Archive for September, 2013

Rewarding change

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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.

A different road

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

The past two weeks have taken a different turn for my wife and I as we are fairly used to a routine of daily duties attached to the newspaper cycle, regular monthly meetings of organizations and my meetings for town council and committees. 
That usually follows up with a catch-up day on Saturdays and then church and family day on Sunday. Two weeks ago, we headed to Strathclair to help Meyers Auction Service with a two-day private museum auction. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience where the family of the late Graydon Cummins dispersed his 84-year collection of antiques and collectibles. It was hot, hard work for a desk jockey, but it was definitely worth the experience. 
Thousands of items in about 2,500 lots went through the auction rings. As many as three auctioneers selling simultaneously around the picturesque old farm yard dispersed as diverse a collection of Canadiana as I have ever seen. From antique cars to washboards, tobacco cans to apple boxes, it all went under the auctioneer’s chant to find new homes in western Canada, Ontario and the United States.
We also camped in a tent trailer, which hadn’t happened in about 40 years for this couple. It was hot, so even when it rained, some of the windows stayed open and we were alternately cooled by gentle rain, illuminated by a full moon or serenaded by coyotes.
While it was back to regular work on Monday and and an air show at Brandon Thursday, our thoughts were focused on another auction trip. This was a long one, as we travelled to Vermillion Bay, Ont. On Friday, we drove to said location and, yes, when you cross the border to Ontario, the roads get better. The drive from Whiteshell to Vermillion Bay is still a demanding road to travel on, but it’s well engineered. If you obey the speed limit and use the passing lanes properly, it’s quite a safe trip under summer conditions.
Neepawa has been told that the highways department won’t consider a centre turning lane for the highway going through Neepawa. Interestingly enough, that’s what they do in Kenora, Ont. Kenora’s main road through town is a pretty busy strip of road and they use the centre turning lane concept. That raises the question again as to why our highways department would rather spend $20 million in Neepawa, destroy our magnificent trees and cost the town millions in infrastructure upgrades when a simple cheap solution would do quite nicely.
The trip home from Vermillion Bay was more relaxing, took longer and involved a visit with friends where we went on a boat ride. Lake of the Woods is beautiful and the cottages range from modest to luxurious. One new one is reported to have cost $20 million and it’s nice. It was interesting that on a very warm weekend, so many cottages appeared empty. It was a lot more fun to slide by in the boat and see the ones where people were enjoying the cottage, the kids were swimming, diving or boating. I have no interest in owning a cottage, but I am happy for those who do and last weekend was definitely a great time to be at one. We were only there for a few hours, but we enjoyed the relaxation.
We saw a lot of country in the past two weeks – not nearly as much as our friends John and Val Wilson, who are documenting their trip to Alaska on Facebook. They are seeing some great country, but it was interesting to note one of Val’s comments – in the first several days, they never saw a community that surpassed home for beauty and services.
If we live in a full-service community, we are fortunate. However, we must be ever vigilant and understand that government and sometimes market forces are constantly gnawing away at our existence. The ever-hungry tax-grabbing senior government bureaucracy constantly sees spending shifts by cutting services, downloading responsibility to lower levels of government and at the same time, raising taxes. The usage of tax dollars per capita, isn’t shifting in rural Manitoba’s favour. Rural Manitoba is being farmed, pruned, hacked and slashed to feed an ever-hungry urbanized Manitoba. It’s not right, but the population has shifted so far to the Winnipeg urban vote base, that what we say in rural Manitoba or northern Manitoba counts for nothing.
The only weapon we have is our voice and while I will exercise my voice once in a while at auctions, I will save it for speaking out for rural Manitoba. This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247