Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

To all our loyal readers of this humble blog, a wish for a very Happy New Year. May 2007 bring to you, your family and friends all that you wish for.

One word of advice as you prepare to count out an old year and welcome a new one, remember that an unmade resolution, is one you don't have to break!

And don't forget if you're heading out to celebrate, make sure you have a designated driver or cab fare for the return trip..

All the Best for 2007!

Weather wreaks havoc with New Year's plans of BC Ferries

The unpredictable winds of the coast have put a crimp in some plans to ring in the New Year, in fact when calendar turns the page to a new year tonight, some folks will be toasting it from the loung of the Queen of Prince Rupert!

Traffic stacks up on B.C. Ferries’ northern routes

Canadian Press
Sunday, December 31, 2006

VANCOUVER — If they’re lucky, northern B.C. ferry passengers may celebrate the New Year riding on a ferry.

A series of wind storms since Thursday has cancelled or delayed B.C. Ferries service on the northern routes.

The Queen of Prince Rupert did manage to leave Port Hardy this morning with several planned stops, and is estimated to arrive in Prince Rupert at about 2:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.
However the weather isn’t cooperating.

Wind warnings are in effect for the Queen Charlottes, the North and Central Coast and Northern Vancouver Island.

Wind gusts of up 90 kilometres per hour are expected New Year’s Eve before the winds ease early New Year’s Day.

© Canadian Press 2006

Alcan and Hydro get a big NO

It won't be much of a New Year's party for Alcan and BC Hydro, as the BC Utilities Commission turned down their application for a long term power contract between the hydro company and the aluminum producer.

In what some describe as a bit of a shocking decision, the Utilities Commission went against the two giants of industry, saying that the deal was not in the best interests of the public. A group that seems to get over looked from time to time when it comes to the ways of industry in the

The District of Kitimat has recently been concerned about Alcan's desires in the electricity market at the expense of job creation in the aluminum market, this ruling tends to suggest that they may have been on to something all along.

It will be quite interesting to see if the BCUC decision has any impact on the recently announced modernization plans for the Aluminum smelter at Kitimat.

B.C. Hydro, Alcan pact rejected by utilities board

Globe and Mail
December 30, 2006

VANCOUVER -- The British Columbia Utilities Commission has rejected a proposed long-term power contract between B.C. Hydro and Alcan Inc., saying the deal is not in the public interest and raises price concerns.

A commission panel concluded that B.C. Hydro should not have agreed to pricing provisions in the deal and that the commission "does not accept B.C. Hydro's evidence regarding the value of the benefits to ratepayers" of the agreement, BCUC secretary Robert Pellatt said yesterday in a letter to B.C. Hydro.

Critics had argued that the deal was struck without a competitive bidding process and would see Alcan reap the same rates for its electricity as new projects, even though costs at its Kemano power plant are significantly lower.

Alcan and B.C. Hydro maintained that the agreement, which would have replaced an existing deal between the Crown corporation and the aluminum producer, was a good deal for ratepayers and would help ensure reliable electricity for the province.

The deal would have run to 2025. Prices in the agreement were based on prices set in an open call for power projects in 2006.

"We are very disappointed," Alcan spokeswoman Anik Michaud said yesterday of the order. "We will need time to study it, and it's far too early to plot our course of action."

B.C. Hydro filed the proposed agreement in November. The utilities commission studied the deal at a hearing in December. In its order yesterday, the commission said it does not accept the contracts and that it would release reasons for its decision at a later date.

B.C. Hydro spokeswoman Elisha Moreno said the Crown corporation was "disappointed" in the ruling but would wait for the final decision before deciding on any further action.

The prices laid out in the contract were "consistent and competitive" with open calls for electricity, Ms. Moreno said, adding that "we certainly were not offering them [Alcan] any preferential pricing."

But intervenors in the hearing argued that B.C. Hydro "relaxed or eliminated" many of the key conditions faced by independent power producers in the 2006 call, meaning Alcan would receive an artificially high price through the deal.

"Had these conditions been similarly relaxed or eliminated in the [2006] call, the bid prices would have been different," the Independent Power Producers of British Columbia argued in a submission to the hearing.

The 2006 call prices should not be used as a benchmark for the agreement, the group added, "because of the significant differences in the contract terms and conditions and because there was no competitive bidding."

Kansas City courtin’

Have rink will take team!

That could be the ad seen soon in newspapers across North America, as Kansas City’s Sprint Centre nears completion. The plan is that if a team is granted to Kansas City for the start of NHL season in 2007 then the rink will be ready with all the latest whistles and bells, the luxury boxes and supposedly a stable base of season ticket holders who have forgotten the horrid days of the Kansas City Scouts.

The new rink comes on line at a convenient time for the deep pocketed would be owners, with the most exciting team of the future Pittsburgh, going through the throes of a broken heart and dream, Kansas City might be the obvious destination for the Pens.

It does seem that the NHL is anxious to return to the scene of one of its most glorious flame outs, the Scouts became the Rockies, who in turn couldn’t make it in Denver and eventually became the Devils, Stanley Cup champs and still second or third banana (depending on the year) to the Lords of Madison Square, the Rangers.

Even if the Pens don’t sign on the dotted line, KC probably has a shot at any number of struggling franchises in the Sunbelt states, places where hockey is very much a foreign game and one not likely to ever be a turnstile turner.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provided a rather in depth look at the city and moneyed men that have their covetous eyes on their Pens.

Kansas City makes way for the Penguins or any team available
Sunday, December 31, 2006
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

KANSAS CITY -- Just as surely as the game clock in hockey counts down to zero, the time is almost at hand for those who have toiled for years to bring an NHL team back to the nation's heartland. And the way the stars align in the hockey universe, the time left for the Penguins to get a new arena in their home city is ticking away.

Three decades after a team called the Scouts failed to survive in Kansas City, all the elements are in place for a hockey revival within a matter of months. The lease for the Penguins, born in 1967 in the only place they have called home, expires in June.


Or is it the ultimate motivation to cobble together a Plan B after years of inaction in Pittsburgh?
Or is it just leverage for franchise owners to get the sweetest possible deal?

Time will tell.

Work crews are hoisting the glass facade into place on the new, $276 million Sprint Center, which is on schedule to open in the fall of 2007 if the city secures a franchise. A heavy-hitter in the arena business, Anschutz Entertainment Group, will manage the arena with former Penguin Luc Robitaille serving as its point man. Financier William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, a former Penguins suitor, is under contract and ready to commit up to $200 million to buy a team to occupy the new arena. Luxury suites are already sold out, and the framework for buying club seats and season tickets will be announced in January.

"The pieces are coming together," said Paul McGannon, who for years has led a grass roots effort to give the NHL a second chance in Kansas City. "We feel we're at the top of the list of any city looking to attract a hockey franchise. Kansas City is a big believer that sports teams are people magnets to bring people Downtown. A lot of people have not been Downtown in years, because there was no reason to come Downtown."

As the final pieces of glass, steel and concrete come together to complete this city's ambitious plans, local officials can't help but be aware of what's going on with the Penguins. Kansas City has an arena but no franchise while Pittsburgh has a franchise free to move if a long-discussed arena deal doesn't materialize.

When Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. failed to get a slots license despite a signed agreement to build a $290 million replacement for Mellon Arena, Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux pulled the team off the market. With the blessing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, whose position all along had been to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh, the Penguins are now able to pursue options in other cities in case a Plan B fails to produce a suitable arrangement.

As Sprint Center general manager Brenda Tinnen told The Kansas City Star: "Let's just say it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."

Indeed. Kansas City has no intention of actively going after the Penguins. It doesn't have to. If the franchise falls into their laps, they'll feel like kids on Christmas morning.

"Our best approach is to mind our own business. We're not going to meddle," said Mr. McGannon, who heads an effort called NHL21. "There's no need to lobby. We don't want to take anything away from anybody. We know what it was like to lose a team and have to work 30 years to get one back. We want to add to the sports landscape in Kansas City. We don't want to be a pawn or a bargaining chip. We want what's best for Kansas City."

Sad story of the ScoutsThe brief history of the NHL in Kansas City is one of failure.

The Kansas City Scouts were born during an expansion era but lasted only two seasons. The team won a total of only 27 games, and with sluggish support from fans, left in 1976 to become the Colorado Rockies, which later became the New Jersey Devils.

The city also had a National Basketball Association franchise called the Kings, which were born as the Cincinnati Royals. The team left for greener pastures in 1985.

But anyone who thinks history disqualifies the city as a viable option for hockey would be in for a surprise. For one, the region's population has grown by about a million since the Scouts left. And the effort to bring back hockey is led by some impressive players.

"The Scouts were a God-awful team. We felt like we were never given a chance to have it succeed here. It's a new sport now, and we're a new city," Mr. McGannon said.
After years of talking, and after seeing the downtown area decline as businesses and residents fled, Kansas City got serious about hockey about five years ago when civic leaders decided on a makeover.

The Sprint Center is part of a $2 billion effort to lift the city up out of the blight of its cowtown past. It anchors one end of a nine square block area being turned into office centers, urban condominiums, a convention center expansion, a performing arts theater, restaurants, bars, a grocery store, boutiques, parking garages and an entertainment district.

The debate over the most ambitious building project in the city's history was as spirited as it was in any U.S. city. But keeping the status quo of empty store fronts and surface parking lots was not an option.

Not only is the Sprint Center earmarked for an anchor tenant like an NHL team, city officials expect it to be in use 200 nights year, offering concerts, circus dates and ice shows.

With the building having emerged from the ground, it doesn't seem like such a pipe dream anymore. Consider the principals involved.

Los Angeles-based AEG anted up $54 million toward the new arena. AEG president Tim Leiweke is president of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, sits on the NHL board of governors and has a stake in the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. AEG operates arenas, soccer stadiums and sports venues both in the U.S. and abroad.

It was AEG that hired Mr. Robitaille, the highest scoring left-winger in NHL history and a former linemate of Mr. Lemieux's, to be the public face of hockey in Kansas City.

In November, AEG entered into an agreement with Mr. Del Biaggio to operate an NHL team at the Sprint Center. He also has an option to join the arena's management team.

'Boots' has deep pocketsAt 39, Mr. Del Biaggio heads a banking empire that has $1 billion in assets, and he is the founder of a California firm that provides venture capital for high-tech companies.

Penguins fans may recall him as the man who nearly purchased the Penguins in the summer of 2005 when the NHL was emerging from a year-long shutdown as it addressed its economic woes.

Mr. Del Biaggio was set to buy the franchise for about $120 million and had pledged to keep it in Pittsburgh. But when the Penguins won the right to draft hockey prodigy Sidney Crosby, the team was taken off the market, and Mr. Del Biaggio's bid fell through. Within months, the Penguins were once again for sale, in part because there was no deal for a new arena.

Mr. Del Biaggio has a limited stake in the NHL's San Jose Sharks. He is also partners with Mr. Lemieux, Mr. Robitaille and Mike Eruzione in the ownership of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League. Also of interest is that he and Mr. Lemieux are golfing buddies.
Mr. Del Biaggio politely declined to comment on the Kansas City situation as it might relate to the Penguins.

"I don't want to see it play out in the newspapers," he said in a telephone interview from his offices in Menlo Park, Calif.

But Mr. Del Biaggio said his intentions were correctly stated in The Kansas City Star. He loves hockey and wants to be an owner, and he has committed to owning a team in Kansas City regardless of what the Penguins do.

It shows how quickly fortunes can change in the sports world. Mr. Del Biaggio nearly bought the Penguins before they had Crosby and a nucleus of young stars. If a Plan B doesn't work out in Pittsburgh, he may still get ownership of a franchise with the brightest of futures.

But there's a process to be worked through in a short period of time.

Pittsburgh is still very much in the picture if Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Gov. Ed Rendell can come through on Plan B. That process must play out as the Penguins explore alternatives. Their lease at the Mellon Arena, the oldest and smallest arena in use by an NHL team, expires in June but the NHL would want to know before that so it can put together its schedule for next season.

Nobody knows what's going to happen until Mr. Lemiuex and Mr. Bettman decide what's best. They won't know until they weigh the numbers in Pittsburgh against what other cities may be offering.

All 72 luxury suites at the Sprint Center have been sold, and there is a waiting list for those wanting to buy a suite. Deposits on season tickets could be banked soon after plans are announced next month.

If Kansas City makes an offer to move the Penguins, Mr. Lemieux could use it as leverage to broker a better deal than Plan B -- which requires the Penguins pay $8 million up front and pay $4 million a year for 30 years, for a total of $128 million. Those amounts are said to be negotiable, which means the Penguins would pay less.

Now the clock is ticking down to some kind of conclusion. Will the Penguins stay in Pittsburgh with a last-minute deal? Will Kansas City's second chance at a franchise come gift-wrapped with a stable of budding stars who could parade the Stanley Cup down Broadway? Will another city emerge to give the Penguins a new home?

"That's up to the powers that be," Mr. McGannon said. "We want to help grow the sport of hockey. Our goal all along has been that, when the time is appropriate, we'll have an NHL team in Kansas City. It's taken us 30 years to get to this point. It's been a soap opera, but we want a team."

The above post first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more items about hockey check it out.

The Pardon revisited

The death of Gerald Ford, complete with all its televised trappings for the next few days is calling back an era in American history that to this day is debated with much passion.

What Ford's legacy comes down in the end is that simple exorcism of all of Nixon's sins of the Watergate era, the Pardon as it is known is still one of the most discussed events of US history.

Was he right to turn the page and allow America to get on with its day to day business? Or was a chance to follow justice through to its final conclusion missed in the rush to absolve a President of his misdeeds.

It probably depends on what side of the argument you came down on in those final days of 1974, when Nixon flew off the White House lawn for the very last time and Ford took up his short term residence in the West Wing .

Timothy Noah writes a fascinating piece on the Pardon for Slate, taking up the case for those that jurisprudence was mishandled then and that the Republic was not well served by it in the years to follow.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The short lived residence of Pedrico Lao

His letters to the editor stoked the fires of small town outrage; his efforts made for content for this very blog and his posts to the local bulletin board htmf were guaranteed to get a fair bit of reaction.

But in the end, the "his" in his "his", didn’t exist.

In a posting placed on the htmf bulletin board today, the fifteen minutes of fame for Pedrico Lao came to an end. The pseudonym was nothing but a creative prank by some self described bored young Rupertites, who created an alter ego to apparently raise the blood pressure of the older folks and hoodwink local publishers of the letter to the editor sections of our various local newspapers.

In the end they were uncovered by an intrepid member of htmf, who took the time to track their postings and discovered some unusual similarities between Lao and a newcomer called McSash, who would rush to ole Pedrico’s defence from time to time on the bulletin boards with gems like this below.

As a long time guest to HTMF..its finally time for me to speak up. Its nice to see the likes of Mr Lao speaking the truth about our town. I have lived here 35yrs and been through ups downs strikes layoffs closures and everything else this place has experienced in the past 35yrs. Mr Lao speaks the truth....remember that the truth can hurt and we can see that in the anti-Lao movement, relax people ...take the criticism as constructive, think of how we can brace ourselves for positive change. Dont get indignant about his comments. We are on the cusp of a possible major development, not just for rupert but for all of Canada. We need to get in line for the spin offs. The business elite need to recognize that there needs to be some kind of pay off to the communities. And I'm not talking first Nation hand outs.And by the way MR Chong...pretty soon the south end of Graham wont be the elite residences due to perpetual daylight from the lighting, the crashing and banging of containers, trains coming and going and that constant beep beep beep of cranes and like.If Iwas Mr Lao I would take mr Brlecic up on his offer of paying his way back to Richmond. Just like the city did with Skeena on its tax plan. You know make lots of promises then reneg on them, then leave mr brlecic holding an airfare or moving ticket to richmond with no results. That would should be a welcome mat!! And be like so many other fly by nighters that have been welcomed into this community ie China Paper...Dan Veniez. Hell Lao could have a big meeting at the PAC (just like veniez) smooth everyone over and announce his intentions to run for city office.Thanks for the space.
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 08:49:08 PM by mcsash »

The sudden arrival of such a defender of the faith became the tipping point in the exercise in phantom postings. Perhaps if Lao had remained a lone wolf protagonist, the three could have carried on their ruse for who knows how long.

Regardless, they had a pretty good run of things, seventeen days to be precise, their letters to the editor in the Northern View surely started a stampede of civic boosterism, not seen since Dan Veniez opined about life in Rupert without his vision… (visions?)

In the end, they posed some interesting questions for the local population, which seemed to take their critical analysis of the way of Podunk to heart and took to the bunkers with gusto..

Explain to us again, why the NHL can’t return to Canada?

A few weeks ago I put forward my frequently espoused theory that the NHL could do a lot worse than to put a few more franchises back into Canada. For my efforts I received a few letters and comments suggesting that Canadians whine too much about getting back into the game so to speak.

So it was with interest that part of my Christmas and New Years reading pile included a thoughtful piece on the same topic by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. Campbell did the number crunching that I never bothered with, (my approach was purely emotional I’m afraid) and with his numbers the option of returning above the 49th makes even more sense.

He took a snapshot of one day in November which saw a number of American teams play in front of what can only be called embarrassing numbers. Crowds dropping below 11,000 per game, maybe even less when you don’t count the papered houses.

Campbell has provided a scratch sheet of sorts, similar to the attendance tracking I did as kid as I watched the NHL and WHA stumble their way through season after season of declining and embarrassing attendance returns. He paints a picture of a league very much in denial and soon to be very much in trouble.

In what apparently is a common practice in many of the NHL’s trouble spots, the concept of buy one, get one free is much more than a marketing slogan it’s actually how they finance the team. Something that just has to be a little troubling if you’re still only getting 10,000 a game.

When you look at the waiting lists for tickets in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto (only Ottawa seems content to be a walk up city) you quickly realize that the NHL is a tale of two leagues, one a passionate relationship between fans and team, the other an indifferent glance by a less than interested bystander.

The excuses are many why the NHL can’t succeed in the likes of Winnipeg, Hamilton or Quebec City, but one has to wonder how things could be any worse than the current problems of the south and the formerly showcase cities of Chicago, Long Island and St. Louis.

15,000 in Winnipeg or Le Ville du Quebec surely must trump 1,500 on a November night in St. Louis. No matter what accounting guidelines you might be using.

Read the Campbell article below, it’s an eye opener and should provide a fair amount of ammunition for those that believe the NHL needs Canada a hell of a lot more than Canada needs the NHL!

Half-empty arenas in the U. S. are growing, so why not move more teams to Canada?
Ken Campbell—In the Slot
The Hockey News
December 19, 2006
Page 14

Gary Bettman and his feel-good administration would undoubtedly dismiss it as nothing more than a “snapshot”. When it comes to his league’s growing – or is that shrinking- attendance problems. Bettman hates it when people throw snapshots in his face.

The night of November 30, was an ominous indicator for a league that is consistently being saved by its chartered members from Canada.

That night, the NHL had a slate of 10 games on the schedule. Those 10 games drew a total of 130,126 fans for an average of just 13,013 per game. All told, NHL arenas that night played to an average of 72 per cent of capacity. Think about it. Ten games and on average they played before houses that were less than three-quarters full.

It gets worse. Much worse. Subtract the games played in Canada that night and you end up with a total of 77,473 fans for an average of just 11,068 per game. In the United States of American that night, buildings averaged just 61.4 per cent of capacity.

That included a traditional market in Boston where just 11,150 came out to watch a surging Bruins team play and equally surging Tampa Bay Lightning squad. That included the home of the Stanley Cup champs, where an “announced” crowd of just 13,103, the smallest of the season, came out to see the Carolina Hurricanes host Montreal. It included a game in Long Island, where a minor league baseball-type promotion exists in which each adult who pays for a ticket gets to take a chilled into the game for free and an “announced” crowd of just 10,280 showed up.

We put the word announced in quotation marks because in some markets with attendance troubles, attendance is measured by the number of tickets that go out of the building, not necessarily by the number of people who come in. So, if the team gives out 2,000 free tickets, those people are counted among the crowd whether they attend or not. That way they can dupe corporate sponsors into thinking people actually go to their games.

But the news was worst in St. Louis, where icy weather resulted in an announced crowd of 5,410 – observers said there were no more than 1,500 actually in attendance 0- to watch the Blues lose to the Nashville Predators. The next night, 25 games in the Canadian Hockey League and 11 in the American league attracted more people.

It marked the eighth time this season the Blues have played in front of fewer than 10,000 people. Last season it happened just three times league wide.


There’s always an excuse in St. Louis this season. First, it was because the Cardinals were in the playoffs. The night of Nov 30, it was icy outside. The team stinks. But if the fan base was actually passionate about the Blues, they would put up with a losing team for a couple of years, more than 1,500 people would battle icy weather and the real hockey fans would have taped the baseball games and watched them when they got home.

All of it has to make new owner Dave Checketts wonder whether it’s worth keeping his team in St. Louis. Meanwhile, new Pittsburgh Penguins owner Jim Balsillie will definitely move the Penguins if Pennsylvania’s gaming commission doesn’t choose a casino proposal that would include a new arena for his team.

How about this? Balsillie and others move their teams to places where people actually like hockey. The Winnipeg Jets left 10 years ago in the hopes hockey would catch on in the desert and, as cold as it can get there at night, people are still basically ignoring the Coyotes and their famous coach.

The Lightning has caught on in Tampa Bay, but south Florida is a hockey wasteland. Carolina? Give me a break. Sellouts in seven of 13 games for the Hurricanes the year after winning the Cup?

The American Dream is dead when it comes to the NHL. But there are two strong markets in southern Ontario and Winnipeg – and possibly a third in Quebec City if they build a new rink – that would embrace the NHL and make things better for both the owners and the players in the process.

The appetite for hockey is insatiable in southern Ontario and that’s why Balsillie could move his team to the Kitchener-Waterloo area if things collapse with the Penguins. There are enough corporate dollars to go around and the area has a far larger fan base than any of Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma or Houston do.

And with cost certainty now a part of life in the NHL, there’s no reason why a properly-run Winnipeg franchise couldn’t become the Green Bay Packers of the NHL .

Players and owners would both benefit. With two or three more healthy franchises replacing the moribund, that’s fewer teams with whom to share revenues. And with the players’ take tied directly into revenues; they would have more money to themselves as well.

With the exception of Ottawa, every seat in every Canadian rink has been legitimately sold the past two seasons. People in Canada are spending money on hockey. It’s time the NHL gave them more. THN

The above post first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more items about hockey check it out.

Podunkian Music Club

James Brown- Get On The Good Foot/Soul Power/Make It Funky

There is only one candidate and one candidate alone for this week’s Music Club.

The Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in Show business.

Ladies and Gentleman we present James Brown.

Brown who showed impeccable timing with his exit from our mortal world on Christmas Day, is the reason that many of today’s musicians and singers can collect a paycheque.

Brown gave us the groove, he put the soul into soul music and he is probably the one most responsible for rap and hip hop (both the good and the bad).

From Rick James to Prince, Michael Jackson to Kanye West, and countless thousands along the way, all should say a silent prayer of thanks to the man who laid down the tracks that made an industry.

His shows were legendary, his stamina amazing. To watch his performances is like a full fledged aerobic workout. He is reputed to have been the toughest taskmaster a band could ever run into. If you missed a note, forgot a piece or screwed up in any form you were out, it was as simple as that.

He led a troubled life through his rise in show business, no stranger to the legal system he spent time in prison for a number of sins. Yet year after year, he would provide some of the most original and energetic music to blast out of a radio.

His funeral today carried live for the most part on CNN, was perhaps a testimony to his impact on the world of music. It had to be the liveliest of celebrations of life seen in a long time; we should all exit our stage with that driving bass line and a melody of some of our greatest hits.

Ladies and Gentleman, the Godfather has left the stage! Get ready to find your groove with tonight’s selection.

You can’t handle the truth!

We have visions of Jack Nicholson on the stand telling the smart ass snots that nobody will tell him how to run a war. Canada has been smacked around a bit by its allies in Afghanistan, over the apparent open door policy of embedded reporters.

Now, since our “allies” number less than five when it comes to actual outside the wire activities, one assumes this means that the Americans, the British, the Dutch and the Australians are the ones concerned about our "show it all" proclivities when it comes to the battle joined with the Taliban.

Unlike the press gangs of CNN and FOX etc, it would appear that Canadian embeds tend to ask questions and report on things as they happen, something that is making the generals and majors a little uneasy these days.

The Canadian policy was considered too liberal, overly-progressive and risky and one that the Allies would much prefer that we would rein in.

So in the spirit of Allied solidarity, the Globe and Mail’s Christie Blatchford, the Toronto Star correspondent Rosie DiMano, photographer Louie Palu and Ontario-based freelance filmmaker Richard Fitoussi, were removed from their spots with the PPCLI earlier this year.

It however, doesn’t seem to have slowed down the volume of work by journalists in the Afghan theatre. Blatchford in particular has managed to put out a number of thought provoking pieces since her extraction, including the one below from yesterday, which provides a heart pounding account of a Canadian unit pinned down in an Afghan village, suffering the possible desertion by its own NCO (a charge that has been rebutted by the soldier in question).

Blatchford has been filing many stories about our troops in harms way and gives Canadians a solid understanding of the mission there, to their credit the Canadian Army hasn’t stopped her from reporting her observations, even if they’ve moved her around a fair bit at the behest of the rest of the coalition (such as it is).

Canadians are understandably nervous about their participation in the Afghanistan expedition, though they support the sons and daughters doing the work with all their hearts for the most part. Receiving truthful information that doesn’t sugar coat the situation nor deceive the public is the only way the government will find Canadians onboard for the mission.

While it’s a fine line between keeping the coalition members happy and keeping the home front informed, one thing is certain the moment that the truth is shaded, shaped or out right denied, is the moment that the government will lose the battle on the home front.

Articles such as Blatchford’s one below, may not fit nicely into the propaganda pile that many would like to see on a regular basis, but it probably does more for the morale of the troops and the folks at home then all the rah rah productions out there combined.

Blatchford, DiMano and for the most part the rest of the Canadian media in Afghanistan have provided a serious and informative look at what our young men and women face on a daily basis, they have not put any operational plans in jeopardy and have given Canadians access to their troops rarely seen before. If nothing else at the end of the day, Canadians can never say that they didn’t know what was going on.

Did he abandon his troops?
From Friday's Globe and Mail

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZETTELMEYER, AFGHANISTAN — When Major Matthew Sprague says he is tempted to put in his whole company for awards or commendations, he isn't kidding.

So many of the officers, noncommissioned officers and ordinary grunts of the 1st Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment's Charles Company, which Major Sprague commands, have distinguished themselves under fire here in southern Afghanistan — particularly on two terrible days in September, when the company was first attacked with shocking ferocity by the Taliban, and then, still reeling from the four men lost that morning, accidentally strafed in a friendly-fire incident that killed another and injured 38 the very next day — that separating the ordinarily brave from the ridiculously courageous is difficult if not impossible.

But there is one man not included in that honourable group.

In several recent interviews, during which he properly sang the praises of his troops, Major Sprague didn't even mention his name. Asked directly about him yesterday, he would not discuss the soldier except to say tersely that he is now out of the army and that the alleged incident that led to his leaving is “in the past, as far as I'm concerned.”

The Globe and Mail has learned the man is a veteran noncommissioned officer who is alleged to have deserted his troops while they were under fire Sept. 3 and was later sent home to Canada.
The Globe has decided not to use the soldier's name, in large measure because even those who feel most betrayed are loath to see him criticized publicly.

“He left me there to die,” Master Corporal Ward Engley of Charles's 8 platoon said yesterday in a brief, blunt interview conducted in the back of a Light Armoured Vehicle that was taking him to the base at nearby Masum Ghar and then to Kandahar Air Field for emergency dental treatment.

He said the NCO was “hiding behind a wall” and wouldn't come out long enough to give him the radio when he asked for it.

“Our grenades were duds,” MCpl. Engley said, contempt colouring his voice, “and we were running low on ammo, but he couldn't even hand me the radio.”

MCpl. Engley is not the only soldier to characterize what happened that morning as desertion.
It was described the same way by three other soldiers interviewed by The Globe, including two of those who were pinned down by heavy fire when the NCO is alleged to have left his post, and the 25-year-old officer who commands 8 platoon.

In army language, MCpl. Engley said, what the NCO did was “shit the bed hard.”

The offensive against the notorious White School — a known Taliban stronghold in the volatile Panjwai area since last summer, when the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry suffered casualties there — was part of the kickoff to Operation Medusa, the massive, Canadian-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign.

While ultimately deemed a major success, with as many as 1,000 Taliban claimed killed and senior NATO commanders singing its praises in speeches, Medusa was arguably a bit of a cock-up from the get-go.

Originally, battle orders called for three days of heavy bombing and artillery, plus 18 air strikes on Taliban commanders identified as “high-value targets,” before the soldiers of Charles Company were to move into the area, then lush with three-metre-tall marijuana fields and nearly impenetrable.

But at the last minute, after intelligence supposedly reported no signs of the enemy, the bombings and air strikes were called off. The soldiers were ordered to cross the Arghandab River early on the morning of Sept. 3.

“Our orders came in saying there would be three days of bombarding the shit out of it, and then they cancelled all that and then we rolled in at 7 in the morning,” said Private Will Needham, a 22-year-old from Toronto. “. . . We rolled in, drove right into an ambush site, and it was told to us the night before that this grid was basically an ambush site.”

Originally, in fact, the troops were supposed to cross the river on foot — “dismounted,” as they call it — because it was thought their LAVs would be unable to cross. But those orders, too, disappeared, with combat engineers making “breaches” across the river for the vehicles.
As described by Lieutenant Jeremy Hiltz, the 8 platoon boss, MCpl. Engley, Pte. Needham and Pte. Travis Rawls, a 31-year-old from 8 platoon, the scene as they first crossed the river was eerie — as still “as when I'm skydiving,” MCpl. Engley said.

“We knew, deep down inside,” Lt. Hiltz told The Globe. “We knew they [the Taliban] were there. . . . But it's still quiet, and there's no indication that anything's wrong, except for guys are looking at each other, there's that feeling.

“But I think at that point, we're still pretty young and I think a lot of guys didn't recognize it.”
The troops of 8 platoon dismounted, and what greeted them were the leaflets that had been dropped from the air before the start of Op Medusa — pamphlets warning the Taliban, and civilians in the area, that NATO forces were coming.

MCpl. Engley's section was ordered to secure a big ditch, he said, and it was from there that “all of a sudden, the whole world exploded around us” — rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, rounds from lethal 81 mm recoilless rifles, machine-gun fire coming at the soldiers from what seemed like all directions.

It wasn't until more than a week later, when the Canadians actually secured the area around the White School, that they realized the enormity of what they had been up against, Lt. Hiltz said.
The Taliban had “trench lines, ditches, bunkers, firing holes. I mean, they were firing from trees, firing from pot fields, explosions were coming from pot fields looked like mortars but they were actually RPGs impacting at ground level. They were watching our antennas go by and firing from pot fields,” from as close as 100 metres.

MCpl. Engley's section, meantime, was ordered to leave the ditch and do a room-by-room search of four small mud-walled buildings near the White School.

It was there, Pte. Needham said, that “we pretty much got pinned down by RPGs and small-arms fire, which was coming mostly from the south.”

Pte. Rawls said it was at that point the NCO is alleged to have claimed to be hit, then left them behind, saying he was off to get them support.

“I didn't have a fucking clue he was even gone, he wasn't really the command-and-control leader,” Pte. Needham snapped.

Lt. Hiltz was equally blunt: He “basically deserted, left the section while a couple of guys were pinned down.”

Privates Needham and Rawls were on the right side of one building, two reservists were on the left, and other members of the section were spread out throughout the little compound, all of them “putting down fire.”

They couldn't tell where the enemy fire was originating from, couldn't even tell if they were receiving friendly fire from other platoons. It was very confusing, Pte. Rawls said, and they couldn't raise anyone on the radio to tell them where they were trapped, or find out where the other platoons were located.

On top of that, a 225-kilogram bomb was dropped almost on top of the section. “Basically, it was being called right on top of us,” Pte. Rawls said. But the bomb either malfunctioned or its GPS system rendered it inert, as it is supposed to if it goes off target.

When the order to withdraw eventually came from Major Sprague, the soldiers were too far from their LAV to retreat safely. In the end, the section was pinned down for two to three hours.
It was Sergeant Graeme Ferrier, driving up and down the line looking for stragglers, who found them. They were the last out to safety, and only afterward did they learn that their beloved warrant officer, Frank Mellish, his fellow warrant Rick Nolan, combat engineer Sergeant Shane Stachnik and Pte. Needham's former roommate and best friend, Pte. Will Cushley, had been killed.

Their section has since been rebuilt with replacements from CFB Petawawa, but as Pte. Rawls said, “They arrived after all of that. When we arrived, same as everybody who gets here, you train as infanteer and you want to come and get in on the action and you get into it like that, and it's a mess like that, and you don't want to ever see it again.

“They don't know what that's like yet. If they find that out, probably when they lose a friend.”
And Pte. Needham said, “That's the only way you really realize. I knew it was going to be bad, but I never thought someone I knew would get killed. I never knew it would be like this. Like September was the worst month ever, we lost a lot of good people. I didn't think it would be this bad.

“And it was.”

He continued, “We had been on ground in this country for three weeks. Most people hadn't been in a firefight. We'd been ambushed once and fired twice, but it was a lot of inexperienced men going into a huge combat situation. . . it was overwhelming for a bunch of people who didn't have the experience. That's what it comes down to, I guess.”

Both Privates Needham and Rawls said that if they stay in the army, they will switch units because of the “incompetence” they've seen here.

Coming to Afghanistan, Pte. Rawls said, the big concern was “about everyone around you. Are they gonna do their job? And are you?”

They have their answers now.

Dr Foth doth see

His columns at one time were the must read item on everyone's agenda, over the years he's slowed down the pace a bit, but Alan Fotheringham (aka Dr. Foth) still more often than not puts together a withering column or two to skewer the political class.

One of the more anticipated arrivals in past years would be his predictions page, a look at where the Good doc saw the nation heading.

His list appears in the rural publications these days and on his own personal website, this contribution is one liberated from the Williams Lake Tribune. Still providing one of the best year end wraps and new year previews around.

Dr. Foth’s 2007 predictions

Dec 29 2006

Slowly, the chicken entrails on the floor begin to take shape, the mist over the crystal ball becomes more clear, and we become aware of what the year 2007 awaits us.

1. The Toronto Maple Leafs will not win the Stanley Cup.

2. Somewhere in the spring, Belinda Stronach will dye her hair red, thereby looking like Rita Hayworth.

3. Sydney Crosby will win the NHL scoring championship, while not old enough to take a girl out for a martini.

4. Dalton McGuinty will continue to be the most dull politician ever elected in Canada, while reigning over the largest province in Canada, Ontario — and the dullest.

5. In the year, Stephen Harper will never again be photographed shaking hands with his small son at the schoolhouse door.

6. After having 43 white males as residents of the White House, the Excited States of America will be certain in the run-up to the 2008 election to have neither of the above.

7. Peter Mackay will say something stupid. And then deny it, claiming Hansard hasn’t recorded it.

8. Shortly after the Canadian Football League announces that it has granted a franchise to Halifax, the NFL from New York headquarters announces that it will open bids for a team in Toronto.

9. The Toronto Argonauts announce they are moving to Hamilton.

10. Bob Rae, the bouncing socialist, announces — to wild surprise! — that he will not seek a Liberal seat in the coming election. Michael Ignatieff does not faint at the news.

11. Hillary Clinton — who all the polls tell us is hated or loved by as many voters (and women) — will not get the Democratic nomination for the 2008 election.

12. The Toronto Maple Leafs will not win the Stanley Cup. Neither will the Toronto Argonauts.

13. The Republican nomination for the 2008 White House spot will be Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was imprisoned as a soldier in the Vietnam war for so many years he twice attempted suicide. He will now know what it’s like to face the Washington press.

14. Jack Layton is going to have to decide whether to shave off that moustache — or continue to look like a talk-show host.

15.The Democratic Party’s nominee for the 2008 election will be neither white nor female. It will be Barack Obama, a rookie Senator from Illinois whose father is from Kenya, his mother is white.

16. He is just 45. Abe Lincoln was in the House of Representatives in Washington for only two years before becoming president. He did okay.

17. The wildness of Fort McMurray — the “Shanghai of Canada”— is going to bang up against Ottawa’s pretending it has no knowledge — or responsibility to Kyoto.

18. Stevie Harper’s real worry in 2007 is that the little geek Dion with the funny glasses and the thin shoulders has the “Green” gang on his side and that’s the way it is sliding when there is so little snow in Thunder Bay the polar bears are dying and the tourists are not coming to take pictures.

19. In 2007, sensible people, in airline terminals, restaurants, or otherwise public gatherings where self-indulgent ecomaniacs — showing off their wealth — will no longer put up with these jerks shouting into their BlackBerries, cell-phones, whatever. They are the twits of the year. We want to be done with them.

20. In 2007 I will visit Conrad in his new accommodation courtesy of the U.S. government. He will have started another tome since he will have a great deal of time on his hands.

21. In 2007, Stephen LeDrew will retire his 100 bow ties.

22. In 2007, Castro will say farewell to this fine world and — nothing will change in Cuba.

23. In 2007, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will get tied up in one of Belinda Stronach’s mosquito nets in deepest darkest Africa, while attempting to adopt a child.

24. In 2007, Prince William will not announce the engagement of he and Kate Middleton. His military service to his country will come first for some time.

25. In 2007, another former KGB agent will be poisoned. After all, nothing has changed in that department in Russia.

26. In 2007, another James Bond movie will hit the box office and will knock the socks off every drooling young woman in North America.

27. Robin Williams will not be James Bond. There is only one James Bond.

28. In 2007, Porter Air will expand their area of service and blow away Air Canada in the jaunt from Toronto to Ottawa or Montreal.

29. In late 2007, Belinda Stronach will adopt a crewcut, therefore emulating Archie in the cartoons.

30. Santa Claus will survive yet another year.

The passing of John Kuz finally confirmed

It started out as one of those ever famous Prince Rumour stories, the thing of coffee shop and watering hole conversations. The story went that the former mayor of Prince Rupert, John Kuz had passed away in a Vancouver hospital just before Christmas.

The only original hint of the story came from the site, which originally posted an unconfirmed story to the fact (one since taken down). Other than that, the story had no public fact to it; without any form of confirmation it was to remain a rumour, that is at least until yesterday.

In Friday’s Daily News, an obituary appeared highlighting the normal contents of those snippets of information, details of those left behind and time and location of his passing. It also relayed a number of the achievements of the late mayor who had become a fixture in Prince Rupert over the years.

Over on the front page, the Daily News provided pretty well the same details, as part of their front page coverage of the passing of one of the colourful characters of Prince Rupert history.

The story of Kuz traces back some of the important times of the labour movement in the city from his days with the UFCW at the Fishermen’s Co-op and some of the battles fought on the local labour scene. From his labour organizing days he moved on to municipal politics, first as an alderman in 1989 and then as the elected follow up mayor to the legendary Peter Lester in 1993.

With Lester’s retirement, the normally reticent (perhaps a tad jaded) local populace seemed to gather into different camps, each one equally supporting their preferred candidate to take over the office and offer up a new vision for the city.

That election campaign, which was a three way fight between Kuz, Linda Marhsall-Lutz and Jim Ciccone would prove to be one of the hardest fought races in recent political times. Of the three, Kuz ran the campaign most similar to the ones organized by the former mayor, perhaps the key to his success at the polls.

His time in the mayor’s office however, would be short lived and shadowed in controversy and a more than a bit of mystery. Eventually he would relinquish his office, having lost the confidence of his council of the day. It made for some tense times at City Hall, in a most a rebellious state over the managerial style of the Mayor at the time.

From those contentious days in office he developed a more private role in the community, serving on boards, providing counsel for those looking to put forward their civic proposals, it’s reported that he dabbled in construction and he was never really very far from the local political scene, whether with the NDP federally and provincially, or working on local municipal campaigns of those who he shared political direction with.

In a city that has brought forward some pretty colourful characters over the years, Kuz would prove to fit the bill regardless of the station of his life at the time. While we’ve had a number of mayors since his brief time in office, many still remember those days of the mid nineties, with a mixture of emotions and thoughts.

Regardless of their point of view, no one could argue that John Kuz wasn’t a passionate defender of his positions. With his passing yet another chapter closes on one of the more interesting times in Prince Rupert history.

Former city mayor, Rupert booster, passes on at 57
The Daily news
Friday, December 29, 2006
Page one

Former Prince Rupert mayor John Wayne Kuz passed away in Vancouver just before Christmas at the age of 57.

The well known community member died Dec. 23 at St. Paul’s Hospital. By press time, the cause of death had not been confirmed.

Kuz was well known for his work with the New Democratic Party as well as his involvement in city politics.

Born in Prince George on Jan. 6, 1949, Kuz lived most of his life in northern B.C.

He was first elected to city council in May 1989 during a by-election and then was re-elected in 1990. In 1993, he ran for mayor against Jim Ciccone and Linda Marshall-Lutz and won by more than 600 votes.

He took over from Peter Lester, who was mayor for the previous three decades.

Kuz worked with the United Foods and Commercial Workers Union strengthening labour management relations and is widely credited with helping facilitate a creative solution at the Prince Rupert Fishermen’s Co-operative, which saw the filleting line at the plant retained. He also worked in construction.

He sat on many boards and committees. Among them were the Prince Rupert Drug Services Society, Prince Rupert Aids Committee, Northwest Community College Advisory Committee, Prince Rupert Labour Council, Parks and Recreation Commission and Library Board. Most recently, he took on the challenge of leading the committee to put forward recommendations on a Community Forest for the city of Prince Rupert. He was a tireless believer in the potential of the community.

A celebration of his life will be held at a later date when his family can attend.

Page 9
Friday, December 29, 2006

KUZ, John Wayne
January 6, 1949-December 23, 2006

John passed away on December 23, 2006 at St. Paul’s Hospital. John was known for his giving to others from all walks of life. John was very politically involved with the NDP and worked long and hard on Federal, Provincial and Municipal elections. John cared deeply for his community. John was a Union Business Agent, Past Mayor of Prince Rupert, City councilor and sat on many boards. John was a hard worker and was always there to stand for the underdog, while expecting nothing in return. John will be sadly missed by the many lives he touched with his compassionate and loving nature. John leaves behind his best friend and partner Ann, her children Donna & Kristopher, her grandchildren , his brother Harold (Mollie) Kuz of Vancouver, his sister Leona (Jim) Beastal of Williams Lake, many nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews. John leaves behind his son Jeremy and his son Ben, daughter Crescentia and her children. John is pre-deceased by his father John, his mother Annie and his loving sister Elaine. John will be sadly missed by his dog Shadow (Lady Balmouth). A celebration of John’s life will be held at a later date when his family can attend.

Wow, two trips to the Caribbean in one week

Where the hell did I put the suntan lotion?

How lucky could one family get. Boxing Day we received a call from an automated dialer advising me that we have won a trip to the Caribbean, all we have to do is push that magic number nine on our telephone and we’ll be connected to an operator eager to share with us the details of our trip to the sun and the surf.

Sadly for the family I hung up the phone before I could book the reservations and make plans to apply for a passport.

But tonight, once again we were given a second chance. The phone rings around seven o’clock and here we are again, moments away from the trip of a lifetime, yes if only we follow those instructions and punch number nine it will be short days before we are lounging in the Caribbean Sun.

How can we refuse such an invitation? A trip to the sun, simply by answering the telephone, its just great luck. Two chances in four days, the Super 7 just can’t compete with that kind of temptation.

But, on second thought, I do burn rather easily; best to stay in the rain forest for a little while longer I suspect.

Now I don’t want to be the suspicious type but rarely is anything free in this world, especially an unsolicited phone call that offers up a trip to the sun.

Could it be a phone scam maybe such as this, or maybe one like this. Don’t know for sure, never did punch number nine.

Now if some other lucky Podunkian took the time to punch the number and is now heading off to the Caribbean, kindly keep the news to yourself. Nobody likes a gloater, and I’ll have to do some serious explaining to the family as well.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The tyrants turn at the end of the rope

It most likely won’t make Iraq any safer, but there's one less tyrant hanging around. And while I watch CNN and FOX and I wonder how the hell they can tell the difference between “celebratory” and ”directed” gunfire there, (I assume if they don’t have to duck it’s celebratory) one still wonders what is now ahead for the troubled nation

It did seem that the officials in Iraq all of a sudden wanted to get the old business of an old year out of the way and start the new one without any millstones around their necks. Hence today's quick march to the end of a rope, making for a quick to revision to all of those end of the year lists so popular this time of the year.

Still, any day that a despot gets his ticket punched for a one way trip to see Uncle shaitan ( الشيطان ) then it’s a good day. I’m pretty sure that Saddam shan’t be missed anytime soon. Considering the countless numbers that he sent to death over his years of tyranny, there won't be many thinking that justice made an error today.

Throw another log on the fire there Beelzebub, there’s incoming mail heading your way!

And for now, its back to the comprehensive and breathless coverage of the death of despot over at Fox and CNN, who seem quite anxious to project his swinging image at the end of a rope...

Tough Skittles

A Vancouver island woman has lost her bid to receive compensation from the Nanaimo Parks and Recreation Department, after hurting her leg at a Nanaimo area roller rink.

Carmela Amerato (formerly Roper) of Nanaimo claimed she was injured after she skated over some Skittles candy at the city-run Beban Park Arena in June 2004. Her case was disallowed in court after a BC Supreme Court judge ruled that there was no negligence involved by the staff of the city run rink.

The cracking point in her case may have come when she explained in court that she had seen young children eating skittles in the rink area, but had not taken her concerns to rink staff at the time.

Judge S. James Shabbits ruled that he believed the city workers that there were no hazards left on the rink, and that Amerato's fall was not the result of any negligence on their part. \

He went on to say that if Amerato did see a boy spilling Skittles and didn't report it, she herself was negligent for exposing herself to the danger.

During the course ofCity staff had testified that they had a strict no snacks policy on the roller rink and were quite empahtic in their enforcement of the edict. The rink thus was a skittle free zone and the tumble of Ms. Amerato was purely the act of poor skating style over a rogue skittle acting with evil intent.

Location, Location, Location!

It's the buzzword of many a real estate agent, the location of the property they are trying to sell in comparison to where the buyer needs to be on a day to day basis.

In Washington, DC or just outside of Washington however it's more to do with where they aren't.
Federal Departments of the US Government including the FBI are quietly buying up property along the Shenandoah Valley on the Interstate 81, all in the much desired area that is outside of the 75 mile "blast range".

Aware of the current climate in the world, it seems that the US Government is re-locating many departments away from the capital, able to operate should the unthinkable happen and the DC area become ground zero of some terrorist plot or some other tragic incident.

In a story on the trend that seems to be focusing on a worst case scenario, the Washington Post explains some of the driving factors behind the rural relocation project.

"Helping drive the shift is the government's emphasis on security in a post-Sept. 11 world, which turns Winchester's location 75 miles from Washington into a geographic ideal. It is far enough from the capital to escape the fallout of a nuclear explosion -- a distance often estimated at 50 miles -- but still close enough so that employees can get to the District relatively easily when they need to."

No doubt the US Government is probably trumpeting the lower cost of land and lack of congestion for the department moves, but the concept might find use in the Human Resources Department.

It very well make for an attractive recruitment bonus for civil servants we guess, you can have federal employment without the accompanying fear of going to work...

A slight difference of opinion..

The bulletin board of the local information portal hacking the main frame is becoming the scene of a boisterous display of point/counter point.

The topic: Where Prince Rupert is today, where it may be going tomorrow..

A few weeks ago, we recounted here on Podunk a letter that first appeared and took to task some of the long time perceptions of life in Podunk. It was an upsetting of the apple cart so to speak, one that has since put the backs up of long time locals, ready to defend the honour of their little corner of the province.

While originally, things seemed rather clinical about the points being made and the rebuttals that would be offered, as can occasionally happen the emotions are quick to rise to the debate.

The latest offerings on htmf indicate that those emotions and observations are going to be ratcheted up a tad, as the great debate as to what's best for Podunk is made.

Many things can get folks around here excited, it seems that high school basketball selections, academic rankings of the schools and now observations on what is right or wrong with the city and its destiny, make for flowery if at times cutting rhetoric as locals head to their word processors.

All of it is being played out in the pages of free newspapers and Internet portals... Sit back or join in if you wish, just stay clear of the shrapnel!!

Is Squamish the blue print for Rupert’s Big Box dreams?

There’s an interesting story in the Vancouver Sun about the recent debate over Big Box stores in the Squamish area. A debate that ended with a big box shopping plaza arriving on the scene and the customers that go with it following.

It seems to parallel the recent debate in Prince Rupert over the Shopping Village planned for the Highway 16 area, and might help shed a little light on how one community has handled the increased competition for the small town local stores.

There are quite a few observations made in it that seem to answer many of the questions locals had over the Shopping Village process here in town. It’s a good bit of research work for us, done for a town with similar concerns and structure as our own.

Big box comes to Squamish
Home Depot, Wal-Mart drawing customers from Whistler, Lillooet

Brian Morton
Vancouver Sun
Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's 9 a.m. in Squamish's brand new big-box shopping plaza, but already the parking lot is starting to fill up.

A month ago, Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores opened in the Squamish Business Park and traffic has been steadily growing ever since.

But it's not just Squamish residents who are making the trek to the biggest retail offering in the town's history. Shoppers from Whistler, Pemberton and even Lillooet are travelling down Highway 99, helping make Squamish a shopping hub for the area. This trend will likely accelerate as Highway 99 is widened in time for the 2010 Olympics, making the highway trip both safer and quicker.

But, unlike other towns where similar big-box stores have hurt businesses in struggling downtowns, the big-box stores in Squamish may actually be breathing new life into the town's urban core.

As well, Squamish's two big-box stores, which feature peaked roofs with timber and stone accents, appear more attractive than other similar big-box stores in the Lower Mainland -- a testament, perhaps, to higher design standards promoted by Squamish council over the past four or five years.

"I find it's a positive thing," said Daniel Gloor, owner of the funky Sunflower Bakery Cafe in downtown Squamish. His shop was packed with customers lining up for breads, muffins and specialty coffees Wednesday afternoon. "Once they [Whistler residents] are here, they come in for coffee or lunch. We're busy like crazy."

Gloor said this time of year is normally quiet, but now that's not the case -- especially since the big-box stores opened. "I'm sure others are hurting, but that [big-box has been a plus] is our opinion."

George Chang, owner of Kitchen Corner, a high-end specialty cookware store in downtown Squamish, agreed.

"It's all been good, actually," Chang said in an interview. "As long as you don't go head to head with [Wal-Mart or Home Depot], you're fine. We're seeing a dramatic change in the number of clients from Whistler, who we have never seen before. And Home Depot is sending customers to us if they don't have [the product]. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Unlike other municipalities in the Lower Mainland, Squamish is farther away from Vancouver, and has fewer shopping options. On weekends, many local shoppers leave Squamish, heading to North Shore stores where they invariably run into their neighbours.

Those weekend jaunts may become less frequent.

"Business is great," said Campbell McDonald, general manager of Squamish's new Home Depot. "The community has been outstanding in the way they've received us. And we're getting customers from Whistler, Pemberton and beyond. We were also able to staff our positions without too much trouble. We're blown away by the high quality of our staff."

Wal-Mart is also doing well, but unlike Home Depot, there was plenty of opposition by local residents to the big-box retailer, opposition that is still evident in the community.

"I'll shop at Home Depot if locally owned businesses don't have what I'm looking for," said Lauren Fraser, who was at Home Depot Wednesday. "But I won't shop there," she said, pointing at Wal-Mart. "I don't see them giving back to the community. They pay low wages, from what I understand. I like the little stores."

Shannon Johnson, a Squamish resident who was shopping at Kitchen Corner Wednesday, is also unimpressed. "I don't go to Wal-Mart. I don't like their business practices. I like to support people who live here, rather than an American company that just wants to profit off of us."
However, Keith Klips disagreed, saying he's happy to shop at Wal-Mart. "I don't have a problem as long as the service is okay. We had to drive 40 miles to do our shopping. This is retaining people here."

Whistler resident Rae McDonald has made three trips to Squamish since the big-box stores opened. She shops at both Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

"We think this is awesome. We have nothing like this in Whistler. And the pricing is good."
McDonald said her family usually buys other things at other smaller Squamish stores when they make the trip. "When people utilize these [big-box] stores, they go to other stores as well. We go for lunch and dinner when we're here."

However, other stores that are in direct competition with the big boxes are noticing an impact.
"It's slowed down a bit, but it's not as bad as we thought," said Home Hardware assistant manager Morgan Price. "Our prices are competitive and people are starting to return. We're in no danger of closing."

Patricia Zuffa, assistant manager of Fields department store, said she's seeing people return to Fields after trying out Wal-Mart. "We've got pretty faithful customers."

Local newspaper columnist Helmut Manzl, who likes shopping at Wal-Mart, said he believes the big-box stores will be "enormously" successful. "From what I'm seeing, downtown has to get its act together. The downtown needs niche marketing."

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland said it is still early, but he hopes the big-box stores and other new stores opening in Squamish will keep local residents in the community.

"We've had a big loss of retail dollars out of the community," said Sutherland. "The habit is still to go to the North Shore, but more and more people are coming around. The challenge is that once they head to Capilano Mall and Park Royal, they do all their shopping there.

"Hopefully, this [new shopping options] will also help the downtown area do better."

Dave Fenn, a former Squamish councillor who voted in favour of the new Wal-Mart, said council supported the project to make Squamish a regional hub for the Sea to Sky corridor. He also said the town had to stop "bleeding" shoppers who drive to North and West Vancouver.

Fenn, who owns the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. in downtown Squamish, said he's already noticed more customers at his restaurant and pub from Whistler and Pemberton who drove down to the big-box stores.

"There's been traffic from there [Whistler] coming down for the big shop. We've had overnight traffic here, too.

"I think it will have a beneficial effect as long as the downtown core does its part in improving the retail experience."

Other recent retail additions in Squamish include Rona, the Brick, and the Whistler/Blackcomb outlet store.

Meanwhile, plans are proceeding on the Parallax Development, a 100,000-square-foot retail complex that would be built beside the new Wal-Mart.

"Our project is now in a zoning application," project partner Sean Languedoc said Wednesday. "It is a comprehensive mix of larger and smaller stores, including a large pharmacy like London Drugs and smaller stores like Sport Mart, Reitmans and other fashion stores. There would also be some factory outlet stores, and possibly a hotel."

Languedoc said the complex, which would be built in stages over four or five years, is planned to open in the spring or fall of 2008.

He said the project wouldn't affect downtown Squamish because it would include national brand retailers that would not locate in the downtown core.

A Wal-Mart representative could not be reached to comment Wednesday.
© The Vancouver Sun 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A rebuttal for Pedrico Lao

A couple of weeks ago a newcomer to Prince Rupert penned a less than flattering look at the town and the way the place works. It caused quite a sensation at the time, as many got their backs up at the prospect of an out of towner, coming into town to lay down the law so to speak. It appeared in the Northern View and immediately became the talk of the town.

While a few of his points hit some valid points of concern locally, just as many others apparently hit some raw nerves. Sending more than a few off to the word processor to put together a counterpoint to Mr. Lao's observations.

This week, the Northern View published one such rebuttal, the case for the defence we guess.

Rupert starting to turn the corner
The Northern View
Dec 27 2006

Editor’s note: The following letter was received regards to Mr. Lao’s letter two weeks ago.

To Mr. Pedrico Lao:

Are you serious? This is the message that you bring to us from “your” reality, “your” outside world (I’m quite sure many, many more average outsiders do not share your simplistic views) that we are living in dilapidated housing with unlicensed broken down cars, with water filled mildew colored boats and dog feces in our yards. That we are a gullible and naïve people. Is this how you want to introduced yourself to this town Mr. Lao? I am so sorry that we have not met your approval.

I will not dispute your ramblings on property values (I don’t profess to be an expert in the real estate market). We do have a lot of World War two houses, and quite frankly some outside people would say that it adds to Rupert’s character. Cruise ship passenger have stated they like Prince Rupert because it’s real, it’s clean, it’s small town Canada. It’s not a tourist trap. What you see is what you get, Mr. Lao, real hard working people, people trying to do their best through this dark period of Rupert’s history, I agree that we are an overly optimistic people. Unfortunately for you Mr. Lao, you have not been through what this town has been through in recent years. You really can’t and never will comprehend the hardships and the struggles that many Rupertites have had to endure. And yet, we are still here. This shows you a lot about our character and resiliency.

You state that you have doubts about “Our New World Port” and it’s realization. Maybe you should drive to the terminal and you will notice all these machines and men moving around. This is called a construction site:) I’m not sure where you’re getting your info from, but there will be many good paying jobs with our “New World Port” and locals citizens will benefit from it.
Where you heard that it will create work and wealth for everyone is mystifying. I am sure everyone would love to work at the container port. The sad reality of the situation is that everyone cannot and will not get good paying jobs as a result of the Port. There will also be many lower paying jobs caused directly and indirectly by the results of the higher paying jobs being created by the Container Port. This also happens in Richmond.

You’re coming here at a time when our fortunes have finally turned. You have missed all the hardships, the agonies and the unforgettable sorrows that have befallen this town. There were a lot of good paying jobs that were lost from our resource based economy. So unfortunately for you, you are not seeing us at our best. But we have endured the dark times and the proverbial light is within reach. You haven’t been here to feel the heartbeat of our beloved city grow fainter and fainter. It’s beating a lot louder these days. In fact it’s beating so loud it can be heard across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and you know what, they have heard of us and they haven’t stepped within city limits either. Your absurd statement that most average outsiders do not know where Prince Rupert is, at the least, ludicrous. Here’s a case in point, my job as a Forestry Engineer has taken me extensively throughout B.C. and all the people I have met, they know where Prince Rupert is. We have tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world that come through our Cruise ship dock and they know about Prince Rupert. I am very positive that our city counsel, Mayor Pond and the CEO of Prince Rupert Port Authority Don Krusel are trying to promote Prince Rupert and its opportunities, albeit not to the average person as you state in your letter.

Besides Fairview and a Casino we do have other projects on the go, British Columbia’s first wind farm is being built here on Mount Hays. There is construction happening on Ridley Island for the export of pellets. One only has to look around to see the signs of the impending economic revitalization. Who are we Mr. Lao, we are 5000 years rich in First Nations history, we are an area of abundant recreational opportunities, we are a future Asian Pacific gateway to North America. The question remains Mr. Lao, who are you!

Unlike you, I don’t have a ludicrous statement such as “Prince Rupert holds a special place in my heart”, but rather, “I have the blood of a hundred generations flowing through mine”. So if I sound a little miffed I am, if I sound sore I am, you should have realized your defamation of our city, my birthplace, my home, would have quite honestly, garner some sort of retaliation.
Yes we live one of the rainiest places in Canada,” Hello!” we live in a Temperate Rain Forest, the same one you live in Richmond by the way.

Yes we live on an isolated Island, but thank goodness there are many modes of transportation back to Richmond, you take your pick, I’ll pay. Godspeed Mr. Lao

John Brlecic

Do you have a letter, a letter for me!

Over forty years after their tribute to mail delivery, The Beatles are about to receive their due from the Royal Mail.

The CBC website had the following story on a planned six stamp series based on past Beatle’s albums through the years.

Beatles to make appearance on U.K. stamps

CBC website
Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Fab Four are set for another U.K. honour in 2007, with the Royal Mail announcing on Thursday an upcoming postage stamp series featuring famous Beatles album covers.

Starting Jan. 9, the Royal Mail will celebrate the Beatles' "extraordinary cultural contribution to Britain" with its release of a six-stamp series.

The famed cover of the Beatles's Abbey Road album is part of the six-stamp series Britain's Royal Mail is set to release in early January.

(Royal Mail/Associated Press)

The set will feature the covers from With the Beatles, Help!, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

The Beatles continue to have a huge devoted following around the world, with the band's memorabilia commanding high prices from fans at auction.

The surviving members of the band, and the families of the deceased members, are also locked in several lawsuits over musical and other copyrights.

The Royal Mail's postage stamp tribute comes more than 35 years after the band broke up in 1970.

John Lennon was killed by a crazed fan a decade later and George Harrison died of cancer in 2001.

While surviving drummer Ringo Starr has largely stayed out of the spotlight in recent years, Paul McCartney has remained in the headlines because of his concert appearances, his activism and his bitter divorce from second wife, Heather Mills.

McCartney also continues to write new music, both rock and classical, and British media reported this week that he is collaborating with his cousin, actress Kate Robbins, on a stage show featuring the music of his Liverpool Oratorio.

You’re only as happy as the company you keep!

Tis the season of forced confinement with your loved ones, the holiday period usually means gatherings with friends and family, but sometimes too much of a good thing can be just plain bad.

Slate magazine has a pretty interesting feature from a book just released called Bored Couples. It’s a snapshot in the day of some folks who appear that they would rather be anywhere than where they are and who they are with.

The description of the book tells you all you need to know about the subjects and their less than exciting lives.

Book of the Week: Bored Couples by Martin Parr
In this candid book, Martin Parr delivers piercing social commentary with his view of couples that have lost the sparkle in their eyes.

New Year’s Eve is going to be a hoot with these folks!

In Asia the internet is broken

While we're used to the occasional disruption in service of our Internet connections in the Northwest, in the wired world of Asia losing service is akin to a national disaster.

Boxing Day's 7.1 earthquake off of Taiwan has resulted in some huge headaches in Internet and phone service to a number of countries around the Asian basin. From Korea to Japan and China service has slowed to a crawl or just not happened at all.

The situation is causing much in the way of trouble to almost anyone in any nation, from financial executives at Asian trading houses, to banks and insurance companies, to folks at home trying to Google up a recipe, post a blog item or send an e mail. The underwater links to the world have apparently been scrambled, with repairs expected to take possibly up to six or seven weeks.

It's but a small indication of the reliance we now have on the technology and the havoc that can occur when things go wrong. It will be interesting to watch the affect that the service disruption has on the Asian economies and how they cope with the crisis.

The Fitzpatrick Conspiracy!

The campaign to put Vancouver Canuck Rory Fitzpatrick into an all star sweater has suddenly hit a little internet turbulence. As the fan favourite who was packing away the votes a week ago, this week finds himself dropping down the list of the most wanted for Dallas.

Now conspiracy buffs will have visions of Gary Bettman and a gaggle of NHL VP’s sitting up late into the night, voting early and voting often, to make sure that the vision of Fitzpatrick donning an all star uni doesn’t come to pass.

This current all star voting process, which uses a process of one fan, many votes, now seems to have about as much reliability as a Florida presidential vote count, and we all remember how well that worked out!

The debate reached the point of nastiness over the weekend as both Don Cherry and Kelly Hrudey; CBC commentators on Hockey Night in Canada called the campaign for Fitzpatrick a bit of a joke.

Now while we can see Hrudey being computer literate enough to probably stay up late to sway some votes, the possibilities of Don Cherry successfully negotiating the keyboard to scupper Fitzpatrick seem remote.

But, over at the NHL offices, well you can sense the panic in the air at the possibility of the under achieving Canuck defenceman edging out a Niklas Lidstrom, Scott Neidermayer or Chirs Pronger.

With the latest results now tabulated, Fitzpatrick has dropped to third place, Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks leads the defencemen with 540,380 votes, followed by Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings at 522,345. Fitzpatrick has earned 486,842 votes.

If this were a game of Clue, the answer very well could be; Gary Bettman, in the office with a keyboard.

The above posting first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more items on hockey check it out!

Slaves to the written word!

If you received a book for Christmas, you may unwittingly have contributed to the enslavement of book store employees across the nation.

The Tyee has a fascinating little article about the unionization drive at a Chapters location in Vancouver recently, it weaves a tale of the new economy of low wage jobs, low hour totals and an endless cycle of trying to make ends meet all while probably trying to keep off the radar of the bosses.

One interesting point made in the article is that of the subsidization of the literature industry in Canada, through Canada Council grants and such. Which while beneficial to the actual writers and publishers, don't seem to trickle down to the little people that stock the shelves, or work the tills of the bookstores of the nation. In fact one particular offering suggests that the low wages of the retail sector help to subsidize the industry.

The driving point to the article though is the economic change that has crossed the nation as far as working hours and benefits go. Far too many employees find themselves stuck in a rut of part time jobs, trying to cobble together enough hours to make a half decent living. Many would give up a dollar or two in salary or at least not ask for an increase, if only the employers would move to a more permanent timetable for hours of work.

A situation that probably isn't in the cards any time soon, the retail trade especially has found that by limiting employees hours to a certain levels cuts costs and bumps their bottom line. Ironically, it could mean that their own employees wouldn't have enough money at the end of the day to purchase the goods they sell during the day.

It's a trend that should it continue eventually will bring the economy to a standstill. It's hard to imagine anyone balancing two part time jobs at minimum or just above minimum wage investing in a new home, a new car or other consumer goods to keep an economy chugging along.

Somewhere in your local book store we're sure is a book that outlines the road we travel on where it's going to go. Ask one of the slaves if they know where it might be.

Everybody wanted one, everybody apparently got one and everybody tried to get a song at once!

The Apple iPod once again seems to have been the most popular of Christmas gifts, as the Apple on line store found itself overwhelmed with download requests on Christmas morning.

A reported four times as many users than last year tried to get onto the Apple site to download a tune for the shiny new toy. Only to be greeted by messages advising they couldn’t log on or waits of up to twenty minutes to download a song.

Analysts said the problems likely were the result of too many people with holiday iPods and iTunes gift cards trying to access the site at once.

The problem such as it is, just goes to insure Apple’s place as the dominant force for digital music, the fact that so many people were trying to log on to download songs shows just how much the iPod has captured the imagination of the music seeking public.

It could also be the first recorded event of a Boxing Day line up extending beyond a bricks and mortar store. Just like those that brave the cold, rains and snow, even those that go no further than their computer desk had to stand in line.