September 30, 2015

Tom Mulcair and honesty

Things happen during election campaigns. No matter the planning, the strategy and the image control, things happen. Such a thing happened last Thursday during the French language debate and it revolves around the niqab.

As Lysiane Gagnon pointed out in her Globe and Mail piece on September 30, Canadians are overwhelmingly opposed to covering of one's face during citizenship ceremonies.

As early as March, the Prime Minister’s Office commissioned an opinion poll, by Léger, on the wearing of the face-covering veil at citizenship ceremonies. The opposition was flabbergasting: 82 per cent across Canada, 93 per cent in Quebec, 85 per cent among people older than 55 and, strangely enough, 76 per cent among those with a university education.
Those are staggering numbers, especially when one considers the fact that a very small number of women wear the niqab in Canada, and that those who do so at any citizenship ceremony are required to be identified, in private, by a female agent, before the event. Simple enough one would think.
So the Conservatives are now, in effect, campaigning on the back of an isolated and vulnerable minority, which must be the height of cynicism. But the tactic pays. This matter, as objectively trivial as it is when compared with other election issues, led to the most heated exchange during last Thursday’s French-language debate. 
And the polling numbers reflect the debate, especially in Quebec. An Abacus Data poll released earlier this week shows the NDP at 30 per cent support in Quebec, down 17 points since the same pollster's September 11 survey. Much of that decrease can be attributed to Tom Mulcair's position on the niqab. The Liberal Leader shares the same position but his party is suffering less because the Liberals are not contenders in most francophone ridings and get most of their support from anglophone and allophone areas where opposition to the niqab is muted.

Richard Gwyn, a Toronto Star columnist, wrote on Wednesday that Mulcair believes that limiting the rights of women to wear the niqab would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and he said so. Mr Trudeau agreed, and Gwyn went on:

Almost certainly the Mulcair-Trudeau argument will win out legally eventually. Election debates, though, are not about what is right but what wins votes. Especially in Quebec, but also across the country, polls show considerable support for limiting, even banning, the wearing of niqabs.
Trudeau’s views matter. But Mulcair’s matter more. In the last election, the NDP won an extraordinary 59 seats out of the 75 in Quebec. That achievement is why the party is today a serious national contender, for the first time in its history.
Yet Mulcair didn’t blink. He not only said what he believed during the debate but afterwards sought out reporters to repeat his convictions.
There is something to be said about Tom Mulcair's honesty, determination to do the right thing and his strength of conviction, regardless of how it plays in Quebec or anywhere else.
That’s honesty of a degree rare among politicians at the best of times. For one to do it in the middle of an election is just about unheard of. When the vote counts come in on Oct. 19, Mulcair and his party may well regret their outburst of honesty.

But, at least in this instance, Mulcair will have shown Canadians that there can be more to elections than exaggerated rhetoric and carefully calculated promises of which many are indistinguishable from outright bribes.
Tom Muclair could have found a way to play to his audience in the debate. He didn't, and he is stronger for it. No one said this election would be easy.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 24, 2015

Whither the CBC?

On a day when the CBC announced, for the second time, that they wanted to sell all their properties across Canada in an effort to redirect funds into programming and the digital platforms of the future, young Justin Trudeau was promising to increase annual funding to the corporation by $150-million. But can we really expect the Liberals to deliver?

During the mid-1990s, under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, funding to our public broadcaster, over a brief four year period, was cut by more than $400-million, or about 33 percent. All that despite the wonderful Red Book promise "A Liberal government will be committed to stable, multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC."

The cuts continued. albeit more slowly under the next Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, and of course with slightly more gusto under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

Ian Morrison, of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said the broadcaster’s decision to sell real estate assets was akin to "burning the furniture to heat the home." Maybe it's some sort of scorched earth policy?

Selling its buildings is an idiotic thing for the CBC to do. It could well be the beginning of the end for what was once a great public broadcaster and part of the very fabric of life in Canada. Given past history, trusting the Liberal leader's promise to increase funding to the CBC is idiotic too.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Yom Kippur and apologies from media & politicians

On Tuesday night, Chicago television station WGN aired a report on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. The report included an image of the star of David that was actually the badge Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps, and elsewhere, during the war.

The general manager Greg Easterly and news director Jennifer Lyons issued an apology:
"We failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake. We are investigating how this situation occurred, reviewing our in- house policies and making changes in order to avoid such mistakes happening in the future. Thank you for your understanding. We promise to do better."
And WGN wants to be the Windy City's trusted news source? No, not quite.

Meanwhile, a Hamilton school trustee running in the federal election for the NDP, Alex Johnstone, has apologised for making crude remarks related to Auschwitz of all places.

Her original comments were made on a Facebook posting from April of 2008 when she commented on a friend's photo of a part of the electrified fence and its curved supports at the death camp:

"Ahhh, the infamous Pollish (sic), phallic, hydro posts. Of course you took pictures of this! It expresses how the curve is normal, natural, and healthy right!"
Her apology as of yesterday, which coincides with Yom Kippur:
"Attention was recently drawn to a comment I posted on social media seven years ago," While never intending any malice, this comment was clearly inappropriate. I would like to offer my unreserved apology."
According to an interview in the Hamilton Spectator, Alex Johnstone claims ignorance. "Well, I didn't know what Auschwitz was, or I didn't up until today," she told the newspaper late Tuesday.

And she wants to be a Member of Parliament? No, I don't think so.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 22, 2015

Vineyard Terrace Restaurant at Cedar Creek Winery

We were in the Okanagan for a wedding just after Labour Day, and it offered the opportunity to visit some wineries too. CedarCreek Estate Winery has always been a favourite of mine; it's wines are consistently good and its Platinum range features some great wines at fairly reasonable prices.

The original winery here was called Uniake Wines. It opened in 1980 and the winery struggled. Partly because of what was then seen as its remote location, and partly, no doubt, to its rather strange name.

Everything changed when Ross Fitzpatrick, who subsequently became a Senator, bought the winery in 1986. He had the good sense to change the name to CedarCreek in 1987. Fitzpatrick became a pioneer in the Canadian wine industry, and transformed CedarCreek with patience and perseverance, which, according to family lore, was his own personal mantra. I have a vague memory of visiting the winery in the 1990s and being shown around the property by Fitzpatrick himself.  The Senator had a philosophy: "Respect the land, honour tradition, pursue perfection" and I recall those words being mentioned as he led us around the vineyard and cellar.

The tasting room and sales floor are rather small, considering the number of people who visit CedarCreek every day through the summer months. After Labour Day things are more peaceful and our tasting was without the pressure of crowds.

The restaurant proved to be a wonderful experience too.

Vineyard Terrace Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Vineyard Terrrace is an open-air restaurant that wraps around the wineshop. Every seat offers views of the vineyard and the lake, though some tables provide an even more spectacular view of the parking lot.

The menu changes often and showcases local, seasonal ingredients with a "Farm to Table" mentality, and excellent pairing selections.

Sherry and I shared items for our lunch, starting with a nice corn chowder, organic and non-GMO, seasoned with smoked paprika. A refreshing watermelon salad followed, with hazelnuts, beets and some Little Qualicum bleu cheese and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Next, a baked Terroir Cheese, with caramelised pear honey and crostini. A bit sweet for my liking, though I didn't have any trouble eating it, especially with the fine Chardonnay nearby.

Our main dish was a Mushroom Risotto. It featured three or four different mushrooms, wild foraged and tame, and a shaved Kootenay nostrala. An incredibly simple dish with outstanding flavours; the mushrooms were distinctive in their tastes and somewhat hypnotic when paired with a Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot.

In February 2014 the Fitzpatrick family announced the transfer of ownership of CedarCreek to the von Mandl family, which owns Mission Hill. Hopefully the family legacy will continue in some form and Ross Fitzpatrick's philosophy will remain central to the wines of CedarCreek.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 20, 2015

The Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna boasts incredible architecture, fantastic views, great wines and a fantastic restaurant. 

The Terrace Restaurant opened in 2002 and overlooks rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Lake Okanagan. There are only 60 seats, and every table has a view.

Staff are friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and they are highly knowledgeable about the estate's wines. While pairings are suggested with each menu item, our server was able to point out some attractive alternatives too.

In 2008 this restaurant was named by Travel + Leisure magazine as "one of the top five winery restaurants in the world... one of the most glorious dining experiences around." Wow.

Well, it was spectacular in every way. We were here for lunch and as it was after Labour Day, we were able to arrive and be seated without a reservation. I started with a roasted Haida Gwaii octopus dish that included a chick pea fritter, yogurt and mint. It was outstanding.

Sherry had a main course of  seared scallops, with summer squash, tomato jam and pork belly. The flavours were wonderful.

My main dish was a burger and the photo doesn't do it justice. It was smoky beef with appropriate garnishes, including a delightful local bacon, all done to perfection. It was quite possibly the best "burger" I've had since visiting Argentina (home to the best hamburgers in the world, which always include a slice of ham and a fried egg) with a nice medium rare quality that has all but disappeared from burgers in this country. The frites were hand-cut and impeccably seasoned.

Coffee and a pear tart dessert, with little meringue things, followed and both were excellent.

Terrace Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Prices are what you might expect, though hardly inflated; the quality, flavours and portions go beyond expectations. The professional yet casual nature of the service, the quality and presentation of the meal, and the outstanding views, make this restaurant a destination all by itself.

While the restaurant was busy, we never felt an urgency to leave. We could have lingered over wine all afternoon, only to have dinner later. It's that kind of place.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 18, 2015

The Lamplighter Public House in Gastown

The Lamplighter Public House in Gastown has a distinct place in British Columbia's history. In 1925, as part of the Dominion Hotel, it obtained BC's first liquor license, and was the first joint of its kind to serve alcohol to women.

Named for John Clough, who lit the coal oil lamps along Gastown's brick streets through the 1880s before Vancouver introduced electrified lights.

Today The Lamplighter is part of the Donnelly Group which includes the nearby trendy and low-lit lounge, The Clough Club, and its hipster barbershop called Barber & Co.

The Lamplighter still boasts much of the original exposed brick, tin stamped ceilings and railings. There are many video screens and a sometimes exuberant sound system, plus pool tables and arcade machines, all along side a fine selection of local beers.

We dropped in after a walk around Stanley Park and tried a wonderful creation called Gin Palace G&T. It's an in-house creation using Dorothy Parker gin, bittered sling grapefruit and hop bitters, rosemary and Fentiman's Tonic ~ of course. There of savory notes, a hint of grapefruit and a wonderful tonic. Refreshing and more potent than it looks.

The food items that went by, carried by friendly servers, looked interesting, but we didn't indulge. We did however enjoy a visit with one of the pub's fine cooks, and Sherry's youngest son, James.

The Lamplighter Public House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Partly catering to tourists wandering around Gastown, The Lamplighter also has a strong local clientele. They are young, trendy and like live music and Vancouver Canucks game nights. If you're in the neighbourhood, it might be a great mix.   

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

September 17, 2015

Blue Moose Coffee House in Hope

Hope. We all live in hope. Especially the 6000 people who call the town home.

Hope is located at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley and is at the southern point of the Fraser Canyon. To the west is the Lower Mainland and Metro Vancouver. To the east, over the Cascade Mountains, lies the Interior region, the Okanagan, wine country and more. For many drivers, Hope is a convenient stop-off for petrol or coffee.

People have lived in the region for almost 10,000 years, when Sto:lo First Nations resided and prospered in the area. A smallpox epidemic in 1782 killed thousands of Sto:lo, or an estimated 60% of the population of the time. Europeans arrived in waves beginning in 1858 for the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush.

The Blue Moose Coffee House began at the end of last century, when Wes Bergmann opened a coffee shop in December 2000. He had a vision for a place where people could meet and enjoy great coffee and conversation. Judging by our repeated visits, he succeeded.

It's a busy place throughout the day, with locals and travellers enjoying coffees, pastries and light lunch items. There always seems to be a queue to order coffee and the cafe staff are friendly and helpful. There's a positive atmosphere at the Blue Moose.

The wait for the coffee can be longer than might be expected, though it's worth it. Beans are from Ethical Bean Coffee of east Vancouver; the coffee is organic, shade grown, fair trade, locally roasted and tasty.

The tuna cheese melt sandwich was wonderful and made-to-order. I would have expected a nice Kosher pickle on the side, but ...

So. Next time you're on your way to wine country don't give up Hope. Stop and walk around and enjoy the vibe and the coffee at the Blue Moose.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Blue Moose Cafe Coffee House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

September 16, 2015

No deficits? A balanced budget? Not possible? Try again.

The matter of deficit spending has become an issue in our federal election campaign and much of the negativity is directed at Tom Mulcair and his pledge to balance the federal budget.

Mr Harper says this is nonsense, that the NDP has made too many costly promises to achieve that goal without raising taxes or abandoning commitments.

Mr Trudeau suggests deficits are a fine way to grow the economy amid global instability. The Liberals plan to run deficits to at least 2019, in an effort to spend our way into prosperity. Justin says the NDP plan to balance budgets will mean cutting existing programs.

Is spending borrowed money, even at low interest rates, the way to go? Obviously Tom Mulcair doesn't think so. Justin would have us believe his party is more progressive, more leftist than the New Democrats. That is balderdash, plain and simple, and we only have to recall North America's first socialist regime to see an example of progressive and prudent government.

Tommy Douglas came to power in Saskatchewan in 1944 and his crown corporations delivered provincial road systems, electricity to rural citizens, built modern water and sewage systems and created Canada's first universal health care system.

And he did it all, without going into debt. In 17 years as premier, he produced 17 balanced budgets.

When Tommy Douglas took office in 1944, Saskatchewan had a debt of $218 million, which was a staggering 38 percent of provincial GDP. Five years later he had reduced the debt to $70 million, and by 1953 the debt was eliminated altogether. By reducing debt, and interest costs, his government was able to spend more on public services without raising taxes. By the time he left office in 1961, Tommy Douglas had produced 17 successive budget surpluses.

Tommy's example was followed again in Saskatchewan by Alan Blakeney who produced an unbroken string of budget surpluses, plus an activist and progressive political agenda, between 1971 and 1982.

The Liberals and Conservatives will tell us Tom Mulcair's plan isn't possible, that it can't be done. And we will know better.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Idabel Lake and the danger of loons

Idabel Lake is an amazingly beautiful lake south of Kelowna. While it's minutes from the Big White Ski Resort, and only 45 minutes from Kelowna, Idabel is wonderfully remote and secluded. Apart from disturbing stretches of blocks of logged forest nearby, the terrain almost Hiroshima-like in its imagery.

Mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and television, if at all, is by satellite. Idabel is largely a drive-by lake; people drive by on the way to somewhere else. For those who stop however, there are clear mornings, wonderful swimming and fishing, the joy of peace and quiet and the melancholy voice of a lone loon on the lake.

On a clear night the Milky Way is a brilliant display of planets, stars and all sorts of satellites and space craft from our world and others too. The natural audio of the lake in the middle of the night includes owls and raccoons, deer and other mysterious creatures that banged around outside our door at three in the morning.

Signs are prominently posted at Idabel offering warnings about loons. These birds might look innocent enough but the recent truth is much more disturbing. The signs, in plain English, warn boaters to beware of loons. Apparently, and increasingly over recent years, loons have been dive-bombing canoes, kayaks, and row boats with a passion to injure humans within the craft. Many boaters on waters known to be held by aggressive loons, have taken to wearing bike helmets and hockey shoulder pads to protect themselves.

We think of loons as being solitary, lonely and peaceful. All Canadians recognise the call of the loon as essential to our very national experience. That experience seems to be changing.

Photos by Jeem . Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.