What’s on the plate?

October 3rd, 2013

In a week when the best news the province could give Manitobans was that the debt was climbing at a slower pace than expected, a strange press release came out. 
Restaurants are going to be asked to voluntarily list the ingredients of the food on their menus. Apparently, Manitobans are too dumb to know that food equals calories and too many calories means weight gain. The province figures restaurant owners have nothing better to do than to pay a staff person, whose wages may have just gone up this week by way of the Manitoba Minimum Wage act, to sit down and figure out how much fat or sodium is in a plate full of food. There are many things that government seemingly has to do to satisfy the endless demands of people that one would think that setting up new annoying bureaucracies wouldn’t make the government wish list. Manitoba’s deficit, per year, is still running at over $500 million. That means we are adding a half billion a year to the provincial debt. 
This past year or so, the province has spent a fortune on bossing municipalities around and demanding that they amalgamate. Most don’t want to, many should, but several don’t want to to join up. This battle, which has been headed up by Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux, has been vigorously fought but it has a strange twist to it. No one can figure out what’s in it for the government? If a municipality wants to stay small, or stay the same as they have been, what does it matter to the province or to Minister Lemieux? 
Even Lemieux says it won’t save money, so why would he plunge ahead?
The answer is indeed elusive. Perhaps the government wants to see larger municipal groupings so that there’s fewer municipalities to deal with. However, the savings would be minimal. Maybe they could get by with one less local government department staff person. Experienced politicians think that it’s actually driven not by cost savings, but by future potential downloads. The biggest suspect is policing costs which are climbing constantly. The RCMP need new facilities in several communities and the province may be looking to download costs of both facilities and operations more onto the municipalities. That was a direct after-effect of municipal amalgamation in Ontario.
Ironically, at the local level, there are several places that amalgamation should take place. Again, it’s not so much to save money as it is to save time and to move municipalities ahead more quickly. In many communities, if a local decision is needed, it goes to as many as five councils. If one council has questions, it goes back to all the other councils and there may be lengthy delays on relatively small decisions. 
When looking at municipal jurisdictions, one has to ask why the RM of McCreary and Town of McCreary isn’t all one unit? The same can be asked at Ste. Rose or Rivers or Hamiota. At Neepawa, my position has always been that Glenella, Lansdowne, Langford, Rosedale and Neepawa should all be one unit.
The planning district includes four of the five, the vet district all five, the care home agreement includes all five, so does the medical clinic. Then there’s agreements on fire protection and water lines that include two or more of the municipal units. A majority of councillors and maybe a majority of residents may not agree with amalgamation, but a lot of time and frustration could be saved if amalgamation took place.
There’s another advantage to amalgamation and that is when addressing either the provincial or the federal governments on issues of policy or grants, a larger group would carry a lot more weight. Some would argue that the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM), is there to carry that load. While AMM, and the much larger FCM, have lobbied for some significant changes such as infrastructure funding, it’s left up to individual municipalities to fight their own battles with governments.
Amalgamation is a bit like that plate of food at the restaurant. We shouldn’t need the government to tell us what’s good for us. We should know on our own and be prepared to act in our own best interests. 

A New Command

October 1st, 2013

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

I have been doing a lot of thinking about this Bible verse lately. I have been reading a section of the Old Testament just about every night and when you are plodding your way through books like 1 Kings, you find a lot of blood, gore and treachery, mixed in with a lot of naked ambition. Critics of the Bible and Christianity will say, if that’s how Christianity is, then I want no part of it. If the Old Testament were what Christianity is, then nobody should want any part of it. As one former Neepawa pastor said, “The Old Testament is like a schoolmaster, leading us to the New Testament.”
What many people forget, ignore or simply don’t realize is the Old Testament is largely historic. Much of it’s not intended as template for life, it’s to show what not to do. It’s to show what happens when we don’t follow God or the teachings of Jesus.
On the other hand, the verse above aptly summarizes Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament or “new command” or as some call it the new covenant. Instead of hating, killing and striving, we are to love one another.
Apparently it’s a lot easier to hate one another than to love one another. The mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya and the church bombing in Pakistan are vivid and horrible evidence that hate is still running rampant in our society.
And critics of the Christian faith will be quick to point out that from the Old Testament to the Crusades, to numerous wars and skirmishes in between then and now, Christians have been very cruel to both their own and others. That’s true. The Muslim extremists seem to have cornered the modern market on cruelty.
The point is that while wars were rampant in the OT times and have been in modern times, it is Jesus’ way of living (or more correctly loving). While I don’t pretend for a moment to have everything figured out, this much I feel I know. There is section in the Old Testament that lists the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions but the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20, New International Version (NIV)
The Ten Commandments
20 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Perhaps the most controversial of the commandments is the one about murder. I take it very seriously. One should not kill another person, not by murder, not by bombing or rioting, not by capital punishment and not by abortion. It also applies to war but with a hard to determine exception. Most wars are avoidable. One could debate that for days but I do believe that there have also been unavoidable wars. I leave it to God to sort that one out except to say that war needs to be avoided if at all possible.
When in doubt, refer to the first paragraph of this column.

Rewarding change

September 19th, 2013

Reports out of the European Union this week stated that global warming alarms have been ringing twice as severely as warranted by scientific evidence. It’s about time we heard that, seeing as the earth overall has been cooling slightly for a decade or so.
Global warming – the fact that it’s caused by mankind – has been highly overstated. Many times I have pointed out that if industrial emissions cause global warming, then why don’t scientists also blame volcanoes? A good volcano can spew out more dust, ash and gasses in a couple of days than all of industry can in a month.
Another story came out early this week that is related to global warming. The story is related to government spending and has this sense of entitlement. Scientists across Canada are protesting cuts to government spending on research. It seems that professors want to research what they want, the way the want to research, at the speed they want to research and at government expense.
If a person wants some depressing reading for an hour or two, read the list of things that are being researched in Canada or North America. 
The list of research topics and the number of government-funded organizations is mind boggling. Some of the topics are absolutely ridiculous and are of no value to us as citizens or to the government.
That said, what should happen is that researchers, universities and research institutions should raise their own funding. There’s plenty of people and foundations who will fund research and it – the funding – should not be so much a government expense.
Getting back to global warming, if in fact things like recycling actually might help reduce climate change, why don’t we actually take such topics seriously in Manitoba?
It seems that we fiddle with things instead of really attacking the problem. Here’s an example from an unrelated area. Back in the 1960s and 70s, it was deemed to be a problem to have cattle with horns. When horned cattle were shipped to market, they damaged each other with their horns, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. Hide quality and carcass quality was being affected. So, the government, in its wisdom, implemented a 50 cents per horn tax to be deducted at the point of sale. One wise agricultural department worker railed against the measure by saying, “If you want to create bureaucracy and build up a fund, then charge 50 cents. But if you want to get rid of horns on cattle, then charge $2 per horn.” 
He was right. Half measures are only a bureaucracy creating annoyance.
With recycling, the government charges us a drink container tax and it’s supposed to fund recycling. It doesn’t actually, but it makes the government feel better. Recycling household cardboard is funded, but commercial cardboard isn’t. Guess how much more commercial cardboard there is than household cardboard? Get the picture.
If we want to really recycle – and the benefits have a lot more to do with stewardship and cleanliness than it does with global warming – then we need to re-work our whole recycling program. There needs to be a levy on all recyclable materials and then the person gathering the recycling needs to be compensated for recycling. Remember the two cent levy on drink bottles? Every kid in the country knew how to collect drink bottles. If there was a 10 cent levy on drink containers and the gatherers got paid, then maybe we would see high rates of recycling.
Whether it’s research, recycling or affecting change, governments need to take leadership but then get out of the way. That’s a tough sell in a society where half the people work directly or indirectly for the government.

The season caught up

September 12th, 2013

The season caught up is an expression I have heard a few times this year. It seems as though crops and gardens were late getting started. The local flower show was delayed this year by a week as there were fears that plants wouldn’t be in bloom in time for the regular date. 
The flowers bloomed for the show and for the earlier Lily Festival. Crops meanwhile, have been coming on very fast.
It’s a bit late for harvesting already and the corn crops are causing some worry as to maturity. No fear on yields though, the corn crops look fabulous.
But it’s already Sept. 10 – as this is being written – and the harvest is usually a bit earlier. Many seasons, farmers push to get wheat off in August as September can be a rainy difficult harvest month. It has been said, “Harvest in August or wait until October.” If the weather holds, there won’t be much left to harvest in October except maybe corn and sunflowers.
I heard this week that wheat yields are hitting as high as 70 bushels per acre and the monitors are hitting as high as 90. That means that the grain monitors that measure yield on an ongoing basis are sensing yields on a field spot basis as high as 90 bushels per acre. That seems almost unimaginable for someone who used to think 40 bushels to the acre was a good crop. 
Farmers have had to be satisfied with, and survive with, yields in the 20 to 30 bushels to the acre some years and not too long ago.
One season that hasn’t caught up yet is the provincial political season. The legislature is still sitting. There has been no summer holidays for the MLAs as the Progressive Conservative opposition party has held up passing of legislation all summer. There was a deal finally struck that will see most of the bills go through this week, except the most important – the budget and the PST referendum bill.
The province has been operating outside their own laws since July 1. They have collected millions in PST revenue but the last percentage point from seven up to eight per cent has been illegal. It’s still not law yet and theoretically can’t become law until there is a referendum or until the referendum law is repealed. That won’t happen until the November sitting.
The PC opposition has managed to harness a lot of public discontent with the NDP government.
The discontent is the kind that comes whenever a government has been in power for 14 years. Governments tend to lose elections rather than opposition parties winning elections and it’s usually over discontent or the public’s hunger for change.
While there’s the usual discontent with this government, I maintain there is, or there should be, a deeper discontent with how we have done politics in Manitoba for more years than this government has been in power. 
There is about to be major debate and depending on how that goes, there could be a major shift in how we finance Manitoba. Currently, about 40 per cent of our provincial budget comes from Ottawa. A big chunk of that comes from other provinces. We are a ‘have-not’ province, while others like BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan  are ‘have’ provinces. If it wasn’t for handouts from our neighbours, Manitoba would starve to death financially.
The debate that’s coming is that the ‘have’ provinces are looking down their noses at us and asking why should they subsidize Manitoba when we sell our own Hydro to Manitobans (and others) for far less than it costs to produce? In the bluntest of terms, if we in Manitoba paid what it cost to produce Hydro, we wouldn’t need as much money from other provinces.
The same debate goes for Quebec, but the thorny topic there is the highly subsidized day care. It’s argued that if Quebecers paid what day care costs, then they would need far less subsidy from the other provinces.
In both cases, the argument is that a province’s policy to subsidize is costing taxpayers in other provinces.
We need a major shift in how we do things in Manitoba and if we continue to insist on subsidizing our Hydro rates, then we will have to cut costs or grow income somewhere else. 
Otherwise our neighbours are going to stop sending us the care packages that we have become so dependent upon.


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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247