Sunday, April 30, 2006

Money for nothing as the tourists flee

B. C. Ferries stands to make a tidy bit of pocket change simply by not providing any service to coastal routes this summer. The Daily News has the story of how when the Ferries applied for an Act of God claim, the wheels were put in motion that could see them get paid for routes they will not run.

Making for a rather interesting situation, which has the Ferry Corporation getting paid out for trips they won’t provide, while local tourism operators lose money for visitors they won’t receive.

It’s amazing what a stroke of a pen can do for a bottom line.

Check out the entire story below.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, April 28, 2006
Pages One and Three

B. C. Ferries could pocket more than $2.5 million for trips they won’t be taking this summer in the wake of the Queen of the North disaster.

Shortly after the Queen of the North sank at the end of March, B. C. Ferries claimed the event was ‘Force Majeure’ or an act of God. This was approved by the B. C. Ferries Commissioner and provincial Minister of Transportation for a month, up until May 18. Hence, under the Coastal Ferry Services Contract with the province, B. C. Ferries continued to receive its service fee for those runs it did not provide. If the Commissioner approves an extension, the company will also get paid for those runs it will no longer be able to provide during the summer season.

On Monday, B. C. Ferries announced it has so far been unable to find a replacement vessel for the Queen of the North in time for the summer season and will use the smaller Queen of Prince Rupert to service both the inside passage and Queen Charlotte Islands using the winter schedule. Under the Coastal Ferries Services Contract, B. C. Ferries receives $42,669 per round trip to the Charlottes and $43,496 per round trip on the Inside Passage.

While the company had provided a minimum of 66 round trips on the Inside Passage in the summer and 92 round trips to the Charlottes, under the winter schedule, it will only be able to provide 38 on the Inside Passage and 57 to the Charlottes.

The missing 63 trips are worth $2.7 million in service fees.

In addition, the reduced number of trips will all be on the Queen of Prince Rupert, which can only hold 400 passengers, compared to the 600 capacity of the Queen of the North.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons, also the NDP’s ferry critic, said it is way too early to declare the cause of the sinking ‘an act of God’.

We can’t say what the true cause of the sinking was, because we just don’t know,” said Coons.

“For Ferries to quickly invoke the Force Majeure clause –even before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had begun work on its investigation – strikes me as premature.”

He said Ferries invoke the Force Majuere clause to avoid liability for not living up to the service provisions of their contract with the provincial government.

“It seems as though B. C. Ferries has learned well from this government: when anything goes wrong, say it was out of their control,” Coons said.

Coons says the minister’s acceptance of Ferries declaration could backfire in the long run.

He says if the NTSB does not find fault in 18 months, Ferries could easily argue that the government has absolved the corporation of its responsibility.

It is unknown at this point whether the declaration will impact the insurance claim of individuals on board the Queen of the North when it sunk.

The president of the B. C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union was equally outraged that
B. C. Ferries will continue to get paid, while northern communities take a huge financial hit because of the reduced capacity during the summer tourist season. Sixty per cent of the passengers on the two routes are tourists.

“B. C. Ferries continues to receive their 90 million service fee from the provincial government without providing full services to Northern Communities,” said Jackie Miller.

“Those dollars should be going to support coastal communities that are having difficulty traveling, moving goods and supplies and drawing tourists.

“Instead the province appears happy to continue paying B. C. Ferries for services ferry-dependent communities aren’t receiving.

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond said there’s no doubt tourism operators are going to take a hit this summer.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for local tourism operators,” said Pond. “It’s also going to hurt operators all along the circle tour line.”

He said communities such as Smithers and even gas stations along the Highway to Prince George are bracing for a financial hit.

Winnipeg's NHL dream gets a bit further away!

Paul Friesen is a brave guy, in a town that is as hockey mad as Winnipeg, Friesen a writer for the Winnipeg Sun, has penned a column that puts a bit of a cloud over the NHL is coming back to Winnipeg stories.

Friesen shows how the new NHL is actually doing fairly well after it's one year hiatus, something that wasn't supposed to happen. The idea of crumbling NHL franchises laid waste by a lengthy labour stoppage was the lynch pin in any move to bring hockey back to the likes of Winnipeg and Quebec City.

And while the southern teams are still not packing them in with large numbers, the attendance in the so called sun belt trouble spots is actually increasing rather than decreasing, a rather bad omen for Canadian cities hoping to get back into the bigs.

The one team that is on the market, Pittsburgh, doesn't seem to be in any hurry to actually leave Pennsylvania, moves are in motion to secure a new rink in the city of three rivers, with or without the added bonus of gaming machines which is becoming a tad controversial as far as funding a sports arena goes.

Add on to all of that the increasing crawl upwards of NHL salaries and we find that many Canadian cities may find themselves in the same situation as before the lock out year, teams salary structures dont' add up to a profitable situation in the smaller Canadian markets.

While one hopes that somehow the economic universe rights itself to allow Canadian cities to once again dream of returning to the NHL, at the moment it's a situation that would take some serious study for an investor to take a gamble on tackling the NHL challenge in smaller markets.

While everyone hopes to wave a Jets flag again one day, the road is not quite clear yet for a return to Winnipeg or any other Canadian outpost at the moment.

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

Friday, April 28, 2006

New Neil! Protest is back, and back BIG!

Neil Young has released his latest musical offering, "Living with War" to an online audience who can listen in for free. Kind of like a test drive before you purchase your own personal copy of what is shaping up to be a controversial little project.

The CD which will be officially released to the stores and download sites next week, has been creating a buzz over track seven on the recording, a tune called "Lets Impeach the President". It's a powerful indictment of the Bush presidency, with a driving guitar and powerful back beat, it's in the same vein as Country Joe and the Fish's "Fixin' to die rag" of the sixties.

It's a decidedly against the war song, that pulls no punches on what side of the debate Young finds himself on. When the lyrics of the song were first leaked out to the public, Fox News went positively apoplectic over the tone and timbre, going so far as to suggest that Mr. Young might be happier to relocate back north of the border from whence he came.

The first impression of a listening session is a straight ahead rocking Young back in fine form, in a genre he's mastered over the years, carrying the torch against injustice and hypocrisy. Restless Consumer with its refrain; "We don't need no more lies" gives you an idea at the sense of frustration that has enveloped him on this project.

His approach to this recording is a full fledged media assault, in addition to the free listening post provided, Young has a blog called "Living with War", which updates fans and the curious as to the latest happenings regarding the recording.

He has a MySpace site dedicated to the project giving another window into his thinking and what the project means to him.

Part of his Neil Young home site called Neil's Garage, has a lyrics page as well , it features clips from recent appearances ans stories on CNN and Fox News.

On the Reprise records site (Young's home label) there is an interview about what brought him into the studio to put together his record of unification as he calls it.

In the end though, all the blogs, websites and lyric sheets mean nothing without the music, and the music holds more than its own. It's a powerful record, timely in release and one that will give many pause to think, should they take the time to listen and absorb.

In a country that has tried to slow down the concept of free speech and right to protest of late, Young tackles the controversy head on, using what he knows best, a fascinating ability to voice the concerns of many over the erosion of civil rights in the USA, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, not to mention the fear of speaking out against the direction that the Bush Administration is taking the States.

If you're a fan of President Bush, this will no doubt make you rail with rage. If your think that George Bush is the most dangerous man in the world, the recording will probably become a holy grail for you.

However, if you just worry about our friends to the south and the current path they seem to be on in all of their endeavors, the recording will give you much to think about and hope for a return to a less suspicious and worrisome time for America and the world.

Living with War won't soothe you to sleep in troubled times, but it gives you pause to think about where we have come from, where were at and maybe where we are going.

You can listen to the recording in its entirety here.

Pulp mill deadline passes, new deadline set!

The long running saga of Skeena Cel, which begot New Skeena Forest Products, will play out for a few more months yet. Sun Wave Forest Products has asked for another extension to the deadline, as it wanders the bureaucratic byways of the Chinese Central Government. Sun Wave has agreed to continue to fund the process of keeping the mill on the market, while the Central Government decides on whether it wants to own a Canadian pulp mill or not.

It will be interesting to see how the current political suspicion of Chinese companies by the Federal Government, might come into play in the project. In the last few weeks the Federal Government has expressed concern over some of the practices of Chinese industry regarding Canadian interests, whether that more vocal concern has any impact on any eventual decision on Canadian investment remains to be seen.

For now, the latest date to circle on your calendar is June 15, that’s the next deadline put in place by the receivers. The Daily News had complete details on the extension in yesterday’s edition, reprinted for your research purposes here.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Page One

Sun Wave Forest Products has sought another extension but continues to pony up non-refundable cash as it pursues a deal to purchase the pulp mill in Prince Rupert.

Larry Prentice, of Ernst and Young Inc., the court-appointed receiver, said the company came forward seeking an extension on Monday. Up until that point, it was hoped a representative from the company would come from China to sign off on the deal before the April 28 deadline.

“They came to us Monday and asked what it would take to extend the deal,” said Prentice.

The company has agreed to triple its non-refundable deposit and continues to pay virtually all the costs of the extension.

“All of that they readily agreed to do,” said Prentice.

Back in April, Sun Wave committed in excess of a million dollars to continue to explore its purchasing options.

“The non-refundable deposit is now a very sizable percentage of the overall transaction,” he said.
An extension has been granted until June 15.

Sun Wave Forest Products is a B. C. company owned by the China Paper Group, which in turn is 80 per cent owned by the Chinese central government.

Sun Wave is considering purchasing the land on which the former Skeena Cellulose pulp mill sands as well as all the pulp mill site assets not previously acquired, real estate and other assets in Port Edward and New Hazelton and a substantial forest licence in the Kispiox forest district. The purchase is worth around $4 million.

Sun Wave came forward at the last minute in 2005 to purchase the majority of the pulp mill equipment in a fire sale following the bankruptcy of New Skeena Forest Products. At that point, it was believed the mill would be dismantled and sent overseas.

However, since then, Sun Wave has worked on tax, fibre and labour agreements with the city of Prince Rupert, Coast Tsmshian and Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada to operate the mill in B. C. The pulp produced locally would feed the China Paper Group’s numerous paper mills in Eastern China. The company has been seeking the approval of the Chinese central government to complete the international purchase since last November. It would be the first international operation for Sun Wave.

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond said he was not surprised by the delay.

“We’ve been told by a number of parties for Sun Wave to get permission from the Chinese government was going to be time consuming,” he said.

While the purchase price for the lands and licence is no more than $5 million, a decision to operate the pulp mill will represent close to a $100 million investment on the part of the China Paper Group. While the city would love to see the mill up and running, Pond said he’s encouraged Sun Wave is still at the table and still talking.

“They are still in the game and they are showing interest.”

Bringing the classics back to the common man again

There’s a chance to take an aural trip into the history of American folk music with the latest offering from Bruce Springsteen. Just released Tuesday, was “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” a wonderful tapestry of classic American folk music from the Pete Seeger song book.

Seeger in an American icon, his music has spanned the decades as he gave voice to the troubles and dreams of the common man, literally thousands of musicians, composers and lyricists have been influenced by his music over the years, none more so than Bruce Springsteen.

Now first off, a bit of disclosure here, I am perhaps one of the biggest Springsteen fans around. The guy could read off a pizza menu or a telephone book and I would probably rush out and buy the album. He has long represented the cause of the average person, those with the regular jobs, looking to escape the madness of a world seemingly gone wrong for them.

He's not afraid to take chances with his music, past experiments included the acoustically dark at times Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, both collections in which he left his powerful E Street band on the sidelines. Most recently he changed directions a bit with his Devils and Dust recording, another solo project that shows that as he ages he still can provide relevant music for his fans.

His music through the years has been laced with equal parts of great hope and great disappointment; he certainly has an understanding of the troubles facing those on the fringes of society. Through the decades since his launchto stardom with Born to Run, Springsteen has reflected America back to itself through a musical prism.

From his earliest days of the Wild, Innocent and the E street shuffle, Springsteen has been a touchstone between the classes. A trip through his catalogue of music is like a living historical tour, from the heady days of young ambition and carefree concern, to the fall out and foreboding sense from September 11th on the Rising, Springsteen is able to succinctly divine the worries and hopes of ordinary people looking for a break, or at least a way to understand what we have gone through over the years.

Perhaps that is why he seems to understand the nuances of the songs selected for “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”. There probably is no other American singer on the scene today that could faithfully hold the candle of Seegers’ classic interpretations, Springsteen has done a remarkable job of recapturing the feeling of Seeger, helped out wonderfully by a very tight collection of musicians who excel to provide the desired sound.

Upon release date I downloaded five songs from the iTunes site, to tide me over until I buy the album. (In an era of downloadable music, Springsteen is still one of the few artists of whom I willingly look to part with my money, for a hard copy version of his work).

The five I chose, give a nice cross section of what it available in the entire thirteen song volume. They range from sea shanties, to protest songs to Negro spirituals, a wonderful cross section of music that for many is long forgotten. For five bucks on iTunes, I took a journey into the past and discovered the genesis of many of today’s musical leaders. You can hear the inspirations for Neil Young, U2, Steve Earle and John Mellencamp to name a few in some of the corners of these songs, the art of the song begins in the story telling. So let the stories begin.

An Irish tinged protest song called "Mrs. McGrath", which originally dates back to the Napoleonic era gained great acceptance in Ireland of the early 1900’s (there is perhaps no better ode against war) “have you heard from my son Ted, is he living or is he dead?”, brings out the futility of war from the perspective of a mother’s voice. It’s a moving song and is considered one of the very earliest of protest songs.

The civil rights standard “We shall overcome” comes alive with tales of hurt, hope, pain and pride. It perhaps provided its most moving renditions during the turbulent days of the sixties, freedom riders, lunch counter protests and the fight for equality all marched to the gospel tones of We Shall Overcome, Springsteen is faithful to the original tone and timbre of the song and its message.

The haunting vocals of “Eyes on the Prize”, with their gospel backing give one cause to ponder what cost freedom will take for us to preserve. The sense of spirit undefeated comes through in this track quite well, for as far as we sometimes think we’ve come, there is still quite a ways to go. You can sense the feeling of both hope and despair as the song builds its momentum to its end.

“Shenandoah” is a lovelorn lament, as with much of the folk music of the past its history is rather confusing. Some portray it as a sea shanty, others as the tale of love for an Indian chief of the Missouri River Valley. Over its course it has been sung by French Canadian voyageurs, US Cavalry soldiers and sailors plying the trade of the clipper ships.

There is an interesting sound to “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep No More”, Part Dixie land band and part gospel revival song, it’s a lively interpretation of biblical times. The Mary in question not the Mother of Jesus, but instead Mary of Bethany, who begged Jesus to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. It’s one of the great Negro spirituals that can be traced back before the Civil War. It gained popularity through the years as a standard of the “freedom songs” of the 1960’s.

For those unfamiliar with the wide ranging library of Pete Seeger, this makes a wonderful primer and should send you scrambling to the library looking for back issues of the Seeger originals.

The songs have stood the test of time as their lineage shows; Springsteen has brought his own personal interpretation to each, while keeping true to their original theme and Seegers masterful reworking of them through the fifties and sixties.

It’s a great introduction to a part of American music that is long overdue for its honours. The singer songwriter era tends to get trashed in today’s pop culture tidal wave of one hit wonders. He examines his latest work with an interview and feature on National Public Radio, you can learn more about his process on the project here.

Springsteen has done a terrific job of bringing back some of American musical history, for those looking for something a little deeper than the formula pop tunes of today, check this out. You will be taking a wonderful journey into music that should leave you wanting much more!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The itsy bitsy spider

The itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the waterspout
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out
Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain
And the itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again

Stomp, Stomp, Stomp! That's what you'll be doing to any spider you see after taking a look at this little bit of information.

The brown recluse spider is a bit of nasty critter (definition here), and calls the South and South east of America home, but it's a recluse for a reason apparently.

Note: if you're the squeamish type, don't scroll down past picture number three (Day 6)!!!

I've warned you!

City Council for the High Jump!

Herb and the gang are in favor of the high jump, the hop, skip and jump, long jump and relays. Should they get their way with their current budget plans, the long awaited repairs to the Charles Hays track will finally see the light of day. The track which has come into some disrepair over the last few years as money got tighter and tighter, is one five priorities listed by city staff as the most likely to be addressed with new monies in hand.

Also up for immediate attention are the work yards roof, RCMP cells and the fire hall roof. All of these plans are contingent on the city approving plans to raise property taxes to meet an expected shortfall of 516,000 to meet wage increases on payments on past borrowing.

You can check out the entire process from Tuesday night’s information session at City Hall, by reading the Daily News coverage reprinted below.


If the city goes ahead with its proposed budget, it will have the money available this year to partner with the school board and fix the pitted surface of Charles Hays track.

Only a handful of people turned out to comment on the city’s proposal to raise an additional half a million dollars in revenue this year through taxation at a public meeting last night.

And half of those who spoke were encouraged that part of the increase the city has planned will allow them to fix the popular athletic facility.

Brian Johnson, track coach and school board member, said the issue of the holes in the Charles Hays track facility affects many people in the community, not just the track team of 35 high school athletes.

“Everybody uses that field, everybody will benefit in the long run (from fixing it)” he said.

He noted the school board has put aside $180,000 for repairs. The city has budgeted $155,000.

“It’s extremely difficult for the athletes to excel and show how well they can do at other tracks when they can’t even practice on their own.” He said.

“It’s extremely frustrating as a coach watching these kids have to dodge potholes.

Kevin Leach, another local track coach said he would like coaches to have input on the repairs, in order to improve the design and prevent a similar situation from occurring.

The current surface of the facility is water permeable – water trickles through the track surface to the asphalt and causes the rubber to bubble upwards.

City staff said they could release the funds for the project once the budget passes.

Staff are proposing to raise an additional $516,000 in order to meet contractual wage increases with their employees and make the first payment on the $7 million it borrowed for the cruise ship dock and museum building purchase.

Staff provided a list of all the line items the city would like to complete in 2006 however they would cost 1.8 million. Given that local taxpayers would likely not be able to stomach such an increase, staff pared that down to $516,000 which will cover the cost of repairing the track, the works yard roof, RCMP cells and fire hall roof.

How the increase will affect individual businesses and homeowners will depend on how their property assessment changed last year. The average property owners saw a 24 per cent increase. Those who saw larger increases in their assessments will see larger tax increases while those who didn’t see any increase could actually see a reduction in taxes.

Meanwhile, the city has included in its budget that it will receive its annual $2 million from the city-owned telecommunications corporation, City West.

And city staff are looking for ways to reduce the amount of money coming from the city to cover the operation of the airport ferry.

Last year, taxpayers subsidized the ferry to the tune of $700,000.

“The main difficulty with that ferry is that the revenue is totally dependent on the number of passengers,” said Gord Howie, city administrator.

“If that airport was carrying the same number of passengers it was in its heyday, the airport ferry would actually be making money.”

He said the city is looking at trimming costs or increasing revenue without increasing it to the point where it is detrimental to the passengers.

Of concern to others who spoke about the budget was the city’s failing infrastructure.

“We must be serious in our desire to make things better for the future.” Said Calvin Thompson.

With respect to all taxpayers, the time has come to be forthright at the table with a clear understanding that we must pay the appropriate amounts in taxation increases and user fees to maintain and yes improve our city.”

Staff responded by noting that for the first time this year, they have begun to rebuild those reserves that were spent during the time the city wasn’t receiving its Skeena taxes.

This year, they will put $250,000 back into the reserves.

City Council will meet next Monday to discuss the results of the public hearing. The budget must be presented to the province by May 15.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

They've got a plan!

Section 166 of the Community Charter requires that City Council seek public input on its proposed five year plan. So it might be helpful to know the details about what they have planned for our monies over the next five years. Last night City staff were available at City Hall, to go over the various ins and outs of the document with the public that were interested in all the details.

Here for your home study needs, is the entire plan as presented on the City's website.

It will give you the opportunity to "provide your input" when the City meets in special session on May 1st to adopt the plan and issue any by laws required to put the plan in motion.

The public is invited to attend the meeting and offer up their concerns and/or observations on this five year plan.

Get busy with your homework, exam day comes up May 1st!

Port Construction underway

They’re rotating the pilings on the waterfront, blocking off water access to the port area and closing the gates to the public, as the Fairview container port heads into its active construction phase. For those used to just wandering down to the super port for a Sunday afternoon walk along the tracks there are some big changes that will change your routine. The public can longer just head down to the parking lot and leave their cars there while they explore the area, a gate set up along Scott road will now stop all the lookie loos before they get anywhere near the construction site. There will be the chance to take a look at the progress from an observation site above the terminal area, but the days of cruising down Scott road on a sunny afternoon are done.

The Daily had two stories on the progress of construction down at Fairview and the impact on the public they will have. You can check them both out below.

The Daily News
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Pages One and Three

The Prince Rupert Port Authority is now implementing sea-based initiatives to protect public safety and ensure site security during the construction phase of the Fairview Terminal Container Project.

The Port has placed bright orange bladders 400 feet off shore to demark the water-side working area perimeter and limit access only to vessels related to the construction project.

“There will be a lot of activity on the water within the 400 foot zone, including the installation of extremely high tension cable just under the surface essential to securing the new pilings, “ said David Fisher, port manager, operations and maintenance.

This represents a very serious safety hazard that could damage or sink a vessel if it struck the cable, or gravely injured crew members from the whiplash if a vessel severed the cable.”

The area is already established as a “No Fishing” zone, in accordance with the Port Authorities Operations Guidelines made pursuant to the Canada Marine Act, due to its potential impact on shipping, navigation, deep sea vessel anchoring and float plane activities.

In addition to the existing security fence around the terminal perimeter, the Port has erected an access-control gate near the top of Scott Road, a private road owned by the Port, to manage access to the construction site including limiting public use of the road.

“We are aware that some residents have used the road for many years for walking and other recreational activities,” said Fisher. “However, industrial traffic on the road will increase significantly as project construction ramps up and we need to ensure the project area is safe and secure for both the public and construction workers.”

The Port has undertaken several initiatives to meet public needs affected by the limited use of Scott Road. The viewing area located above the terminal has been refurbished and will still be accessible to the public during regular construction working hours of 6:30 a. m. to 6:30 p. m. from Monday to Saturday.

Fisher says extensive signage has been installed to inform the public about the changes.

“We need the community’s understanding and support of these changes to help ensure the Fairview Container Project is completed on time and without incident,” he said.

Anyone requiring additional information is encouraged to contact the Port at 627-8899.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Monday, April 24, 2006
Pages One and Five

The sounds of construction down at the Fairview Container Terminal shouldn’t be anywhere near as loud as what people have experienced during other waterfront construction projects thanks to a different pile driving technique.

“We are installing the first couple of pilings now,” said Barry Barlett, the port’s new manager of corporate communications and public affairs.

“But you’re not going to hear that “Thump, Thump, Thump” noise.”

Rather the pilings – 99 in total will support the extension of the existing dock – are being driven using a vibration technique and then turned, rather than driven, into the bedrock.

“It won’t be silent by any means but there will be much less noise than what you hear in Vancouver (at the site of the convention centre,” said Don Krusel, president and CEO of the Prince Rupert Port Authority during a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting.

The construction underway now is in preparation for the dock extension as well as preparing the new and existing dock to handle the weight of the container cranes.

The cranes, which are anticipated to be installed next summer, will be used to lift containers off ships into the storage yard or onto rail cars.

Each crane will weigh 1,800 tonnes and stand 300 feet high, twice as high as the Highliner Inn.

The dock is being engineered so it can withstand the weight of six cranes at once, although the first phase only calls for three to be installed.

The cranes themselves will be mounted on rail tracks for movement across the dock.

With the first cruise ship expected within four weeks and the summer fishing season underway, mariners can anticipate safety announcements from the port regarding construction.

The port also anticipates awarding the second contract - the terminal services contract – in the very near future.

This contract includes work digging up the existing terminal yard and installing new servicing for the storage and rail yards. The project has been divided into four contracts. The other contracts deal with the buildings ad the electrical servicing.

Meanwhile, the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams First Nations are continuing to pursue two court actions following failed negotiations with the federal government. The bands allege there has been a complete lack of interest from the federal government in negotiations surrounding their rights and title in the area of development.

Members of those communities continue to assert Aboriginal fishing rights in the area, however construction has not been impeded.

Roll again, pass Go collect 1.85 million dollars

They’ve broken out the Monopoly board down at City Hall again, suddenly realizing that they are going to come up a little short on cash, the folks down on Third Avenue have started to explore the option of raising the taxes of the increasingly smaller pool of taxpayers in Podunk.

In order to meet all of the city’s upcoming requirements and financial obligations the city is required to raise 1.8 million dollars, most likely through taxes, however with a little fine tuning on the behalf of city staff they figure that they can bring that burden to the taxpayer down to 516,000 dollars.

In 2006, the city is on the hook for $300,000 in staff costs based on contract obligations and also needs to make its first payment of $500,000, on a 7 million dollar debt surrounding the cruise ship dock and museum.

The city continues to prepare its case for provincial financial assistance, hoping to collect some of the 11 million in taxes that the provincial government didn’t pay while running the pulp mill, but there’s no real obligation on the province to pay those monies so that track may end up going to nowhere. They also continue to work on their cost analysis projections in order to apply for Communities in Transition program, something that they seem to be hanging the bulk of their hope on these days.

If nothing else one has to admire the courage of the city to come to the taxpayers once again for more money, especially after recent money decisions made by council. They chose to increase the salary of the newly hired city administrator position by thirty thousand dollars, in order to offer top money in order to get the candidate they had chosen. Most places in the country would probably have just found a candidate to work for the salary offered, but it was dip into the kitty, roll again and hope for the best for the Mayor and council.

The entire Daily News story is provided below for your research purposes. While you read along, we’ll see if they roll again down at the Monopoly tourney taking place on Third Avenue, hey who knows, maybe they land on Free Parking and all our problems will be solved.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Tuesday, April 25, 2006.

The City needs to generate another half million dollars in order to meet its basic financial obligations and it’s recommended they get it from their taxpayers.

Jim Bruce, the city’s chief financial officer, told council at a meeting last night that in order to meet all the city’s requirements, it would have to raise an additional $1.8 million through taxes but that staff believe they can trim that down to $516,000.

As part of the city’s financial plan, Bruce presented a list of items and their associated value, in order of staff priority, as well as the amount of money the city would need in order to pay for each item.

“What we have is we have a budget that if you start to look at the road to recovery for the city we require an 18 per cent ($1.8 million) revenue increase,” said Bruce.

“I’ve recommended to you a 4.8 per cent ($516,000) revenue tax increase is something people could live with and would help bring us back to an area where we start to gain some self sufficiency when it comes to the city’s finances.

The city will present the line item list at a public meeting at city hall tonight at 7 p.m. before council decides whether it will pursue the tax increase.

In 2006, the city faces increases of $300,000 in staff costs based on its contract obligations as well as the first $500,000 payment on the $7 million it borrowed to pay for the cruise ship dock and museum. This amounts to $800,000 in total. Coupled with some revenue generating ideas, staff believe they can get the increase down to $516,000 rather than $800,000.

Bruce made it clear that the 4.8 per cent relates to the amount of dollars the city needs to pay the bills.

What it means for the average taxpayer will depend on how much their home value increased on last year’s assessment roll. The average increase was 24 per cent, he said.

Coun. Ken Cote said if council chose to go for the $1.8 million, everyone would leave town.

“Where would that leave us?” he said.

Coun. Tony Briglio suggested the provincial government still has a “moral responsibility” to help the city, although it doesn’t have a legal responsibility to pay those $11 million in taxes from the years it ran the pulp mill.

“I’m not looking for handouts but a hand up would be nice in terms of some of the infrastructure we have no choice but to deal with,” he said.

“We are the front yard to the world, it seems like, and our front yard is pretty shabby.”

Gord Howie, the city’s administrator, said they are working on a cash flow analysis to present to the province. It’s the next step in the process of seeking financial assistance through the Communities in Transition program.

“It’s to show them council has been taking steps to right the ship and also to show them Prince Rupert does need some assistance. What form that might be, we are not sure, but we are certainly preparing the case to present to the minister and board of trustees of the Municipal Finance Authority,” he said.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody see?

Bruce Cockburn asked the audio of the question almost twenty years ago , 1988 to be precise, now in this era of video on demand and streaming video, one assumes the answer is Yes!

Live from Hornby Island, it's the eagle cam. A camera mounted in the woods overlooking a nesting eagle, getting ready for the birth of the young. An attraction that is finding a world wide audience for the feathered mama and papa to be.

Now for Podunkians this is about as exciting as strong yawn, eagles are a huge part of the North coast nature walk as salmon, bears, wolves and all the other critters found here and there. Head down to the waterfront during an unloading session at a fish plant and your eagle count will fill up the abacus in record time.

Eagle's nests can be found all around the Podunk area, but for those residents of the concrete canyons and the bleak escarpments of suburbia, this is the closest they'll ever get to feathered wild life (with the exception of dive bombing pigeons and sparrows we assume).

The site provides live audio as well as a visual view of the eagle's resting spot from up high. It also answers questions from interested observers and has a message board for those inclined to comment, kind of a feathered hackingthemainstraw.

We first discovered the site from the site, which has this story telling how the site was set up and what's been happening. For instance we learn that there are two eagles in the nest, though so far today the Podunk only spotted one, those predad jitters sending the soon to be dad off for quick belt with his other eagle friends perhaps.

From it we also find a number of other wildlife cams out there, just in case our eaglecam dwellers decide to send us on our way. Wanna check out the owls, flamingoes, storks, penguins and others links at the bottom of the story send you on to voyeuristic glory.

But we are definitely Johnny come lately's to this internet hit (millions of hits since it was launched). Delivery date is expected to be April 25th, giving us less than 36 hours to buy just the right gift for the special occasion.

Update: Well it would appear that is not a live stream, since I just checked the site at midnight and well unless Hornby Island moved to the Arctic Circle it's still pretty bright there in the forest, so we assume it's a loop of the daytime footage for those that missed, still interesting but not quite time sensitive.

Fanfare for some fantastic first nights

While the Dallas/Colorado game wasn’t all that entertaining, nor New Jersey’s evisceration of the Rangers (unless of course you hate the Rangers, then it was a beauty for you) much fun. There have been some pretty impressive opening nights in the 2006 two month NHL road show known as Stanley!

Eight games played, three of them into overtime, two of those going into double overtime. One that was as close to overtime as you could get. Now that’s Hockey!

Ottawa allowed everyone in the capital to breathe again with a remarkable third period of domination of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which eventually overshadowed the remarkable effort of John Grahame in the Bolts nets, an amazing display of goal tending that spotted his team a 1-0 lead, before the Sens decided that enough was enough and it was time to step up and play some hockey.

Friday night’s Calgary/Anaheim cliffhanger had some nervous folks on the Red Mile for a bit of time there, as the Ducks battled on impressively without Jean Sebastian Giguere and his lower body injury. Back up Duck, Ilya Bryzgalov more than held the fort, keeping the Flames at bay for most of the game and giving his fellow Anaheim skaters a shot to steal game one right under the lid of the Pengrowth Saddledome. Calgary seemed to get off of their in your face style at times and that proved to give the Ducks some extra jump when it counted. If not for Kiprusoff once again, the night might not have been a fun one in cowtown. It sure wasnt fun for any Canuck fans, Brian Burke seems to have his latest project on a path, something his former students have stumbled off of since he was told to clean off the desk.

Edmonton almost stole game one from the Red Wings, playing an impressive game they took the play at times to the Wings and matched them stride for stride, shot for shot, goal for goal (well except for that winning one). Then at other times you just wondered how long Roloson could hold on, the Wings would turn it on and come in waves, shot after shot after shot, all deflected left, right, up and away, any questions about going into battle with Roloson were put to rest after Friday night. The Oilers can ride their goalie as far as the forwards and defence are willing to move the team. Having the winning goal go in off your own team however, tends to cause all sorts of bad karma for a playoff team.

Nashville surprised all with their back up goaltender Chris Mason holding the hot hand on Friday night keeping the offensively skilled Sharks with Thornton and Cheechoo at bay for the night. We’re not sure he’s going to be able to hold them down for four wins; you just sense that San Jose will come out in game two and blow the doors off the place. But for a playoff debut as the go to guy, Mason stole the show and deserves all the credit he got following the game. Saturday provided three blowouts and classic. Suffice to say that they’re asking some tough questions around the dressing rooms of Carolina, New York and Dallas tonight.

Montreal administered a spanking on the Canes that should rock them to core. One part flying Frenchman of old (probably more flying Finns and such now) and one part hard nosed hard hitting workmen, they gave Peter Laviolette’s team a lesson in hockey the Gainey way, and it was not a lesson the class enjoyed, judging by the faces at games end.

The Rangers look beat after game one, New Jersey so dominated them you suddenly wondered how they managed to win as many games as they did this year. If Jagr is out as it surely looks like he will be, this may be the first series to end and possibly in four games.

And what the hell is going on in Big D, The Avalanche ( a team I figured was spent) suddenly look like the guys that got used to carrying that Stanley Cup around the Pepsi Centre a couple times over the years. Dallas got off to a fast start; giving everyone the option to nod their heads and go hey I told you Colorado was done. But then next thing you know Joe Sakic is leading the charge, five goals later (five unanswered goals!) the Avs have stolen game one and Dallas looks in need of a good therapist.

But it was Buffalo that gave us the classic of the night one extravaganza’s the battle between Philadelphia and Buffalo gave us pretty well everything you could ask for in a hockey game. The fastest pace you could imagine, this despite the fact that in skating the Sabres are going to kill the Flyers over the long haul, but on night one the Flyers were up to the race. The hits were tough as you would expect in any match against the Boys of Broad Street (we think the new rink is still on that road but stand to be corrected). The hit on R. J. Umberger was the thing of hi-light reels and Don Cherry film festivals. A nasty but legal hit on someone caught with his head down and in the wrong place at decidedly the wrong time. It will be replayed throughout these playoffs, one of those events that define a hard hitting series between to tough rivals.

The hit will no doubt mark the Sabres Brian Campbell as Public Enemy number one upon the return to Philly, which when you consider the history of the Flyers of the 70’s is a tad interesting to note. Then again, Philadelphia more than any team in the NHL probably knows the importance of the concussion, so many of their stars in recent years have missed far too much hockey because of them, so perhaps they come by their pent up anger by repetition.

They can’t complain about the hit mind you, perfectly legal within the guidelines of the NHL, a solid clean body check delivered to a rookie who as his coach says, “needs to learn to keep his head up”. Hell of a way to learn a lesson though.

The hard fought game one sets the stage for what now looks like a more competitive series than first imagined. Buffalo was expected to outskate the Flyers wearing them down and then scoring at will, that may come to pass, but in the short term the Flyers seem destined to make the Sabres earn their way out of the series. One wonders if either team will have anything left once they advance.

All of a sudden this is the series everyone will be watching with much more interest, it looks like the definition of hockey, a sure fire win for TSN which has the exclusive coverage on this one. A few more 6-1 blow outs for Carolina and New York and even Habs, Ranger and Devils fans will be migrating to see where the hockey is.

For the first nights we came out pretty good in the entertainment.

The above item first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more playoff hockey info check it out from time to time!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A day late and if I'm wrong a dollar short!

Well I had great plans for playoff previews, features, prognostications, fearless forecasting. But well Mama Health threw a curved stick at me and laid me low in the most critical time a Hockey fan could have, the pre playoff pandemonium.

So I’ll try and catch up over the next few days and refine a few of the things I thought of doing with more current fare. Like the kid that’s late for practice, I’ll skate a few laps and hope I’m not in the coach’s doghouse.

Here a day late (and yes I did write these up yesterday for those naysayers), is my Fearless bit of prognostication on the 2006 Quest for Stanley. While I benefited from some early viewing I saw nothing that swayed my original plans, so here they are.


Ok first off I didn’t give up faith after the first two periods tonight, thought the Sens should have put more than a few chances away, but Grahame was pretty amazing in the TB nets. Was relieved mind you to see Ottawa get back on track in the third and take charge of the game. I think Ottawa will be fine in this series most likely winning things in five games. This boo hoo stuff about Hasek, geez get over it, Emery was the guy down the stretch and should carry the freight for the rest of the playoffs.


I think this could be an upset series, The Canes did not play particularly well down the stretch and Gerber was rather weak when the games were on the line. While Carolina has a pretty impressive offense I have a feeling Montreal will be able to take control of these games. I’ll say Les habitants in seven games. Cristobal Huet has been pretty good for the Habs since Theodore was exiled to Avalanche land. I also think his team mates will be particularly good on the back check to keep him out of any unexpected troubles.


Bad match up for the Flyers, Buffalo is a quicker team, plays with more passion and have some solid goaltending. While I don’t think the Sabres are going to be going all the way they’ll be more than a match for the Flyers.


Such a good year for New Yawk, too bad it’s probably about to come to an end. The Devils have actually been the high achievers of the last six weeks, turning things around quite nicely since Lou took charge. New York had a great regular season run but I’m not sold on them going on in the playoffs. Lindqvist is a bit damaged and that doesn’t bode well for the Broadway guys.


The Maltby goal in the opener is going to take the steam out of the poor little Oil boyos, They scraped into the playoffs and had a pretty good first game against the Wings, but I don’t think they can topple the top team in the league. The two teams have played hard against each other all year, splitting their season series, but now the money is on the line. Roloson seems to be in the right place, but they’ll need more than that to beat the Wings.


I think once Calgary gets back to their style of play they’ll be fine. The first game (currently into OT as I write this) will make them nervous as they’re not playing that in your face kind of hockey that makes Calgary famous. They have done it in spurts tonight but seem to get away from it at times and that’s when they get into trouble.


Tonight was a surprise for me, I thought that the Sharks were the team to watch in the playoffs Thornton and Cheechoo have been on fire in the last month of the season. With Vokoun out for Nashville this was supposed to be a blow out, but hey every playoff round has it’s hero, guess this Mason kid wants to put his name in the hat for series spoiler. That being said, I figure the Sharks will figure him out soon, the Sharks were quite impressive the way they bounced the Canucks out of the playoff race in the back and back series, once they get that desperation back they’ll be back on track.

Every team gets old and this time it’s Colorado’s turn, they’ve not had a great year and while you can’t count out Burnaby Joe, I think the Stars will be the dominating team in this one. Colorado has not played with much confidence of late and that will be murder going into Dallas.



OTTAWA will defeat LES HABS in FIVE maybe SIX GAMES
NEW JERSEY will overpower the SABRES in SIX

OTTAWA will move on to the Stanley Cup Final with a SIX GAME WIN over the DEVILS.

CALGARY will also get ready for the big dance with a seven game series against the SHARKS.


There you have it the fearless forecast, one day late but still just as valid! Hope ya’ll check back from time to time to see what’s up at the HockeyNation! Enjoy the games. There have been some beauties already!

The above posting first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, check it out from time to time during the playoff run.

Not quite ready for the prayer cards!

Regular observers of Podunk might have noticed a certain lapse between postings of late, (I believe seven days counts as a lapse). Well things were a tad unhealthy in the home of Podunk, with a pretty nice case of the flu and bronchitis taking your faithful scribe to somewhere close to the other side.

Well ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but I don’t know there were days I could have sworn there was a bright light or something heading my way.

But alas the miracle of antibiotics, Industrial strength cough syrup and a lack of motivation to leave bed eventually brought us back from the near dead.

We shall gingerly tip toe back into the fray with occasional posts until we fully can comprehend what we are thinking and might actually type.

By the way to whoever chose to present me with the gift of the last five days of blecch, the package awaits your return on the backdoor porch. May you have as much fun as I had.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Vancouver's Dog Days of April

The backpage photo in the Province's sports section gave a visual to the obvious, two pieces of toast with a Canuck logo. Cruel but correct, for after Saturday night the Canucks will not play meaningful hockey again until September.

A team with so much province and carrying the expectations of a city and province with them, couldn't seal the deal, wouldn't keep their end of the compact between team and fan and for that the fans are now speaking out and the words aren't kind.

Bertuzzi? Get rid of him goes the chorus! Crawford, he's lost the dressing room say the phone in show callers, surely they can't keep him despite two years remaining on a contract. Naslund the team captain and solid citizen? Well maybe the whole team needs a makeover, thanks for the memories Markus is the cry.

Yep, there's nothing worse than a Vancouver fan with no more hockey to watch. For those wishing to share in the mourning, CKNW's audio vault will provide you with all the angst of Canuckland from 9-midnight both from Thursday and Friday nights shows.

Over at the Tyee, Steve Burgess has picked up the pulse of the city and put it into an article for the online magazine. Read it a couple of times and you'll be picking up the phone to join the wake, hockey has ruled Vancouver since the Canucks came into the league in 1970.

Dreams apparently die hard on the shores of the Pacific, especially when so much was expected and so little was delivered.

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

Friday, April 14, 2006

She wore an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini!

While the weather in Podunk is not conducive to a bikini fashion show, it’s a Happy 60th for the smidgeon of cloth that became a fashion statement for the world.

While many suggest that the bikini is but a continuation of a clothing line from the days of the Ancient Egyptians, it’s been really the latter 20th century creation that seems to have stood the test of time.

The bikini made its present entry to the fashion world sixty years today, created by an automotive engineer and was an instant failure only to lift itself back into the fashion world for good a few years later.

Condemned by the Vatican, and banned by Italy, Spain and Portugal it wouldn’t be until the mid fifties before it finally claimed victory and revolutionized the fashion scene.

It was ably assisted by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Jayne Mansfield and Bridget Bardot (who judging from recent photos probably doesn’t quite fit the bill anymore).

Now it accounts for the bulk of beachwear every summer, not bad for a couple of pieces of cloth.

Pictures of Podunk: Standing on guard for the Belmont, Breakers and Bogeys!

Ships of the Canadian Navy recently called on Prince Rupert for a Port visit. A bit of recruiting, some VIP hosting, a hockey game against the locals and of course a chance for a little shore leave was all part of their three day stopover on the North coast.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Time runs out on the Canucks

In October they were thought to be the prohibitive favourite to be challenging for Lord Stanley’s Cup, by mid April they were out of the playoff race and had but one game left to suffer through before the season will end.

The Vancouver Canucks, an enigma of a team if ever there was one, put aside their playoff thoughts as they once again surrendered a lead and ended up on the short end of the scoreboard and out of the playoff race.

They started the week in control of their own destiny; the task was simple take two wins from the San Jose Sharks and the chances were they would clamber onto the bottom rung of the playoff ladder.

But in two consecutive nights they let their invitation to the Stanley Cup playoffs get cancelled, an inability to control San Jose’s leader Joe Thornton spelled the end for Vancouver.

On both Wednesday and Thursday nights it was Thornton who took control of the game and willed his team on to victory. Thornton collected seven points in these last two nights, testimony to his value to the Sharks and proving to be the reason for Vancouver’s undoing.

These last two nights only reaffirmed to many the complete incompetence that must pass for management in Boston, how they let this thoroughbred escape from their roster is beyond comprehension. If anyone can single handedly bring his team to victory it’s Thornton and for the last two nights that is just what he has done for his Sharks.

The two wins for the Sharks keeps them on the roll they began after the Olympic games, a team that at one point was five points behind the Canucks ended the two game series five points ahead of the Orca Bay lads, a ten point turnaround that has propelled them into the playoffs and may yet sneak them up into fourth overall in the West.

Vancouver continued to be sloppy and in fact they were lazy in their own end. Far too often Shark players were left on their own deep in the Vancouver end of the rink. It really was only a matter of time before they began to pound a rebound or make a tic tac toe pass pay off. Alex Auld was called on far too often to keep the Canucks alive, while his own defencemen and forwards chose not to play both ends of the rink.

Ironically the night they end up eliminated is the same night that Todd Bertuzzi finally seemed to get his game in gear. For most of Thursday night he was the Bertuzzi of promise, banging, charging the zone and setting up play after play, he was the highlight reel Bertuzzi tonight, but in the end his efforts would be for naught as costly errors eventually nailed the lid shut on the Canucks season.

Now begins the wake and then therapy. Canuck fans will vent their anger now, calling for major changes, to blow it all up and start over. It might be a tempting thing for Dave Nonis, who inherited the Brian Burke roster and chose to stay with it after last year’s lockout.

At the start of the season he had every reason to think he was on the right path, the Canucks were fast out of the gate and NHL fans marveled at the level of play and speed of the Canucks. Along the way though something happened in Vancouver, yes injuries played a part, losing a starting goaltender in Dan Cloutier, stalwarts on defence like Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund and Sammi Salo didn’t help either, nor did Marcus Naslund’s injuries and subsequent scoring slump. Add on the lethargic play of Bertuzzi at times and these Canuck’s suddenly didn’t look so intimidating nor to be a lock on any Stanley Cup parades.

There were moments of optimism, the play of the Sedin’s and Anson Carter as a unit provided some exciting moments, Carter seems to have been the spark the two Swede’s needed to move their game to the next level. That offers hope for next year, when Jovanovski returned he proved his value from the get go, he was an electric spark for a team that seemed to have lost its jump. Alex Auld took the big step from back up status to starter with a future, he had his rough moments at times, but the Canuck problems down this final stretch didn’t really sit on the shoulders of the goaltender.

It was a collective collapse in game after game that brought about their demise, featuring many causes for a slide that they couldn’t pull out of it in time. As things continued to fall apart there was talk of a split on the team, of players no longer listening to coach Marc Crawford, nor playing with any kind of sense of purpose. The final result was a team looking at the playoffs from the outside and a management that now must decide what has to be done on the inside.

It’s been over two years now since Vancouver fans have seen a playoff game featuring their favourite squad; it will be close to three before they get another shot at playing important hockey at the end of April.

The above posting first appeared on my HockeyNation blog home of many random thoughts about hockey.

Politicians of Podunk Pontificate on Port

If one listens carefully enough, you can almost hear the phones ringing at the riding offices, legislature offices, House of Commons sanctuaries and at the desk of Mayor Herb Pond. Yesterday’s announcement that the First nations of the region have decided to head to court over the container port project, has become the talk of the town in less than twenty four hours.

While everyone seemed to have something to say, other than the usual cautious statements, not much new light has been shed on the situation. One can guess though of the pressure being brought to bear on the elected officials of the region, who seemed to have been once again caught by surprise by the developments.

With the high profile project once again on the front pages due to legal concerns, the political scrambling to find a position to stand on has begun anew. The tone of the commentary thus far, is that of someone not wanting to make a statement that may come back and haunt them later on in the process.

However, our elected officials should realize that once and a while you also have to take a stand on an issue, regardless of the political backbite from it. Hopefully, our MP, MLA and city council members won’t let this issue get out too far away from them, it would be helpful if we knew where they stood on this and how they can contribute to finding a solution to it before it gets too late.

For the record, we provide the comments of those in the political class that have commented thus far, as relayed to the Daily News on their page one story in today’s issue.

By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Page One

Elected officials are demanding answers, encouraging dialogue and guaranteeing the project will continue in the wake of pending court action around the Prince Rupert container port announced by the Coast Tsimshian yesterday.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said he has spoken to new Minister of Transportation Lawrence Cannon, who expressed general support for the project but who is new to the file, as well as Cannon’s second in command on the issue.

“I talked to the parliamentary secretary and said you need to come up for this and the circumstances around the Queen of the North,” said Cullen. “We’re going to have to get somebody up here to push this file forward quickly.

“There’s just too much at risk.”

He notes there has been little coming from the new Conservative government about the issue, a problem that Tory campaign co-chair John Reynolds said would be treated as a priority in the last election.

“I remember that rhetoric, although a lot of it was coming from the (Conservative) candidate,” said Cullen. “but I remember Mr. Harper talking while in the area and saying how important this was.

“It’s time for him to step up.”

That lack of movement has also been prominent from David Emerson, the Minister of International Trade and Minister responsible for the Pacific Gateway, he said.

“I think Mr. Emerson has been distracted, something about betraying voters,” quipped Cullen.

The MP also asked the public not to get caught up in any racial tension, a problem that manifested the last time threats of court action were in the news. The best interests of Prince Rupert and those of Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams are the same, he said.

“I don’t hold the government of Canada as the only culprit in this,” said Cullen, who said he hopes to speak to people from the First Nations communities today. “I’ve seen some of the offers and they’re not bad.”

From the city of Prince Rupert, Mayor Herb Pond stressed that everyone knows the importance of the project it will go ahead. “Prince Rupert and Northwest B. C. will have its container port and it will be completed on time.“ said Pond. “Our friends and neighbours in Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams need this project as much as anyone, maybe more. They’re savvy business people with expanding enterprises in tourism, seafood and forestry.

“The successful development of this modern high-speed trade route will give all of our businesses - theirs included - unparalleled access to world markets.”

Pond said the fact that those communities are interested in negotiating the best deal for themselves should neither surprise nor alarm anyone.

However, federal government representatives say the communities have been consulted, listened to and offered a very good deal.

“Consultations have been ongoing since 2004,” said Steve Rhodes, Western Economic Diversification’s manager of strategic initiatives and intergovernmental affairs. “We believe we’ve very carefully listened to their concerns.

“We made an offer and we believe it’s a generous offer.”

Rhodes said in consultation with the Coast Tsimshian WED has twice fine-tuned the offer to better meet their demands. As reported in yesterday’s Daily News, Port President and CEO Don Krusel explained the offer included employment opportunities, financial support for job and skills training, the creation of an Aboriginal employment coordinator to help band members realize job opportunities, and “significant funding” for Aboriginal businesses that would benefit from the port expansion.

In terms of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act approval that the Coast Tsimshian are concerned about – the reason for one of the two court applications (the other being a failure to consult and accommodate) – Rhodes said both the WED and Environment Canada provided the necessary oversight and gave their approvals once responsibilities were met.

This morning also held an impromptu political protest when four boats from Las Kw’alaams and Prince Rupert ventured into the Fairview container port area to assert Aboriginal fishing rights. The Daily News was initially denied access to the area by security.

Shaun Stevenson, the Port’s director of business development, confirmed the boats did make an appearance but said a port authority patrol vessel sent to investigate the situation reported the vessels left shortly after.

And now a word from the lawyers

With construction at the Fairview container Port scheduled to go into a more intensive phase in the next couple of weeks, the other shoe has dropped in the dispute over negotiations between the Federal government and the Coast Tsimshian First Nations regarding rights and title to a portion of the lands scheduled to be developed.

It’s a situation that has been simmering since January and with construction now ramping up as they say, so is the rhetoric from the lawyers for the First Nations. Gregory McDade who is the spokesperson for the firm of Ratcliffe and Company said in an interview with the Daily News, that their clients have simply run out of options in their dealings with the government and thus will be proceeding with court actions to address their grievances.

The possibility of a court action that would stop construction could have long term ramifications for the North Coast, the container port is on fixed timelines of construction which must be met, any delays or deviation from those timelines could certainly put the project into perilous waters.

The container project has been hailed by many as the salvation of the local economy and promises to provide a new dynamic on the North Coast. Besides the direct and indirect jobs that will be created by the project, the influx of container traffic is thought to herald a new era of development for the area.

For an area that has been battered from one economic disaster after another of late, the Container project seemed to be the pot of the gold at the end of a rainbow. It was yet one more chance to rebuild the shattered economy of the area. This is why tempers get short, residents get frustrated and fingers get pointed, whenever the possibility of delays or even an outright cancellation rears up on the radar for the locals.

So far the only side of the discussion that has been made public is that as represented by the First Nation’s lawyers, we’ve not heard a word thus far from the Federal Government who are in the middle of the controversy. Nor has the province or local municipal government offered up an opinion on the current status of what is no doubt the biggest project seen on the North coast in recent history.

Ancillary information comes out in snippets that say that a “favourable” agreement was presented to the First Nations, but if they’re now proceeding to court, one assumes that it wasn’t what they were looking for.

Beyond that though, it seems puzzling how setting up a situation where the project itself could possibly come into peril is beneficial for anyone concerned. One would like to think that the courts would factor that into any deliberations that they shall make when this comes before the bench.

For now the project continues on as planned, with clocks ticking away on many different agendas. Construction deadlines and legal deadlines loom large, one seeming to have as much importance and relationship to the other.

The lawyers for the First Nations suggest that legally things will now unfold quickly; residents of the North Coast can only hope that is true. Uncertainty it seems lately is the always constant companion to life in Prince Rupert and the North coast, all the people of the North Coast deserve a bit of consideration from all concerned as well. Before the rumours and finger pointing get too out of hand, it would be a welcome situation for all concerned if we were included in the process as well.

A good start might be to inform its residents completely about what has led us to this point. What was asked for by First Nations? What was offered the government? And then what was rejected? Most importantly what might be the options remaining to solve the problem? In short we need to know where we go from here.

Giving everyone a complete accounting of how the situation has reached this point, might help in providing answers to those who are feeling like hostages to events beyond their control.

For a complete look at the latest twist in the project we have the Daily News article from Wednesday in its Podunkicized form.

By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Pages One and Three

The Coast Tsimshian First Nation will proceed immediately with two court actions that may seriously impact the Prince Rupert Container Port expansion.

“Our members are extremely frustrated with the complete lack of interest from the federal government to negotiate as is required by law,” said Melakatla Chief Councillor Harold Leighton.

“We have a ‘prima facie’ case of aboriginal rights and title to the area of the port expansion and the federal government just continually refuses to recognize our rights.”

The Coast Tsimshian, comprising the nine Allied Tribes of Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams, threatened legal action last January but backed away in the hopes of reaching a deal with the newly elected federal government. The court actions are directed respectively at the Minister of Transportation and the Attorney General of Canada for failing to consult and accommodate the Coast Tsimshian and the Minister of Western Economic Diversification, Minister of Environment and the Prince Rupert Port Authority for a number of issues including WED’s $30 million grant to the project and alleged Canadian Environmental Assessment Act violations.

“The court actions filed earlier had been pending in hopes that negotiations with the federal government would go forward, but there has been no progress. The port is attempting to proceed without the federal government having resolved any negotiations, or any pending court action,” said Lax Kw’alaams Chief Councillor Garry Reece. “We are now at the point where court action against any expansion is our only option to protect our member’s aboriginal rights and title interests and we will be proceeding to court immediately.”

According to the Coast Tsimshian’s lawyer, they’ve simply run out of options to solve the dispute outside of court.

“Our client has been really reasonable for the last four weeks and it doesn’t seem to have gotten them anywhere,” said Ratcliffe and Co’s Gregory McDade. “We have to try other options.”

McDade said they hope to have a hearing date set in the next few days, although when that date will be is unknown. He would not elaborate as to whether or not an injunction would be sought to stop what development is currently going on.

“We’ll be going forward with a whole host of initiatives,” he said. “Things will unfold quickly.”

At this time, the port has ordered cranes, is expecting steel pilings any day and contractors are one site. Prince Rupert Port Authority president and CEO Don Krusel said the development must continue regardless of any legal action from the Coast Tsimshian.

“We have no choice but to continue construction and moving forward until such time as a court orders us to stop,” said the port boss.

“Any delays will compromise the project,”

Krusel explained that every effort has been made to meet the needs and concerns of the Coast Tsimshian.

“We’re very confident that the port authority and various federal government agencies have maintained an open and respectful dialogue with First Nations,” he said. “We have made every attempt to respond to any issues they’ve brought up.

“It is our understanding that a very favourable agreement was presented to the First Nations by the (last) government (and) it is our understanding that offer was reaffirmed by this federal government.”

The offer is understood to include employment opportunities, financial support for job and skills training, the creation of an Aboriginal employment coordinator to help band members realize these opportunities, and “significant funding” for Aboriginal businesses that would benefit from the port expansion. Krusel said that the port recognizes that the Coast Tsimshian have aboriginal rights and title issues, with the Canadian government concerning Prince Rupert harbour.

However, he adds that the dispute has nothing to do with the container port expansion and that the development should not be used in an attempt to leverage a solution at the expense of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike.

“We’re extremely concerned these actions will have negative consequences,” said Krusel.

“(They should not) put at risk (the development) for the sake of trying to resolve long standing land claims issues.”

It was announced in April 2005 that the federal government would contribute $30 million, the province $30 million, CN Rail $30 million, Maher Terminals (one of the East Coast’s premier container terminal operators) $60 million and the port $20 million to build phase one of the container terminal.

Phase one is scheduled to provide the terminal with capacity to handle 500,000 containers annually. The second phase would increase the capacity to two million containers by 2009.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Three signs

For those looking for clues as to when to prepare your resume, we offer up these three signs that things may not be going your way at work for much longer.

1. Your Vice-President of Operations gets booed while throwing out the first pitch at the company softball game.

2. Your management team
is using the CFL's guide to franchise management as it's bible for company development.

3. The head of Human Resources expresses admiration for the
downsizing skills of the Bandido's Motorcycle Club.

Pictures of Podunk: Tranquility at Diana Lake

One of the creeks that feeds off of Diana Lake, best to get there before the May Long weekend if you want to enjoy the silence of nature!

Whatever happened to the Tank Man?

PBS's Frontline had a fascinating documentary on Tuesday night, focusing in on that solitary symbol of China in 1989, the Tiananmen Tank Man.

Many still recall the visual image of a single protestor, standing in front of a column of tanks making one last stand for the democracy movement before the guns would blaze and the slaughter would begin.

Film maker Antony Thomas crafted together a detailed examination not only of the Tank Man's stand, but the events leading up to and culminating in the massacres at Tiananmen Square and other parts of Beijing in the late spring of 1989.

The follow up to those events shows a Chinese government that has tried to purge any images of the time, trying to erase any indication that the People's Army took up arms against its very own people.

With the government in China continuing to exert control over the dissemination of information, (the media and internet the latest battleground of control), its not a surprise to learn that few of the students in university in China today know anything of the heady days of June 89.

Much has changed in China in the last seventeen years, the nation has opened a window on the world and become a much more forceful player on the world stage, while continuing to try and keep control of its own people at home. Frontline's documentary on Tuesday provided an amazing look at how the Chinese continue to walk the line between contact with the outside world and control of the message within.

It will no doubt be replayed again this week on the PBS affiliates, but for a complete look at the story and an online showing this Friday check out the Frontline website here for full information.

Thomas will also be on line Wednesday morning at 11 am EST (8 AM) PST for an on line chat about his documentary and his thoughts on the China of 1989 and the directions for China today!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fraser Institute fireworks!

The always controversial Fraser Institute rankings of the provinces high schools have been released, and it has not been a good survey year for both of Prince Rupert’s high schools. Both Charles Hays and PRSS trended lower than years past, in fact the rankings this year, are among some of the worst ever recorded by the Rupert schools in the nine years of the survey.

The Institute a think tank on the right wing of the spectrum, examines a number of academic factors while determining it’s rankings, inevitably resulting in some pretty acrimonious discussions upon their release, unless of course your school happens to be in the top echelon of the provinces schools.

Not surprisingly the more successful of the schools appear to be in the heavily urbanized areas and would appear to be in the upper to upper middle class sectors of society, the rural and inner city schools for the most part, tend to congregate in the bottom layers of the Institute’s accountings. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part the Fraser Institute’s findings tend to highlight more than an educational divide, but indeed a divide between the urbanized areas and what the Liberals once trumpeted as the heartland areas, a term they don’t use as much anymore, possibly because they’ve lost interest in many of those less populated areas.

The results should provide an interesting bit of research for both the Institute and the provincial government, that perhaps more attention to the needs of the rural communities should be investigated. Not just funding mind you, but an entire examination of what is being done and what has worked and what has not. If there’s a problem as the report suggests, then perhaps the disenfranchised areas could use a bit less tsk tsking and bit more in the way of tangible assistance. Pitting one school against another, doesn’t seem like a particularly constructive way of addressing what is truly a pressing concern.

It’s not hard to figure out that outside circumstances might skew the numbers, especially in communities that have suffered economically over the last decade, communities which have seen family units splinter as fathers or mothers have to leave town to seek work, leaving the families at home to pick up the slack. In many homes across this province not living the economic boom trumpeted by other Fraser Institute reports, there is a disconnect from what passes for the normal life of the booming big cities. It’s certainly not a surprise then if the academic pursuits of the children affected might not be at their optimum.

This is not to make an excuse for poor academic results, for surely a standard is a standard and must be accepted as such. But just as important are the factors involved in the student’s entire persona, not just the cut and dried bean counting of the testing and marking of the Institute.

The Fraser Institute doesn’t seem to make any connection between the demographic base of say top seeded Crofton House or Little Flower academy, which no doubt benefit not only from high performing students and teachers, but from a socio economic structure that the public institutions at the bottom of the list can only dream of. The comparisons of the two ends of the list seem to define an education system that has more to do with social class, than classroom education. Which gives us a nice picture of the province’s class foundation, but not much of a base to judge an education system on.

It’s a talking point that doesn’t seem to factor into the occasionally condescending sounds of the Fraser Institutes report. Frequently in quotes given to the Daily News, the Institute’s Public relations rep came across as a tad smarmy with his deliberations on the state of the Rupert schools. One wonders if he has even strayed away from the high altitude of the Fraser Institute campus to examine the rest of the provinces schools and the challenges faced by administrators, teachers and students. It’s easy to take the shots from the tall towers, but for a real overview of any situation it’s best to get right on the ground, into the classrooms and see for yourself.

Base fundamentals are an important test for any education system, and while the Fraser Institute’s rankings test that key component, there is much more to the educational system that needs to be addressed. It might be worth their while to try and find out why the schools that don’t fare so well on their scale, perform as they do.

The Fraser Institute rankings rather than being perceived as the definitive word on education in BC should merely be a discussion point. Now obviously the results don’t paint a good picture for many of the rural schools across the province. That in the end should be the warning shot for the Provincial government to address the issue.

I’m not sure that the rankings don’t already tell us what we already knew. For the most part, areas of affluence will tend to have schools with better academic results, the other areas will muddle along as best they can, with what they have. The key for the province is to make sure that all students are provided with all that they need to achieve as best they can. A suggestion that I didn’t see anywhere in the Fraser Institute’s annual rankings, they’ve been doing this for nine years now, perhaps they can offer up some constructive suggestions to go along with their numeric bafflegab.

If nothing else the Fraser numbers show that some of BC’s children are being left behind in the pursuit of academic success, for whatever the reason. That should be what we take from this and not much else. The solution is not to point fingers, but rather to point the way to solving what is an unacceptable situation across many parts of this province

For those that wish to explore the report on their own, the entire project is found here, while the section pertaining to the Coast schools including Prince Rupert, Terrace and Kitimat can be found here.

As well, below we provide the front page story from yesterday’s Daily News in Podunkicized form.

By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Monday, April 10, 2006
Page One

Prince Rupert’s high schools have fallen to some of their worst levels ever in the Fraser Institute’s annual report card.

Prince Rupert Secondary School hit 239 (4.6 out of 10) after averaging a ranking of 176 (5.7 out of 10) over the last five years. Charles Hays dropped to 259 (3.8 out of 10) after averaging a ranking 228 (4.7 out of 10).

In 2005, PRSS hit 182 and Charles Hays 219.

“It really doesn’t matter where you are on the list, its how have you been doing over time,” said Peter Cowley, director of School Performance Studies, The Fraser Institute.”

“The question is, have you tried every avenue to improve?”

Prince Rupert schools are in the midst of a slide after ranking in the top half of schools ranked – the report considers everything from exams taken, scores and failure rate to graduation rates – a few years ago. This slide has been particularly pronounced at PRSS, which scored 6.7 in both 2000 and 2002.

”It seems to me the wrong thing to do, in the case of PRSS, is to say we’re a ‘5’ school and that’s the way we’re always going to be,” said Cowley. “Maybe it’s an issue of expectations. If the principals of these two schools simply don’t know what to do they have to figure it out.”

Cowley explained that it’s not unusual for educators to be unsure of where to go, but identifying schools in similar circumstances and following their practices may yield success. He notes Creston’s Prince Charles school was tied with PRSS in 2001, but has gone the exact opposite direction and is now ranked 80.

“They’ve brought themselves up,” he said, noting failure rates have dropped at the school, graduation rates are up and exam marks have risen. “In some senses, there’s a disappointing lack of improvement (in Prince Rupert).

Schools need to ask themselves if these indicators of traditional academic performance are of interest to them, said Cowley, adding that there are many other things that schools might be good at outside of that realm such as sports, fine arts or trades.

But if traditional academics are important, he asks schools to consider if they are doing well enough, and in the case of Rupert, that means is a 66-67 per cent average test score acceptable.

“If you think it’s acceptable, then close the report card, “he said. But I think that traditional academics are becoming more and more important.”

The annual ranking of schools raises the ire of many in the education field such as the professions who consider the report to attack their profession.

“It kills morale,” said Marty Bowles, Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union (PRDTU) president. “ It kills morale in the schools, not just with teachers but with administrators and students, whether you believe the rankings or not.”

Bowles fits in the ‘not’ category, saying that a number of factors can explain an apparent poor ranking.

“Simply because not everyone may write the test, the tests are culturally-biased (and) it may be given on a day when a student doesn’t feel well,” said Bowles, adding he doesn’t even read the rankings. “Teachers test on a regular basis and students are tested on an accumulation of knowledge (unlike) government exams and (Foundation Skills Assessments.)”

For example, on thing that may have sunk PRSS is the delayed advancement rate, a factor that looks at students who entered Grade 10 and took more than three years to complete their diploma.

At PRSS, 41 per cent of students take longer than those three years.

“A lot of students don’t study full time, many have to support themselves,” said Bowles. “Where is it written you have to finish in three years?”

For his part, Cowley hopes the low rankings motivate rather than discourage educators.

“If being ranked at the bottom hurts, and I’m sure it does, what are you going to do about it?” he said.

“Are you going to say ‘poor us’ – or will you find new ways to do things better?”

This is the Fraser Institute’s ninth annual ranking of B. C. and Yukon secondary schools.