Archive for the ‘Canada life’ Category

Election day looms in Canada.

One of the main issues of the moment centres on Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s alleged inability to understand English.

In PM Stephen Harper’s view, this renders Dion unfit to handle the economy.

The question he supposedly stumbled over is, “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”

M. Dion, a French speaker at heart, attempted to clarify the question several times.

The question is a mixed conditional which references a hypothetical present and past in the same sentence.

Nothing wrong with that. “If I were rich at this point, I wouldn’t have bothered going to work last week.”

Nothing wrong with M. Dion clarifying when this hypothetical past is supposed to have started either.

As the pre-recorded interview kicked off a third time, the interviewer emphasized the time frame he was getting at:

“No. No. If you were prime minister during this time already.”

Ah “during this time already”. Why didn’t he say that in the first place?

I’ll use this Canadianism more often in future. When I’m striving for real clarity.

“Did you finish that report”

During this time already!”

“So it’s finished or you’re still working on it?

“That’s right! During this time already!”

“Enough already! I thought you Brits spoke proper English”

“Well, people say we used to. But then again maybe not during this time already if you see what I mean.”

“Right. Thanks for the clarification.”


Of course, if the interviewer had known how to construct a half-decent past conditional question with just the right amount of “woulds”, none of this would have happened, would it?

The election is on Tuesday. With English/French entente at these levels, this is going to be an inordinately productive minority government.


Full text of interview is here.

A Toronto Star article is here.

Here’s a more earnest interpretation from the National Post.

And here’s the smugly patronising CTV clip.


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Conference organization is pretty much the same the world over.


Choose a city. Find a venue. Invite speakers. Notify prospective delegates. And so on.


Most conferences will have a number of keynote speakers: Well-known figures from the field, acknowledged experts, leading-edge movers and shakers.


Other speakers will be less well-known: Newbies, fringe thinkers, toe-dippers, less magnetic luminaries.


At some point, rooms will be allocated to speakers. As a rule, keynote speakers are obviously given bigger rooms to accommodate larger audiences. Fairly basic logistics.


You’d think.


Here’s where Canada may verge from the norm.


At a certain conference in the Atlantic provinces this past week, a different mindset prevailed.


Industry gurus were assigned closet-sized spaces. Complete unknowns, however, presenting on less than compelling topics, found themselves in huge auditoriums – amphitheatres of proclamatory vastness.


Upshot 1: Hundreds of delegates from far-flung corners of the second largest country on the planet were unable to hear the keynote speakers. Speakers who were their sole reason for attendance in the first place.


Upshot 2: Keynote speakers delivered presentations in intemperate claustrophobic closets. Vowing never to return.


Upshot 3: Unknown speakers stuttered through sparsely-attended rambles and workshops in silent amphitheatres. One speaker found herself facing eight individuals scattered about the benches like a scale model of the solar system.


Upshot 4: Angry mobs of ordinarily civil Canadians demanded some semblance of an explanation.


The official explanation was that the committee felt that, in the interests of equality, B-list toe-dippers should have the monster rooms. This way the crowds would be more evenly spread and

lesser lights would not feel embarrassed beside the enormous halls granted to the stars of the show.


So they mixed it up a bit.


No doubt those poor soporific souls in huge halls facing a dwindling audience of six people were comforted in the knowledge that the committee was doing all it could to minimize their shame.


Striving not to cause offence can sadly provide ample incendiary matter for a gleeful offence-taking frenzy.


“There’s enough material there for an entire conference.”



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Fighting a blizzard as you forge a pioneering passage from the driveway to the front door is what being Canadian is all about. Partly, anyhow.

After your fumbling mittens have chipped the key into the ice-encrusted lock, you shoulder the front door inwards,  beating back the swirling white gale.

The door is vaccuumed shut behind you. Warmth is all around. But you’re not home and dry just yet.

In winter, our entrance gives onto an obstacle course of mats and boot trays.

If you fail to arrive home first of an evening, the mats will be soaked with melted snow, presenting a hazard to over eager socks, newly released from boot captivity. To the unwary, a carefree step to the right can sink you sock-deep in the icy water of a gaping boot tray.

In January, the cheery Hi Honey, I’m home! is replaced by Aw %$(*#! – I’ve been socked!

Uncharacteristically, blame is never apportioned. It is a truth domestically acknowledged that we all share the burden of sodden guilt.

Having negotiated the maze of boot trays and other sock perils, your next trial is to divest yourself of your winterwear and seek heated sanctuary for your outergarments: hat, gloves, boots, scarf.

Here, a primitive mist descends. Vent. Must have vent.

Sadly, all the vents in prime heated areas will have been seized long ago, so the downstairs bathroom is out of the question. Likewise, vents in the proximity of first floor entrances are all doubtless occupied.

There is a small chance that careless children have failed to leave mittens directly atop a vent, leaving the potential for sneak-in-ability by more deserving adult garments.

If all exit vents have been bagged, you must venture deeper into the house in search of vacant grilles.

This is a dangerous strategy.

Finding an inner vent, say in a second floor bedroom in the north wing of one’s abode, may seem like the logical approach.

Next morning, however, when the thrills of the vent hunt have abated, you will be clueless as to where your beloved bobble-hat is steaming in silence.

Despite the nagging voice in your head, you will doggedly begin your search in the downstairs bathroom, moving on to other vents in areas of prime real estate.

Fifteen minutes behind schedule, having risked a besocked morning by venturing close to key exits, you will stumble into the north wing, a faint memory of recognition pawing at your outer brain.

There, with joy within grasp, you will see the woolly scamp of a hat over in a far corner.

Chances are it will be sitting in a small puddle of its own making, glistening several feet to the left of the newly available grille.

Brimming with warlike fury, you look around for a handy child to admonish. You catch sight only of a cat, looking oddly sheepish, rolling around with its favourite scrag end of fabric. The cat is purring happily, a warm, blow-dried look about its well-vented coat.

Warm cat. Shifted hat. Vacant vent. Lightbulb of truth pings above head.

At the end of your own bit of rag, a chilling vow aimed at the cat comes forth unbidden – It’s the wicwoc for you tonight, pal. That’s right, the wicwoc.

But you’re just venting. You’ll get over it.


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Hot property

When mounds of snow line the driveway, and impossibly long icicles taper from the eavestroughs, coming home to a warm house is one of the greatest joys of the Canadian winter. Possibly the only one.

Our house is an older home, so it offers a greater range of temperatures than your average dwelling.

Housing the furnace, the basement provides a reliable source of warm air, making it perfect for early morning exercise. Or, if you need a blast of torridity, head for the downstairs bathroom. Here, an air register expels an unfeasibly hot stream of sauna-like heat, gratefully lapped up by lucky occupants.

To cool off after your bathroom experience, there’s only one place to go: The walk-in closet off the master bedroom.

Just head due north from the foot of the bed and haul aside the thick arras.

And no, that isn’t a thinly-veiled reference to my dear sweet spouse.

Beyond the curtain lurks an unheated, uninsulated space, where clothes are chilled overnight in preparation for those balmy Canadian January mornings.

If moths still ate clothing, this zone would handily freeze them upon impact. Sadly, evolution seems to have rendered this perk unnecessary.

Given the frigid stillness of the air molecules, it is not so much a WIC (walk-in closet) as a rapid WOC (walk-out closet). My nascent realtor acumen hones in on a potential selling point here.

The WICWOC is born.

Should we ever decide to sell up and tear ourselves away from the climatic paradise that is Ontario, I think the wicwoc may one day prove a deal-clincher (as opposed to the type of clincher it currently embodies).

Wicwoc has a vaguely First Nations chic surrounding it.

I can almost hear the prospective buyers now:

“Ooh, read this, Reginald, ‘in this historical Mississauga abode, the master bedroom gives onto its own wicwoc.’ You know I’ve always wanted a wicwoc of my own.”

“Sure, honey, whatever you say.”

A tastefully installed pi-shaped (sic) heap of rocks to the left of my sock drawer should solidify the effect.

Wicwoc. Go ahead. Google it. You know you want to. Trust me, they’re the next big thing in real estate.


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A stroll down verdant cliffs above the English Channel, a ten-minute drive around a headland topped with a twelfth-century castle, a misty amble through the medieval alleyways of a sleepy Auvergne town – I’ve enjoyed some decent commutes.

scarborough castle

My current daily trek pretty much props up the pile: A 40-minute drive through suburban blight along 18 kilometres of eyelid-drooping roads. Head north, lurch west, and jolt north again, trapped in the aural hell of Radio WNKR.

I could take the bus, of course. Even Mississauga has a bus service. Door to door, including the walk to the bus stop, I’d  be looking at 90 minutes each way. That’s right, 180 minutes a day to travel a total of 36 kilometres.

Average speed: 12 km/h or, in olde English, 7.5 miles an hour. Which is more or less my running pace.

So, forget the bus.

Since this is merely the sixth largest city in Canada, with a smattering of just three quarters of a million people, naturally there is no mainline railway station in Mississauga.

Granted, there is a suburban train to Toronto (the optimistically titled GO train – is “non-eponymous” a word?).

There’s one train an hour. Plus a couple of one-offs at “peak times.”

I’d love to be able to cycle, but there are several reasons why I won’t consider this: winter roads, the survival instinct, and a healthy appreciation for the driving “inconsistencies” of many fellow residents.

Blissful memory flashback: I fondly recall my daily cycling commute in Tilburg, Holland. Here a network of cycle paths, largely independent of the road system, snakes in silence throughout the city.

Southern Ontario is flat like the majority of Holland. So why not here? Real winter only lasts a couple of months these days.

The Greater Toronto Area is finally waking up to how woefully inadequate its transit systems are.

As Steve Munro, Toronto transit activist, notes, “population growth vastly exceeds our plans for providing more and better transportation services, and the public is getting fed up with excuses for what we cannot do. ”

At the Mississauga Summit 2007, transit was at the heart of residents’ concerns. This report from The Toronto Star pointed out that:

“a majority of the Mississauga Summit 2007 focused on how to make transit a viable option for car-dependent Peel Region residents.”

There are even talks about talks about a feasibility study for a light-rail transit link running north-south through Mississauga.

Sadly, should this project along with the rest ever reach completion, I suspect the pull of verdant headlands, downtown cycling networks, and pedestrianized medieval town centres, will have proved all too strong.


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With temperatures hitting 32 degrees Centigrade in southern Ontario this week, the build-up to the provincial election in two weeks is heating up.

Provincial election campaigns are often dull affairs as the main parties stir up fiscal swirls and ripples in the tax/services continuum.

However, this time around, Conservative leader John Tory has chucked an incendiary pledge into his party platform.

The promise that an elected Conservative government would fund faith-based schools in Ontario has got the province talking.

At present, Ontario funds the regular public system and the so-called “separate” Catholic system.

Current debate centres on three main arguments, which roughly break down as:

i) Fund all approved schools across the faith spectrum

ii) Maintain the status quo (i.e. “we’ll leave this sticky mess to posterity.”)

iii) Fund no faith-based schools at all

Several years ago, the United Nations declared the current system of funding “discriminatory” and gave Canada 90 days to get its house in order. The Ontario leader of the time, Conservative Mike Harris, ignored the UN’s request.

Critics of John Tory see this pledge as an ill-disguised vote grab. Chances are that the promise will lose the party a few voters, but could net boatloads of immigrant votes, who may harbour various concerns about the current public system.

Defenders of John Tory cite terms like “inclusiveness” and “freedom of choice.”

Parents on all sides have stated that they should have the right to choose how their tax dollars fund their children’s religious or secular education.

However, bringing your own kids into this argument ignores one vital issue.

Namely, people without children also pay taxes. And everyone has a stake in the education of our future generations.

For me, my gut reaction is that state-sponsored segregation of children along faith-based lines is not a recipe for future societal stability.

John Tory has spoken idealistically of students from different faiths meeting periodically on sports fields, where they would learn about each other’s beliefs in a less formal setting.

Somewhat less idealistically, I think they might learn a lot more about how separation can give rise to breeding grounds for ignorance and intolerance.

Our kids currently attend schools in a secular society, where they mix, on a daily basis, with children of many religious and non-religious backgrounds.

For me, it is this daily interaction that fosters understanding, denies uninformed prejudice, and promotes the inclusive values Canada claims to embody.


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Expat interview

Recently, I’ve been way too busy with work, family visitors, and approaching deadlines to spend much time contributing to or journeying about the blogosphere.

However, I did find the time to complete an expat interview recently. For anyone interested, here is the link:

Expat interview: Wapentake


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