter is, there has once again been a ton of commentary, speculation, you name it, that A) there's a deal and B) that we have a date certain for a press conference to announce the deal."

Bettman assured listeners that there is no deal yet. He said that the owners of Atlanta are exploring their options. But for now, nothing is permanent.


"The only time we move is when we don't have a choice, and that typically happens when nobody wants to own a club there anymore," Bettman said. "The prospect of leaving Atlanta isn't something that I'm particularly fond of. So I can't even contemplate the notion of what would happen after that in terms of coming back. We respect the importance of Atlanta as a city. It's a big market, but this is a franchise that's got a problem in that market."
Despite it's gross failure, there's still a chance that Bettman will continue his failed Southernization strategy or move the team to another American city.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

NHL Back in Winnipeg?

Excited Winnipeggers: People inspired by the talk of
an NHL return gathered in crowds on May 19.

Image Source: Vancouver Sun
Okay, it’s been a long, bitter 15 years without an NHL team in Winnipeg. It’s been even more infuriating knowing that a madman who worked for the NBA was trying to “Americanize”* the game by relocating various Canadian teams to Southern US deserts where nobody watched or cared for hockey.
This madman was a monomaniac - he wouldn’t let the idea go. No matter how stupid it was, how poor ticket sales were in urban centres of millions compared to smaller cities North of the 49th parallel, and no matter how much these Southern teams were draining money from profitable (Canadian) NHL franchises, the lunatic just wouldn’t let the idea go. Adding insult to injury, even as those Southern cities were decimated by a recession while cities North of the 49th weathered the financial storms quite nicely, this guy just wouldn’t let the idea go.

Gary Bettman: At last, the NBA
NHL Commissioner has relented his obsession with
Southernizing the game.

Image Source: Heritage Classic Tickets blog

Well, finally, it looks like the madman known as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has gained some sense. All signs indicate that the Atlanta Thrashers will be bought by the owner of True North and relocated to Winnipeg, a rising city**. While I won’t be celebrating until the deal is finalized (Gary Bettman has been known to use the threat of relocating a team to Winnipeg as a tool in extorting concessions from municipalities, at least in Phoenix), this is certainly cheerful news.***
I can’t think of a city that deserves an NHL team more than the working class, Prairie city of Winnipeg.     
*More aptly, "Southernize", as traditional Northeastern US teams have been neglected as well.

**Yes, the Province still relies on transfers payments. But we’re doing better than in the past, have invested the transfer payments pretty wisely, and many key sectors are thriving in Manitoba (report from 2008, but much of it still holds). With the increasing value of water and hydro, I predict a brighter future for the province.
***It’ll be really demoralizing news, though, if the move doesn’t happen due to some cruel twist of fate.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Stupid Poll

Well, in the spirit of housing a topical online poll every week (or whatever the hell their duration is), the Winnipeg Free Press has a new poll on the 2011 Manitoba Floods. What's the question?

Flooding in Manitoba and along the Mississippi is caused by...

Purely natural causes, that's all 61%results bar
Human-caused climate change 21%results bar
Inadequate flood control by governments 17%results bar

These results are current as of May 16, 2011 at 1:31 PM.

This is one of the worst false trichotomies I have ever seen. Of course seasonal overflowing occurs all the time and this is "natural", but said seasonal overflowing can be worsened by Human-caused climate change. And the government may inadequately control the flood because of an inability to factor in climate changes. One can reasonably answer "all three".

 As a matter of fact, flooding in the area south of Portage la Prairie and on Lake St. Martin is caused or worsened by flood control that protects other areas. Whether the government is right to do this or whether it's reasonable to expect governments to predict the worst case in unusual situations is another matter, but the poll options are a lousy way of framing the issue.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Tragedy of Lake St. Martin First Nation

Well, there's been quite a bit of stir lately over the controlled breech of the Assiniboine dike, which is slowly flooding agricultural land and property in a 225 km2 area with 150 homes south of Portage la Prairie. While this is tragic, the Province has promised special compensation for lost land and income for those affected.

Yet a similar event happened on May 6. Water gradually consumed Lake St. Martin First Nation after being diverted from the Portage Diversion. It was a similar case of sacrificing the few to save the many. Yet, as late as May 9, the Province had no clear cut plans on whether they would move the community (which faces a variety of health problems, including widespread mold infestations in homes) and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada responded only once.

While it is always bad to compare the suffering of one group to another and there are the differences in how productive the flooded land was (the land south of Portage la Prairie is richly agricultural land), one must still ask "why the difference in response?"

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Flood Volunteers

Last post, I talked about the recent flooding and, in the "What Can You Do" section referred to Red Cross donations. It turns out there still are some communities looking for flood volunteers. While I doubt I'll be able to leave Winnipeg for a significant amount of time to do anything meaningful, if any readers live or are travelling near the areas, here they are:

  • Beausejour/Brokenhead
  • RM of Eriksdale
  • Town of Winnipeg Beach

Condolences, Reflections, and Suggestions


Lake Saint Martin First Nation Protest (Top): Members
of the First Nation protest in Winnipeg over poor
health conditions and flooding that has affected their
Golden Oak Cove, Cartier (Bottom): A homeowner paddles
from flooded home following flooding in the Cartier

Image Sources: CBC (Top)
Markoson's blog (Bottom)

I would like to give my condolences (whatever they're worth) to people affected by the floods. I've had the fortune of never living in a rural municipality prone to flooding (the worst I've ever experienced is basement flooding during the 1997 Red River Flood), so I can only imagine how traumatic it must be to lose your life's work and home (as many are right now).  

This situation is very dire - excessive snowfall that formed late in the year has contributed to overflowing in the Red and Assiniboine Rivers through ice jams. This is first time since 1852 that the region has had to face the combined force of both rivers flooding on massive scales at the same time. The statistical irony that a once in a hundred year flood, once in threes hundred year flood, and once in a thousand year flood can happen soon after each other and the fact that much of Southern Manitoba's best farmland sits on a flood plain provides reason to be concerned.

Earlier, various First Nations communities along Lake Manitoba had been affected. Lake Saint Martin First Nation, a community already with a variety of housing and health problems (including mold infestations), has witnessed flooding since May 10 with little help from the Department of Indian Affairs and some Provincial advisory. The tragedy there foreshadows what will occur during the controlled release, as the Portage Diversion actually diverts water to Lake Manitoba (whose shore front the community is on).  

Water going out the Portage Diversion:
Photo taken May 10, 2011, this diversion
protects Winnipeg
 and areas on the Assiniboine from
flood waters by diverting them to
Lake Manitoba.

Image Source: CBC

The situation is certainly worse than most people were predicting. Given the unprecedented rise in the Assiniboine river, the Province has scheduled a controlled release of the dike for later this day. Elie, Manitoba will be flooded. Even more catastrophic, wind action may overwhelm some of the sandbag dikes and, without some sort of a controlled breach, the Assiniboine River dike will likely would be overwhelmed. The Portage Diversion, meant for handling  flows of 25,000 cubic feet per second of water, is faced with 34,000 cubic feet per second this year.

All in all, this uncontrolled breach has the potential to cause great conflict between farmers, ranchers, cottage owners, rural First Nations communities, and Winnipeggers over how fair the move is.

Areas Affected Right Now

A few of the areas in Manitoba affected by flooding (either through the Red or Assiniboine Rivers, Lake Manitoba, or other lakes/rivers in Manitoba) so far include:
Winnipeg, with the exception of parts of the Forks and suburbs, has been sparred the flooding thanks to the Red River Floodway.

Controlled Breach

Assiniboine Dike Controlled Breach: The
225  kmarea south of Portage la Prairie where
flood waters will go. 150 homes are threatened,
but the diversion will save a 500 km2
area with more property.

Image Source: CBC
 Later this Saturday, there will be a controlled breach of the Assiniboine dike. The breach, according to various civil servants and engineers, is a necessary evil:

The breach would threaten about 150 homes in a 225-square-kilometre area, according to the province. It will then flow into the La Salle River basin, putting properties there at risk as well.

The release is necessary because many dikes holding back the river are stressed and should they fail, there could be uncontrolled flooding over a wider 500-square-kilometre area.
It's very unfortunate that many people's livelihoods will be ruined by this, even if there is special compensation for flooded properties. Some households surely have irreplaceable emotional significance. It would have been nice if the Province had built a more thorough flood protection system that could stand a once in a thousand year flood or both rivers overflowing, but this is all hindsight.

What You Can Do

Much of the sandbagging is over. But, if anyone has money to give, the Canadian Red Cross is collecting money to provide disaster relief for families affected by the flood.

What Policymakers Must Do

A 1/100 year flood can happen right by a 1/500 year flood, which in turn may happen close to the date of a 1/1000 year flood. We don't know the exact timing of these events. Flood preparation should fall under the assumption that the province will face something worse than the worst case scenario.

We can't trust with great confidence all our scenarios because our models don't take climate change into account. As a report conducted by researchers Scott St. George and Erik Nielsen (affiliated with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Manitoba Geological Survey respectively) noted:

Global Circulation Models suggest that, by the middle of the 21 century northern Great Plains will experience increased interannual variability and more extreme climatic events. Research on the Mississippi River has demonstrated that small changes in mean temperature and precipitation in the past have caused disproportionally larger increases in the size and frequency of floods. However, the influence of any potential future climate change on flood hazards in Manitoba is unknown. In fact, traditional analytical techniques used to determine flood risks assume that climate (and therefore the likelihood of flooding) does not change over time. This assumption is at odds with the recognition that climate naturally varies at all scales and that climate additionally is responding to human activities over the past century.
(My emphasis added)

Given the precautionary principle and the precedent of the $6.5 billion in savings the Floodway gave Winnipeg in 1997*, the downsides of not preparing the province for a catastrophic, worse than worst case scenario flood outweigh the costs doing so.

Certainly, the minister responsible for emergency measures Steve Ashton has said that the Province plans to expand the flood defense system along the Assiniboine. I would also recommend expanding the Red River Floodway and dike protection along Lake Manitoba for First Nations communities.

And, hopefully, the Province is serious when it says serious compensation will be had for flooded property. The output for Manitoba farmers will be horrible after these floods, with many ruined**, though those who make it through the flood will be doing quite nice given the supply shock for wheat.

And lastly, while it is nice that Stephen Harper is visiting afflicted farmland in Southern Manitoba, it would also be nice if his*** Indian and Northern Affairs Department would visit flooded reserves****.  Both the Provincial and Federal governments need to view the aftermath of this flood as a wakeup call when it comes to basic services and economic development for many of Manitoba's First Nation communities.

*According to St. George and Nielson, the Winnipeg suffered $500 in damage during the 1997 Red River flood, but could have faced $7 billion in damage without the floodway.
**According to the Canadian Wheat Board, too much moisture has resulted in only 3% of seeds being sown, compared to a regular 40%!
***It is The Harper Government™ after all!
****Indian and Northern Affairs Canada could also, perhaps, consider subsidizing water shipments to First Nation communities, like Wasagamack, where 90%  of households lack running water.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Strategic Campaigning and Vote Pairing, Not Mergers

Tweedledee and Tweedledum: Tony Blair (left) and David
Cameron (right).

Image Source: The Spectator blog
 Okay, given the disastrous result on May 2, some progressives are thinking that now is the time to merge the Liberals into the NDP. This is bad, for quite a few reasons:

  • It would dilute the social democratic element in the NDP as Dippers try to gain access to big Liberal Donors.
  • Said dilution would mean many innovative social democratic ideas (like Anti-Scab Legislation, Guaranteed Minimum Income, Green Works programs, or a harm reduction drug policy) would never make it into parliamentary debates.
  • Strict centrists would stay home and blue Liberals would leave en masse to the Conservatives (some of them already did in Southern Ontario this election).
  • This would create a Two-Party system in Canada, with viciously partisan rhetoric in a dishonest attempt to distinguish two increasingly similar parties. 
  • A Two-Party model would mean both parties are obsessed with forming government, thereby pressuring both to run to the corporate centre (via the Investment Theory of Party Competition), further diluting the social democratic element of the NDP (Remember "New Labour"?). This is especially the case if public financing laws are repealed or caps on private contributions dropped (an average corporate CEO can out fund raise an average Union leader any day of the week).  
  • Lastly, in spite of what I said yesterday, the Federal NDP did learn something from its Manitoban brethren. Unfortunately, it was a bad lesson: cults of personality work. The Cult of Layton's personality, however, is just as likely to weaken the Federal NDP in the long-run as the Cult of Doer's personality did to the Provincial NDP.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum?: Harper (left) and Layton
(right). Jack Layton has accepted the Conservative
framing on consumption taxes and, to an extent,
crime. The new Two Party realities may push
even more similarities.

Image Source: The National Post

The real solution isn't merger, it's strategic campaigning. If the NDP can't win Southern Ontario, don't campaign heavily there. If the Liberals can't win in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, don't divert federal funds to the riding or emphasize that region a lot in your national campaign. Remember, merging really didn't increase Tory support - Adscam did!

On the voting level, the centre-left needs to make use of vote pairing on a mass scale to thwart future Conservative Majorities. While not infallible, they're better than the alternative: Conservatives running up the middle across Canada.

In the long-term, of course, the goal must be electoral reform. Whether the Chretien Liberals, Today's NDP, or the Harper Government™, false majorities must not be tolerated.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Pyrrhic NDP Victory and CONsolidation of the West

2011 Federal Election Results: Notice the large sea
of blue west of Ontario. Very scary when one realizes
that the big orange chunks in the West are single ridings!

Image Source: Wikipedia
 I'm generally a defensive pessimist, but even I didn't expect the result on May 2 to be as bad as it was. While a poor Official Opposition (the Liberals) were replaced by a stronger one (the NDP), at best this means four years to get dirt that sticks on the Harper Government™. Nothing will materialize when it comes to progressive legislation during this period. The Conservatives will likely use their power to end public financing for campaigns and rake in huge corporate donations. Austerity will begin in a couple of years and you can expect pain for students and the young. Social spending will be slashed as giveaways to arms manufacturers explode. Canada will become an Anglo-American Corporate Welfare State in the worst sense of the term.

1919 Winnipeg General Strike: Crucial moment
 in labour organizing in Canada;
 had a formative effect on
a young Tommy Douglas.
Critical moment in the formation
of the Cooperative Commonwealth
Federation (which evolved into the NDP).

Image Source: Wikipedia
The NDP didn't make much of a dent in the Conservatives. Most of their new seats were gained by defeating Liberal or Bloc Quebecois MPs. While some of these new faces are very refreshing (like renown Cree leader Romeo Saganash) and a few Quebec Conservatives were unseated, the fact of the matter is that the NDP didn't hit Harper where it hurts: The West.

This is very strange, as labour populism has a strong history in Western Canada starting with the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The CCF originated in the West, there's vast swaths of Aboriginal Canadians scattered throughout the region, and it's increasingly urban. The NDP forms the Official Opposition in British Columbia and Saskatchewan as well as Government in this Province (for the time being). Since the NDP is unique among parties in that its provincial wings are fully integrated into the Federal Party, there surely should be tried and true campaign tactics the Provincial wings could teach Federal organizers.

Relatively left-leaning Winnipeg* shows just how bad the result was in the West:

Saint Boniface: Conservatives hold this traditionally Liberal riding, expanding lead over the Liberals from previous election.

Kevin Lamoureux: MP for traditionally
NDP Winnipeg North. Sole
Liberal MP in Manitoba.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Winnipeg South Centre: Conservative Candidate (and recent Party turncoat) unseats Liberal Annita Nevile.
Elmwood-Transcona: Seat once held by Bill Blaikie, the longest serving MP in the house, goes Conservative.

Pat Martin: MP for Winnipeg Centre. One of two NDP
 MPs in Manitoba elected on May 2.

Image Source:

Only two seats in the city didn't go Tory: Winnipeg North (Liberal hold) and Winnipeg Centre (NDP hold). So a riding with some of the poorest areas in the country didn't go Tory and a riding whose Heart is the "Granola Belt" stayed NDP - not very impressive.

The result in Saskatchewan was also disastrous. Nettie Wiebe, a small farm activist and Prairie Populist, lost the third time by a very marginal amount to the Conservatives (Why the hell is it always by such small margins in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar?). Had the Federal NDP campaigned more aggressively in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and the West in general, rather than making a destructive lurch** for seats in Southern Ontario, I'm certain Wiebe would have won.

I'm not just upset because I dislike being represented by Tories in Ottawa (though I do). The fact is that with a permanent Rightward shift in Toronto's 905 belt, tearing into the Conservative base in Western Canada is exactly what's needed to prevent Tory majorities.

And, sadly, I fear winning in Quebec will have a hyper-Easternizing effect on the Federal NDP, where they focus on replacing the Liberals in Ontario and Atlantic Canada rather than on their historical Western base.

Elizabeth May: MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
First elected Green MP.

Image Source: The Tyee

Overall, though, winning Quebec is largely positive as winning there generally shifts parties to the left*** and is a welcome antidote to the Rightward shift of the party. Dave Barrett's warning still rings true: the NDP cannot give up on BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Edmonton****, the Party's traditional message resonates with the populist sense of the region and urbanization should ensure even more centre-left voters.

On a final note, a welcome surprise this election was Elizabeth May's unseating of Conservative MP Gary Lunn, who's held the riding for over a decade as a Conservative (and Alliance) MP. While a very small victory, at least it was a gain in the West at Tory expense.

*Well, compared to most Metropolitan Centres West of Ontario and East of BC.
** Yes, the lurch was destructive. It ate away enough Liberal seats in what was never a real NDP hotbed. That, along with some blue Liberals switching to the Tories and Liberal vote splitters in the West, is responsible for the Tory Majority.
*** Well, except on multicultural issues apparently.
**** Yes, everywhere else in Alberta is a lost cause.