@ the 100th Meridian

Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Presidential Alert? But I’m in Canada!

Yesterday was the second national test of the Alert Ready public alert system in Canada. This time, unlike the last test, both my wife and I received alerts on our phones which are on Telus’ Koodo prepaid network.

There’s a couple things to keep in mind for these tests. They only work with compatible devices on an LTE network. Also, all alerts are sent out at the “Presidential” level so that they cannot be blocked. Many phones will just show ‘Emergency Alert’, but some like mine will show ‘Presidential Alert’ in the header.

Let me expand on that.

The system that has been put in place by Pelmorex Corp (owner’s of the Weather Network) on behalf of the federal and provincial governments is the same one used in the United States. In the USA there are three levels of alerts:

  1. Presidential Alerts – cannot be blocked unless device taken off network
  2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life
    • Extreme threats
    • Severe threats
  3. Amber Alerts

In Canada we use the same system, but alerts are only sent out at the Presidential level**. So, if you had your phone on, it is a LTE capable device compatible with the Wireless Public Alerting system, and you were connected to your provider’s mobile network (not WiFi), you should have received an alert yesterday. Hope that clears things up.

**  I personally think it is a mistake to send all alerts out at a Presidential level.

Amber alerts should be sent out as ‘Amber Alerts’. A couple of months ago an Amber Alert was sent out to all users in Manitoba after midnight. There was no need to wake me up for that. One twitter user called me selfish for saying so, but they misunderstand my point. I consider Amber Alerts as important, and my phone is set to receive that level of alert, but there is no need to wake me up for it. If I am asleep at 1:55 AM, there is exactly a zero percent chance that I am going to come across a missing child. If I am awake at that time and out in the community, I will look at my phone and get the message.

The danger here is that if there are too many Amber Alerts waking people up in the middle of the night, users will start putting their phones in airplane mode when they go to bed, not receiving ANY alerts even when they themselves may be in immediate danger. There are different alert levels for a reason, they should be used.

No, not Chicago! The answer is Winnipeg.

“But… Chicago!”
”Chicago, Chicago, Chicago!”

There is a mass shooting almost every day in the United States of America now.  Every day! It happens so often that we don’t even hear about all of them anymore, just the most egregious  ones. In the last two weeks we’ve had two of those. In one, a crazed individual walked in to a synagogue and started shooting; 11 dead. The other happened in a California bar where 12 patrons are now dead. Even more insane, one of the dead in California was a survivor of a Las Vegas attack that killed 58 people. It is so bad now that if you escape one massacre, you cannot be sure you won’t die in another anyway.

America has a problem. Guns.

Yes, America has other problems, healthcare, mental health, income inequality, an opioid epidemic. Hell, some of these probably help contribute to the mass shooting problem. Here’s the thing. All other Western Style Democracies have these same problems. All of us have an opioid issue of some kind. All of us struggle with healthcare and mental illness. Many of us have an income inequality problem, perhaps to a lesser degree. I’ll even admit that some of us have higher gun crime than we would like. What we do not have is an epidemic of gun violence. Only the United States has that, and only the United States doesn’t employ what most countries would consider “common sense” gun control measures.

Of course, gun control opponents have all sorts of arguments. “Gun control doesn’t work!”, except it does in every country that establishes national standards. “The Second Amendment!”, except nobody interpreted it that way before the seventies. “But a person will just find something else, like a knife!”, except we never hear of mass casualty knifings. (Non-fun fact: The same day of the Sandy Hook massacre in the United States, a man in China walked into a school with a knife and ended up injuring 24 but nobody died). “Chicago! Look at Chicago! It has the toughest gun control yet it is the most dangerous city for guns in the United States!”, except it doesn’t have any effective gun control at all. This is the one that really pisses me off.


When people bring up the Chicago example it scares me in two ways. First, some actually believe that it’s an effective argument, which means they are idiots. Second, the others know it’s a bogus argument, but use it anyway. And it is a bogus argument.

Last time that I checked, Chicago was simply a city in Illinois in the United States, and not a city-state with well defined and enforced borders. Even assuming that Chicago and Illinois have stricter gun laws than nearby states (some have been rescinded), there is nothing to stop people from buying firearms in a nearby state and driving them into Chicago. Chicago isn’t an argument for how gun control doesn’t work, it’s an argument for establishing national gun control laws that a person with a car and a few hours cannot circumvent.

That brings us to Winnipeg.


The capital city of the Canadian province of Manitoba is a good example of how national gun laws can and do work. Winnipeg is a Midwestern North American city with a history very similar to Chicago. So much in fact that it was once known as the “Chicago of the North.” I’ve lived in Winnipeg for two years now and overall I like my new city. I will however admit freely that this city has a violence problem. What we do not have is a gun violence problem. Yes, there are guns in the city, some illegal that are used in crime, but it is not a daily or very common occurrence. Could a mass shooting happen here? Yes it could, but the chances are much lower because we have common sense gun control. To own a gun you need to go through multiple checks and take a safety course. To transport a gun you need to follow strict rules. If you wander through a neighbourhood open-carrying a rifle they are going to arrest you. If you drive to Minnesota and buy a bunch of guns at a show, they are going to confiscate them at the border, and most likely arrest you if you tried to sneak them in. If you are a law abiding citizen you can buy certain classes of firearms as long as you follow the legal requirements. Every Winnipegger that wants a firearm for a legitimate reason has a firearm unless we have found a common sense reason why they should not. It’s not a perfect system, but it works to keep us a lot safer.

So no, not “Chicago, Chicago, Chicago!”

The answer is Winnipeg.

What’s in a Surname?

In preparation of Canada’s 150th birthday this year on July 1, Maclean’s magazine has been surveying Canadians on a variety of subjects. One of those topics is the idea of surnames. More than half of Generation Xers and Millennials believe that married couples should share a last name (Interestingly, LESS than half of Boomers). It made me think about tradition, how it is affected by misogyny, and our personal choices.

First, the choice I made, the choice my spouse made, and the choice we should of made. At the time we got married, I will admit that I was much more conservative than I am today. The raving lunatic liberal was in there, but he hadn’t surfaced yet, so the perceived pressure of tradition and family expectation made me make a choice I now regret. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I do not dislike my family name, it is a perfectly acceptable surname, and I’m not looking to change it. However, I missed an opportunity. My spouse ended up changing her last name to match mine, however she sometimes adds her old last name as a second middle name, such as when she graduated from Brandon University a few years ago. She wanted her birth name to be somewhere on her diploma. Anyway, in the end, we ended up doing the traditional thing. This is where we missed our unique opportunity.

For those that do not know, my last name is Harp. My spouse’s previous last name is Harness. At the time of our marriage, I believe the law applied to females only (which I was going to challenge), but was later changed to what it is now:

Choosing a surname after marriage or entry into a common-law relationship

As a married person or a person living in a common-law relationship, you have a number of options for choosing your surname.

  • You may retain your present surname;
  • You may assume your spouse’s surname or common-law partner’s surname;
  • You may combine your present surname with your spouse’s or common-law partner’s surname, with or without a hyphen (it does not matter which surname you use first); or
  • You may assume your spouse’s or common-law partner’s surname and retain your present surname as a given, middle name.

All options apply equally to men and women.
If you were born in Manitoba, your birth certificate does not change to your married name or common-law partner’s name.
If you are living common-law, it will be necessary to file a declaration with Vital Statistics in order to change your surname. You will be charged a fee to obtain a Certificate of Election of Surname that will provide proof of your new name.

Now, we were going to test the wording of the law (highlighted portion), and combine the names without a hyphen, but not as they thought. Not Harp Harness or Harness Harp, what we had decided would be neat was to actually combine them into one name.


We both regret not doing it. There is a chance we might do it in the future, although at this point age is becoming a factor, and our kids need to be part of the decision. We should have done it before their births. That’s our regret.

The funny thing about the surname tradition in Canada and other English speaking countries is that it is not very good and really shows our misogynistic history. In the last number of years I have taken a few peaks at our family trees. I’m not a genealogist by any measure, but it occurred to me that our “tradition” has been misguided for a long time. Traditionally, females take on their husband’s name at time of marriage and all children end up with that name. It makes tracing the female lines of family trees more difficult.

Here is what I would like to see, and wish that we would have done this after not doing our first idea.

  • At time of marriage, a person takes on their spouse’s last name as a middle name. For example, my last names would be Harness Harp and my spouse would be Harp Harness (unless of course the province okayed Harpness)
  • Each child would take on either parent’s combo. In a more traditional arrangement, males would take on the father’s combo, females the mother’s combo

Think of how much easier genealogy would be if each generation gave clues to the previous generation’s female line. Also, think of how many surnames would still be in use had they not “ended” with no male heirs.

Our current system is a strange misogynistic tradition, and I kind of regret succumbing to the perceived pressure to participate.

A city moves forward (without me!)

Last year I moved with my family from Brandon to Winnipeg so that my spouse could pursue opportunities after receiving her four year Bachelors Degree from Brandon University. Despite our move, I have no intention of changing the domain of this blog. Whether living here in Winnipeg, moving to the coast, or landing somewhere overseas, I will always be a guy from Brandon and therefore from “the 100th Meridian”. Expect commentary on not only Brandon issues, but those things that interest or confuse me about our provincial capital… and of course Manitoba as a whole.

Meanwhile, two of my favourite issues have had movement forward.

The 8th Street bridge is being demolished. I don’t mean plans are made… I mean the damn thing is coming down. Heck, for all I know, it could be completely down by now. CBC reporter Riley Laychuk has been tweeting a couple of pics.

It is great to see it coming down without the city spending as much as (or more than) $30,000,000 to replace it.

*** 06-13 UPDATE*** CKLQ News reporting that bridge demolition will be complete by next week.  (Link)

The other one is a small thing, but a big deal for me. I’ve been going on for around a decade about how Brandon should adopt the phrase “Where the Great Plains Begin” as a tagline in a city branding exercise. Of course, the phrase comes from the song “At the Hundredth Meridian” by the iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip. This week I saw this tweet, and the author assures me the picture is real.

I’ve seen other pics of the sign saying “100th Meridian”, but James Montgomery finally confirmed to me that it is indeed real. It’s a great start toward what I think could be a great brand.

Guess I’ll be taking some pictures of a couple places next time we visit.

A fitting tribute we could make

It is no secret that this blog is named after the song “At The Hundredth Meridian” by the Tragically Hip and the fact that that line of latitude runs directly through the city of Brandon. In fact, I have stated how the song would be a perfect branding opportunity for the city in a past blog post.

Gord Downie performing in Ottawa (wikimedia)Branding aside, I was taken aback this week when I heard of the terminal cancer diagnosis of the band’s lead singer, Gord Downie. Always the artist and performer, Mr. Downie promised one more Canadian Tour and the dates were announced the next day.

This is Canada’s Band. They never did make a big splash in the States, but that is part of their greatness. They have made a career out of being Canadian superstars and signing about distinctly Canadian topics.

Only the Hip could have a popular song about the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.

So, never mind using it as a clever tagline (we can always revisit that later), at the very least I think it might be a nice tribute to Gord and the rest of The Hip if the province and the city were to erect signs on the Trans-Canada and 1A Highways where they cross the 100th Meridian, simply stating:

Now crossing the 100th Meridian
”Where the Great Plains Begin” – The Tragically Hip

It would be a fitting tribute to a great Canadian singer and his band.

8th Street Bridge: Going, going… gone

City of Brandon ConsultationThe City of Brandon held its latest consultation meeting on the 8th Street Bridge last night in the atrium at city hall. It was a very informative meeting, with the city’s Manager of Development and Transportation, Coenraad Fourie, going through the options and explaining the pros and cons of each approach.

A number of options were presented for the bridge.

  1. Demolish the bridge without replacement. This is the lowest cost option, yet still turns out to be expensive. You cannot just knock this bridge down, it is over an active rail corridor, so just taking it down will cost just over $2-million. Abandoning it is not an option as it would be a safety issue for both the rail company and the city as the bridge deteriorates further.
  2. Fix the bridge in place. This is initially cheaper that the first option, but the process to get it usable would take 3 years, there is no guarantee that the bridge would not present further problems presently unforeseen, and would only get us five more years out of the bridge. At that point we would be at the point of having to demolish the bridge anyway since both sections would be past their expected end-of-life dates, making this option much more expensive than demolishing the bridge now.
  3. Demolish and replace. This would not take much longer than fixing the bridge, as building a new bridge is much easier than repairing an old one. The problem here is cost and location. By present day standards, the bridge would have to attach to Rosser Avenue on the south side and would extend a distance past Stickney Avenue in order to achieve proper grade. The bridge would have to be higher and much longer, so it’s not just the cost of the bridge, but of the lands that would have to be acquired to build it. Also, within a year or two of its completion, such a bridge becomes redundant to most of the population of Brandon as we will have new twin bridges at both 1st Street and 18th Street.
  4. Demolish and build a pedestrian bridge. This option is cheaper than a traffic bridge and does not necessarily require new land as the approaches to achieve grade do not have to be straight but can be curved up to the proper height. It also has a longer expected life span as it is not subject to all of the same conditions that make a traffic bridge deteriorate. It would last about 75 years. However, it still isn’t cheap as the Transport Canada regulations require it to be built to withstand a train collision, meaning that it would have to be much tougher than your average pedestrian bridge. Price would probably be over $11-million

I personally like option number four. The question is cost versus benefit. If you just look at the numbers it would appear that the current bridge does not get enough foot traffic to warrant such a replacement. From the city’s point of view, I would guess that it would not. So the question becomes, “How much is it worth to Canadian Pacific to keep people from trespassing on their tracks to get from one side to another?”

My feeling? We’re going to be demolishing this bridge. There is no doubt that the current structure is not only past its end-of-life, but dangerously past.  In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that two heavy vehicles did not pass each other on the bridge in just the right place, as the bridge could have experienced a “catastrophic” failure. The probability of such a failure is still there even if we fix it as there is no guarantee that we can 100% enforce weight limits. From a liability standpoint, we cannot keep the current bridge.

So we have to knock it down regardless. It is done.

Replacing it seems redundant. Once the province finishes the two other spans we will no longer have bottlenecks on those two routes, and my suspicion is that traffic wanting to use 8th Street would be even less. There is also something else to consider; the new bridges that the province is building will be twin bridge structures, meaning that an accident on one of these bridges will not close 18th street as area residents claim, leaving the other span open for emergency vehicles to access. Even with the 8th Street bridge gone, my suspicion is that the area still has some of the best emergency response times in the city. Transport to the hospital is now longer than they are used to, but I would argue that many more places in the city are further away from the hospital than any of these properties in question.

It comes down to this. When asked last night, area residents said that they wanted a new bridge no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, the city has to take cost into account and has to answer to more residents than only those in the area. It is not economically or politically viable to replace the 8th Street Bridge.

We need to take it down, and the sooner the better as the price will only go up. In the meantime we find out if CP Rail will cost share on a pedestrian bridge to help keep people from trespassing on their tracks.

Remove Party Names from Ballots

With the election of a Liberal government on Monday, it looks like we may finally get electoral reform in Canada. Some pundits don’t think that a majority government will do it, but I believe that there is enough evidence that strategic voting got the Liberals their majority that they may actually follow through, knowing that they will lose those votes by the next election if they don’t do something.

My top priority for voting reform if of course the ranked or preferential ballot. My second priority, something I haven’t discussed before, is the removal of party names from the ballot. It seems like a small change, but I think it is vital.

There is a law in Canada that party advertising is not allowed in a polling place. The idea is that it may affect the outcome of the vote as people may be more inclined to vote for a candidate after seeing an ad for that candidate. Makes sense to me, keep the playing field level.

But then, once you get to the ballot, the name of the political party appears next to each of the candidates. It can be argued that this takes away the “level playing field” between candidates, making what is supposed to be a local decision into one based on national party. And that is really the crux of this. In our system, you vote for the local candidate, not the national leader.

The idea of voting for a local candidate is so that that person, who has a personal knowledge of the riding, can make decisions based on the wishes of the electorates in that riding. A party only gains power in our system when enough of those local representatives give it the confidence of the House. Many of the problems we have had of late have been because the national party dictates to the local member instead of the other way around.

If you remove party names from ballots, what you do is make it more important for the local candidate to become known. A candidate like Brandon-Souris’ Larry Maguire would have done just fine on Monday because he ran a locally focused campaign based on his own personality and with a catchy local slogan, “Rehire Maguire.”

Inky MarkIf you look north, to Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, there may be an example of a riding that may have had different results had party name not been on the ballot. In that riding, you had Inky Mark, former Conservative MP, running as an independent along with the other regular party representatives. As it stands, Mr. Mark only got 8.1% of the vote on Monday night, versus over 40% for his Conservative opponent. I have no way of proving it, but I suspect that had there been no party affiliation listed on the ballot, Mr. Mark’s numbers would have been higher, and Mr. Sopuck’s (Conservative) would have been lower. Both men are known to stand for small “c” conservative values, and both have won the old riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette with over 18,000 votes.

Perhaps I am wrong, but if I am then removing the party name will have no affect on the outcome of an election, no harm, no foul. If I am right, then party name on a ballot is affecting the outcome, essentially acting as advertising inside a polling place.

Some would argue that removing party affiliation from a ballot would impede the ability of some people to vote. If, after 36 to 78 days of a campaign, if you are not informed enough by that point to be able to identify your local candidate’s name that will best represent you, then perhaps you are not informed enough to vote. The only reason to have a party name on a ballot is to help “direct” you to which candidate that you should vote for. It amounts to an advertisement for the party, something Elections Canada should not be helping parties do.

Advertising inside a polling place is illegal for a reason.

Harper sets trap – Catches self

The Harper Era is over.

Justin Trudeau rode a wave of anti-Harper sentiment, and a desire for change, to getting the keys for his childhood home at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for Mr. Harper’s defeat, many of them his own; I’m going to focus on one. It happened before he ever go a majority in 2011.

Stephen Harper is a victim of his own short-sightedness. One of the things you need to do when you create legislation is think about the consequences, especially what would be the unforeseen consequences of said legislation. Stephen Harper backed himself into a corner, starting in May of 2006 when he introduced Bill C-16 to amend the Canada Elections Act creating fixed election dates. He then broke that law in 2008. Breaking it again would have probably been looked at very negatively.

With a majority win in 2011, Mr. Harper’s own law meant that the next election would be on October 19, 2015 unless he himself did something to prevent that. He had locked himself in. Unfortunately, that only gave him a two year window before he needed to think about Conservative re-election. Why two years? Because if he decided sometime before the election that he is personally unpopular, he needed enough time to signal his resignation, allow for a new leadership contest, and then allow the new leader enough time to put their own stamp on the government. Such a process was going to take at least a year and a half.

The Conservatives simply ran out of time.

It started becoming apparent about a year ago, maybe a little more, that there were a lot of senior Conservative MPs that were starting to resign from politics or signalling that they would not be running in this year’s election. I heard more than a couple of people refer to it as the rats abandoning the ship. My guess is, internal polling was showing that the party was in deep trouble, the Prime Minister’s leadership being one of the main issues.

But it was too late.

I have a feeling that Stephen Harper didn’t see this coming two years ago, but that it was very apparent 12 months ago. Had he not been limited by his own law, he could have resigned and the new Prime Minister could have waited to call an election in 2016. In an election that was about defeating Stephen Harper, a new Conservative leader may have been able to save a few more seats just by not being Stephen Harper.

Stephen Harper set a trap for future Prime Minister’s, then promptly got caught in it himself.

The Cowboy and the Niqab

This happened at a polling station in Edmonton during advanced polling last weekend.

Cowboy voter at advance poll was protesting niqab at citizenship ceremony


As a protest of wearing a niqab to vote or to swear a citizenship oath, this guy’s stunt was an abject failure. He got it wrong. He was allowed to vote, as he should have been, the same as someone wearing a religious face covering. He didn’t actually prove anything.

However, in the story it also mentions what brought this on.

He was in court last month, supporting his partner who had to testify, when he was asked by the court clerk to remove his hat. When he responded that it was his cultural practice to wear his hat, he was told that he would be physically removed from the courtroom if he failed to comply.

Before an election, a woman wearing a hijab in Quebec was told by a judge that she could not appear without removing the head garment. The judge was thoroughly lambasted by many people as being culturally intolerant or even racist. Some political leaders said that the judge was wrong to not let the woman testify.

Here’s the thing. After thinking about it… for quite a while,  I also came to the conclusion that the judge was being intolerant and should have heard the case. How the hell does a woman wearing a niqab affect the judge’s ability to effectively do her job? The excuse that one should show respect for the Court by removing head coverings is not a good enough reason to cause this woman what could be profound personal anguish if forced to remove her religious garment.

Here’s the thing though, justice needs to not only be applied equally, it needs to be seen to be applied equally. That means no special rules based on religion, especially in a courtroom.

To me, this means that he should have never been asked to remove his hat in the courtroom. Was he just doing it to be an ass? Most likely. Unfortunately, being an ass doesn’t automatically mean that he was wrong.

He should not have been asked to remove his hat, and if politicians such as Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair, and Marc Garneau are true to their word, they will defend his right to wear what he wants.

After all, just a few months ago all three vowed to defend the right to wear what you want, even if it was unpopular.

Make Gas Companies Compete

Gas prices look like they are going to drop today. That’s a good thing relative to the current price, but considering how much they went up last week, they’re still going to be kind of high. 119.9¢/L seems a little bit ridiculous when the price of crude is hovering at or under $50/barrel, some of the lowest prices in years.

Courtesy WikipediaWe’re never going to be happy when gas prices go up, that’s a given. It’s always a given that sometimes costs go up for businesses, and therefore the price of their product needs to go up. I understand how businesses in a free-market economy don’t want to be regulated by price boards, similar to what utilities face. Competition is healthy.

Unfortunately, to the layperson like me, these businesses appear not to compete. I’m not talking collusion, and multiple government studies into collusion in the oil and gas industry have came up empty when looking for it.

Then again, who needs to collude when you know that if you up your price, the other guy will match it… or if you drop your price, he’ll match it too? You don’t need to collude once the pattern has been established. The problem here is not collusion. The problem is no real competition.

So, make them compete.

I think it would be fairly easy to force competition, legislate price differences. The way I see it, there would be a two step approach.

  1. Make it the law that if you raise your fuel price at a station, then the station must stay at that price for 48 hours. If competitors don’t raise their price, you are stuck there and will lose business. This means that nobody will raise their price unless absolutely necessary, for fear they will lose 48 hours of business.
  2. When raising prices, require that the pump price cannot be the same as the 5 closest competitor’s stations, or within a certain radius. If station A goes to 124.9, then station B would have to go to 124.7 or 125.1 – Small differences, but it forces an actual competitive price, instead of everyone going up the same amount within hours of each other. Price matching would not be required when lowering prices, that way after the required 48 hours you could lower your price to match the competition. What this does is “punishes” the first station to raise the price, as most competitive stations would go lower.

Would these necessarily change gas prices or make them necessarily lower? Probably not in the long run, but at least it might slow down increases and force gas companies to at least compete some of the time.

And after all, isn’t healthy competition what the Free Market is all about?

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