Monday, January 30, 2006

rage against the steering wheel

If you've surfed Toronto-based sites over the weekend, you've seen the pictures of a motorist and courier involved in a friendly tete-a-tete in Kensington Market (warning: diving too deep into the comments section may drop your IQ by several points. To me, the driver loses points off the bat for being a litterbug).

While I manage to share the roads just fine with cyclists (usually giving them the benefit of any doubt, unless they are breaking rules at traffic lights), other motorists make me wonder why I was so eager to get my driver's license. Especially in Scarberia.

Here's my TO road rage tale.


August 1999. I've just been hired by my current employer and need to find a place to live in a hurry. The temporary commute between Toronto and Guelph is draining me, and I need to be out of my $140/month sublet by Sep 1st. I spend a Sunday afternoon looking a place, frustrated that there are no signs of life in at least two apartments on my list (one on Spadina Rd, the other I've forgotten). Dejected, I head back up to 401 along Avenue Rd.

Just north of Eglinton, past the first curve, another driver nearly smacks into me while changing lanes quickly. Cue involuntary reflexes. I hit the horn. The other driver stops in front of me at the next red light, gets out of his car and motions to me with his finger.

Cue panic attack.

I stay put in the car and lock my doors. The other driver walks towards my car.

Quickly, and without really looking to see if any other traffic was coming, I hit the gas, do a u-turn, then speed down the next side street. Nobody follows.

Cue sigh of relief as I head up Yonge. Welcome to life in the big city.


When I told Dad about the incident, he suggested I put my childhood baseball bat in the car, just to be on the safe side. I never did. My method is to ride it out - lock the doors, roll up the window, look straight ahead, take a side street if necessary. - JB

backstreets of toronto: littlehayes lane

The cans of worms one opens when they start researching the background of local street names.

The laneway was named in 2000, according to this city notice (PDF - I have not found a copy of attachment #2 online). According to the document, the name derived from Major E.B. Littlehayes, "an aide to John Graves Simcoe, who owned land in the area". I've poured through half-a-dozen library books about the Simcoe era in Upper Canada and found no references to "Major E.B. Littlehayes".

"Major E.B. Littlehales" is a different story.

Edward Baker Littlehales (?-1825) was military secretary to Simcoe during the latter's tenure as governor of Upper Canada. His main accomplishment appears to have been a survey of the land between Detroit and Niagara in February-March 1793, which resulted in the recommendation of the site for London. Quoted in Henry Scadding's book Toronto of Old (1873), Littlehales found that site to be "a situation eminently calculated for the metropolis of all Canada", due to its central location, access of the Thames into the Great Lakes, fertile land and decent climate. He preferred the name Georgina for the site, which Scadding feels "posterity would have been saved some confusion. To this hour, the name of our Canadian London gives trouble in the post-office and elsewhere." (257-258).

Littlehales is mentioned several times in the diary of the governor's wife, Elizabeth (published in 1965 as, crazily enough, Mrs. Simcoe's Diary). Among the details about Littlehales:

* He spent the latter part of 1792 on government business in Philadelphia, getting lost near Lake Onondaga "and was without provisions for 30 hours".
* He was briefly lost in the woods by the Don River in October 1793, on the way home from a survey.
* Spent Valentine's Day 1795 in Prescott with the Simcoes. The boys promised Elizabeth "turkey and venison every day".

Scadding provides a vague description of how large Littlehales' plot of land was - the western boundary was near Bathurst, the southern along Lot (now Queen West). After his death, the land was purchased by the Denison family, who will loom large in our next installment.

My theories for the discrepency: 1) a spelling mistake either way, or 2) everyone who knew Littlehales/Littlehayes had poor penmanship and made their "i"s and "y"s in a similar fashion. I suspect I need to take a vacation day to dive into the city archives to find the answer...

Here's the map: Littlehayes lies in the heart of the market, off Baldwin between Kensington and Augusta.

To the east of Littlehayes lies a fish market... the west, a Latin bulk store...

...and above, this interesting home, like a Lego holding together the pieces beneath it. A friend of mine is dying to know what goes on here. On a recent walk, all we determined is that the occupants own funky boots and leaf through the Canadian Tire flyer.

An old salt at the side of Coral.

Starting down Littlehayes, only to find a truck occupying most of the roadway. Pity anyone who attempts two-way traffic down here.

Which fish is Uncle's favourite? Market staples like snapper and tilapia?

Coke lovers.

Cue the crying child denied their Coca-Cola.

And the lane comes to a dead stop at a gated car barn.

.Looking back onto Baldwin and another fishmonger. The typical Baldwin St seafood merchant has a lovely display of fish in the window, while carts of lemons, limes and garlic sit outside.

Note the sign. Note the vehicle in the previous picture. It doesn't add up. Does Doc Pickles approve?

NEXT: One last kick at the Kensington can. - JB

Friday, January 27, 2006

injera or bust—ethiopian house

After a break through the fall, the Chowhound dining group resurrected their monthly nights out on Saturday. This time, Ethiopian House (Irwin & Yonge - between Bloor and Wellesley), which I've often enjoyed on my own. It's easy to find once you leave Yonge St - look for the traffic light on the second floor...which was right outside our table's window.

Go!Open the door and you're overwhelmed with a blast of incense and fresh-ground coffee. These form part of a "coffee ceremony" you can order, though our table passed due to a lack of coffee drinkers (at last, I'm not alone!)

Your taste for Ethiopian cuisine depends on how much you like injera, the bread the lines the serving dish. The best analogy to injera is a spongy sourdough crepe, with the bubbles of a crumpet. Injera makes Ethiopian meals look deceptive small, as your stomach fills which each piece. A plate of one or two extra pieces is usually provided, to provide a clean start as you scoop up the other dishes.

Until you reach the bits of injera soaked in whatever lay on top of them, eating with the bread as your utensil is not messy. I've seen odd looks when mentioning the lack of utensils, until I tell them that wolfing down a fully-loaded burger or eating sauce-soaked ribs or wings causes you to run to the wet naps sooner.

Ethiopian is not the speediest of cuisines. If dining by yourself, best bring that book you've put off reading for six months. If you're with a friend, have plenty of fodder for conversation - heck, turn the wait into an opportunity to learn all those remaining questions you have about each other.

Aib, Kifto, Tibs and Injera
We ordered several veggie and meat combination platters along with the weekend special, a chicken stew (shown here halfway through being devoured). Three huge platters arrived, none with the same dishes (some received more meat, others less). Even the three orders of chicken weren't the same - one recieved a bonus hard-boiled egg.

Despite the logistics, the food was very good. Most of the lentil stews were like milder Indian dishes, while the kale/collards combination melted in your mouth. The crumbled cheese was fresh. Tibs would make a good introduction to anyone leery of trying this cuisine, as Ethiopian House's version could be described as African fajitas (cubed beef, stir-fried peppers, occasional surprise burst of heat). The chicken was a tender leg, but pricey for what you received ($12).

I remember a friend at another restaurant who enjoyed kifto until I described what it was (depending on the restaurant, finely chopped, seasoned rare or raw beef). Guess who helped finish that part of their plate? Ethiopian House's version appeared to be heated, but maintained a slightly chewy texture.

Best bet: on your own, order either a vegetarian or meat combo platter ($12-13) and prepare to waddle out.

Review on the Chowhound Toronto board. - JB

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

2006 federal election wrapup

Warehouse Election Central

And so it ends...for a few months. The WEC staff has already collected $287 for the office "predict-the-date-the-Harper-government-falls" pool. Humble readers, you are encouraged to submit your best guess.

So long PM PM. Hello Smirky Stephen. The number of gloomy faces we passed this morning was staggering, especially from a city where all seats went Liberal (the pollsters didn't see 20 coming back) or NDP (3). Others felt mild relief that the Tory landslide predicted a week ago didn't happen.

It's not reassuring to see stalwarts of the Harris era in Ontario like Tony Clement (who won by only 21 votes - we're waiting for the recount) and Jim Flaherty back in government. Fingers crossed that history fails to repeat itself, or, as many commentators predict, the Tories' position is precarious enough for the other parties to hold them in check. Otherwise, pump up your stock portfolio with distillers, as the country may need several rounds of stiff drinks.

Least Popular Candidate: Regent Millette, Outremont (IND). Lowest vote total of any candidate in the election, with a measly 24 votes, good for 11th place (Outremont had the most candidates on the ballot). Outremont was also home to the second-lowest vote total, 41 ballots for Xavier Rochon (IND). In terms of party-based candidates, Steve Rutchinski (M-L, Nickel Belt) was at the bottom of the pile, with 42 votes.

Honourable Mention: Marsha Fine (M-L, Ahuntsic) is listed on the Elections Canada site as a candidate, but not found in any of the results published in this morning's papers or on her party's site. Vote total: 0. We suspect she pulled out at some point - if she made it onto the ballot, what does it say if nobody voted for you?

Time to enjoy our vacation from polls. We'll also sit out the battle royale looming within the Liberal camp. Maybe the inherent instability of the new parliament will prompt parties to work together and focus on the issues that matter most to Canadians, to overcome partisanship and work for the betterment of our betterment of humanity!

And pigs will fly.

Until next election, this is Warehouse Election Central, signing off.

We now return you to regular Warehouse programming. - JB

Sunday, January 22, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 8

Warehouse Election Central

Signs, fishwrap - plenty to cover as the campaign enters its final hours.

Newsstand Watch
A.S. Pryncesse looks at what the papers say...

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Electoral Deathwatch 2006!

As election day draws nearer and it becomes progressively clearer that a change of government is in the offing, the national papers have begun circling like buzzards around the most likely political victims.

The bodies of Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison appear to be ripest for pecking. On Wednesday, The Globe fronted with a picture of each, both looking vaguely troubled, and followed with articles that are quietly confident each will eke a victory. The Star, reporting on a meeting between La Belinda and La Buzz, was well-hidden, but no less hopeful. Don Martin, in his Wednesday column for the Post, counted both Stronach and Brison among the "Hopeful Dead", the group of wealthy Liberal ministers (including Jean Lapierre, Ken Dryden, David Emmerson, John McCallum and Bill Graham) who probably want to be defeated to avoid the ignominy of sitting in opposition without Cabinet perks.

This kind of reporting hasn’t been limited to sitting candidates. Despite a race described as "neck and neck", the Globe has noted that Conservatives smell "something good" in Etobicoke-Lakeshore (presumably the scent of Michael Ignatieff’s slowly-decaying corpse). The Star made no such claims in its article on the would-be MP, though it devoted considerable ink to the protesters at the previous night’s all-candidates meeting, who are against his support of the war in Iraq.

The shadow of death has apparently stretched all the way to Washington, according to recent reports. Both the Star and the Post have recently written reports about the uneasy political future of ambassador Frank McKenna should the Conservatives win the election. Chantal Hébert hit first in her Wednesday column, which appears to have been closely read by the Post’s Sheldon Alberts (though his Friday article does add a few helpful quotes).

Not even the Tories are safe. Some papers have declared the Conservative majority to be in its death throes because of Smug Stephen’s comments about a Liberal bias in the judiciary and the Senate. The headlines are blunt: the Globe shouts "Harper’s lead takes a hit" while Brian Laghi asks "Has he squandered another shot at majority?" The Star pulled a page out of the Martin playbook, asking: "Is the religious right poised to set Harper’s agenda?" For its part, the Post interviewed a member of the Canada West foundation (a group it makes pains to identify as "non-partisan"), who described all the changes that need to be made to ensure that governments can pass legislation more efficiently. (The paper also managed to come up with a front-page headline containing both the words "Liberal" and "sleazy").

As this political death match comes to an end (and not eight weeks too soon), the papers continue to speculate on the most likely scene of carnage. While electoral challenges in every region of the country have been well-documented, most articles have focused on Québec, British Columbia, and – certainly in recent days – Ontario. The Post on Friday identified the 401 corridor as the deciding factor in the election, while the Star on Friday was positively frothing, describing Ontario as "the final battle site in the federal election and it’s turning into an epic Liberal-Conservative fight over sex, politics and religion".

Given today’s subject, it seems apt to take the opportunity to officially euthanize this column. However, I don’t want to do that before thanking the Warehouse and all its readers. I’ve had a lot of fun putting these articles together, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reviewing them.

Signs O' The Times
Just a few signs the WEC team found out on the hustings, high on the sweet fumes of a freshly painted car.

From Windsor West comes this patched-together beauty, a lesson in how to use surplus small lawn signs. Comes in peel-off or scratch n' sniff sticker versions.

Here's one I bet many urbanites haven't seen - a Christian Heritage Party sign, from Guelph. Corny, corny slogan. They know what's right alright...insert your own joke (the WEC staff had a field day).

Also from Guelph, two of at least four designs for the Green Party candidate. Their unusual shape and compact size are ideal for placement in grassy medians (we recommend a drive along Gordon St in the south end of the Royal City for full impact).

From Wellington-Halton Hills, a rare non-party sign. Small, simple, colour-neutral, if ineffective next to a mound of snow.

Nile's Nook
Regular Warehouse contributor Nile Seguin returns with election stories buried deep in the paper...

This week, racy ads designed to convince more young people to vote were banned from some Edmonton bars, restaurants and post-secondary institutions. The ads were thought to be too sexual and it was thought that the election would pull the youth away from the annual book burning.

The group Democracy is Sexy wanted to put the ads in the University of Alberta pubs and a number of hangouts frequented by younger Edmontonians. It was later discovered however that even if the ads had run, they would be quickly ruined by a salivating, drunken Ralph Klein as he tried to make out with them.

One of the ads depicted a naked woman holding a strategically placed apple with the tag line: "Chew on this. Vote on Jan. 23." The less subtle ads had a naked man licking another man’s forearm with the caption: “Decide whose fist you’ll take. Vote on Jan. 23.”

Democracy is Sexy spokesman Alistair King says that ads in the series, got a negative reaction. "The general reaction was they couldn't post them," King said. Bar owners complained that the sexualized images were taking valuable testosterone away from patrons who needed the gonad juice to go gay bashing.

King said the ads were meant to "cut through the clutter...(and target) people who are young and not interested in politics and we thought the best way to do that would be to use ideas...that would shock them." Amongs the other shocking images were a woman voting, a black man voting and a black man and white woman making out as they voted.

King said he planned to buy ad space in places where only adults would have seen the posters. This would include Edmonton bars, adult clubs and grade 12 classes.

1979 Election Update
From the May 7/79 issue of Maclean's:

Polling showed that the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives were in a tight race, with over 30% of voters undecided. Replace the names in the following quote with the party leaders in 2006 and ask yourself how much has changed.

It is a time of anitpathy against Pierre Trudeau and ambivalence about Joe Clark. It is a season when Ed Broadbent, a socialist in Pierre Cardin threads, mainstreets outside the Toronto Stock Exchange; when Creditiste leader Fabien Roy, political scion of Real Caouette's fierce federalism, hitches his star to the Parti Quebecois machine. It is an election of riddles, agony and anger.
- Robert Lewis, "The Undecided - Where Will They Go?" (p.22)
In an interview with the Toronto Star, Trudeau admitted that if the Tories fell short of a majority, he would try to govern with the NDP, which ended up being "a piece of strategizing that went down like filet mignon with Baby Duck". Clark indicated he would ignore the NDP and Creditistes, governing a minority like a majority. Broadbent's campaign was marred by poor weather, while Roy fired several staffers for poorly organized whistle stops.

The Rhinoceros Party unveiled its platform, vowing not to keep promises such as switching Canada from dollars to marks, melting bullets to make spoons and creating a Crown corporation to sell marijuana seized in RCMP raids.

Coverage in following weeks was pushed behind the many floods across the country that spring, the largest along the Red River.

The WEC Election Desk will return for one more episode, covering the aftermath of the vote. Don't forget to go to your polling station and fill out your ballot for whoever your gut tells you is the candidate/party you agree with most. - AP, JB, NS

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 7

Warehouse Election Central

Less than a week to go...

Most Obscure Political Party Award
Unusual Political Party of the Day
Official campaign vehicle found this weekend in Kensington Market. Unverified rumour as to whether their campaign song is a reinterpretation of the Ramones' The KKK Took My Baby Away.

Celebrity Endorsement of the Week
Celebrity Endorsement?
When a race is as tight as the fight between Olivia Chow (NDP) and Tony Ianno (Liberal) in Trinity-Spadina, any endorsement will do, as in this sign found on Dundas across the street from the construction site formerly known as the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Newsstand Watch
A.S. Pryncesse looks at what the papers say...

I think the Globe has developed a split personality…

Just when I thought I had pigeonholed the paper as having jumped on the Smug Stephen bandwagon, it decided last Friday to front a large picture of Smug Stephen beside Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, along with the question ‘Evolved?’ While comparing Smuggy to white trash isn’t exactly a subtle approach to reporting, it’s perversely encouraging to know the paper hasn’t really stopped wearing its Liberal colours.

The question of Smuggy’s identity seems to be occupying the minds of all of the papers as the Conservatives get closer and closer to an election victory by campaigning closer and closer to the centre. The Globe jumped into the debate head first, posing the question ‘Who is Stephen Harper?’ on the front of last Saturday’s edition. In his article, John Ibbitson paints Smug Stephen as an asthmatic, narrow-minded nerd who likes to have a good sulk when he doesn’t get his way. The Post’s article from the same day portrayed him as the ultimate team player, surrounding himself with a large group of advisors from whom he absorbs information like a sponge. The Star weighed in on the question through its Letters page, leading with an incredulous missive from a former American who states that Harper’s right-wing history invalidates any attempt to campaign as a centrist.

If personality profiles are a bit soft for you, you can always try to find reality in the numbers. And if not reality then at least another cheap laugh. The Post, despite flattening Conservative support, decided on Tuesday to claim continued growth in Québec (once again ignoring the margin of error). The Star, however, informed readers the race was "tightening". The Globe’s lengthy article managed to say nothing one way or another, but it did include an alarm-sized headline alerting readers that over half of Canadians are now comfortable with the idea of a Tory majority.

Speaking of numbers, all of the papers are assisting in the your-numbers-are-screwed-up-oh-yeah-well-so-says-you that is passing for debate on the Conservatives’ spending estimates (specifically the source of the $22.7 billion surplus that would be guaranteed if Smuggy were PM). The Globe on Tuesday fronted Paul Martin’s claim that the Conservative plan is "incompetent" after also running a ‘Reality Check’ in last Saturday’s edition. That same day the Star reported that government expenses would likely be rolled back in almost all government departments in order to balance the books. Remarkably, the Post has been silent on the issue.

(See, some papers don’t ever forget their identity).

By The Numbers: The Manor Rd Sign Count
The Bicycle Meets Its Local Candidates
Has Manor Rd signage followed the polls and media? Our number-crunchers take a look...

The numbers, as of 10pm, Jan 16/06, with 29 signs reporting in:
34.5% Liberal (Carolyn Bennett - 10, up 3)
34.5% Conservative (Peter Kent - 10, up 1)
27.6% NDP (Paul Summerville - 8, no change)
3.4% Green (no candidate indicated on sign, riding link - 1, no change)
0% Other - 0 (no "other" candidates in the riding)

The Bennett camp finally jumped into the fray, though we were surprised to see how small the increase in signage was, as larger signs have created a greater impression. The new Bennett signs downplay Paul Martin, as his visage no longer appears. Bennett has also been absent in the mailbox flyer/telephone message/media appearance department, which may be playing a part in the transformation from another Liberal steamroller to a close call.

As noted at Paved, blogs belittling Bennett and Kent have popped up, with identical generic Blogger layouts. Meh.

Kent has held strong, unlike Barry Cline in 2004, whose sign total went down as the campaign wore on. Media connections haven't hurt, as he has popped up on every other "let's talk to local candidates" forum or call-in show on radio. Perceived to be more moderate than most Conservative candidates, Kent has had an easier ride than other local "star" aspirants to office - on the west side of the city, Michael Ignatieff proves how pinning your party's hopes on a recognized name may be not be a wise move.

Summerville seems to be staying the course, as no home on Manor has switched their sign to Bennett (or Kent) in a panic. He leads the pack in telemarketing, with party elders as pitchmen - this week, Stephen Lewis asked for support.

Green Party candidate Kevin Farmer has been invisible to the average, semi-attentive voter in the neighbourhood. No flyers, signs (other than generic) or callarounds, little press, etc, unlike Peter Elgie in 2004. We don't forsee a spoiler role for the Greens in St. Paul's. - AP, JB

things you never expected to see in a church kitchen

Every Monday night, I play volleyball in a work recreation league, in an old-school church gym halfway between the office and the bunker. Talent-wise, we're somewhere between Arts House Team Bob and mediocrity, but it's a fun way to burn a few calories off. My team mostly consists of French translators, so 70% of the banter on-court is en francais...mostly "Merde!"

Last night, I was in the kitchen behind the gym, changing into my game gear, when an odd sight caught my eye. Plugged into the wall was a Coleco tabletop Pac-Man game, exactly like the one Dad and I wore out.

Cue flashbacks.

Our model lasted 5-6 years. Dad and I played so often, and went through so many C batteries, it's amazing it lasted that long. Friends came over just to play Pac-Man, starting me down my cynical path (mind you, I was just as bad with anyone who owned an Atari, Colecovision or Commodore 64). Lying on the floor in my room or in the basement, I was transfixed for hours, with all my powers of concentration devoted to making it to the next level. As I grew better on the tabletop, playing the real deal poolside in hotels in Toledo or Ann Arbor and losing badly proved frustrating.

Since the unit was plugged in, it had to work. Flipped on skill level 1. Everything went smoothly until I tried to move the joystick down. Pac-Man sat there with only a death wish on his mind.

Sniff. - JB

Friday, January 13, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 6

Warehouse Election Central

One of our intrepid WEC field reporters had a stunning expose to shock voters to the core, ready to go for this episode...until his laptop got in the path of a Stephen Harper snowball.

Newsstand Watch
A.S. Pryncesse returns with another look at what the papers say...

The Globe and Mail is closing in on its prey...

A lot can change in a week. If the polling numbers are to be believed, and this humble writer remains ever skeptical, the Conservatives are 8-10 points ahead of the Liberals and Smug Stephen will soon become Prime Minister. Not wanting to pick a loser, the Globe has apparently abandoned its role as Liberal apologist and begun to print more overtly critical articles about the Liberal party, while correspondingly writing more complimentary articles about the Conservatives.

Things began quietly early in the week; their report on the English debate was actually quite balanced, highlighting some of the best quotes from every party leader (meanwhile, the National Post informed readers that every Smug Stephen utterance was expertly measured and brilliantly lucid). However, by the time the report on the ad scandal was made public (a scandal which reinforces the notion that the 2006 Liberal campaign is just the 2004 Conservative campaign in drag), they began posting a new "reality check" of Liberal policy, culminating yesterday in a line-by-line criticism of their aborted attack ad.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star is working harder and harder at being irrelevant. While the other two dailies dissected the ad along with various aspects of the party platforms, they used the front page for a story about...the importance of lawn signs. Their thoughtful was conclusion was sometimes they’re important, sometimes they’re not.

However, you can always count on the Star to give a little love to the Pornstache Party. For instance, last Friday it posted a story on the micro-controversy surrounding Sam Bulte, the incumbent Liberal MP in Parkdale High-Park. She apparently has a few donors with a vested interest in the copyright legislation she’s been working on as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage. And wouldn’t you know it, Parkdale-High Park also happens to be one of the ridings that could most likely go to the NDP (sometimes it’s just too easy).

Flashback: Glum Chum
For lack of charisma and grim demeanor on the campaign trail, no current party leader can touch Arthur Meighen, Conservative prime minister for two short terms (1920-21, after Robert Borden's retirement, and a few weeks in 1926 during a constitutional crisis our chief editor's father used to call the "King-Byng wing ding").

Note the death glare in the picture on the left, taken from John Duffy's book Fights Of Our Lives (the same John Duffy whose verbal sparring with CTV's Mike Duffy over the pulled Liberal ad after the French debate Tuesday night made the rounds on the net - alas, it no longer appears to be on CTV's website, and most remaining sources have unabashedly conservative tags stuck on then).

This picture was taken at a rally in Portage la Prairie, Meighen's riding, in 1920. Duffy notes:
This photo captures the man's Darth Vader-esque campaign technique. He seems to regard everything he sees with contempt: the local men around him, the whole messy democratic process. Meighen's elitist, intimidating style of campaigning did not serve him well and has long been out of fashion. (p.145)
We've tried several internet search engines and consulted half-a-dozen tomes and we have not found a single picture of Meighen remotely cracking a smile (we challenge you, our humble readers, to find one!). The man at least sensed this shortcoming himself, once noting "I have never told a funny story in my life".

Meighen summed up in Will Ferguson's look at Canadian history, Bastards & Boneheads (with Meighen falling into the latter camp):
Meighen had originally been a schoolteacher, but he quit when the trustees would not give him a free hand in punishing students: which more or less sums up his entire approach to wielding authority. You remember that the worst teacher you ever had? The meanest, nastiest, most tight-assed terror of the classroom? That was Arthur Meighen...over the course of his career, he managed to alienate just about everybody: big business, labour, Quebec, the West and, inevitably, his own party. (p. 254-255)
He may have had intelligence and great debating skills, but the lack of warmth and the deviousness of his lifelong rival, William Lyon Mackenzie King, curtailed his politcal success (prime example: Meighen's disasterous second go-round as Tory leader in 1942, where the Liberals threw their machine behind his CCF competitor in a Toronto by-election, a strategy that worked). - AP, JB

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 5

Warehouse Election Central

A week-and-a-half to go in the campaign and the pot is boiling over. Most polls show the current media-darling Conservatives in the lead, as Liberal bungling increases - now it's a furor over a pulled ad. The NDP is sticking to its guns, but will that be enough to prevent nervous voters starting to hear the "M" word (as oppposed to the "m" word) used next to the phrase "Conservative government" from fleeing, as happened last election.

How well did the debates go? Everyone thinks English moderator Steve Paikin was the winner! The WEC control room waited for Paul Martin to set himself aloft or flail a limb off. Stephen Harper resembled the stereotypical used car salesman, with the smirk that wouldn't fade. Jack Layton looked older than we remembered (though still spritely compared to the rapidly-aging Martin), clearly outlining party platforms, though he occasionally veered off-topic to stay on message. Gilles Duceppe was, well, Gilles Duceppe.

We asked the ghost of former Quebec premier Rene Levesque if he was flattered by the many references to him throughout the debates. Unfortunately, Rene continued smoking in the afterlife and his ghost cannot speak after surgery removed his ectoplasmic throat...though we thought we heard a curse when our resident clairvoyant indicated their next ghostly contact would be Pierre Trudeau.

By The Numbers: The Manor Rd Sign Count
The Bicycle Meets Its Local Candidates

What does the world need more than another weapon of mass destruction? An opinion poll! We here at WEC don't hire databanks, pollsters or think tanks to take our numbers. No siree, we do things the old-fashioned way: we look at the signs.

Our sample road, as it was last year, is Manor Rd East in Toronto. Located in the northeast corner of the St. Paul's riding, the street runs between Yonge and Bayview. Last year, the Liberals won the riding hands down, but barely squeeked by the NDP in its signage on Manor (13-12).

The numbers, as of 10pm, Jan 10/06, with 25 signs reporting in:
36% Conservative (Peter Kent - 9)
32% NDP (Paul Summerville - 8)
28% Liberal (Carolyn Bennett - 7)
4% Green (no candidate indicated on sign, riding link - 1)
0% Other - 0 (no "other" candidates in the riding)

Most of these signs have appeared in the past week, with a giant push by the Kent campaign - the count could have been higher, except for a couple of Tory signs seen aside last week's recycling pick-up. Also of note is that Bennett has stopped recycling signs from the '04 campaign, as new signs lack Paul Martin's visage.

We asked political scientist Gervaise Tarquin-Bong to provide analysis, but the only point we could comprehend was that the number of homes that continue to turn on their Christmas lights nightly is outpacing the number of homes with Liberal signs by a margin of 2:1. Mr. Bong also believes it is too close to tell which party will win the votes of homes that have received special messages from Boris or Yanous from Best Price Movers, but that voters who thought the line about the aquarium, "the one with the fish in it" was funny were less likely to vote Conservative.

Snapshot of the riding from the Toronto Star. The Election Prediction Project feels the Liberals will take St. Paul's.

Surfing The Seas of Small Parties
This time, we check out the other parties for signs of video life on their websites.

Canadian Action Party - apart from the animated intro we covered last time out, the only other videos on the CAP site are mail order feature-length flicks available for a John A. Macdonald.

Christian Heritage Party - Half of their ads feature leader Ron Gray speaking about the issues from a frozen pond, a group of wholesome kids playing shinny in the background. The other half feature wholesome heterosexual families. "Sense" is a common theme...which can give one a case of the willies.

Communist Party - no election-related media, just a page of bootleg-quality mp3s from old party conventions. Not effective for a campaign, but might be useful as a sleeping aid. It may be too late in the game for their video hopes to pan out.

First Peoples National Party - it looks like there are candidates running for this party, which had just gained status when we began our chronicles. No media downloads, other than a photo gallery.

Green Party - the only video downloads are a series of home energy tips filmed at the home of deputy leader David Chernushenko. Otherwise, there are tons of policy pdfs and Word docs for your perusal or as a test for your speed-reading skills.

Libertarian Party - apart from the World's Smallest Political Quiz (courtesy of everyone's favourite think-tank, the know-it-alls about everything, the Fraser Institute!), there's not a whole lot of shakin' goin' on here...we suspect they're off being as free as they claim to be.

Marijuana Party - no videos on their site yet. However, there is a picture of party leader Blair T. Longley that demonstrates he fits the stereotypical image of someone who might lead a party dedicated to the sweet leaf.

Marxist-Leninist Party - after a dry run, we finally hit some video spots...albeit in Quicktime only. Party leader Sandra L. Smith reads off cue cards in front of some office buildings. Nice plug to vote for any small party. Not sure if the endcard of the third-year bandana and long skirted university activist will attract much support outside campus clusters.

Progressive Canadian Party - zilch in the media department for the party trying to carry the flame of the Progressive Conservatives. Last on our list, last to comprehensively prepare their front page for this election.

Friday, January 06, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 4

Warehouse Election Central
Kick out the jams, brother and sister politicians! Holidays are over, let the mud fly! Watch the campaign kick into gear and the shit hit the fan.

One wonders if Jean Chretien is smiling these days, given the even-growing number of snafus and pieces of dirty laundry emerging from the Liberal campaign. Beer and popcorn. Questions about the timing of income trust policy. A blog that compared Oliva Chow to a similarly-named dog. A Toronto MP who appears to be in financial thrall to the poobahs in the recording industry. A flat tire for the PM during a wagon ride in Regina. Standing in the opinion polls going down.

Did the little guy from Shawinigan laid a hex on his ambitious successor? Are we seeing the Peter Principle play itself out? Did somebody hire some long unemployed staffers from Kim Campbell's '93 campaign? Or, after 12 years at the helm, is the natural governing party pooped out?

What to watch: as Conservative numbers rise (as we are led to believe, but really, aren't we overpolled?), will soft NDP supporters and socially liberal Conservatives stick with those parties or flee, as they have in the past few elections, to the Liberals?

Signs O' The Times
Now that the melting snow in the East is revealing the campaign signs underneath, we'll spotlight signs from here, there and everywhere...or at least where our photographers can afford to go.

First off, Canada's southern-most riding, Essex.

The incumbent in this riding is Conservative Jeff Watson, who won by less than 1,000 votes over previous incumbent Susan Whelan in 2004. Certainly an odd place for the Conservatives to win - the last Tory to win in the riding (and its predecessors) was voted in with the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.

Except for NDPer Steven Langdon's two victories during the Mulroney years, Essex elected Whelans to office from 1962 until the last race - Eugene (1962-84, agriculture minister for most of Trudeau's governments) and his daughter Susan (1993-2004). Candidate name is the largest on any sign (and only one in caps), party name the smallest.

The NDP finished a strong third last time out. This election sees the area's tradtional labour support for the party in disarray, as CAW head Buzz Hargrove has endorsed Whelan as a strategic choice to knock out the Tories, a decision which has left other area union leaders steaming. Taras Natyshak was the only Essex candidate we saw with their face on a sign.

Not seen: any signs for the Green and Marxist-Leninist candidates in the riding. The Election Prediction Project thinks Essex is too close to call.

Newsstand Watch
WEC introduces its print media specialist, A.S. Pryncesse, who will lend their infinite wisdom to covering how the papers are handling the campaign, and give their neighbourhood garbage collector a hernia from the sheer weight of newsprint sent out to the curb. Take it away...

I fear the ink stains on my fingers may be in vain.

When I took the opportunity to cover the newspaper beat – dissecting the ways Canada’s national newspapers have been reporting the election campaign – I didn’t expect my cynicism would be stoked so thoroughly.

The most obvious thing to mention about the national dailies is – well, the very obviousness of their reporting. From the opening days of the campaign, their positions have been rigid. Their editorial boards may as well come up with some slogans to remind us that they’re in on the joke. Here are a few suggestions:

The Globe and Mail – Your Unofficial Member of the Liberal Caucus

The National Post – Home to Smug Stephen

The Toronto Star – Viva Pornstache!

The most entertaining early example of this bias was apparent in the reporting of Smug Stephen’s announcement of a proposed GST cut. The Globe and the Post both fronted the story (the Post made a point of reminding readers that he used to be an economist), but the Star avoided any direct mention of the story, choosing instead to run an editorial by Chantel Hébert about how cutting consumption taxes wasn’t good fiscal policy. Naturally, each paper’s panel of experts, designed to represent the final word on the issue, came to wildly divergent conclusions on the policy’s merit.

Then there was the Scott Reid fiasco. The Globe and Star buried their reports on his public apology, while the Post gleefully posted theirs on the front page (entertainingly referring to it as the "beer and popcorn jab"). The Star declined to put any election-related story on its front page, while the Globe led with a story on how well the Liberals were doing in Ontario.

While I’m on the subject, the polling numbers have been a scream. For most of the campaign, the Strategic Counsel (CTV/Globe and Mail) has reported a healthy Liberal lead, while the Ipsos-Reid numbers (Global/National Post) always indicated that the Conservatives were ahead. And somehow, they always bury the 4-5% margin of error so as not to remind readers that any 3-or-4 point lead is rendered effectively meaningless. In fairness, as of Thursday all pollsters are in agreement that the Conservatives have a healthy lead (I think the Globe smells blood in the water), but this kind of reporting has been the exception.

What’s remarkable is that you don’t see this kind of bias in the smaller papers. I spent a week in Ottawa at the beginning of the campaign and found the coverage in the Citizen to be remarkably balanced (I was surprised to find out it was a CanWest paper, like the Post). Then again, as a friend pointed out, "its audience is made up of civil servants who know better."

In New Brunswick, I found the difference was even more stark. Reading small papers like the Saint John Telegraph Journal, Moncton Times-Transcript and Acadie Nouvelle, I found similarly objective reporting that was relatively free of rhetoric. As I read a few issues, I realized who I had to thank: the Canadian Press. Most of these papers have little to no staff dedicated to election coverage so they pull articles from the newswires or from any columnists, like Chantal Hébert, who happen to be syndicated (I may as well have stayed home if I wanted to read her – though she is a favourite).

The most frustrating aspect to this exercise has been that I have lost all ability to internalize party policy. Because I spend all of my time in meta-land dissecting an often maddening set of editorial biases, trying to remember actual policy details has made my head hurt (it doesn’t help that the party platforms have become indistinguishable from one another. I think it all started when Pornstache decided he was into two-tier healthcare).

Fortunately, gentle readers, my soul has not been completely destroyed; I will continue my reading and for the next couple of weeks will provide a more detailed review of the often amusing (and often alarming) election reports from Canadian newspapers.

1979 Election Update
From the Apr 30/79 issue of Macleans:
Does B.C. Hold The Key? - Actually, a better question would have been could B.C. voters keep their elections straight, as a provincial election was set for 12 days before the federal vote. "Compounded by last minute mix-ups with the provincial voters' lists, drastic alterations to both provincial and federal riding boundaries and snakes-and-ladders tours by leaders, many observers fear the perplexed will simpoy stay home on both polling days. 'It's no damn good, you know,' complains one angry voter in the Vancouver Island town of Courtney. 'People around here want to do their duty, but it seems like the politicians are doing everything to screw us up.'"

The campaign issue of the week was Tory leader Joe Clark's promise to place in his first budget a plan to allow homeowners to deduct up to $5,000 in mortgage payments anf $1,000 in property taxes from their yearly taxable income. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rejected the idea as a plan that "favours the well-to-do", while the C.D. Howe Institute felt it was "inflationary, inequitable and inefficient". Clark privately admitted it was meant to appeal to jaded middle-class voters. - AP, JB