Why I don’t want to be Canadian right now

Posted in rants on December 13th, 2011 by brooke

Say NO to Stephen Harper

Thanks to dstewart.org for this great pic

I’ve been saying this more and more recently, but now I really mean it. I’m embarrassed to be a Canadian. The damn icing on the cake is the recent news that the Harper Government (which doesn’t adequately represent all of Canadians, so I’ll refrain from calling it the Canadian Government) has withdrawn from the Kyoto protocol.

This is on top of Canada’s insane exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands through a devastatingly high-impact extraction process that uses 2-5 barrels of water to produce 1 barrel of oil while contaminating groundwater and freshwater in the entire area. The mines created in order to extract the oil are some of the largest in the world. It’s estimated that the emissions generated in order to refine tar sands oil is 3 times more than conventional oil production. Well, I guess we wouldn’t have met our Kyoto emissions targets anyhow….

Next is our pathetic attempt at establishing TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline, which was stalled because the Obama Administration recognized that much more research on the environmental impact needed to be done. Why? Because the proposed pipeline was to go through environmentally sensitive areas that, should a rupture occur, would be devastated. More PB oil spills anyone? As to be expected, this has tainted American’s view of us Canadians. Wait, aren’t we supposed to be the good guys?

To add another layer to the cake, the Harper Government’s inability to properly manage our environmental impact and seeming disinterest in funding Environment Canada is the scorn of environmental critics everywhere, including the the federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. According to the scathing report, our industries aren’t properly held accountable for ineffectively transporting dangerous goods across our country. Yikes.

Oh and now here’s another layer – and it’s a big one! The recent US-Canada border deal apparently has the potential to significantly save some cash, simplify trade and reduce border bottleneck. But at what cost? One example: “To reduce border choke points, the deal calls for officials to inspect shipments arriving from offshore at the perimeter. That means a shipment destined for Canada but arriving first in the United States would be inspected only once, by Americans.” (Emphasis added.)

Ottawa intends to harmonize commercial regulations with the U.S. that could have significant impact on Canadians. Rules governing agriculture and food products are just one area where there may be changes. For instance, the two countries seem intent on creating a “common meat nomenclature” in the years ahead to end discrepancies in classification of cuts. But there are also likely to be changes across a wide range of products, including vehicle safety standards, boating gear such as life jackets, health products, workplace chemicals, environmental standards and the approval process for new prescription drugs.

(Source: TheStar.com)

And we trust agencies like the FDA to screen Canadian-bound goods???? This means products containing GMOs from big agricultural firms are soon to be crossing our border. Other things like labelling, preservative use and testing methodologies will be unified too. Franken-food anyone?

These examples are just a few of the recent failures on the part of our Harper Government. Now, back to that icing on the cake. The Kyoto Protocol. Essentially it was designed to encourage major emitters in the ‘developed’ world to take responsibility for the emissions we have spewed out since our industrial revolution. While I have to admit I think it’s emission reduction targets could have been much harsher, what it symbolized is pretty critical: the unity of the world’s nations to fighting climate change and reducing its impacts. Now that Harperites have said ‘no’ – arguing that if the major emitters aren’t signed on, neither are we – we’re showing that we just don’t give a shit. Apparently the cost of reducing our emissions, which would require breaking our addiction to dirty oil, is too much. Do they not know that catastrophic shifts in the environment will jack up the bill too? Oh wait, they probably won’t even be in power by then, so why would they care if it’s someone else’s mess to clean up? Now we’re the subject of intense global scorn on the issue. Thanks a lot, Harper.

So, to sum up my disappointment. As a Canadian, I believe in respecting and protecting our valuable resources, which we are so fortunate to have. I also believe in protecting our health through tough food regulations and inspection, as well as putting an emphasis on sustainable, local and organic agriculture. Also important is my belief that as one of the chief emitters of CO2, it is our obligation to reduce these emissions and invest heavily in renewable energy. I know I’m not alone on these beliefs and I’m petrified to think of what else Harper is going to do with his newfound power as a majority government. It’s really time to tell them to get their act together. Otherwise, being Canadian is going to get a whole lot worse.

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Advocating for better bike laws

Posted in rants on October 18th, 2009 by brooke

As a cyclist in the city of Montreal, I’m a keen advocate for better, more bike-friendly traffic laws. Often as I bike home from work, I find myself grumbling at the level of disrespect for cyclists, especially coming from many car drivers out there. As a result, many cyclists have a high level of spite for cars and car-focused traffic laws. This car-versus-bike stigma, I believe, is likely one of the causes for many accidents in our city.

Also a factor is the number of both speedsters and amateurs out there. By speedsters I generally mean the overconfident and reckless type who think they have such amazing driving or cycling skills that they don’t need to obey the law, who tailgate, speed, run red lights and stop signs and generally annoy the hell out of everyone else. By amateurs I mean inconsistent and nervous drivers and cyclists who drive to slowly, stop or slow down frequently and irrationally, and tend to be also annoying for everyone else.

Now, no matter the case, anyone who does something illegal or irrational, whether a driver, a cyclist, or even a pedestrian, tends to be considered a nuisance for those around them. What ends up happening is that these actually few number of people causing alarm come to represent the whole driving or cycling population, as stereotypes do (clearly, I succumb to making these stereotypes too, as the above paragraph makes clear). How often do I hear people complaining about “those damn cyclists, always biking the wrong way down one-way street, wearing all black with no lights at all.” Clearly not every single cyclist does this. Same with drivers, who “are always running reds, cutting cyclists off, and opening their doors without looking.” Again, not every driver is this irresponsible. But everyone is looking for someone else to blame.

Blame aside, it’s obvious to me that there needs to be more respect on both sides for both sides (and, yes, throw pedestrians in there too, I can’t forget about those, but that’s a slightly different discussion, in my opinion). Likewise, traffic laws must recognize that drivers and cyclists are not the same, and should not be expected to comply to the same set of rules.

The following is a fantastic video about the “Idaho stop law”, one that recognizes the futility in forcing cyclists to stop at stop signs in the way cars do. It, in fact, makes cyclists obey stop signs the way a driver would approach a yield sign – with caution, but without unnecessary stops. This is a very logical decision, as this is what most cyclist do anyhow. The amount of energy it would take for a cyclist to actually travel somewhere while stopping completely at every stop sign would make cycling immensely inefficient.

On top having awesome animation, this video is just plain logical. Take a look:

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

In a recent article in Slate Magazine, a number of really interesting arguments are put forward from varying perspectives on the approach to traffic legislation in regards to cyclists and drivers. Of note is the argument by those called ‘vehicularists’, a group who think cyclists should be treated as cars, without sympathy or disrespect. While I’m not in full accord with this thinking, some statistics have shown that segregating cars and cyclists, on bike paths for example, actually is a sign of disrespect for cyclist and in fact increases the occasion of accidents. I can understand this, especially in a city like Montreal where there is not as grand of a cycling culture as there is in, say, Copenhagen (my favorite example of a bike-friendly city). In a combined intersection of car lanes and bike paths, cars often forget that the cyclists are there and make quick turns into bike traffic. A number of other interesting historical elements and legislative examples make this article a very good one. You should take a read.

Either way, however, I still believe that cars and bikes are not the same, and should not be treated so. I have been a driver, I understand the immense amount of power in such a large vehicle, compared to a bicycle. I do not for one second think that cyclists are equal to drivers in dangerous situations as, clearly, a cyclist is much more vulnerable. Likewise, a bicycle is much smaller and can maneuver much better in tight situations.

Cyclists need to be given the protection of pedestrians and the respect of cars. By this mean they should be allowed to take over a lane in dangerous conditions to avoid being driven off the road, should be required to stop at heavy traffic intersections and heavily fined for speeding through said intersections (not to mention speeding at all), should not weave through traffic, cut of pedestrians and ride on busy sidewalks, nor be relegated to only bike lanes. However, cyclists should have the right to make rolling stops in empty intersections, should not necessarily be fined for biking slowly on low-traffic sidewalks or cautiously going against traffic on a one-way street when there is no traffic, and approached with caution by drivers, as cyclists are as vulnerable and susceptible to grave injury as are pedestrians.

The common element between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians is that we are all just trying to get somewhere in our own way. If we recognize the need for and benefit of a multi-faceted system, one that enables and facilitates a safe and respectful travel environment for all players, we can all join together to make it work.

And, last but not least, cyclist should be given thanks. Thanks, that is, for reducing the number of cars on the roads, cutting down on traffic jams, and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cyclists are healthier people, and by being so are making our air cleaner for all. This cannot and should not be ignored!

A system that encourages alternative modes of transportation (bikes, buses, walking, trains, subways, etc.) is an intelligent one – one that shows compassion for those who cannot afford a car, and one that demonstrates an understanding of our duty as people to respect and protect our current natural environment so that there is one for future generations to come.

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