@ the 100th Meridian

Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

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.

HARPNESS

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
(CBC.ca)

 

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?

A Majority is Harper’s Only Option

Sometimes the data doesn’t appear as it seems. Take the latest data on the CBC Poll Tracker from Éric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com:

PollTracker

Looks pretty straight forward. If the election was held today, the New Democrats would get more of the popular votes, but the Conservatives would most likely win more seats. Conventional wisdom is that Stephen Harper would form a minority government. Traditionally, that is what would happen. The Governor General will ask the party with the most seats if it can form a government. This is where it gets dicey.

In this situation, Harper has to try to form a government. To do anything else is to admit defeat. After all, he formed a minority government back in 2006, increased his seat count in 2008, and got a majority in 2011. The man has experience governing in a minority parliament.

However, this year would be different. Going from a comfortable majority to a minority would be seen as a defeat. During the first minority governments of Stephen Harper, his party was always showing an upward trend; this would show a downward trend. Also keep in mind that back then, the other two parties were hesitant to force an election against a Conservative party that was increasing in popularity while their own fortunes might be failing. It was in this way that Stephen Harper kept the confidence of the House; everyone knew that he had a legitimate mandate.

This time I’m not so sure.

If the Conservatives come in with a result any lower than a majority, they lose. Sure, if the current numbers were to be somewhat similar on election day, then the Governor General will ask Mr. Harper if he can form a government. The only thing that will stop that is if Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau agree to form a coalition government in the first hours following the election. Chances are a formal coalition is not going to happen as it is not in Justin Trudeau’s best interest as leader of the party to give up that leadership to Tom Mulcair. The machinery of the once dominant Liberal Party would never let that happen, it would be too much of a defeat.

Here’s the thing though. As I understand our Parliamentary System, you do not need to have the most seats in parliament. You don’t need to form a formal coalition. All you need to govern is the confidence of the House. That puts Tom Mulcair in charge.

It is not that difficult to reason that Stephen Harper’s government falls at the first non-confidence motion introduced in the House of Commons. After almost a decade of Conservative government, the opposition parties would not be able to say that they have confidence in the Government. For the NDP and Liberals, a confidence motion will defeat the Harper government, neither can be seen to support him at this point.

This puts Tom Mulcair in a very interesting position, he doesn’t need Justin Trudeau, just his party’s votes. As long as he gets more seats than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Tom Mulcair most likely becomes Prime Minister before the following election. With so many overlapping policies, the Liberals would surely have to give their support to the NDP if just to throw out the Conservatives. A formal coalition doesn’t seem to be required. Personally, I think Mulcair knows this and his offer of a coalition was an attempt to make himself look like the bigger statesperson.

In this election, I’m sure everyone is playing to win. However, for the NDP or Liberals, while a majority would be nice, first place the more likely prize, but in this case second place is pretty much as good. For the Conservatives anything less than an outright majority is devastating.

Believe it or not, despite the numbers, it is Harper who is in the most precarious position this election.

Future of the Senate

Tom Mulcair is right. The Senate of Canada most likely needs to be eliminated. In Canada, in 2015, it does not make sense to have an appointed body passing or blocking legislation. This Canadian equivalent to the the elitist House of Lords in Great Britain smacks of a bygone era.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting rid of it anytime soon. The Supreme Court ruled last year that without provincial approval, the federal government cannot alter the Canadian Parliament, which includes the Senate, in any substantial way.

That requires opening the Constitution.

Last year I proposed a way that the Prime Minister could push through Senate Reform, basically by bribing the provincial premiers into it by passing the power to appoint Senators to them. It is elegant in a few ways, it gives the provinces more power (which is irresistible), it most likely means elected Senators because premiers would not want to be seen as undemocratic, it removes power from his successors (something Chretien seemed to revel in), and it takes any Senate situations such as the current expense scandal far far away from the Prime Minister.

I still think that this is the most likely way that we would see senate reform; passing the responsibility to the provinces. What Quebec or Ontario premier is going to pass up on the ability to at least have some influence on who represents their province?

That all being said, I would like to see a referendum this fall, just as a number of NDP and Conservative MPs have suggested, that asks the Canadian public directly if they feel that the Senate is still needed in a modern Canada. If the vote was overwhelmingly against keeping the Senate, and I suspect it would be, then the provinces may have no choice but to allow the elimination of the Upper House.

senate

To me, the question seems simple. “Notwithstanding the constitutional amendments required to abolish it, do you feel that the Senate of Canada should continue to exist?”  The reason for the first part of the question would be to eliminate those who would vote to keep the senate because they felt the constitution wouldn’t allow it or that opening it up might prove difficult. The question is about whether or not you want the Upper House to stay, not whether or not you think abolishing it is impossible. Before moving ahead, we need to ask this basic question.

We need to know Canada’s answer.

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