Radio Topics, December 19


Today’s announcement to sell back much of the Mirabel Airport reserve lands to farmers is another nail in the coffin of the optimism of the 1960s. A quick skim of Mirabel’s article at wikipedia will give a pretty quick summary of the airports ambitions and principle failures- too big, too far, and designed for growth that was never to happen as economics and technology made Montreal less of a hub.

But in the end, hindsight like this is what happens once reality tarnishes optimism and desire. When Mirabel was conceived, Montreal was a necessary stop-over before or after heading to Europe, in part because government licencing forced Europe-bound flights to choose Montreal, but also because 707s and their brethren needed to stop for gas. But the history of technology, especially aviation in the post war period, was one where range and speed were always increased with each new generation, and industry regulation slowly but surely gave way to much broader market-based route planning. It is impossible now to concieve that something bigger was not around the corner, but clearly at the time the powers that be did not.

I also am not totally sure that we can fault them for that. I think that it is always reasonable to assume that range and flight capacity will increase, but in the 1970s, technology had developed at what would almost certainly would have seemed an unsustainable rate. But what is more, Dorval was in a location that limited much further development, and at the very least could be better used for other purposes. Had proper infrastructure been built to support Mirabel, and the number of passengers going through Montreal stayed the same, Mirabel today might not be a ghost airport, just one that was hoped to be a lot more.

In the end, however, white elephants like this are a sign of failed ambition. Expo, the Olympics, all with the Quiet Revolution in the background, had made Montreal an even more happening place then today, and Mirabel is part of that thinking. Mirabel turned out to be a waste of money, and perhaps needn’t have been, but I think that what is more frustrating about it is not that a billion dollars was lost, though that hurts, but it reminds us of what we have not become.

So, is this all a lament that things aren’t as good as they used to be? Nope. Nor do I mean to fall into the same sky is falling routine that I lament. But I do think that if, as a country, we do plan on being more than we seem, we need to keep thinking that we are. That doesn’t mean building airports in the middle of nowhere, or even deepwater harbours where mostly there is ice. But it does mean that we have to think a little ahead, and believe that there is more to the country that low taxes and the “fiscal imbalance”.

Horserace Politics alert: As much as the sale mostly makes sense, its an odd announcement a week before christmas, just as Harper’s I thought it odd that he would choose to make a very public speech about the ills of an un-elected senate the week before MPs took a 6-week vacation. So, just for fun, I thought that I’d take a look at the results of the last election in the area. Poking around adjacent ridings produces similar results- tories in a very, very distant second. That said, if there is going to be Conservative growth in Quebec, pigs may fly, but it’ll be areas like this.

Vision or lack of Ambition

I’m ripping off Slate and posting my latest response in an ongoing conversation with my friend josh, who posted this in response to my critique of Rafe Mair’s recent foray into Chicken Littleism. Forgive the use of the second person.

I thought the response interesting. I think that you are right in that we don’t have national dreams anymore, and haven’t really tried to achieve anything since the 60s.

What always bothers me is that on the one hand, we want to do big and important things- be a player on the international stage, be a city on the hill domestically, and all that good stuff- but on the other we have captured the Reagan/neo-liberal mentality that the state and taxes are sins, and not the fun kind.

Bliss is particularly guilty of this. He pushes for us to have a national direction, yet writes shit like we could have been richer if the state did less. In the 50s, we build the trans canada highway and the seaway, in the 60s healthcare, a flag, expo, and all the rest. What have we done, charter a side, on the nation building front since.

In a lot of ways, I get tired of nationalism pretty quickly, thinking that too often it reeks of jingoism and cheap appeals to emotion which tend to limit debate, not add to it. The contest to prove that you are more Canadian (or I suppose less French) than someone else is a stupid pissing contest. Does that make me a post-nationalist? But at the same time, I do think that Canada should be important, and that we should make ourselves a city on the hill. That requires a bit of vision, not rhetoric. No one has been particularly good at that for a long time. It might be that politics limits it, as rhetoric wins elections, and ambitions can easily be polarizing. The Charlottetown Accord (which I don’t like), suffered that fate. Locally, the O-train seems to have gone down those tracks as well, pardon the pun.

Bye-bye O-Train

So, City Council killed the O-train today. Here is the important paragraph:

City lawyers have estimated that the decision could also cost the city between $250 million and $300 million in claims from Siemens-PCL/Dufferin, the group of companies contracted to design, build and maintain the rail line through an agreement worth $778.2-million. The city has already spent $65 million on the project.

Now, the city was only going to have to pay 380 million to build the actual train, the rest coming from the feds and the provinces. Instead, we’ll get to pay the Siemens group, get no train now, and get to pay more should we ever decide to build one (which we should).

During the election, Larry O’Brian promised to scrap the current proposal, unless it would be fiscal suicide to do so. I’m not an expert in the matter, but I suspect that if this situation isn’t that, it sure is grazing your pocketbook with a bullet. Then again, he also promised to spend 6 months pondering the issue, and ended up making the craziest possible decision during the first council meeting.

But this isn’t just his fault- it’s all of Council’s. Its the majority of council that approved that half-baked modification, its the majority of council that seems to want to pay penalties and get no train. In general, this is not exactly a day where you get a ringing endorsement for municipal decisionmaking.

CUSA, then and now

In the Charlatan, CUSA Prez’ Sean Menard tells the charlatan:

“We’re a student union,” he said. “We represent the interests of the students in regards to issues like rises in tuition fees. It is our job, as elected by our peers, to represent the majority of the students at Carleton.”

In regards to the pamphlets circulated by CUSA on campus last week calling itself a political organization, Menard said the words were taken out of context. He said students did not understand the issue entirely, which led to rumours and confusion.

“CUSA is inherently a political organization because it represents the students in regards to [student] issues,” he said.

That pamphlet writes (sorry, no link):

It is important to understand that CUSA is not a “student government” as some people incorrectly call it. It is a political organisation that takes political positions on all sorts of issues. What is being proposed is that CUSA doesn’t support anti-choice actions if asked to do so. This is in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is our right as an organization to decide.

I don’t have a degree in political science, but don’t governments also represent the issues of constituents? The confusion that erupted over CUSA’s decision to declare itself a non-government was not because we didn’t understand that they can take political stances, but that their declaration just didn’t make any sense in the real world. It’s nice to see though, that there is no academic cutting-and-running for them.

Rafe Mair’s Sky is Falling

The Tyee is consistently interesting, insightful, and careful to look to isses that don’t always dominate the national agenda. It’s there that you can read about the decline of the Salmon fishery off of BC’s coast, and their book on the ills of the Cambell government from a few years ago was solid reading.

So, it is more than a bit upsetting that Rafe Mair’s column descends into the usual end-is-nigh craziness that I like talking about so much. It’s even worse that it just doesn’t make any sense.

In Quotes:

The opening line:

The Liberals take credit for national unity. It never seems to occur to them that the disunity of this country can be laid at their doorstep.

Not 6 sentences later:

Though I hate to say it, I must, through clenched teeth, acknowledge that Pierre Trudeau was the only Canadian leader to understand what could and what could not be conceded to Quebec in order to (in the best meaning of the word) appease them.

There is some blaming of PET for not having Quebec on the constitutional ship in 1982, followed immediately by a tacit admission that Levesque’s claims didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and that Mulroney went and made the issue a whole lot worse (I’d say that he created it, but we’ll play nice).

So, here’s the question: Can anyone else find where the Liberals have caused the nation’s disunity? Shouldn’t, as written, this be a warning against more mulroney-esque constitutional meddling?

So, remember when the ivory tower was about ideas?

Tonight, the Carleton University Students Association will debate a motion as to whether or not pro-life groups should be restricted from forming clubs. While I loathe their movement, I am a big fan of letting all ideas get the test of open air. Bad ones tend to rot quickly, and to be sure the pro-life cause is filled with rotten ideas.

So, I am going to link to the document I put up on the relevant facebook group, which I started, opposing the motion. You can find some more background stuff out here, and there have also been a number of traditional press stories on it.

I suspect tonight’s meeting will end up a shouting match, which is unfortunate, but hope that it does not. Similarly, I suspect that the motion will pass easily, even if opposition is entirely eloquent and rational, which is also unfortunate. I’ll update more as I get it, and to be sure this will become a bit of a cause celebre on this blog over the next few months.

The Failures of Nationalism

At some point, I am going to write a book called "Why those claiming the end of Canada as we know it are always wrong." An example, from a book proposal about the Columbia River Treaty:

“At the same time there is such a flurry of activity to produce symbols of nationhood such as the flag, and all the while these symbols are being drained of significance before their form can be agreed upon.”