Monday, December 31, 2012


Twenty twelve is ending, we are preparing for a new year, brushing off our planned resolutions. It is time to look back at our successes or failures of 2012, or is it better to look forward? Do we really learn from our mistakes, or do we simply make them all over again? Hmmm..., maybe that's all too heavy to think about.

So let's instead celebrate the dawning of a new year with hope and cheer. As the only intelligent species on this Earth we are its stewards, whether we like it or not. Each and every day we give birth to our children, they to theirs, yet each generation shares a responsibility in the inheritance that they leave behind. We share a kinship with the trees and forests, all living creatures whether roaming on land, flying the skies or swimming our waters. True we are the intelligent ones that we have already established, yet we all share the same needs. We all need fresh and clean air to breathe, uncontaminated water to hydrate and sustain us, and nutrition from a food supply regardless of its source that is not tainted with foreign bodies. In the end our intelligence simply demands more from us.

Each year we begin with the countdown for midnight and its minute after to celebrate a sort of new beginning. True it is more symbolic then real, heck we have been around a long time after all and have raised those glasses at midnight often enough. Our resolutions promising change or planned goals for achievement have become the same as the ever fashionable tuxedo or the little black dress. Worn one night and then hung in the closet, lonely and dark, forgotten till the next dawning of new year's celebration.

It is time to change and put on new clothes for the celebration and to bring forth new resolutions, ones that demand our attention throughout the coming year. That old tuxedo and little black dress may of been comfortable for a long time but we have grown and no longer fit into it. Our own intelligence demands that we recognize the facts and evidence all around us for all of this is beneath our true potential.

Today is the dawning of 2013, lets put on new clothes, new resolutions to welcome the new year. Let's make this new year a year of real change towards a future that has promise and sustainability for our children and their children's children. It is time we take our immense intelligence to new heights and time to go back when our kinship with all who share this earth was of equal value.

Man truly is an intelligent species, our Earth simply needs us to prove it. IT IS TIME.....!

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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Bells Are Ringing

No not the words from the 1942 song made famous by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, nor church bells praising the beginning of better days. Rather this refers to Bell Canada, or for that matter any one of our telecommunication providers who supply our phones, television and internet for the residential consumer. Hands up if any one of you have had a problem that brought in return frustration and a run around from your provider as you tried to explain your situation. No doubt there would be many hands bopping in the air each attached to its own horror story.

In Ontario among the vast variety of telecommunications providers all shuffling for a share of of the market; the biggest are Bell Canada, TELUS and Rogers. Each with their own catchy slogans vying for the attention of the would be consumer, hoping that like the Asian carp we will simply jump on board. Technology itself is changing rapidly providing new must have gadgets; slimmer televisions, faster internet, and all of this at the touch of a screen. Soon even the buttons will be a thing of the past replaced with voice activated touch screens, as has the need for pen pals, now comfortably substituted with Facebook friends.

Yet how do these providers of our services, our needs treat us the consumer once we become a member of the family. Each has a 'customer service' department with supposedly trained staff to handle issues brought to their attention, either providing answers to our questions or referring us to qualified individuals who can provide the solution required. That at least is the image we are sold, but what happens when the 'corporate machine' breaks down and 'customer service' becomes only an illusion?

Bell Canada without hesitation is the biggest provider to the mass market covering television, phone, internet and cell phones. Statistics provided on Wikipedia show a revenue for 2011 at $19.49 billion and a net income of $2.159 billion in 2010. It truly is a large organization with some 55,250 employees in 2011, and although its size and share of the market is strong Bell Canada can never remain complacent resting on its success.

The marketing people at Bell gave birth to a slogan “Today Just Got Better,” its purpose is to make us the customers and potential customers feel confident with the choice we made. What happens when today is no better than yesterday, and tomorrow is shaping up to be even worse. How does Bell Canada really deal with its customers when it is more than a simple billing enquiry or technical problem? As documentation shows it simply tries to ignore the situation till its out of control.

One such scenario began with numerous calls by a customer regarding his internet service. The popular excuse he was given was that the physical distance of his house from the relay station was the reason for the problem. Finally in early August 2012 he found out after over an hour on the phone with a Bell internet technician that he had been charged for months for a level of service that he had not been getting. This was only the beginning of a journey of discovery on how much better his 'today' was to be.

Several weeks prior to the August hour long marathon on his cellphone this customer had found trouble with his home phone. The trouble was simple, it was not working. Again he called on more than one occasion only to be told that there did not appear to be any problems with the account that it had to be his equipment. This individual bought a new phone and still it did not work. Frustrated, fully confident that he had bills stamped by a bank teller, he had a repair technician come to the house. Prognosis was that there were no problems with the home line nor up the pole. He called the accounts people the next day and after arguing with the staff from accounting found out that his home phone indeed had been cut off by Bell. This was difficult to understand as he had the bills stamped by a bank teller. A meeting with the bank manager confirmed that the bank had inadvertently credited payments to the Bell internet account. The bank sent a letter to Bell Canada explaining the error on the part of the bank.

Bell refused to transfer funds from the internet account that was in credit to balance out the situation and at this point the whole issue with Bell reached a fever point. His bank manager had sent a letter to Bell Canada explaining the situation. This customer decided to send an email to Bell's Customer Service and another addressed to Andrew Wright, Vice President Residential Services, both were sent August 21st. No response and no reply. Another email was sent August 28th and a letter September 18th. No response and no reply from anyone at Bell. Finally this individual wrote Ellen Roseman, Consumer Reporter at The Toronto Star. Just one day after sending Ms. Roseman the email one Sami Selmani from the Executive Offices of Bell called. Mr. Selmani confirmed that a reporter had contacted senior management and the file was given to him.

At the same time as sending his email to Ms. Roseman at The Star this individual wrote the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services. The CCTS is a non-profit corporation incorporated under Canadian federal legislation as an agency to address telecommunication services complaints. As a non-profit and independent corporation it is funded by telecommunication providers with annual Canadian telecom revenue greater than 10 million; such as Bell Canada, Rogers, Fido, Cogeco and more.

Bell Canada ignored its customer and every attempt he made to sort out this situation. Yet once a reporter contacted Bell, management decided to immediately pay attention. In three separate conversations totalling over an hour and a half, all recorded, Bell's representative, their negotiator, Mr. Sami Selmani refused to deal with key issues. His response as to why Bell ignored numerous attempts made by the customer to resolve the issue was “you must understand that it is a big company” or “I don't want to talk about the past.” Mr. Selmani had ignored the overcharging for both the internet and home phone, he ignored the stress created by Bell to an individual, a customer who did not see today or any day get better.

As consumers we are at the mercy of these companies, and any competition amongst the telecommunication providers is more of a smokescreen than a reality. Most consumers would not be aware of the CCTS and attempt to handle their problems with the individual provider. At the same time the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services (CCTS) is a non-profit corporation funded by the telecommunication providers themselves. When a consumer is made aware of the CCTS and brings forth details of his particular situation he must first agree to certain terms and conditions before the CCTS even decides to review the facts provided. All these terms and conditions are outlined in the CCTS Procedural Code and in the Privacy Policy document, and any individual requesting an investigation by the CCTS must consent to be bound under both.

Telecommunications are a necessity today. There is no choice we need telephone and internet service in our day to day living. As consumers we create the demand expecting that there will be some form of competition in the marketplace for choice. Often the competition appears to be more in the services provided rather than in pricing policy. Yet as in the case of Bell Canada service was not provided at the least adequate level, escalating to an investigation by the CCTS which is underway. Bell Canada's Sami Selmani refused to acknowledge the real issues in a veiled attempt at resolution with Bell's customer.

As consumers individually there is little the large corporations fear, public attention, or even the threat of it is the key in dealing with such issues. Bell Canada broke their silent ignorance only after a reporter contacted senior management.

The emails and letter to Bell are published here including the final letter to the CCTS after phone calls dealing with Sami Selmani from Bell Canada. This is simply one example of abuse by a corporation more concerned with profit and covering up their own errors. There are many more individuals who have faced similar frustration and treatment from their particular providers of telecom services. It is important to know your rights and that organizations such as the CCTS exist. Your telecommunications provider will not tell you of them and the CCTS does not make a public list of actions taken against its own funding members.

The CCTS investigation is ongoing, Roseman of The Star has not made further comment and the Bell customer is the publisher of Mayorgate.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Enjoy the Oasis and Celebrate!

Mayorgate's ambassadors of celebration 

Another year is drawing to a close and although it is a time for celebration, 2012 ends with a horrific sorrow. No one in any part of the world can ignore the pain of tragic loss which the community of Newton, Connecticut has to endure. One word remains thick in the air and no answers are available to satisfy or relieve its agony.

We have been reminded the essence of celebration is not the sale at the mall or the weight of our wallet, rather it is the value of our self-worth, our family and friends.

The cheeky monkeys of Mayorgate symbolize an inherent curiosity and playful honesty often lost in maturity. Through 2012 Mayorgate has dealt with serious issues affecting our environment, our society and our future. Still there was time taken to celebrate the very nature of life.

Today, regardless of race, religion or tradition, is a day to be with family, to gather your friends or simply extend the hand of greeting to a stranger. Think of it as an oasis that has opened up in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of daily life. Stop, relax and put the oven on low as no one really wants take-out as a feast, and enjoy.

A very Merry Christmas to you all and I don't think the red dude minds if Mayorgate's monkeys borrowed a part of his wardrobe.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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Monday, December 10, 2012

How far can freedom of the press go?

Does media have total and complete freedom to do and say what they want without consequence? Should there be oversight or control over what is presented in the traditional printed press, television, radio or even the internet? These are not easy questions to consider and smell of 'big brother'. Many would vehemently oppose any control over the press and media, citing our democratic right for its freedom. Documents such as the Constitution, Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Magna Carta, that have mapped out humanity's struggle and development towards equality of existence, may be referred to. Historical examples of the horror when man had to survive the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong may be referenced.

True the cornerstones of democracy are the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Yet what happens when it is the press, the media who butcher the truth with intentional lies, attack publicly with complete indifference to the rights and dignity of others? Can such action be permitted without consequence under the all encompassing tag of 'freedom of speech'?

In England, News of the World run by Rupert Murdoch's News International sparked off a public outcry after information surfaced of cell phone hacking of a murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Murdoch's journalists showed a complete indifference to an individual's privacy and dignity bringing an end to News of the World and a 515 page report by Lord Justice Brian Leveson after a nine month inquiry into the inner workings of the British press.

In Canada there appears to be an equivalent to the Murdoch media empire, and its disregard to even the most basic code of ethics. Sun Media has seen enough attention from governing bodies as civil courts and The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and it has cancelled its membership with the Press Council of Ontario.

A star among Sun Media personalities has to be Ezra Levant. Levant is a lawyer by profession, he has authored several books, written columns and is the television host for Sun television program The Source. He faced a defamation suit in 2000 filed by Ron Ghitter and libel suits by Giacomo Vigma, Richard Warman (a fellow lawyer) and Warren Kinsella. A judge had said that Levant speaks with a total disregard for the truth. Ezra Levant has proven his contempt for journalistic ethics more than once, and during a televised segment of his show The Source on December 22nd 2011 Levant sunk to a new low.

Ezra Levant told an executive of the Chiquita Banana Corporation with a Hispanic name “Chinga tu madre,” translated that meant “fuck your mother.” Levant did this to an individual who was not in Canada and not to his face, but on television. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council received some 22 complaints and Levant himself debated the definition of chinga in an attempt to justify his cowardly outburst.

The CBSC a non-government industry body told Sun News it had to announce twice during prime time that it violated broadcaster's ethical guidelines during a taping of the Levant-hosted The Source in December.” (Wikipedia). Sun News defended its host for his insulting outburst and Ezra Levant saw nothing wrong in what he said, in fact he was willing to play semantics instead. Was this sufficient, what the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council adjudicated as a consequence of the actions by Ezra Levant? Regardless of arguments for or against such a question, proof of Levant's disregard for any form of ethics or dignity came crashing forward on September 5th 2012.

Once again as host of The Source Ezra Levant exploded with these words: “These are gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers. The phrase gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb he gyped me. Well the gypsies have gyped us. Too many have come here as false refugees. And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries. They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging.” (Wikipedia).

Ezra Levant is a lawyer, and presumably trained in the English language and in the art of understanding human motivation. What motivated Ezra Levant on a public television program to utter such hate-filled words? How could executives at Sun Television or Sun Media defend Ezra Levant this time? Executive Director at the Roma Community Centre Ms. Gina Csany-Robah said, “nearly nine minutes of on-air racist hate-speech targeting our community, one of the longest and most sustained on air broadcasts of hate-speech against any community in Canada that we've witnessed since our organization was established in 1997.” (Wikipedia).

Sun Television pulled the segment and apologized to the Roma community, they had no choice. Can that be considered enough? The Toronto Police Service are now investigating Levant’s outburst as a hate-crime, and the Alberta Law Society has to consider what action they must take in relation to Ezra Levant’s license to practise as a lawyer.

As shocking and repulsive as Ezra Levant’s outburst was it was not the first, and Sun Media has protected him each time. Yet he is not the only one under the Sun umbrella who has shown a total disregard to truth, facts, ethics and dignity. In St. Catharines Ontario, The Standard newspaper is a family member of the Sun Media group, and although the Sun Media family blindly supports the Conservatives as a general rule, The Standard has proven to have leanings in the opposite direction.

During the 2010 municipal elections, The Standard's oldest and star reporter Marlene Bergsma intentionally lied in print to discredit a candidate in the mayoral race. Bergsma did not misrepresent the truth nor did she twist the facts, no Marlene Bergsma lied. Former publisher Judy Bullis and former managing editor Andrea Kriluck published the intentional lies by Marlene Bergsma. Only days later another reporter from The Standard, Peter Downs repeated the same lies once again in his own article. The lies were clear and intentional, they were intended to damage the credibility of a candidate and influence an election. Pierre Karl Peladeau, head of Quebecor Inc. was provided the details, he remained silent, Mike Sifton as CEO of Sun Media was also provided with all the details, he too remained silent.

It is not only the journalists at The Standard who have compromised ethics and code of conduct, but also the management who have pushed the same boundaries to their limits. Protecting the identity of a 'source' who had provided sensitive information is understandable, protecting the identity of an individual who uses a fictitious name to launch a barrage of slanderous attacks is not.

One such individual has used the fictitious name of 'Steve Reynolds' and has posted slanderous comments attacking a regional councillor on the Reader Comments page of The Standard's official site. Comments posted by 'Steve Reynolds' had been intentionally aimed at Councillor Andy Petrowski with the purpose to smear his reputation. This fictitious 'Steve Reynolds' had posted a comment attacking Mayorgate and when Wendy Metcalfe the managing editor was contacted with the demand that the identity of this 'Steve Reynolds' be provided, The Standard refused. The comment posted by 'Steve Reynolds' was removed by The Standard within hours as they were aware of the slanderous nature of the comment. Yet Managing Editor Metcalf has decided to protect the individual's identity, only removing the posting rights of the individual using the name 'Steve Reynolds'.

As news broke of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford being removed from office by a judge Christina Blizzard of the Toronto Sun newspaper decided that Toronto's mayor should not be removed after being found guilty in his conflict of interest trial. Christina Blizzard could not see that a mere $3000.00 was serious enough as an indiscretion to warrant Mayor Ford's removal. It seems that Christina Blizzard put a dollar value on ethics and code of conduct of an elected public servant. Maybe if the dollar value amount was ten times the three thousand or if Mayor Ford was not a Conservative, then would Ms. Blizzard find it necessary to remove a public servant from office that requires public trust?

There are journalists all over the world who have risked their lives for their profession. Journalists who have never sold or traded their integrity or considered to trample their code of ethics. We as the public who buy the newspapers, watch television or use the internet no longer have a naive attitude, nor do we expect Clark Kent ethics from today's media. Still the actions of Murdoch's News of the World shocked many and a demand for appropriate consequences for such breaches of code of conduct was loud and clear.

After the inquiry into the actions of the British press Lord Justice Brian Leveson said, “that Britain needs a mechanism for independent self-regulation that would allow victims of the media to fight back outside the courts.” (Toronto Star Nov. 30, 2012 by Leslie Ciarula Taylor). The executive director of the Ontario Press Council, Don McCurdy said “Most Canadians would view the media in the UK as having a very cowboy mentality. Here it is much more civil and respectful and small-c conservative.” (Toronto Star Nov. 30, 2012).

What can be taken as the meaning in Don McCurdy's “small-c conservative”? The Ontario Press Council is a voluntary membership organization. It is not government regulated and has no real authority to enforce any rulings. Mr. McCurdy admitted that membership has declined and that Sun Media has dropped its membership completely. What would the Ontario Press Council do with Sun Media owned Standard and the intentional lies published? Could Don McCurdy enforce any penalties against The Standard through his non-government regulated, voluntary membership council with the “small-c conservative” attitudes?

When the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, another non-government body, slapped the wrist of Sun Media owned Sun Television and Ezra Levant, Ezra Levant turned around and produced a more torrid attack on a whole community.

Media today wields an immense power and therefore influence on our governments. British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to accept the recommendations of Lord Justice Brian Leveson's 515 page report, yet he refused any legislative changes to be implemented. Prime Minister Cameron did not want to threaten the freedom of the press and free speech. Yet without legislation and laws, voluntary organizations such as the Ontario Press Council, the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council or even England's failed Press Complaints Commission, exist in name only. Victims of media in fact have no real means to “fight back outside of the courts.”

We truly are becoming a dollar value justice society with a “small-c conservative” attitude.

(Ezra Levant was contacted for any response or comment, he has refused to respond).

Ezra Levant host of The Source for Sun Television was given an opportunity to make a comment prior to the publishing of this article, he ignored that invitation. Levant is touted by Sun Media as a champion of free speech yet he is only a cowardly bully with the protection of Sun Media's dollars. It seems that the 'champion' of free speech has lost his voice. Another email was sent to Ezra Levant providing an opportunity to explain his actions or to disagree with the published article. Once again Sun Media's 'champion' of free speech only found a pussycat sit on his tongue.

Freedom of the press, of the media is of extreme importance to any free society, yet such freedom must be tempered with dignity, respect and fact. When our media ignores this it only becomes a bully with the power of wealth and connections to protect it. Society as a whole becomes its victim.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Mouse vs. Man – a children's novel by Alexander Davidoff

Harri & Luna the first novel by Alexander Davidoff is now available on in paperback and e-book. It is a children's story based on the promise that friendship, courage and love can truly empower all of us to survive the most arduous adventures that life throws at us.

The story had an unusual beginning as a challenge for two home-schooled children to write a short story about a mouse they saw in their house. Each of the children wrote several pages, Harri & Luna went much further.

As the characters and world of Harri & Luna developed illustrations were added by artist Alexandra Davidoff. Alexandra a self-taught artist and the only Canadian entry in the Global Art Awards art competition of Amsterdam, winning the first stage with the highest public vote spent many hours developing not only the illustrations for the book but also the animated book trailer. Each and every frame hand painted in digital format to present a visual peek at the enchanting characters of Harri & Luna.

Once the animated piece was completed a voice characterization was recorded by Nikolas Davidoff. Nikolas in his own right has published an article on Game Informer titled Tribute to a Games Journalism Loss and in its first week has had over 1000 reads. It is an insightful piece dealing with the dying art of the written word as seen over and over again with the demise of both magazines and even books as the electronic age mushrooms further onward.

Harri & Luna is an adventure for the young and the young at heart. It is also a story of the value of life, all life regardless of its origins. As serious a theme as this may be, Harri & Luna never forgets that it is an adventure for children filled with excitement and gasps that will take the young reader again and again to the opening pages. As it's hero, Harri is an unlikely one at first glance, yet he has the one ingredient that makes him mighty and that is courage.

All heroes need a damsel in distress and Harri has his precious Luna, and all heroes need a friend. Harri has Squeeks a hilarious optimist who finds within himself courage even he could not imagine. Together the ingredients are timeless yet told in a story that is fresh and very current with the times we live in.

Harri & Luna is a children's story and a story for the child in all of us. Take the time and enjoy it with the child inside or one at your side. 

Get your copy here

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

EARTH in a child's hand

Environmentalists the world over have made claims on the dangers of climate change, on habitat loss and even on the threat of invasive species on our ecosystems. Governments try and ignore some of these issues for various reasons, and at the same time spend hundreds of millions of dollars of public money on others. At times the opposites battle each other both professing that it is the future that each is attempting to protect for our children and grandchildren.

In 1954, the United Nations brought to life universal Children's Day as a way to recognise our need to protect all our children the world over. Children's Day is recognised in many countries on November 20th

A seven year old child was asked to draw what he understood of our planet, our earth. He was asked why he chose those particular colours, and his explanation was simple. Blue was for the water, that he understood surrounds the earth and in his own words, “nothing can live without water.” Green he said he chose for the country because the garden is green and it's alive.

At seven this child is slowly blooming with knowledge and understanding through education. How do we not only as matured adults, but as stewards of his future and that of hundreds of millions of children the world over safeguard his vision of our earth? How do governments find a balance to sustain the economic needs of their people and at the same time not stress the earth's balance? Environmentalists seem to choose conflict with government more often than a working partnership, how would they explain to a child their actions without condescending.

The earth has been strong and resilient for many centuries, enduring natural change and adjustment. Yet the alarming reality is that we as people consume a great deal on a daily basis, and then generate massive volumes of waste in return. Without action today, in our present, this seven year old's future is put at risk. Earth is no different than a tree infested with an invasive borer, on the surface the tree seems well enough till the larvae of the borer brings down a whole forest.

Some twenty years ago another child had stopped the world for a brief moment with her passionate words. World leaders sat and listened with emotion as a child pleaded for her future and that of all of us. Once the echo of that child's voice died down so did the promise to rethink our actions.

We no longer have the luxury to continue business as usual. It would be our children who we profess to love and protect who will have to carry the burden of our inaction. Then the innocence and beauty of such a painting may be lost forever to the next generation.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Asian Carp - aliens are really among us

Canada and the United States share stewardship of one of the world's treasures. The Great Lakes provide fresh water, a commercial fishing industry, passageway for international and domestic vessel traffic through the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System, and a multitude of leisure activities. Environmental issues concerning the health and safety for this international treasure have been raised for decades, with government response from either side of the shoreline at best slow in coming.

Today we have come to understand the environmental impact of our daily routines on the future of sustainability of our planet. There are those who will argue the validity of the issues surrounding climate change, yet one environmental concern that cannot be disputed is the damage caused by alien species to world habitats. These are not little green men landing on flying saucers nor the Fox Mulder of X-Files fame versions. The Canadian Government Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada 2004 defines them as following; “Alien species are species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms introduced by human action outside their natural past or present distribution. Invasive alien species are those harmful alien species whose introduction or spread threatens the environment, the economy, or society, including human health. Invasive alien species can originate from other continents, neighbouring countries, or from other ecosystems within Canada.” The most alarming point in this definition is the fact that these alien species all had been introduced by human action.

Alien species do not choose only a particular country to wreak havoc upon, they are a global concern and are considered to be the greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. In Canada we have sixteen alien species with annual economic costs ranging between $13.3 and $34.5 billion. Globally the costs are staggering, estimated at $1.4 trillion annually, that is some 5% of the total global economy, as compared to $190 billion for natural disasters. (Ministry of Natural Resources, Invasive Species Centre – 2010 Strategic Plan)

It may be difficult for some to envision the comparison of these alien species to the might of a hurricane Sandy, or a wall of water stretching dozens of feet towards the sky as a result of a tsunami. Still the overall cost of these biological aliens threatens the natural environment, our over-stretched economy and can affect human health. Governments globally work in partnership with both commercial and environmental groups, and the public to battle and control these aliens. In the end we all share the burden and its costs.

On November 8th 2012, a public forum was held in Toronto addressing the issues in relation to one of the alien species that we are dealing with. The Asian Carp has become apparently a serious public enemy to the Great Lakes. It is potentially a big fish ranging from 3 to 5 feet in length. Originally introduced to North America in the 1970's to control algae in aquaculture ponds in the southern United States. As many of man's great ideas it got out of control and the Asian Carp got away. So unlike the fisherman who would rather not speak of the one that got away, it seems we are all speaking of this one.

Asian Carp Public Forum, held in Toronto Nov. 8, 2012 

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in fact presented a joint forum of US and Canadian experts, government officials to explain how the Asian Carp can be a threat to our waterways, and the many methods being put in place to monitor its migration. The GLSLCI is a bi-national coalition of mayors and other local officials that works actively with federal, state and provincial governments to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. A full out war has been declared against the Asian Carp, even though it is only one of the sixteen invasive species that we are dealing with in Canada.

As an invasive species the Asian Carp is a formidable fish, with a number of varieties. The most common varieties found in North America are the Bighead, Silver, Grass and Black Carp. It is the Bighead Carp and the Silver Carp that have spread the most aggressively and can be considered one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes. At least both the US and Canadian authorities portray this 'menace' as one of the greatest threats.


The Asian Carp is not the only alien that threatens global biodiversity and that of Canada. Other alien species such as the European Green Crab which preys on mussels, clams and other crabs, threatening shellfish stocks on the Atlantic coast; Purple Loosestrife, a European invader introduced to Canada in the 1800's, degrades wetlands; Zebra Mussel, industries with operations on the Great Lakes spend millions of dollars a year dealing with zebra mussels, which multiply so quickly that they clog intake pipes and sink navigational buoys; Sea Lamprey is a primitive, parasitic fish, these eel-like creatures with suction cup, bloodsucking mouths can kill more than 18 kg of the fish they prey on during their 12 to 20 month adult life; Emerald Ash Borer originated in Eastern Asia and was first found in Canada in 2002, its larvae burrow through the inner bark of ash trees while the young beetles feed on leaves, damaging and eventually killing the tree; and there are more such as the Didymo also known as “rock snot,” Gypsy Moth, Asian Long-Horned Beetle and Round Goby.

The list of invasive species seems to grow and the variety of species increase, at the same time as threatening our ecosystems, the economic cost rises just as quickly. In Montreal, April 2009, the Trinational (Canada, US and Mexico) Commission for Environmental Cooperation confirmed that economic losses and costs of environmental impacts caused by invasive species exceed $100 billion annually in the US alone.

In Ontario the total impact of the zebra mussel is estimated to be between $75 to $91 million per year (Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Invasive Species – Strategic Plan 2012). The Emerald Ash Borer has killed over one million trees in south western Ontario, and the City of Toronto estimated it will cost $37 million over five years to cut and replace the city owned trees. At the same time the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has spent over $30 million to cut over 130,000 trees to slow the spread of the beetle.

Invasive species do not terrorize the trinational partners, Canada, US and Mexico alone. As already stated global impact from those aliens reach a staggering $1.4 trillion and considered a great threat to biodiversity. In Great Britain researchers at Queen Mary, University of London estimated the impact of invasive species in the Thames River at $2.7 billion a year. According to Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic News in Water Currents on November 2nd 2012, “a recent study suggests the Thames River is among the world's most invaded systems,” (Thames River Invasive Species; Freshwater Species of the Week, National Geographic News, Nov. 2nd 2012).

Maybe little green men would be easier to deal with, yet the issue we face in relation to both ecological and economic stresses from these invasive species is very serious. There may be questions raised at what motivates such an all out war on one of the aliens when that alien can in fact be eaten. The Asian Carp is not poisonous nor is it destructive as the Sea Lamprey. It is a food source in a great part of the world. Instead we in North America have a policy which resulted in almost 4000 pounds of Asian Carp seized which was destined for the Ontario markets in 2010 (CBC News, Nov. 9, 2012).

According to information released by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) shipments of Asian Carp have been seized at border crossings and companies have faced stiff fines. Some examples that have been provided list seizures at the Windsor crossing for January 9th and 25th and February 28th 2012 totalling 23,400 lbs. In 2011 one importer was fined by the Province of Ontario for $60,000 another was fined $20,000, and in June 2012 a Toronto fish company and its president were fined a total of $50,000 (Canadian Border Services Agency fact sheet). At the Asian Carp Public Forum held on November 8th 2012 one of the points that was discussed was in fact the penalties and heavy enforcement of the laws in relation to the importing of Asian Carp into North America. With several uniformed individuals walking around with firearms on their hips left no doubt in anyone's mind how serious a threat these fish are considered to be.

Canada has committed $17 million to the battle zone against the alien. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which coordinated the forum was instituted to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, yet no such forums have been arranged to deal with the issues of contaminates that are poured into our Great Lakes daily. The Great Lakes contain six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, one fifth of the world's fresh surface water, only the polar ice caps and Lake Baikal in Siberia contain more, (Great Lakes Information Network). They contain 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water and 84% of North America's surface fresh water according to the US EPA. Yet company after company, with or without a president, empties dangerous contaminates indiscriminately into the Great Lakes. There are no forums by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative on this. There are no officials from any ministry or department of environment bragging of enforcement or penalties levied, and no gun-toting dudes parading the corridors. Sadly only hard evidence to the contrary exists.

A Survey of Recreational Fishing in Canada 2005 released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Economic Analysis and Statistics may shed a light on the motivation behind such a war on one alien. According to this survey, anglers spent a total of $215 million in direct recreational fishing expenditures on the Great Lakes in 2005. With transportation, food and lodging being the principle expenditure for all anglers amounting to over $74 million. Environment Canada reports in 2010 the Great Lakes sustained a $350 million recreational fishing industry with some 1.5 million recreational boaters, in addition to a $100 million commercial fishing industry. Is it feasible to assume there may be just one or two lobbyists in the ear of government?

Is it not feasible to turn this alien into a profit making business alternative exporting the meat to world markets? According to an Annual Report for 2009-2010 by the Kentucky State University – Division of Aquaculture, we in North America do not find the carp as a popular edible in contrast to many countries in the world. It appears that the main problem with potential consumers in North America is the fact that the carp has many intramuscular bones and we generally do not like to eat fish meat with small bones and prefer boneless fish fillet. Maybe that answers why fish sticks at the supermarket freezers are so popular.

Why has man's natural ability to adapt and think been pushed aside in favour of a war that costs hundreds of millions of dollars? The issues surrounding invasive alien species is extremely serious. These invasive species create havoc and threaten our very future. It is not a situation we can ignore. Yet here we have one of the aliens that turn out to be a profitable viable alternative. Is it time to re-think what we are doing? And maybe it will be the carp who will have to adapt and re-think its act of jumping out of the water into boats.


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Monday, October 29, 2012

Development – a city's lifeline

No city in the world can grow without developing its available lands, whether to attract new residents or entice new businesses. It is true that in today's enlightened world we have many considerations that were not part of the planning stage of early development. In the past most city managers were pleased to entertain any planned levelling of trees and emptying of fields to make way for industrial or commercial construction. A subdivision of neat new homes standing in a row, meant more residents to fill the streets and spend their money.

Today we have come to understand that there is a price to pay for uncontrolled spread, no less than that of one's waistline. After all we are not solitary worker ants, we have a tendency to drag our family along for the ride. Now city managers need to provide schools for their education, parks and recreational facilities to keep them off the streets, and efficient public transport for those not able to jump into their own vehicles. The headaches tend to grow in size gradually, economics and affordability become serious considerations for all city managers. Now the shining new development has become a magnet for the frustrated graffiti artist and the new industrial site a run-down eyesore.

There isn't a city in the world that is not facing the consequences of uncontrolled urban sprawl. Redevelopment of land has provided a potential solution. Yet we are now well aware of what 'Brownfields' are, former industrial sites that have issues with lingering chemicals and other contaminates left behind long after the last employee has gone.

So a developer today must face a great deal more than simply “can it be built.” As city managers face many more considerations before approving new plans, the developer must accommodate many more issues. It is no longer simply appeasing city plans or the logistics of the development. Environmental and community concerns play an integral role in any decisions made by the developer. Special interest groups can become obstacles in the approval process requiring concessions or worse, stalling the procedures completely.

True there are developers who will cut corners to increase the profit margins. Environmental requirements can be ignored, site preparation conducted without concern or appropriate approvals, and much more. It is the special interest groups that bring public attention and help enforce the premise of good development, or better still, responsible development. No one expects that any new building will stand for a short time. Therefore its impact on the surrounding environment, cohesion within the community and overall purpose are important considerations. Yet what can be said when a developer accommodates all the expected requirements and even more, yet still faces opposition from only a select few.

Supplied Photo - view from the lake 

In St. Catharines, Ontario such a situation is unfolding at this time. A planned development in Port Dalhousie, 'The Beaches at Port', has come face to face with the select few who strongly object to the plan, and have made it clear that they intend to take their objection to the Ontario Municipal Board.

The Port Dalhousie area of the greater City of St. Catharines is a picturesque and idyllic location. It is home to Lakeside Park and the shores of Lake Ontario, with a lovely public beach. A marina filled with private boats of all sizes adds to the postcard image. Lakeside Park is also the home of one of the very few operational outdoor carousels in North America. Overall this is truly a picturesque part of the City of St. Catharines. Yet St. Catharines as a whole has suffered badly through the economic downturn and its city managers face serious issues to find a solution.

Scenic views of Port Dalhousie.

The Beaches at Port is a planned development at the very west boundary of Lakeside Park. Its developer Norm Rockwell, highly experienced in Heritage issues, and a meticulous planner has presented a proposal to build a 16-unit residential condominium complex. Mr. Rockwell and his partners, Steven Massis and Perry Nitsopoulos have brought together a soil expert, archaeologists and shore plan engineer - nothing has been left to chance, nothing left to question.

A City of St. Catharines 'Notice of Decision to Approve Official Plan Amendment' issued on June 28th 2012 states, “For over 30 years the City of St. Catharines has recognized and re-enforced the importance of protecting agricultural lands beyond the Urban Boundary from expansions beyond that boundary. Since the mid 2000's the Province has reinforced the principles surrounding more efficiently using existing infrastructure and not allowing growth to expand into the Greenbelt. The challenge has been and continues to be accommodating intensification in existing neighbourhoods in a sensitive manner. The purpose of the lower density designation applicable to these lands and surrounding neighbourhood is intended to preserve the identity of the neighbourhood. Staff believes that the proposed medium density development supports local and provincial plans and policies.”

Supplied Photo - view from Lakeside Park

In an interview with developer Norm Rockwell it was clear that his passion for heritage and preservation issues surfaced throughout the proposed development project. He spoke of the restoration of the historic Wiley/Hutchinson home, only the dilapidated garage will be removed. “The ravine between the Wiley Home and the proposed condominium will not be placed under control of the Body Corporate of the condominium complex, {which oversees all maintenance and future needs of the property}, so as to ensure the future preservation of the mature trees.”

Supplied Photo - Architectural rendering of the planned restoration of The Wiley/Hutchinson Home 

City Planner, Mr. Kevin Blozowski had confirmed that Norm Rockwell provided extensive reports and documentation on the proposed project, and had the full support and approval of the city. Rockwell himself had said, “the start date of the development was approximately December 2010. There were many various plans submitted before that date, but that is what I would call the starting date of working with the city staff.”

Mr. Blozowski of the City's Planning and Development Services said that if he was to describe the efforts made by Norm Rockwell regarding this project, he would say Rockwell was “an enlightened developer.” Blozowski said he found it somewhat difficult to understand the objections raised against this proposed development. Responding to claims of environmental protection area lost in the development, Rockwell said, “The loss of EPA lands is approximately 1000 square feet, however the new break-wall to be constructed is in excess of 1000 square feet and will be donated to the city as park lands.”

Still objections against the proposed development have been formally raised and have to be dealt with. City of St. Catharines Councillor Bruce Williamson was the only one to vote against the proposal put before the city, and when asked for comment he provided a prepared statement which Councillor Williamson also wrote for 'The Garden City's Current'. “While the building itself features nice architecture, placing the sheer vertical wall of this six story structure a few feet from the boundary of the park near the children's playground behind the carousel is not in the least complimentary to the area. Once gone, the feeling of openness and natural beauty that is this corner of Lakeside Beach will be missed.”

Perhaps it should be noted that the proposed development will not be replacing open space but two sadly dilapidated buildings currently used as rentals. Though it is not Councillor Williamson who is the leading voice in opposition to this development. Mr. Jeff Loucks, who had previously presented his objections to the Ontario Municipal Board in relation to another development in the Port Dalhousie area, has stated he will do so again in opposition to the Norm Rockwell proposed development.

Mr. Loucks had been contacted on several occasions in an attempt to hear what his objections are regarding this project. He has refused to respond. Attempts were made to contact Mr. Carlos Garcia, previously associated with PROUD and one of the opponents to another Port Dalhousie development, and the Port Dalhousie Conservancy (which replaced PROUD), all have remained unresponsive and silent.

Jeff Loucks had been put on record by Niagara this Week in an interview saying that his main reason for filing his appeal was the size of the proposed development. “The development will result in the loss of large swath of trees, and when it is built, park goers will lose a place to get away from the city.” (Mike Zettel NTW July 26 2012).

Norm Rockwell's proposed development site is the home to some six to eight trees at this time, and not all are in a healthy state. These trees are behind a chain link fence that stands as a protection surrounding the two dilapidated buildings that accommodate several rental apartments. It is not a public area and signs warn against trespassers. No park goers may get away from the city or anything else in this far corner of Lakeside Park.

The existing dilapidated rentals to be replaced by the proposed development.  

A chain link fence surrounds these buildings with a 'No Trespassing' sign, keeping all beach goers, including little children, away from the property line.

Mr. Kevin Blozowski was clear that it is hard to understand what real objections Jeff Loucks had in relation to the proposed development by Norm Rockwell. According to Mr. Blozowski, Planner for the City of St. Catharines, Mr. Loucks will not be presenting any expert reports, or experts for that matter, to present his case. A preliminary hearing set for November 2nd 2012, with a justice of the Ontario Municipal Board will hear an application for dismissal by lawyers representing developer Norm Rockwell. Mr. Loucks in turn will have his opportunity to present his case to justify the need for the Ontario Municipal Board to conduct a full hearing on the matter early in 2013. Jeff Loucks has inferred that he plans to present his case to the OMB on his own, without any supporting expert assistance. PROUD, known as Port Dalhousie Conservancy has stated that they will not be supporting Mr. Loucks this time at an OMB hearing. Though the president of Port Dalhousie Conservancy, Mr. Hank Beekhuis had made public objections regarding Norm Rockwell's 'Beaches at Port' development.

In a democratic society no voice has a right to be silenced, whether it stands in support or in opposition. After all that is the true basis of democracy and the freedom we enjoy in Canada. Yet should common sense be disregarded in the name of democracy? A list of objections had been presented to City Planner Kevin Blozowski by the Port Dalhousie Conservancy, which are as follows...

The Port Dalhousie area of St. Catharines has charm and beauty, and Lakeside Park is a public space that all can enjoy. Its protection is provided by city by-laws under both environmental and heritage basis, and this protection is of great value for the future of this area. Still no city can grow without development and when the development keeps in mind and compliments the local community, it is hard to understand the basis for objection. In St. Catharines Pearson Park was decimated to accommodate a pool and library even against the wishes and objections of local residents. A great “swath” of trees were destroyed and the notion that “park goers lost a place to get away from the city,” is evident today not only due to the complex that was built but also the large asphalt car park. Yet Mr. Loucks made no objections regarding this development.

Cities all around the world deal with issues of preservation and conservation in relation to development of shorelines. Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines is not pretending to become a mini South Beach Florida. Parks in cities large and small face development upon their boundaries. One has to only think of New York's Central Park or London's Hyde Park. Norm Rockwell has proposed a development that is tasteful at the very edge of the west boundary of Lakeside Park. This development does not infringe on park users in any way as it replaces two sad and unsightly smaller dwellings guarded by a chain-link fence. No park goer wanting to get away from the city will lose their place. No child in the play area will find an obstruction. Area residents along both Lock Street and Dalhousie Street do not find any objections with either the proposed new building nor the restoration of the Wiley House.

The City's final words in their Notice of Decision are, Measures have been taken to mitigate related to height, parking views, shadows, and cultural heritage aspects in a manner that provides a balance between heritage conservation and intensification. Considering the proposal as a site specific exemption to the low density designations of the existing Official Plan and GCP recognizes the merits of this proposal without setting a precedent for future similar requests.” Norm Rockwell has said, “I am heritage conscious and I have put together a team of experts to cover every angle of this project. We are ready for any outcome.”

An extensive list of studies had been submitted in support of this development which include:

Planning Report prepared by Urban and Environmental Management (UEM) Inc.
Geotechnical Investigation prepared by Petro MacCallum Ltd.
Stable Top of Bank Assessment prepared by Petro MacCallum Ltd.
Coastal Hazard Report prepared by Shoreplan
Archaeological Assessment prepared by J.K. Jouppien Heritage Resource Consultant Inc.
Tree Inventory and Preservation Plan Report prepared by Kuntz Forestry Consulting Inc.
Heritage Impact Assessment prepared by Philip H. Carter and Paul Oberst

Our freedom of speech and the right to object on grounds that affect our community's future are never to be considered as wasteful. Still those freedoms and rights when guided by ulterior motives can become weapons to obstruct and delay. City of St. Catharines Councillor Len Stack provided this statement in relation to the proposed development to Mayorgate: “After having spent a great deal of time discussing the proposal with the developer and thoroughly examining the plans and the architectural design, I was most impressed with every aspect of this residential condo plan. It includes heritage preservation and exquisite architectural design that will enhance the entire beach area. Another positive and interesting aspect of this project is that many of the surrounding neighbours came out to speak in favour of the project.”

Supplied Photo - view from Gary Road

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