Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Avoidance Post - Hey Look, A Band!

I'd really like to rant about some bits of idiocy going on elsewhere on the Internet today, but I'm not feeling articulate enough at the moment so I'll save you all the trouble of reading incoherent ramblings. (Eventually I'll get the hang of this whole "blogging" thing, but not today it seems.) Instead, I'll use this blog as a soap box for a shameless plug! (Hey, a platform is a platform, right?)

So I'm in this band, right? We're called Six Minutes to Midnight. I may be a little biased, but I think we're pretty awesome. You can find our website at http://www.sixminutestomidnightrocks.com. We're also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sixminutestomidnight. Check us out!

 I'd like to particularly point out that we now have two songs available for purchase on a neato website called Pay Who You Want Online...you can find them HERE. Have a listen, and it'd be pretty cool if you bought them, too!

Back to your regularly scheduled political etc commentary soon enough...

You're in hiding, and you hold your meetings

It's good to see that the Waterloo Region Record gives everyone a voice.

Even the lunatic fringe.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stephen Harper doesn't want my vote

Stephen Harper doesn't want my vote, but he'll use me to get yours.

I'm educated and fairly well paid. My companion 'Loon in this lake, as a full-time artist, is not so well paid. What probably makes Harper less interested in us is that we're childless.

(I should amend the above: Erin is an artist quasi-full-time, and also holds things together on the home front. I do her a disservice if I fail to mention the quality of life improvement I have benefited from since she left traditional full-time employment. For more on the true value of this unpaid work, and the threat of a so-called "Mommy War", read this excellent Globe article. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Given the situation we're in, whenever someone starts talking about income-splitting models for taxation, I sit up and take notice-- the same way I would if anyone proposes something that could put thousands of dollars in our pocket.

Income splitting, to put it briefly, is the practice of transferring part of the higher earning spouse's income to the other spouse for tax purposes. Under a progressive tax model, this means less tax is paid over all.

Of course, the promise itself is absolutely worthless. The Conservatives pledge to implement income splitting "when the deficit is eliminated"-- in other words, 2015 or 2016 (though Soudas has tweeted "as early as 2014".) Even in the event of a Conservative majority, we would see another election before this promise could be fulfilled.

Be that as it may, the really toxic part of this already cynical promise is that it is targeted at families with children under 18. In other words, you must be raising children to split your income for tax purposes. This is not tax reform, this is a baby bonus.

I'm not against some amount of support for families with children: our system aims to reduce taxation to compensate those with extra burdens. But besides the fact that someone is talking about income splitting in about the only form that would be of zero use to Erin and me, there are two fundamental flaws with this proposal as a means to support families.

One, of course, is that the size of the tax benefit scales with the size of the senior earner's income. Up to a certain point, the more you earn, the more tax break you will see. Since we base the argument for supporting families on the premise that they carry a heavier financial burden, what sense is a scheme doesn't help poorer families more?

The other flaw is clearly laid out in the Globe article I mentioned above. Two scenarios where a couple earns $110K (and you can already see how high we need to crank the income before the benefit is meaningful!) Couple A is a single-income family, while Couple B is split $60K/$50K. Under the current model Couple A is taxed more. And yet, Couple B has the lower standard of living! That's thanks to the fact that Couple A is richer-- the homeworking spouse can provide the same services that Couple B has to pay a lot more for: child care and even housekeeping. This labour is untaxed but it definitely has value.

So, not only is this a regressive tax break, but it also helps the couple that's better off to begin with.

In the meantime, there's a big hole left in our theoretically balanced future budget. A $2.5B hole. Someone is going to have to fill it, or cut that much out of the Government. Either way, it's paying more and getting less for Erin and me.

If you haven't been keeping score, let's recap. Harper's tax break promise:
  • Benefits richer families more by flattening our progressive taxation system.
  • Benefits single income families despite the fact they are better off already.
  • Effectively forces everyone else to subsidize already well-off families.
  • Is worthless as a campaign promise because it almost certainly won't be implemented before the next election.
Maybe it's just me. But at best, this is a campaign promise that asks me to subsidize a group that doesn't really need it. At worst, this is a cynical scheme by Harper to either buy you (for cheap!) or make a fool of you. Or both.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TriTAG's points on RT station placement are worth reading

Having watched the RT plan's proposed go-live date slide already from 2015 to 2017, I've been reluctant to criticize the routing compromises that exist in the plan, on the theory that a good plan now is better than a perfect plan that delays everything.

A chat with a friend who is very active in TriTAG undermined that notion, as he believes there will be an opportunity to refine the plan before it goes into the final accelerated EA phase. TriTAG have posted their thoughts on station placement and while I was already familiar with their ideas for Uptown Waterloo, the points they make about stops in the University area are extremely compelling because I realize that as a non-student commuter I will be directly affected by them.

It prompted me to pitch an email at the Rapid Transit team, which I'll repost here as it speaks for itself.

Dear Rapid Transit Team,

I've just read TriTAG's comments on station placement and I really have to add my voice to theirs. Previously my attitude has been that the LRT plan, as it stands, is more valuable than a better plan that takes longer to put in place. However, TriTAG makes some compelling points, specifically about station placement in the University/Columbia/Tech park areas.

The placement of a station at Seagram Drive and on Ring Road at UW has the benefit of serving Laurier (marginally) and UW (well). It does not, however, serve a grid-based network that everyone not going to those two locations will require.

Take my situation. I currently commute to Northfield and Bridge from my home near Grand River Hospital. Currently I accomplish this using the 35, a substantial walk followed by a direct but extremely slow and infrequent bus. Door to door is about 45 minutes, vs. 20 for car. As such I only take transit two or three days a week.

With Rapid Transit in place, as well as GRT's proposed new routes, this will be a classic connection from RT to express that transit advocates have been pointing to as why RT benefits more than just those traveling along it. With 15 minute timings on the express route and a frequent RT (train, hopefully), I could connect at University from one to the other and have a trip time that is a lot more competitive.

...except it wouldn't work! The RT stops completely fail to connect at University Avenue. Instead it throws in a 400 metre disconnection from either Seagram or University. According to TriTAG, WLU is insisting on a Seagram stop, whereas a stop right at University is virtually the same distance by foot, and also connects to many buses that would provide a quick hop to/from WLU. To accommodate Seagram, grid connection possibilities at University, at Columbia and at Bearinger are all knocked out of kilter.

I have a term for this: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Please reconsider your station options to promote the transit system as a whole, and not simply to cherry pick a few key spots at the expense of general usability.


Art in the online comment forums

I made a grave error this morning...I read the comments on an online Record article. I should really know better.

I'm talking about this article: http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/506278--new-arts-leader-announced-for-waterloo-region

The article itself is great news for the arts in Waterloo Region. Any organization whose mandate seems to be attracting creative talent (and funding for said creative talent) to this area is good news in my books. And it sounds like Ms. Sinclair has the credentials to pull this off. I'm not sure how it will benefit me directly as an individual artist (I'd suggest you go read this extremely well-written article to understand what I mean...go read it, I'll wait...all done? ok...) but anything that encourages the arts as a whole in this area will certainly benefit me indirectly, both as an arts practitioner and an individual citizen. I can see that. Unlike the people in the comment thread, it would seem.

I don't mind if an individual person "doesn't care" about the arts. That's their prerogative. But I get so tired of people who use supposedly incomprehensible public statues to claim that the arts are useless and shouldn't be publicly funded.

This particular one caused a lot of controversy. It is called "Aporia" by artist Edward Zelenek and is installed outside the Kitchener courthouse on Frederick Street. Lots of people don't "get it" but personally it is one of my favourite bits of local public art. I'm sorry to hear that people don't like the fact that their tax dollars go toward things like this. It benefits me and improves my quality of life. I certainly don't begrudge them the fact that my tax dollars help to pay for many services that I don't use that might be relevant to them. Isn't that kind of what living in a community is all about? We pool our resources to create a living space that benefits all residents, not just you. Unfortunately that requires a bit of compromise, because you can't make everyone happy. If you can't get behind that, maybe you should go live in a cabin in the woods.

But, I digress. Arts! Culture! I shudder to think what a cold, dark world this would be without art. I just wish the naysayers could see it too. And in the future, I think I'm just going to stay away from the comment threads on online news articles.

Photo courtesy Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peter Braid and seventeen votes

A brand new blog, just in time for a federal election?

I watched Peter Braid take office locally in 2008, by what ended up being a mere 17 votes. I was left feeling that protest votes against the Liberal party cost a good MP his job. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that: if you read the summary on Wikipedia, it outlines the fact that Braid's campaign was a strong one, and Telegdi was complacent. Regardless, thanks to the gloriously broken system that is First Past the Post, Braid and Telegdi were neck and neck for taking the riding with just over a third of the vote each and it could have gone either way.

I opined at the time that, despite the fact that I didn't much fancy the Conservatives, perhaps we would benefit locally by being recognized as a key swing location, and get extra love from a very support-aware minority government.

Has that happened? Hard to say. PI stands to get fifty mil in this unlikely-to-see-the-light-of-day budget, and the Feds ponied up as promised for Rapid Transit, while the Province curtailed their own promised contribution. But nobody is going to openly admit that one region gets preferential treatment, so we don't really know what would have happened if Telegdi had won instead.

So, no clear benefit. What about price? Oh yeah, there's been a price. I've been thankful that Harper has only had a minority to work with, but it hasn't restrained him much: we've watched our government take a very closed-door, Neocon bent, as they muzzled researchers and gutted the census for reasons that amounted to little more than ideology and control. Particularly control. In our history, we have never had a government more determined to control the message, and in doing so, being able to dictate policy without debate.

Not just debate in general, but even within the Conservative Party itself.

Which brings me back to Peter Braid, my MP. Have we done well by him? I would argue that we have not. KWC as a whole might have got some extra attention from the current government, by having voted uniformly blue with narrow margins. But, as for the individual MPs, we have seen how little influence those outside of Harper's inner circle have, and how quickly Harper's support disappears when someone crosses his line.

And we have seen how little room Peter Braid is given in this piece:

I feel sorry for the guy. Well and truly sorry: you can see his marching orders stamped on his forehead. He has no freedom to speak his mind, and the other people in the interview are able to pick him apart, even while openly sympathizing with him in his untenable position.

I feel sorry for him, because he owes his position to a party whose leader keeps such a tight grip on its members that a vote for Braid cannot be anything more than a vote for Harper.

The next time someone reminds you that we vote for our local members of parliament and not the party behind them, you may want to raise that point.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The story so far...

Erin and I have debated setting up this blog for a little while. As they have for others, recent events have prompted us to move from silent semi-apathy into a more involved, and more vocal stance.

We both have our own particular areas of interest and concern when it comes to what we want to be vocal about. There is a strong local bent to many of those topics, though, and that lets us weave with a common thread. We have some ideas of where to take this, but as always the proof will be in the pudding. For every blog with even a couple of dozen readers and regular posters, you probably need both hands to count the dead-on-the-vine abortive attempts that didn't meet up to their optimistic First Posts.

The problem with starting a blog up is that it's hard to just jump in and start blathering about the topic-du-jour in midstream, with no context. So, I'll use this post to explain my context.

Not long from now I'll have to admit that I'm no longer in my mid-thirties, and it doesn't seem like very long ago that I was engaged in the same numerological dogfight with my twenties. One thing that has come to me in the last decade is the understanding that the future really does exist: I know it does, because I'm living in it. So preparing for the next batch of future weighs more heavily on tail-end-of-mid-thirties me.

The number one issue that brought me out of my shell and prompted things like attending slightly self-conscious rallies, or writing quixotic annoying-the-pig letters to the Editor and pleas to my regional councilors, is the current debate on Rapid Transit. We can discuss the details later, because a fair percentage of the embryonic posts in my head deal with how we get around our fair Tri-Cities. But I can sum up my overall stance as follows:

1. Waterloo Region needs a Rapid Transit solution for its central corridor, and a more robust express transit network to connect that corridor to the areas surrounding it.

2. Of the options for Rapid Transit that have been presented, I am strongly supportive of the Light Rail based alternative for a number of reasons, the most compelling being the ridership projections which make Bus Rapid Transit look unsuitably short-sighted.

There's a ton more to it than that. I'm resisting the temptation to start diving down any of the rabbit holes that surround those two points like some sort of Dodgsonian minefield. Instead, a little primer on some of the other topics that have my attention as well:

  • Active transportation-- primarily cycling and walking, both of which I do a lot of,
  • Local economy and the high tech sector (which has buttered my bread for the last thirteen years),
  • Community theatre,
  • ...And whatever other shiny something prompts me to start writing of a given day.
I have some other interests too, less locally scoped, like programming, birding and home brewing-- all of which are fair game.

So now that I've got the preamble out of the way, it's time to start making pudding!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Meet Chris

Chris came to Waterloo to pursue a Computer Science degree at the University of Waterloo. After a nomadic childhood where he never spent more than three years in one place, he was surprised to find a strong desire to remain in town after graduation. Now, after almost twenty years and a dozen addresses on either side of the Kitchener/Waterloo border, he has decided that this is home.

Chris works as a manager for an engineering software firm in Waterloo, and started looking for ways to curb his car use in 2005 with the advent of GRT's iXpress. Since then he has had a growing interest in transit, active transportation and urbanization. Currently he tackles a nine kilometre commute using virtually every mode possible in Waterloo: public transit, cycling, driving, carpooling, and even the occasional walk and telecommute.

In his spare time, Chris can often be found in his garage brewing beer, out walking or cycling, or on stage at the Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre. Currently Chris is preparing for TenBareToes' production of The Odd Couple, where he will be playing Oscar.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who are the Waterloons?? Meet Erin.


Erin has been a resident of Waterloo Region since 1994 when she moved to Cambridge at the age of 17. She completed her final year of high school at Galt Collegiate Institute, then moved on to the University of Waterloo. After obtaining a BSc. in Environmental Science, she continued to live in Kitchener/Waterloo and work in a drinking water treatment research lab at UW. After several years in the academic environment, she left the University for a short stint at an independent research & development company before leaving the "day job" behind to pursue self-employment as a stained glass artist.

Her passions include music (check out her band Six Minutes to Midnight), community theatre (most notably, the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre), art, science, birds, environmental issues and local food.

Photo © Sean M. Puckett/KWLT