Monday, July 22, 2019

Why Canada needs high-speed trains

Why is it so expensive and onerous to travel within Canada?.  It should be much easier for Canadians to explore Canada and enjoy the beauty of their own country.  From sea to shining sea, the Canadian landscape is a panoramic spectacle, but it's often less costly to hop on a flight to Europe than to to fly to other Canadian cities and provinces.

Furthermore, why doesn't our country have a network of high-speed trains.  After all, Canada was built on the promise of a railroad from east to west.  The late author/historian Pierre Berton referred to it as our "National Dream."  So, it is ironic that there is a lack of modern high-speed rail service in this country.  We are in dire need of a high speed train service like the ones overseas, especially in areas such as the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor and in Western Canada, particularly between Calgary and Edmonton.

Unfortunately, plans for a high-speed train from Toronto to Windsor were cancelled by Premier Doug Ford's government.  The project had been approved by Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government in 2018 with an initial budget of $11 billion dollars.  By the year 2025, the trains would have run along the 401 corridor from the GTA to London, Ontario in just two hours, at speeds of up to 250 km/hr.  Then, along came Ford (Groan!), whose budget cuts deprived the people of Southwestern Ontario and the Toronto area of the convenience of using high-speed rail for family visits and commuting to work..  As a result of this penny-pinching foolishness, Ontarians were robbed of benefits of decreased travel time, the creation of new economic opportunities and the reduction of congestion and greenhouse gases.  The service along the Toronto-Windsor corridor would have attracted visitors and business to a growing region with a population of 7 million.

It hasn't always been this way.  From October 31, 1965 until October 29, 1978 (about 13 years), the Canadian National Railway (CN)) provided express passenger train service in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.   The brand name for the service was Rapido.  It began with a Montreal-Toronto route, which was extended to Montreal-Quebec City and later to Toronto-Windsor, Toronto-Sarnia, Toronto-Ottawa and Montreal-Ottawa.  The service ended when CN transferred its passenger service to a government-owned company, Via Rail Canada.

On that Halloween day in 1965.the brand new Rapido, rolled out with much fanfare  Every seat was filled on the inaugural run for what was advertised as North America's fastest inter-city passenger express service.  CN promoted the service with the slogan "From downtown to downtown in just four hours and 59 minutes."  Travel time was decreased from the Toronto-Montreal route by one hour and 16 minutes.

In a CBC radio interview, Rapido conductor Harold Watkins proudly declared, "There's no comparison between the Rapido and our older trains.  The older trains are just like the horse and buggy.  They've had their day."  In a November 8, 1965 article in The Globe and Mail, Bruce West gushed over the Rapido.  He wrote: "The Rapido is more comfortable than most airliners and with a running time of 4 hours and 59 minutes between Canada's largest cities, it doesn't fall a great deal behind the downtown-to-down elapsed time of traveling by air.  From now on, I'm quite sure, the tortoise is going to give the high-flying hare a good run for its money."

In 1965, the price of a one-way coach ticket on the Rapido was $8.  On Fridays and Sundays, the fare jumped to $9.50.  The cost of parlour car tickets ranged from $15 to $19 with a meal included.  "Bistro" cars were sometimes featured in Rapido service trains.  These cars were festooned with red bulbs.  There was piano-based entertainment and alcoholic beverages were served.

Below is a photo of CN Rapido service at Pickering, Ontario in 1968.


So, what went wrong?  Why was high-speed railway travel abandoned in Canada?  Why did we revert to what conductor Harold Watkins compared to a horse and buggy?  Not surprisingly, it was a matter of economics.  CN tried to maintain its passenger service but continued to lose money during the 1970s.

During the 1974 federal election campaign, then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau promised a Canadian version of Amtrak, so that passenger rail could be saved from the competitive juggernaut of cars and airplanes.  That was the reasoning behind the formation of Via Rail Canada, first as a division of CN and later as an independent Crown Corporation.  As it turned out, Trudeau's Liberal party was reduced from a majority to a minority in 1974 and Via failed to live up to his lofty expectations.

With such a huge country geographically, it's imperative that Canadians become more familiar with regions other than their own.  High-speed rail is a fixture throughout Europe, Japan and the east coast of the United States.  Why is it that Canada is the only G7 country without a high speed rail system?  Japan has its Shinkansen network, first built in 1964, while France boasts its extensive intercity state-owned Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV).

Below is a 2014 photo of a TGV train leaving Nice, France.


A 2017 article in VICE magazine was headlined "High-Speed Rail is One of Canada's Biggest Failures."  Anthony Perl, a professor of urban studies and political science at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, called Canada "the word's leading laggard when it comes to high-speed rail."  "Even Kazakhstan, I don't mean to pick on them," he said, "has a very successful high-speed rail service."

It seems that governments in Canada are too afraid to take on the costs and the debts incurred.  Canadians are paying the price for this short-sightedness and cowardliness.  Ryan Katz, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, told VICE: "When governments in the '60s and '70s were more likely to see an expense like that as a big public benefit that was tied into the national interest or other types of modernist objectives, those costs seem justifiable."


* CN introduced a Turbo train between Toronto and Montreal in 1968.  It was given that name because it was power-driven by a jet turbo.  On its maiden run, however, the train crashed into a truck near Kiingston, Ontario.  It continually experienced technical problems and was cancelled in 1982.  The Turbo train was expected to reach speeds of 200 km/hr as compared to the Rapido's top speed of
143 k/hr.

* In the United States, the state of California is well on its way to having a clean and green high-speed railway network.  The publicly funded California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR or CHSR) is under construction.  It was established by the California State Legislature and approved by voters in 2008.
Construction began in 2015 after a groundbreaking ceremony in Fresno.

* China has built about 20,000 kilometres of high-speed tracks.

SOURCESVICE, "High-Speed Rail Is One of Canada's Biggest Failures,' by James Wilt, June 26, 2017; CBC Archives, "1965: All aboard the Rapido!"; blogTO, "High speed train between Toronto and Windsor has been cancelled," by Lauren O'Neil; Wikipedia

- Joanne

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

It's disgraceful that Quebec is banning public service workers from wearing religious symbols

Shame on the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ} government of Quebec and its leader, Premier François LegaultHow ironic that while people all over Canada (of all ages, races and religions) were celebrating the Toronto Raptos' NBA championship, the province of Quebec passed Bill 21, banning religious symbols for state workers.  The secularism law prohibits public school teachers, government lawyers and police officers from wearing religious symbols while on the job.

I won't mince words.  This legislation is short-sighted and disgraceful.  It is an utter travesty and has no place in a country that seeks to be open and inclusive and diverse, like Raptor fans.  It is a an attack on freedom of religion.  It reeks of Trumpism and racism.  Such a law may be welcomed by Donald Trump and his supporters, but it should be anathema anywhere in this country.

Bill 21 uses the cause of public secularism as an excuse to cover the Quebec government's underlying xenophobia, its anti-immigrant policy and its racism.  It does not represent Canadian values. Instead, it represents the ethos of the staunchest Quebec nationalists, the"pure laine" advocates (both overt and covert).  Religious symbols are worn by "them," not "us."  This is a law based on bigotry and fear mongering.

There is no reason to fear any kind of religious domination or destruction of the secular state in Quebec.  The days of strong Catholic control of the province are long gone, never to return.  The large crucifix in Quebec's legislature, although a target for ultra nationalists. is rife with historical meaning and purpose.  The history of New France and Quebec cannot be changed and it is dangerous and foolhardy to pretend that the past did not exist.

Bill 22 is not who we are.  It is not worthy of Canada and it is not worthy of Quebec. Immigrants come to this country because they don't want to be told what they can or can't wear on their heads.  Fortunately, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are launching a court challenge to the legislation.  People of faith in Quebec should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their jobs.  Many work in the public sector.  Many are health care workers and educators.

Late Sunday night (June 16, 2019), the CAQ government of Quebec passed Bill 21.  After a weekend marathon session in the National Assembly, the legislation passed by a 73-35 vote, with the support of the Parti Québécois.  Once the bill passed, the CAQ introduced several amendments to ensure that the law is being enforced and it impose disciplinary action if it is not.  This, of course, raised the spectre of "secularism police."  What a dark day for Quebec and for Canada!

As The Globe and Mail pointed out editorially, "But what has Mr. Legault really accomplished by making Quebec the first subnational government in North America to ban Muslim headscarves and collateral religious symbols."  If I sound upset, you bet I am!  This is a blatant assault on freedom in my country!  It is my hope that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes out swinging against this abhorrent legislation.  Oh, by the way, Raptors "Superfan," Nav Bhatia, led the victory parade, wearing a turban.

- Joanne

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Another four years of Trump or a return to decency? The ball is in your court, America!

All things must pass and so must the Age of Trump.  Someday, historians will look back at the Trump era and put it squarely in perspective.  They will analyze how a shady businessman, a reality show host, a man who had no governing experience, a man who bragged about groping women, a man who called Mexicans criminals and rapists, a xenophobe and a misogynist, became President of the United States . . . with a lot of help from the Russians and social media.

In 1973, ex-White House Counsel John Dean famously warned President Richard Nixon that there was a cancer growing on the presidency, due to the Watergate break in.  Fast forward some 46 years.  It's 2019 and, tragically, the cancer is back.. It has returned in the form of President Donald J. Trump and his immoral, criminal and unconstitutional behaviour.  Unfortunately, the situation is far worse than during the Watergate era.  This time there is a stain on the very soul of America.  Millions of Americans are cult-like followers of Donald Trump.  They support him no matter what.  Facts and logic won't change their minds.  At his rallies, he sparks their fears and appeals to their basest instincts and rawest emotions.

The United States Senate is controlled by scores of spineless Republicans, 53 to be exact.  There are 47 Democrats (including two independents). The Republican contingent is led by Senator Mitch McConnell, the self-described "grim reaper".  Therefore, it is unlikely that enough Republican senators would put country before party and remove Trump from office.  If the Democratic- controlled House of Representatives votes to impeach the president, it is up to the Senate to make the final decision.  At that point, the conviction of a president and removal from office requires the support of 67 of the 100-member Senate.  That means that at least 20 Republicans would have to vote to convict Trump.  It's difficult to see that happening.

It's obvious that there is something very wrong with Donald Trump.  I am not a doctor, so I cannot offer a medical diagnosis.  However, there is enough evidence to say that, at the very least, he is a malignant narcissist. (One only has to read his incessant tweets for proof of that).  There is also evidence that Trump's cognitive powers are in decline.  For example, he stated that his father, Fred Trump, was born in Germany, when the senior Trump was actually born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of German immigrants, but not an immigrant himself.  Why would the President of the United States forget where his father was born?

Donald Trump makes bizarre comments and refers to himself as a "stable genius."  He often rambles incoherently. No one knows exactly what's wrong with him, but there is certainly something wrong with him, and it's only going to get worse.  He really isn't fit to be president, and that's what's so scary about the man.  Who knows what he's capable of if he really feels threatened or cornered?

There is only one way to wash the stain of Donald Trump from America's soul.  In the 2020 election, voters have to reject his bid for a second term. Americans have to unequivocally reject Trumpism and all that it stands for.  There needs to be a cleansing, a catharsis.  Americans must want to restore decency and show the world they have not abandoned their moral compass.  If Donald Trump wins re-election, it will be a disaster for the United States and for the world.  Humanity can not afford another four years of Trumpism.

During the 1920 U.S. presidential election campaign, Republican candidate Warren G. Harding of Ohio used the slogan "Return to normalcy," meaning a return to the way of life before World War I.  Many Americans are sick and tired of the hate and anti-immigrant rhetoric spewing from the president and his supporters.  They want a return to civility and respect.  They are tired of seeing Donald Trump trample overs the values that have always been near and dear to them.  They roll their eyes when they hear their leader heap praise or cozy up to murderous dictators and authoritarian strongmen such as North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They cringe with sadness and horror when they see innocent migrant children separated from their parents and held in detention camps.

Warren G. Harding

Many Americans are tired of school shootings and mass murders, while their president gives his undying support to the National Rifle Association.  They are tired of Donald Trump's constant lying or misrepresentation of the truth.  They are fed up with his ugly tweets, his bullying tactics and his childish schoolyard name calling.  They feel that he doesn't treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government along with the Executive Branch. They are disgusted by the White House's interference with congressional oversight and its stonewalling of Congress's attempts to shed light on the findings of Special Investigator Robert Mueller's two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.  Key Mueller witnesses such as Don McGhan were ordered not to testify.

Unfortunately, Attorney General William Barr has misrepresented Robert Mueller's report.  A large number Americans have not read the Muller Report.  They only listen to conservative media and they believe that Trump has been fully exonerated.  They are sadly misinformed.  In his surprise May 29th press conference, Muller clearly stated that  "if we had confidence that Trump did not commit a crime, we would have said so."  Muller also stated that there was "no hoax" and "no coup" found in his investigation.  Several instances of obstruction of justice by President Trump are cited in Mueller's report.  The only reason why Mueller did not indict Trump is that he did not believe that he had the green light to indict a sitting president.

If Donald Trump is truly innocent of wrongdoing, as he claims, then what does he have to hide?  Why is he scrambling to cover up the truth?  Why is he continually attempting to prevent his tax returns from being released.  These are definitely not the actions of an innocent man.

May I respectfully suggest a slogan for the 2020 Democratic Party nominee.  How about, "Return to decency?"  If the U.S. returns to decency, then Americans can concentrate on what really matters, such as heath insurance for the uninsured, fighting climate change, reducing poverty, increasing  wages for working people, establishing sensible gun control laws and background checks, making college education more affordable . . .

Donald Trump has been President of the United States since January 20, 2017.  He has done much damage during his time in office and it's going to take some time for America to heal once he leaves the White House.  Let the healing begin, sooner rather than later.  It's time for America to live again, to let the light in, to creep out of the darkness of nationalism and isolationism. It's time for Americans to build bridges, not walls, to be the best it can be.  It's also time for the United States to have a president who is not beholden to a foreign government as Trump is to Russia, one who does not say he'd accept foreign information on his Democratic opponents, as Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

I wish Donald Trump no personal ill will.  I only wish that he be held accountable for his actions and that his days in the Oval Office come to an end as soon as possible.  I hope that he becomes the second U.S. president to resign or that he experiences electoral defeat in 2020.

- Joanne

Monday, May 27, 2019

Three of the greatest lies from U.S. Presidents


1. Richard Nixon 1973

"I'm not a crook."

- Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the United States

On November 17, 1973, during a televised question-answer session with Associated Press managing editors at the time of the Watergate scandal, then-President Richard Nixon declared, "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.  Well, I'm not a crook.  I've earned everything I've got."

2. Bill Clinton 1998

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman . . ."

- William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

Bill Clinton finger-wagging speech 1998

On January 26, 1998, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton took to the microphone, wagged his index finger and stated, "I want to say one thing to the American people.  I want you to listen to me.  I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.  I never told anybody to lie, not a single time.  These allegations are false."

3. Donald Trump 2019

'I don't do cover-ups."

- Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

Trump during Rose Garden press conference

On May 22, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump held a surprise press conference, blasting Democratic investigations following Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 United States Elections.   "I don't do cover-ups." he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.  "Get these phony investigations over with."  Trump was responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's charge that he "is engaged in a cover-up."

Trump's numerous lies and misrepresentations have been well documented by the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Dale and others.  Under Trump's instructions, hush money was paid to Stormy Daniels to cover up his affair with her.  For the truth, click on the link to Daniel Dale's fact checks below.

- Joanne