Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Final Days

Three days from now, residents of the Province of Manitoba will go to the polls to choose who will be their mayors, municipal councillors, and school board trustees for the next four years. As for making personal predictions, I have written elsewhere my general thoughts about the election, and implicitly how I expect the mayor's race to end up. Having said that, most people believe politicians are crooks and criminals anyways, and I find these revelations linked to a little amusing.

I've covered other elections over the lifespan of this blog, so now comes my customary "you-better-get-out-and-vote" lecture. Typically, turnout in municipal elections is lower than higher levels. Why is that? Hard to say. I think a contributing factor is the decline of media covering local events, but that's a different entry. Municipal government, however, is "where it's at." The decisions made at the municipal level affect residents most directly, and it's the services provided by municipal governments that most directly affect citizen's lives. I have provided links to the side so people can learn about candidates in Brandon, and I hope readers make use of the information available to them.

On Wednesday October 25, please vote.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Sunny Day In The Park

Yesterday I visited Curran Park for the first time since it was privatised some time ago. Curran Park was formerly owned and operated by the City of Brandon, and consists of a pool, campground, ball diamonds, miniature golf, and a host of other recreational activities. Issues of maintenance and continuous flooding caused the city to wash its hands of the park, and to sell it. Seeing it for the first time in several years, the first impression that struck me was how crowded the campgrounds were. There was literally a trailer or camper in almost every spot, and I do not remember ever seeing the park that busy before.

However, there is a cloud to this silver lining. Curran Park is a couple of kilmoetres west of 18th street in Brandon, and not readily accessible to anyone without a vehicle. It used to be that Curran Park could be accessed via passenger ferry from Queen Elizabeth Park, but this was discontinued after the park was sold. The ferry came into existence just before the City started expanding its recreational trail system for cyclists and pedestrians. Curran Park could have been a great part of that network. The problem was that the city viewed park management from a value for dollar perspective. From a financial standpoint, the park was not work holding onto. However, there is also the social good aspect. This doesn't measure value by dollars, but by intangible benefits it provides the city in enhancing its quality of life. From that standpoint, Curran Park, despite being a private campground, still provides that benefit for Brandon, regardless of the financial costs it takes to operate.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Brand New Image

Recently, the Manitoba government unveiled its Spirited Energy campaign. It's an initiative involving television and billboard ads saying how great a place Manitoba is. Unfortunately, I think the money was not well spent at all.

The undertone of this idea is that everything is merely a commodity to be marketed. In other words, if someone doesn't want what you are trying to sell, it's because you haven't marketed it enough. The focus is on cosmetic appearances, without addressing any of the substance. People don't choose to live in places and form their opinions of them based on flashy ads and billboards. They do so based on such things as economic opportuinties, climate, social environment, and the list goes on. The proper thing to do to promote Manitoba would have been to address these issues and come up with solutions instead of running a PR campaign.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Canadian Terrorism?

The major news story in Canada over the past couple of weeks is the arrest of 17 people accused of plotting a terrorist attack in Canada. I do not wish to comment at lenght on the merits of the case. I will say, however, that the main thing to remember is that these individuals, before the law, are considered innocent until proven guilty, which has yet to be determined. Nonetheless, if it does turn out that the accusations against these individuals are true, then it shows that our legal system worked in this case, and that we never were in any danger.

The main point isn't the arrests themselves, but the politics surrounding them. The government was quick to point to these arrests as a means of highlighting the terrorist threat and how important it is we strive to defeat it. It's the same method that has been used in other times and places to whip up fear, in order to justify intensified scrutiny of citizens. It's based on the idea that somehow "they" are different than "us," and the "us-versus-them" mentality is what leads us to problems getting along.

The main goal of "terrorism" is to change the behaviour of a group of people by terrorising them. I'm not for one minute suggesting that Canada is immune from the threat, however if we panic when things like these happen, the terrorist have accomplished their goals.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Net Threat

In little over a decade, the Internet has changed life dramatically. This change has been noticed in several aspects of life, such as paying bills, communicating and sending e-mail, political organising, finding work and networking, and even dating and sex. So great is its impact that the changes it brought have been compared to the Industrial Revolution. The most notable aspect of the Internet, is the freedom of Net users to access a great deal of information from a variety of sources, and has provided people with greater means to spread their ideas. This fundamental foundation is under attack.

Currently, the basic idea behind the Internet is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) (telephone and cable companies) are not supposed to restrict consumer access to particular websites. It's called Net Neutrality. Right now in the United States, the ISPs are lobbying to change that. They want to charge websites a fee to load up more quickly on that browser. Naturally, this favours those with more money over those without, but the potential impacts are widespread, and go beyond that. Service providers would be able to discriminate against websites based on political views. For example, last year during the strike at Telus, the company blocked customers from viewing a webstie set up by the union. Other possible impacts range from ISPs charging to have certain search engines load faster on consumer's browsers than others, or selecting which online banking services consumers will have to choose from.

This is being proposed because the impact of the Internet in empowering citizens has not gone unnoticed. Examples of the Internet playing a major role in policital events include Howard Dean's campaign to become the 2004 Democratic candidate to run for the Presidency and exposing the truth about some documents upon which a story about George Bush's military service by Dan Rather were based. It's unsurprising that the powerful ISPs and the interests they represent wish to control, if not outright halt, this kind of discourse. The implications are so widespread that several diverse groups across the political spectrum, such as and the Christian Coalition, as well as citizen's groups and companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo, have joined forces to protect Net Neutrality, and several Democrat and Republican legislators are onside on this issue. In Canada, Internet regulation falls under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Comission, and Bev Oda is the Minister whose portfolio covers this issue. Michael Geist has also written a great deal about the Canadian aspects of this issue.

The Internet is the last bastion of free expression, and it is important that this be preserved.