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Let’s think big

September 17th, 2014

By John E. Trent

The three proposed projects for getting the steam train back on the tracks (Gatineau urban train, Montebello run, Wakefield circuit) are small – very small. They have nothing to do with the Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield steam train that built our region’s international tourist reputation.

The problem is that such proposals stop us from thinking big. The steam train has proven itself as a regional icon and tourist attraction. Everyone in the region agrees the best train run is from Gatineau to Wakefield.

Our objective should be to use the steam train as a lever to make of the Outaouais a world centre for historic trains. We need a new station and adequate parking on Montcalm Street. And why not a new hotel there, too? At the same time, we have to help the people of Papineau buy a train that is interesting but a little more modern and sturdy to make the run from Hull to Montebello. Why not make Chelsea village the home of the train and its garage and undertake new planning for the train to be more profitable for Wakefield businesses? We should also work with Ottawa to reopen the Prince of Wales Bridge to train traffic.

With these basic ideas in mind, we must then negotiate with the federal government to move the Museum of Science and Technology, with its outstanding train collection, to Hull. Eventually, we will also have to think about using our magnificent rail lines for commuter traffic between Buckingham, Wakefield, and Ottawa. There are hundreds of model train builders in our region. We should think of the creation of a model train centre. And we could become the home of a North American association of track motor cars.

We must build one step at a time. People should not throw out the whole idea just because they don’t like one aspect. What is important is to have a strategic, long term objective and a step-by-step plan of attack. To do this, the CRÉO (Conférence Régionale des Elus de l’Outaouais) should provide the CCFO (La compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Ouaouais) with a professional managing director and a team of voluntary entrepreneur planners.

How much will this cost? We do not know. That’s why we need a team of entrepreneur planners. But two things are certain. It will cost much less that one thinks. Once the train is back in operation, its profits can go towards its own rebuilding. Moreover, as a development project, the experience of the last 15 years with the Hull Chelsea Wakefield steam train shows us that it will bring us much more than we think in the way of jobs and sales to the region’s cash registers.

John Trent is a Senior Fellow with the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa.

 

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Humans Exploding Stuff

September 10th, 2014

By Gary Martin

It’s amazing how much work we humans can do because we figured out how to burn really volatile stuff in internal combustion engines without blowing ourselves up (most of the time). But there are consequences from those countless explosions every day.

I have a weakness for popcorn with lots of butter. I know that after two or three handfuls, the fat is going straight to my hips. I also understand that, like one more piece of buttered popcorn, each explosion is exactly as important as the one before. Every time I explode gasoline to get somewhere in my car, my exhaust joins all the other exhaust in the air to change the weather on my planet.

Relatively speaking, we humans are changing Earth’s atmosphere in the time it takes me to say “bang!” Also relatively speaking, I am a member of a juvenile species. I am still metaphorically on the plains searching for (a) food, and (b) predators. If something bad happens ‘over there’, I feel a smidgen of uncomfortable sympathy, then go back to grubbing around and watching for hyenas. Unless I get whacked by weather, it’s tempting to be sceptical about uncertainty and risk, especially when earth scientists are just learning how to scale down global climate predictions to regional weather predictions. I’m inclined to dawdle while the academic eggheads fiddle with hundreds of social and geographical variables in climate models. But I have a hunch that if the climate is disrupted ‘over there,’ it will be disrupted here, too. How much and when? I can’t say for sure, but I have another hunch that dawdling in response to climate disruption is dumb.

The good news is that we humans organize ourselves into communities in part to deal with environmental benefits and risks (and in part to share popcorn). In the Hills, each of us as neighbours can play a part because local action is arguably the most efficient way to make decisions and grasp opportunities. And there are clear, smart choices to make at the local level that will help us cut our carbon footprint, cut risks from weather events, and tie us together into a tighter community. So while you may want to scan the global climate picture, the biggest bang for your buck is to zoom in on how we respond to climate challenges here at home.

Please set aside the afternoon of Oct. 26 to join your neighbours, climate experts, and public officials at the Wakefield Community Centre as we all talk about weather and your neighbourhood.

Now where did Irene hide the popcorn? I need just one or two more handfuls.

Gary Martin is a geographer at Carleton, and mixes metaphors at every opportunity.

 

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A teaching moment

September 3rd, 2014

By Phil Gibson

 

Yesterday we took the long way back, down a West Quebec country road where the vistas remind me of my childhood, much of which was spent around farms. We were urban dwellers, but we retained a connection to relations whose lives were still rooted in an agrarian existence.

With seven decades behind me, I continue to have flashbacks to those times. They are fond memories of places like Thistle Ha’ and Maple Shade – both homesteaded in the early 1800s along rolling countryside roads east of Toronto. Stately stone and brick structures now stand where log homes once did. Thistle Ha’, built in 1855, was named after the stubborn crop of weeds that sprang up every spring, a reference to the settlers’ Scottish heritage. The property was declared a historic site in 1979, representative of an era still distinguished by the civility of close-knit communities, Calvinist doctrine, and Victorian values.

During our drive, my companion and I talked about living. I led him to think about choices: how you get more out of life by investing in experiences than you do from possessions. At the next turn, an opportunity occurred to press the message home. My companion, now nine, was enjoying the experience until we pulled up in front of the red brick church that has stood beside Martindale Road since it was erected in 1892. The Saint Martin de Tours Parish was established in 1858, with a church being built later. The parish shared its name with Martin O’Malley, donor of the land on which the church sits to this today. Coincidentally, O’Malley’s grandson of the same name and I were colleagues a hundred years later, on the Citizen’s Forum for Canada’s Future. The boy listened to me describe the lifestyle of families who settled the area – and others like it in the countryside wherever you came from.

I explained how churches were the center of community living for families that only ventured off the farm for trips to the village to sell surplus produce and buy supplies. I sensed that he flinched when I urged him to join me in a stroll through the cemetery across the road. Lively and outgoing in most respects, this boy has had a reluctance to face his private fears almost since infancy. He’s sometimes spooked by storms. Being alone in the dark can still frighten him. Upon landing from a vacation trip to Costa Rica, he declared he was never going to fly again. Looming over the horizon, the cemetery seemed to present another barrier. So I drove him to the top of the hill and persuaded him to get out through the passenger door he had just locked. For five minutes, he indulged me as we ambled among the tombstones, some of them moss-covered and more than a century old. He inhaled sharply when I lay down to read the inscription on the stone that told the whole life story of a four-month-old.

“I don’t like to walk on them,” he said instructively, as I got up off the ground. Then I watched as his curiosity took over and he found the courage to wander off to read inscriptions on his own. Minutes later, I saw him standing at ease, his hands folded in his lap, in silence for the stranger who lay buried there. It’s at moments like this that I know he understands respect. I also know he’s reachable. I want to make the most of times like this while I still can.

 

Phil Gibson is a resident of Lac-Sainte-Marie. This story first appeared in ‘La Voix de Chez Nous’. Reprinted with permission.

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H 2 uh oh

August 27th, 2014

By Kate Aley

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Sage words from Joni Mitchell.

We don’t treasure and yearn for fresh flowing water until there isn’t any. It’s a familiar circumstance for anyone whose water comes from a well with an electric-powered pump. When the power’s cut for a few hours – a not uncommon occurrence in this part of the country – we are granted a slight inkling of what it feels like not to be able to get water on demand.

Now you do not flush the toilet. Now you do not rinse a dish. Now you dole out a miserly amount of precious H20 into a small cup, brush your teeth with it, then rinse your mouth with it, then rinse your brush with it, then rinse out the basin with that last precious, minute drop. This is how half this planet is obliged to consider their elusive, unpredictable supply of potable water.

Of course, the power here is usually back up in an hour, or a day, and we quickly forget all about this momentary deprivation and go back to taking our precious water for granted. There is a finite amount of water on Earth. In Canada, we are fortunate to possess some 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply. An Environmental Indicators study shows Canada uses 1,600 cubic metres of water per person per year. Meanwhile, according to the UN, 780 million people worldwide – over one tenth of the planet’s population – do not have access to clean water.

With so many lakes and streams at our doorstep, it’s easy not to give the health and security of the enormous, fast running, and seemingly invincible Ottawa River a second thought. Just a couple of weeks ago, a tractor trailer tipped over on the east side of Ottawa, and up to 200 litres of diesel fuel crept into the mighty watercourse.

The Ottawa Riverkeeper organization was founded in 2001, and its principles include communities taking responsibility, acting as stewards, and actively participating in water course protection. Volunteer help – being a ‘water watcher’ –is always being sought. Everything from algae bloom to river bank erosion to cattle standing in or too close to the waterways must be faithfully guarded against.

We need water to live, and Canadians are blessed to have lots of it; in fact, way more than our share. We certainly use way more of it per person than almost anyone else on the planet. This blessed bounty brings with it an implicit responsibility to be good stewards. What a mistake it would be for us to neglect, abuse, and waste our fresh water just because there always seems to be plenty.

Kate Aley is assistant editor at the Shawville Equity

 

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Bitter pill to swallow when it comes to research

August 20th, 2014

By Charles Dickson

A Harvard researcher who suspects that a chemical called salicylic acid – derived from willow trees and found in ordinary Aspirin – could play a role in reducing the death rate from breast cancer by half. Her suspicions have not been tested and there appears to be no funding available to conduct clinical trials.

The cancer-beating potential of this abundant, inexpensive, and universally available compound remains untested and unknown. Why? The answer, apparently, is that it is precisely because the compound is abundant, inexpensive, and universally available.

Pharmaceutical companies that could conduct the necessary research are not interested in investing $10 million because there is little prospect of them achieving a return on that investment. For them, it would be money out the window. Fair enough. That’s the way the private sector operates. The quest for profit drives the private sector to do some amazing things – to innovate, to take risks, and to invest. As long as medical research is on track to produce a profitable medication, and there is a readily available clientele with enough money to pay for it, big pharma is virtually unstoppable in the race to be the first to get a product to market.

But if any of those factors are not present, then the certainty of low profitability guarantees that private sector entrepreneurs will not get involved. Should that mean that there is no method by which desperately needed research can be conducted? Perhaps we should look to the government to help fill the gap.

Unfortunately, the trend is not to focus on social need. Something seems to be terribly wrong with this picture. Look at what is happening with the Ebola epidemic in western Africa: the World Health Organization has now labelled it an international public health emergency. But if the people who need the medication – at the moment, still largely Africans – can’t afford to pay for it at a price that would generate profits, then the business community is going to avoid it.

And so the world still finds itself without a proven vaccine. We are all entitled to our differing views on the role of government. A view to which we could subscribe is the common Canadian view of government as taking on roles that respond to the kind of public needs that the private sector is either incapable or unwilling to fulfill. Medical research is one such area. If there is a drug in most medicine cabinets that could reduce deaths from breast cancer by 50 per cent, as the Harvard researcher believes, wouldn’t it be good to know about it? And wouldn’t it make sense for governments to support the research if the private sector won’t, if not to reduce the human loss and anguish associated with cancer, perhaps to save millions of dollars in health care costs? Now that would be a high return on investment. Either way, we are all paying the price.

Charles Dickson is the editor of the Shawville Equity

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Werbo needs lesson in Aboriginal history

August 13th, 2014

By Brenda Atkinson

The letters calling for Tom Werbo’s return to the Low Down reflect a depressing lack of familiarity with the lives and histories of Aboriginal people in Canada, as well as apathy and political cynicism. Several attribute Werbo’s departure to the unreasonable demands of political correctness (c’mon, he was just having a bit of fun); one entertainingly argues that Werbo’s statements were okay because, let’s face it, “the whole world is founded on genocide” and “the whole planet is a slaughterhouse” (‘Massive Guilt Trip’ Unfair, July 16 edition). Um, yeah, well alright then.

A short while ago, I attended an illuminating talk by Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Council Band Member and Ottawa University Professor Claudette Commanda. Actually, Professor Commanda doesn’t so much talk about Aboriginal life in Canada as peel her listeners, like grapes. Like Tom Werbo, she is an enemy of the politically correct. She does not court white people, and she doesn’t soft-talk hard issues. She pushes us to investigate, to question the spin, and to throw our weight behind the cause for justice. There were times when I wanted to walk out because I thought I would implode just from the stress of listening to the story of her family. A few days before, Professor Commanda had experienced a racist attack at a midsummer gathering of her community – in the middle of Hull. The incident had hurt and rattled her and she was still raw, enraged, and tearful. She did not spare anybody the discomfort of how she felt or what she stood up to expose: the fact, inconvenient for some, that white Canadians still inflict vicious racism on Aboriginal people.

For anybody who comforts themselves with the idea that the ‘Native Problem’ is no longer an issue, that bygones should be bygones, or that Aboriginal people here have some kind of a great deal, I encourage them to find out about the intimate daily lives of Aboriginal people, as told by themselves. Epiphanies are bound to follow. Much like her grandfather, the inspirational William, Claudette Commanda’s light shines. Her anger does not communicate as hatred, indifference, or sly disdain. Rather, even as she speaks directly from a place of pain, Claudette Commanda is clearly full of compassion. What she is short on, dismayingly, is hope.

Sometimes the weight of history is such that it is easier for us to deny it. Rather than lending our strength to the oppressed by encouraging collective responsibility, we lash out at them, or mouth platitudes to self-soothe. I don’t doubt that Tom Werbo is not a genocidal racist. But as a grown-up with a public platform he has influence and, hence, responsibility. What Professor Commanda said in midsummer in Ottawa made me ashamed to be white, in the same way that witnessing Apartheid in South Africa made me ashamed to be white. Not because I consider myself racist but because, until I speak out against racism, how different am I from those who perpetrate it?

Brenda Atkinson is a resident of Chelsea

 

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Waging war on Werbo once again

August 6th, 2014

By Taylor Wentges

First let me say that I like Tom Werbo. He is an excellent server. He is very intelligent and a first rate writer. And, of course, he is an excellent musician and his knowledge of music is second to none. He can also be very funny.

However, I must support his decision to resign as a columnist for the paper. For me, his column on Native issues was the last straw. Werbo’s column used to be funny, but his criticism of so many groups has long taken the bloom off the rose. It started with those who said to him, “hot enough for ya” while he was working at Kaffe 1870, then cyclists, then middle aged men, then Father’s Day, then it started to get a bit darker with Ukrainian peasants (his words), Russians . . . and on and on . . . and now Native people.

While the financial and tax regime on reserve may be a legitimate topic of discussion with respect to the best way to lift Aboriginal people out of poverty, that was not the focus of his column. His is a music column, and he is clearly not qualified to discuss other topics of social interest in a community newspaper. What may have been funny at first is now a tiring and angry litany at social groups that Werbo takes issue with. What may sound funny and informative on a summer patio or among friends does not translate to a community newspaper serving a diverse readership.

Among, perhaps, the less enlightened, the Low Down already has a reputation of being somewhat conservative and reactionary in its editorial views. If Werbo continues as a columnist, this will only add fuel to the fire. The Low Dow editor all but called Werbo a racist in her recent editorial.

If Werbo does continue to write his column, I think he would need to be watched very carefully by the editor as I believe that Werbo has a very great need to be critical of others in his column and may not have the self-awareness as to where to draw the line. Sooner or later, he will again cross that line. Since I do not think he has the ability to stick only to music in his column, I believe he should no longer serve on the Low Down staff. I feel his views are very un-Wakefield, and hurt the reputation of our great village. To those from outside the region who read his column, I apologize; his views are not representative of Wakefield.

Finally, none of the above should take away from my respect for Mr. Werbo or his talents; its just that I think they could be put to better use.

Taylor Wentges is a resident of Wakefield.

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Bailing out Chelsea’s turkey a bad idea

July 30th, 2014

By Richard Hofer

My old friend André Renaud has published a useful history of Chelsea’s struggle to retain its identity and quality of life (Valley Voices, July 16). André is also a known supporter of building a massive sewer and water system to benefit five per cent of the residents and several very large developers, and to bail out the stumbling Meredith Centre, which costs Chelsea taxpayers $1,000 per day just to stay open. It was built (probably) illegally, without a working sewer and water system or an operating sprinkler system or even a formal environmental impact study. Within a year, the roof had collapsed and the windows had to be torn out and replaced. Lawsuits over this turkey will keep lawyers happy for years.

Existing Chelsea residents and businesses use wells and septic systems. They pay their own way. There are some local problems. The best restaurant in Canada built its own sewage and water system. Cost to Chelsea taxpayers? Nothing. Other businesses have done the same. Local developers can easily do the same.

If Chelsea ‘needs’ a massive taxpayer-financed sewer and water system, it will have to be paid for through development. It would probably be cheaper just to extend the pipes from Gatineau, but the end result will be the same: high-density housing to pay the costs. Goodbye to the Chelsea we love, hello to suburbs and strip malls.

Chelsea recently hired a consulting firm to try to justify going another $25 million in debt for the sewer and water project. I had to laugh. Every Ottawa bureaucrat has seen this movie before. A small group pushing a dubious project pays ‘outside experts’ to justify the pet project. A thick report is duly produced. By independent specialists! Lots of figures! Lots of information! Coloured charts! Projections of great outcomes! Pigs can fly! This report is a minor classic of its kind. It is now on the Chelsea website (in French only).

Nowhere does it state the actual debt position of Chelsea today. It ‘assumes’ that government grants will flow like honey. It ‘assumes’ that developers will pay for 65 per cent of the costs. Agreements with the developers – if they exist at all – are, of course, secret. Read this report and weep.

Chelsea taxpayers do not know what our financial position is now.

Or what the mega project will cost.

Or how soon our taxes will double.

Sewer and water projects in Quebec. Hello? Is anyone listening to Justice France Charbonneau?

Perhaps André Renaud and I could agree that the honourable thing would be to put all the facts on the table, then have a formal municipal referendum so that everyone – not just those with special interests – could cast their vote.

The question: Should Chelsea borrow another $25 million for a sewer and water system, or should developers pay their own way?

Richard Hofer, a former councillor, businessman, and land developer, is a 35-year resident of Chelsea.

 

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Dob, dob, dob…

July 23rd, 2014

By Kate Aley

Until 1967, the Cub Scouts in England had a code, a tiny secret agreement. At the end of a meeting, Akela, their leader, would tell them: “Dyb, dyb, dyb!” (This was an abbreviation for the command to “Do your best! Do your best! Do your best!”) The little wolves would leap to their feet, hold their hands up to their heads to imitate canine ears, and reply: “Dob, dob, dob!” (By which they meant, “Do our best! Do your best! Do our best!”)

Making a vocal, public promise to try your hardest to fulfill your mandate, professional or personal, is an interesting undertaking. We know that doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, which requires a new physician to swear to a number of ancient healing gods that they will uphold professional and ethical standards.

Last week, we discovered that nurses also make a solemn promise to care for, support, and protect their patients. This promise is even taken at the altar in a church, making it a spiritual oath as well as a professional one.

Canadian engineers must take an oath in order to be considered fully qualified. This promise-making process was instituted in 1922 in response to the rapid development of construction techniques.  Read More…

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History lesson: Chelsea vs. Hull

July 18th, 2014

By André Renaud

I was elated to learn that the Québec government finally gave Chelsea council the green light to install sewer and water in the village, which its citizens approved after much consultation. At last, Chelsea will be able to realize its vision for a vibrant community. My enthusiasm was dampened, however, after reading on Facebook that a councillor wants to revisit existing council resolutions, which will ultimately jeopardize the project by entertaining the notion of Chelsea being served by Gatineau.

It’s worth recalling that in 1971, Hull (now Gatineau), backed by its MNA and Minister Oswald Parent, proposed to annex Chelsea land from Hull to Scott Road. At the time, Hull was one of 32 municipalities in the regional government. Mr. Parent was concerned that Hull would be supplanted by its rival, Gatineau, which was growing by leaps and bounds. Unable to persuade Gatineau residents to amalgamate with Hull, he turned his eyes to Chelsea. The 32 municipalities are now eight, and Chelsea was able to remain, for the most part, intact.

In 1971, Chelsea passed a zoning bylaw that froze development from Hull to Old Chelsea Road. Chelsea wanted to develop autonomously but Mr. Parent, faute de mieux, coveted the undeveloped land. On his way to gobbling up a large part of Chelsea, he persuaded the MTQ and the NCC to move the future Hwy 50 further north. It was originally planned to go from Boulevard la Vérendrye, cross Alonzo Wright Bridge, then enter the Gatineau Park through the same corridor as the power lines. He planned the new location as an artificial boundary to permit Hull’s eventual northern urban expansion. Read More…

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