Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: April 2014

Make an offer they can’t refuse

On Friday the Supreme Court (SCoC) released its decision on Senate reform.

Essentially, to reform the Senate the way that the Conservatives wanted, with fixed term limits and elected senators, would require a constitutional amendment involving at least 7 provinces that represent at least 50% of the population of the country.

The NDP dream of abolishing the Senate would require agreement of all 10 provinces. That is most likely not going to happen without some major concessions from the federal government. It is Tom Mulcair who is most hurt by this decision because it shows that his party was completely out to lunch on this issue. There is no way all 10 provinces would agree to abolition. Ontario and Quebec have too much power in the Senate to give it up. It wasn’t going to happen.

Harper is not the loser in this that people are claiming. In fact, this could be a big win for the Conservatives, and in particular Stephen Harper. In this case he needs to think more like Jean Chretien; worry about getting the job done and if it has negative effects on, or limits the power of, his successors, so be it.

With a majority in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper can basically get anything through there that he wants to. After making appointments to the Senate, which he HAD to do whether he wanted to or not, he also has a majority there. Getting things through the House and the Senate is no problem, so opening up the Constitution for smaller changes is no problem for Harper at the federal level. The trick is what to pass that the provinces would also; what can he give the provinces that would make them pass the amendment too?

Basically, he needs to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Harper’s big push with Senate reform was the idea of term limits, and of an elected body. He needs to add one more piece to this puzzle. Give the power of appointing senators to the premiers. Basically, you pass a constitutional amendment in the House of Commons and the Senate that establishes term limits. Secondly, you give the provincial legislatures the ability under the constitution to have their own Senate election laws, but you don’t require it. If a province does not pass an election law, the job falls to the Premier. My guess is that most provinces would eventually go the election route because it would look undemocratic to do otherwise. Frankly, a Manitoba senator should be decided by a Manitoban, either the premier or the electorate anyway. Alberta already has Senate elections, so one piece of the puzzle already exists in that province.

I’m not sure what province would not agree to such an offer. I also can’t see why Harper would not do such a plan. An elected Senate takes the power out of the Prime Minister’s Office, so he was already giving that up anyway. With this plan he sets the whole mess in the Premiers’ laps, slightly screws over his successors in a Chretien-like move, and gets his term limits. As a bonus to the PM, any future Senate scandal falls at the feet of the premiers, not him.

Frankly, on Friday the SCoC gave Stephen Harper a gift. They showed him a road map and all he needs to do now is follow it. He can reform the Senate exactly the way he wants, just by giving that power to the provinces.

Tom Mulcair on the other hand got handed a lump of coal.

Time to get this move moving?

I grew up in on a farm just southwest of Brandon in the Rural Municipality of Cornwallis. I went to school in Brandon for all of my educational endeavours: Meadows Elementary, Earl Oxford Junior High, Neelin High School, and Brandon University. Never did finish at BU, but I’m currently attempting to rectify that situation. Two more courses this year will bring my renewed attempt to three; looking forward to some introductory political science and more psychology. For better or for worse, I’m a product of the Brandon educational system.

I’ve never attended Assiniboine Community College (ACC), but I have two brothers as well as many friends and colleagues who have attended or even taught there. ACC is a valuable piece of our educational puzzle here in Brandon and Westman. When I first saw the plan to move the college to the more spacious and by then unused Brandon Mental Health Centre (BMHC) grounds I thought it was a grand idea and a welcome expansion to our city.

As of 2014, the job is not completely done. The Brandon Sun reports in today’s edition that the main campus, currently at Victoria Avenue East and 17th Street East still needs to be relocated to the Parkland Building at the BMHC site on the North Hill. The move will take millions of dollars and a lot of construction work. For a more detailed rundown and the challenges of the move, the article by Lindsey Enns in the Sun is a good read.

ACC tries to stay on funding radar – Brandon Sun, April 26, 2014 (Paywalled)

One thing that I would urge the provincial government to consider is that when they are considering the move of ACC to its new home and the costs involved, they must also consider the costs involved in waiting too long to complete the project. Yes, there is the regular concern with actual costs going up with inflation that every project has to deal with, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m referring to is other needs of the citizens of Brandon that at first do not appear related to ACC.

My biggest concern is the fact that the Brandon School Division (BSD) has made it known to the province that the city will require another school in the south end in the next few years, presumably for early and middle years students. As a resident of the south end, the fact that some residents in this area end up in the Riverheights catchment area, a school that is in the far west end, shows that this need is most likely very real.

Another thing that I have noticed is that the vocational programs at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School in the south end always seem to be bursting at the seams. I have had many people, parents and kids, tell me that the most popular programs are difficult to get into. We seem to have a couple of growing problems with education in this end of the city.

Believe it or not, the south end is over-served when it comes to high schools. Neelin and Crocus are essentially on top of each other. They are a 2.2 kilometre walk apart, I suspect that “as the crow flies” they are less than the 1.6 kilometres that the BSD and province use to determine bus eligibility. They are really close.

Neelin High School (Google Earth)It seems to me that the solution here would be to look at making Neelin something other than a high school. A short time ago, Earl Oxford was converted to a kindergarten to grade eight school; Neelin with its single story design seems even more suited to such a conversion. That partially solves the problem with the south end not having enough early and middle years capacity. But where does the population of Neelin then end up?

That’s where ACC comes in. If the move to the Parkland Building gets done, that opens up a building in the east end, a building that has hosted an educational institution for years, and a vocational program for years. The former ACC site could very well be home to a new, larger third high school for Brandon after any needed upgrades, and that location would serve the east end, and possibly the north end, better than Crocus and Neelin do now. A second high school in Brandon offering the vocational track seems to be something much needed in this growing city. I would personally be sad to see Neelin no longer be a high school, I graduated from there, but things change.

We need to make sure that we are spending our money in the right places. Yes, it is important to not spend money that we don’t have to, and I commend the government for not just throwing money at the ACC relocation without restraint. However, we need to make sure that that restraint will not cause us to have to build another school when our current infrastructure may do the job in a reconfigured way. Do we spend money on ACC that does not then have to be spent on public schools?

Sometimes spending money now may save you much more later. The question becomes, does this make sense?

I think it does.

Flip this house…

It is starting to get fairly evident that the next provincial election in Manitoba is not looking that great for the governing New Democratic Party. A number of recent polls have had the opposition Tories approaching the 50% mark in popularity, with the NDP hovering around half that, and the Liberals not far behind.

I fear it will only get worse for the NDP. In a province where politics is usually bland, where differences between the NDP and Progressive Conservatives seem minimal, it seems like the NDP have made enough people mad that voters will switch their vote to the other guy. The NDP seem sure to lose this next election. An unpopular rise in the provincial sales tax rate, a badly viewed decision on Bipole III, and former cabinet minister Christine Melnick being ejected from caucus all are making this look like a government becoming mired in controversy after over a decade in power. Many people see little difference between the two main parties, so switching your vote in Manitoba is often seen as fairly easy unless you are a die hard partisan. Hell, at one time both parties were led by a guy named Gary.

It’s looking bad for Premier Greg Selinger, and pretty awesome for Opposition Leader Brian Pallister. This is the part that frustrates me, there is a third party here, and if I had a feeling that more voters who would normally vote NDP would jump to the Liberals also, I would like to vote Liberal too.

The Liberals have a new leader with rural Manitoba roots, a unique perspective as a visible minority and a woman, and who is a graduate of law at the University of Manitoba. Rana Bokhari seems to me to be an interesting choice. I would like to see the Liberals have a chance in this election. During the last number of years, the Liberal’s former leader, Dr. Jon Gerrard, always seemed like the best choice each election, and often seemed like the most informed and thoughtful in the house. This party doesn’t seem to get enough of a chance in this two-horse province of Manitoba.

It seems like something other that our regular politics needs to happen right now, and until today I didn’t know what it was. As often happens, you need to bounce ideas of of someone until something sticks. Today was one of those days.

My brother and his wife were visiting on their way back home near Winnipeg when we started to discuss this very topic. We all agreed that something has to happen to make Manitobans see the Liberal party as a viable alternative to the NDP instead of trying out the Conservatives whenever we get tired of an NDP government; something needs to shift that momentum to the Liberals. We have a centre-left party (NDP), a centre-right party (PC), and a centre-centre party (Liberal). There needs to be a reason for Manitobans to see the Liberals as the progressive party in the next election.


Because most likely the NDP are going to be destroyed’’, is why. As someone who leans left, I know that the NDP are not forming the next government, and I will not be voting for the Tories. I would like my vote to count and I now lean toward Liberal.

So what needs to happen?

Some disenchanted NDP MLAs need to cross the floor, not to the Tories, but to the Liberals.

There are currently 37 members in the NDP caucus. I would not find it hard to believe that out of 37 members, that a few backbenchers would not find the current government’s trajectory in the polls worrisome, especially if they are personally quite liked. They may feel that they would be pulled down by the party brand in the next election. Jumping from the NDP to the Liberals in Manitoba would not be much of a philosophical jump either.

Brandon East is a good example where such a jump may help a candidate. The area has voted strong NDP for many years, but it seems that in the next election that the Tories may have a chance there. If the incumbent wants a better chance, maybe unhooking the dead weight of a faltering party might be a good first move. Caldwell has won the riding enough times that people are voting for him, not necessarily the party.

It gives the Liberals some much needed momentum, voters another progressive choice, and disenchanted NDP MLAs a life raft from a sinking ship.

Time to flip this house, and give some of these orange walls some red paint.

An enhanced misstep

I’m in the process of getting my passport. I don’t currently have travel plans, but the fact that I can’t even go to Bottineau right now without the right documents is annoying. I could have obtained a Manitoba Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) for less money, but it’s inability to be used as a travel document for anything but land and water crossings, and the fact I lose it if I move out of province, makes it less than ideal.

2010-Enhanced-Drivers-Licence-female-front_HRAccording to the Winnipeg Sun, as of August 31, 2012 the Manitoba EDL program had issued 18,821 pieces of I.D. since the program started in 2009/2010. Apparently the program cost about $14-million.

Manitobans are not exactly running to sign up for this thing. As a comparison, in 2011 57.47% of Manitobans had passports according to Passport Canada. Assuming that the population of Manitoba is the 1,208,268 as stated in Wikipedia, then that would mean that 694,392 Manitobans currently have passports. That means that the rate of passports use in Manitoba is over 36 times as high as EDL use.

An EDL costs $30 over and above your driver’s licence, $50 for the non-driver version, and you renew normally every 5 years. A Canadian passport on the other hand is $120 for 5 years or $160 for 10 years. So in 10 years you would spend $60 on an EDL and $160 on a passport. The passport obviously costs more, but it is a document that allows you to do more in the long run. I’m not sure why we spent $14-million to save 18,821 people a hundred bucks each, we should have just cut them a cheque if we were being realistic.

This brings me to another point. If the Government of Manitoba wanted to make travel documents cheaper for Manitobans, they should have just looked at subsidizing passports. Now that we have the option for a 10-year passport, the province could subsidize the 10-year option by $30 bringing it down to $130, which is only $10 more that the five year. Convince the federal government to toss in a another $10 and 10-year passports for Manitobans would be the document of choice.

Assuming that 10% of passport holders would apply of renew each year, that works out to about 69,440 Manitobans per year getting a Canadian Passport. At a subsidy of $30 per person, the cost of the program would have been just over $2-million per year. That’s seven years of a program for the same cost that would have benefitted 36 times more citizens of the province.

The EDL program just wasn’t thought out.

As an aside, another thing I find annoying is how you go about the process of getting a photo for your passport. It seems ludicrous to me that I have to go get a private photo, have it certified by a guarantor, and then send it in. In 2014 when every province has photo driver’s licences, why do you not have them pull your latest provincial photo onto your passport. This seems like a simple cost-saving, cost-sharing solution between the levels of government.

Welcome to the Human Era

The interesting thing about adopting a humanist outlook on life is the way you start to look at things differently. Things that you just used to accept as that’s just the way it is suddenly seem to not make much sense anymore.

One of those things that has “bothered” me for the last few years has been the basis of our calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world. It is based on the believed date of the nativity from the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

For years I have thought that our calendar is kind of annoying. Once you get down to year 1, you jump to year –1 and start counting in reverse. I’ve never liked how we start counting backward, dates just don’t seem right getting “bigger” as you go back in time. It’s one of those things that doesn’t keep you up at night, but you know that it is just a ridiculous system, at least when documenting human history.

I’ve thought for a while that we should pick a date sufficiently far back in the past so that it encompasses all of written human history and move forward from that as a year zero. To me it has always made sense to make it an even multiple of 10,000 so as to be able to keep our current numbering system during a transition period. As it turns out, 10,000 years is just about right, you don’t have to go back further.Cesare Emiliani in the 1950s

So with this in mind, I did a search on the internet last night, figuring that if I had had the idea, chances are someone before had too. The gentleman to the right is Cesare Emiliani, an Italian-American geologist and palaeontologist, who later in life in 1993 proposed just such a system.

He saw four problems with the current calendar: (from Wikipedia)

  1. The Anno Domini era is based on an erroneous estimation of the birth year of Jesus Christ. The era places Jesus’ birth year in 1 BC, but modern scholars have determined that he was born in or before 4 BC. Emiliani argues that replacing it with the approximate beginning of the Holocene era makes sense.
  2. Emiliani opined that the birth of Jesus Christ is a less universally relevant epoch event than the approximate beginning of the Holocene era.
  3. The years BC are counted down when moving from past to future, making calculation of timespans difficult.
  4. The Anno Domini era has no year zero, with 1 BC followed immediately by AD 1, complicating the calculation of timespans further.

His solution was the proposal of the Holocene Calendar, or Human Era (HE) calendar which starts at roughly the beginning of the Holocene Epoch. Holocene is Greek meaning entirely recent. It turns out that 10,000 years is right about the time that the Holocene started.

To me the adoption of such a calendar makes sense. It requires very little adjustment to current systems other than sticking a one in front of the current date. I’ve heard people claim that it would cause a future computer problem, however, I personally would be very surprised if computers 8000 years from now were using current code anyway.

Today for example would be April 5, 12014. We could still consider 2014 to be shorthand, but in scientific and historical studies the HE date would be used. Here are common dates from history.


In my opinion such a calendar should be considered our standard calendar, moving us away from a calendar based on an event that is not historically significant to a large part of the human population. It puts most significant human events on one timeline, and for those adverse to change, it affects day to day current calendars very little if at all. I know that in school such a calendar would have made much more sense when studying written human history.

Manitoba flag still sucks…

I dislike the Manitoba flag. I have for years. I first noticed how much I disliked it back around 2001. I was sitting in the parking lot at Superstore waiting for my spouse to pick something up when I looked at the flags flying there. We had just moved back from Saskatchewan that March and it struck me how much more the Saskatchewan flag stood out compared to the Manitoba one. Superstore there flew the Canadian and Saskatchewan flags, while here it is Canada and Manitoba.

I love the Canadian flag. Despite its relatively recent adoption in the late 60s, it is a wonderful symbol of our country. At once unique, simple in design, and unmistakeably Canadian. It is a wonderful flag. The Manitoba flag, not so much.

How do I know that it was 2001? Well, in June of that same year, the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), a group dedicated to the study of flags, released a survey of their members on the flags of North American States and Provinces. We beat many states, but as far as Canadian flags go we were dead last.

Just looking at the thing, I knew it wasn’t a good design. It was kind of just intuitive. After NAVA’s survey I knew why. From their website at

The 5 Basic Principles of Flag Design

  1. Keep It Simple – The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory…
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism – The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes…
  3. Use 2–3 Basic Colors – Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set…
  4. No Lettering or Seals – Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal…
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related – Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections…

Using those basic principles it is easy to see why the Canadian flag is great flag design, and the Manitoba flag is not.


First, Manitoba’s flag (top) probably is fairly simple until you get to the coat of arms on the right hand side; then the thing gets overly complicated. It uses way too many colors , and worst of all, it is not distinctive. It is terribly difficult to tell apart from a number of other flags in Canada and the Commonwealth both historically and current.

It also not only duplicates the flags of Ontario (centre), and the Canadian Red Ensign (bottom), but all three actually contain the Union Jack from the United Kingdom in its entirety.

Worst of all, it is not distinctive. Fly any of those three flags to the left, and on a calm day you would not be able to tell them apart. That’s not even taking into account all the uses of the Red Ensign design outside of Canada. Sure, the flag does represent our history by using those symbols, but it ignores all the other peoples who have contributed to this province.

Because of its non-distinctive nature, the flag fails its most important role as a symbol. I look at the flag and it does nothing for me. It does not cause any feelings like those of the Canadian Maple Leaf flag. At least when I look at Saskatchewan’s flag, I see how it says “Saskatchewan.”

myflagSo, in 2001, after the news of NAVA’s flag rankings broke, I wrote to the Winnipeg Free Press and I suggested that they hold a contest for a new Manitoba flag. I included my idea for a Manitoba flag as seen to the right. I knew that the eventual winner would most likely not be adopted, but the Free Press ran with the idea anyway. My design was to keep it simple, at least simple enough to design in MS-Paint! The blue was to represent our northern lakes and expansive skies while the green represented our vast prairie landscape. The bison of course is a well used symbol of our province going back many years. It was also meant to have a similarity to the flag of our western neighbour Saskatchewan who we share much of our identity with.

My entry if I recall correctly made the top 10, which I was pretty happy with.

I do have to admit though, that I instantly fell in love with the winning entry, from Heather Jones of Winnipeg. I would be proud to fly it. It is distinctive, it is meant to represent Sunny Manitoba and the inclusion of the bison uses one of our most recognizable symbols. It has been suggested that the bison be reversed so that it is facing the flagpole as to not be considered rude, but other than that, it is perfect. I’d actually like to buy one to fly it.