Shawville’s grocery store strike

Shawville’s grocery store — a Loblaws franchise — has been on strike for more than a week now. It’s the second grocery strike since we moved here in 2003; the last one lasted four months. From what we’ve heard, this one will go on at least until the new year. The Ottawa Citizen story reports the details we’d previously heard only as rumour and scuttlebutt: the union is asking for 12 percent over four years, and Loblaws is publicly musing about closing the store altogether, as it’s a marginal operation. It must be, if a dollar-an-hour raise is enough to put its viability into question; most of the employees are part-time as well (benefits, you know).

For the time being, we’re shopping in Renfrew, where the selection and prices are better. It’s half an hour away, but a lot of people were already shopping there for those reasons. If more of the store’s customers keep shopping over there after the strike is over — if they don’t come back — that may well be it.

Canada Day in Shawville

Shawville Canada Day Parade 2010

As I’ve said before, Canada Day is a big deal in ultra-federalist Shawville; events take place all day and are well attended. Jennifer and I took photos of the parade, which started at 3 PM: here are mine; here are hers (her blog entry). We shot photos as a team: I used a wide-angle zoom on my digital SLR and she used a medium zoom on hers, so we got different views of the same parade. Which is good, because the parade was awfully similar to the parade we attended four years ago: fire trucks, horse-drawn wagons, antique cars, tractors, ATVs, bagpipes, and community groups — though the groups were not in attendance as much as they were before, perhaps due to actuarial reasons. They even had the same guy doing the same music as before. Maybe that’s seen as a feature.

We were thinking about doing the fireworks too, but once more ran out of steam.

The Pontiac’s language problem

Graph showing language ability in the MRC Pontiac

This graph, based on 2006 census data, illustrates the problem the Pontiac has with language — namely, that a large portion of the population can’t understand French: in Shawville, Clarendon, Thorne and Portage-du-Fort, more than seven out of ten people cannot understand French; in Bristol and L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, it’s more than five out of ten.

On the other hand, looking at the mother-tongue stats, which I have not included above, most francophones are able to speak English. The more French-speaking municipalities are essentially bilingual: in Fort-Coulonge, Grand-Calumet and Mansfield more than three-quarters of the population self-identifies as bilingual; in each case, fewer than one in six cannot speak English.

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Magnitude 5.0

USGS Shakemap

At 1:42 PM today, a magnitude-5.0 earthquake hit about 60 kilometres north of Ottawa. That’s not very far away, and earthquakes in this part of the world can be felt a lot further away because of the geography.

I’m not familiar with earthquakes. I first thought that a large truck had crashed into our building; Jennifer, for her part, thought that something was wrong with the boiler at her school. It was only when references to earthquakes from Ottawa residents started appearing in my Twitter feed that I clued in to what was going on. Then I jumped on Twitter and started reporting myself — yes, I totally became an xkcd comic.

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The Pontiac’s seasonal population

This week’s Pontiac Journal, for an article on garbage collection, listed the permanent and seasonal populations for each municipality in the county. I didn’t know how many cottagers there were relative to the permanent population, so it caught my interest. There are 14,566 permanent residents in the Pontiac MRC, and, it turns out, 12,385 seasonal residents. Which is to say that for every 20 permanent residents, there are 17 seasonal residents — a lot more than I thought.

This seasonal population is not evenly distributed: municipalities with large cottaging areas have a lot more seasonal residents, whereas villages have few or none. This graph shows the raw numbers for each municipality:

Graph: Pontiac's permanent and seasonal population by municipality

It’s easy to see where the cottages are in this graph — and where the permanent residents aren’t. Mansfield is the largest municipality by population, but it also has cottaging areas; Bristol and Clarendon are agricultural townships with cottaging centres at Norway Bay, Richardson and Green Lakes, and Sand Bay.

And in some places the permanent residents are in the distinct minority during the summer. This graph charts the percentage of seasonal residents, where 1 equals 100 percent (i.e., there are as many seasonal residents as permanent residents):

Graph: Pontiac's seasonal population as percentage of the permanent population

Look at Sheenboro, whose permanent population (167) is the smallest of the 18 Pontiac municipalities; in the summer, that population is dwarfed by its 739 seasonal residents — nearly four and a half times as many.

When you have almost as many seasonal residents as permanent residents, you better believe that has implications for how this county runs — for its businesses, for the services provided, and for its politics.

Andy Horner, 1961-2010

Someone we know was killed over the weekend. Andy Horner died in a highway accident Sunday morning when his motorcycle collided with an SUV making a left-hand turn on Highway 28 near Bancroft, Ontario. Here is the initial coverage from the Peterborough Examiner; here is the follow-up story identifying Andy. Here’s the obituary.

We were fond of Andy, and thought he was a real stand-up guy, but we didn’t know him that well. He was our auto mechanic, and we swore by him; he was the kind you trust and recommend and follow if he changes garages. A man of integrity and decency. From what I can tell, his loss has shaken everyone up around here.

Shawville municipal election results

Municipal elections were held across Quebec yesterday. In Shawville, there was more competition than there has been since I moved here six years ago: the mayoralty and three of six councillor’s seats were contested. Which meant actual campaigning, with brochures, signs, and candidates knocking on the door. There was even at least one get-out-the-vote operation on election day!

Even with all the activity, and despite some awfully close results, all incumbents were re-elected. Here are the results (“x” marks an incumbent):

Armstrong, Albert (x): 545 (61.2%, +199)
Harris, Keith: 346 (38.8%)

Seat 2
Poisson-Hodgins, Sylvia (x): 455 (51.7%, +30)
Tubman, Kirk: 425 (48.3%)

Seat 3
Richardson, Royce (x): 550 (62.5%, +220)
Duggan, Dan: 330 (37.5%)

Seat 6
Hodgins, Jim (x): 444 (50.5%, +9)
Coles, George: 435 (49.5%)

Voter turnout was 69.35 percent: 903 of 1302 voters on the list cast ballots. To me that seems awfully high for a municipal election. Spoilage ranged from 12 to 24 ballots — between 1.33 and 2.66 percent.

John Beimers, Sandra Murray and Frank Stafford were acclaimed to their council seats; Beimers is, I guess, the one new face on council, replacing Keith Harris (who ran for mayor).

The Pontiac Liberal nomination race is on

Reported candidates for the Pontiac Liberal nomination: Cindy Duncan McMillan, Greg Fergus, Georges Lafontaine

I’ve been trying to get a handle on the race for the federal Liberal nomination for the Pontiac, the face of which has apparently been changing rapidly over the past month. At the moment, it looks like there are three candidates for the nomination, the meeting for which will be held on September 13:

  1. Cindy Duncan McMillan, who was the Liberal candidate the last time, winning 24.2 percent of the vote;
  2. Greg Fergus, an Aylmer resident and former national director of the party; and
  3. Georges Lafontaine, a writer and former political assistant who is currently working for the Anishnabeg tribal council in Maniwaki.

For a while it appeared that former M.P. Robert Bertrand was interested in the nomination, but it appears that he has ruled himself out this time. Bertrand’s absence from the race is a pity, because I rather like the guy.

News coverage: The Low Down to Hull and Back News covered the nomination race when it was just Duncan McMillan versus Fergus. Coverage of Lafontaine’s candidacy seems to be limited to the French-language media: Info07, Le Droit. The Equity ran a story and an editorial when Bertrand was floating the idea of another candidacy; they’ve been reprinted on Fergus’s website.

(Only Fergus has a website for his nomination campaign; above, I’ve linked to Duncan McMillan’s campaign site for last year’s federal election and Lafontaine’s Wikipedia entry, for lack of anything else to link to.)

A classical music festival in the Pontiac

This is interesting: a six-concert classical music festival taking place not too far from here, on a farm just outside Luskville (about halfway between Shawville and Ottawa). Festival Pontiac Enchanté’s concerts take place in a converted hayloft that seats about 100 people; accordingly, the music program focuses on solosts, duets, trios and quartets. I may try to take one or two of them in, if I can find the time. Starts tomorrow. Via Classical Ottawa.

The Citizen endorses Cannon

The Ottawa Citizen’s editorial board endorses Lawrence Cannon for re-election in the Pontiac riding, mostly because of “experience and influence” — i.e., he’s a cabinet minister with a strong C.V. But that’s not to disparage the competition: “All in all, a good slate of candidates,” says the Citizen, who had something nice to say about each one. Truth be told, it’s becoming very hard to figure out who to vote for, simply because there’s no obvious asshat among the candidates this time, just different people with different strengths, weaknesses and policy positions. This is a good problem to have.

Number-crunching the Pontiac vote

My high-risk election prognostication continues. In this entry, I’m going to take a look at the results for the 2006 election in my riding, Pontiac (see previous entry), and in particular in my particular corner of the riding, Pontiac County (i.e., the Regional County Municipality of Pontiac, or Pontiac MRC),

The Pontiac riding went Conservative in 2006 by a 2,371-vote margin, or 4.97 percentage points. But were it not for the Pontiac MRC, it would have gone to the Bloc Québécois by about 700 votes. The Bloc’s Christine Émond Lapointe led in L’Ange-Gardien, Buckingham, Cantley, Masson-Angers and Val-des-Monts by varying degrees; she even narrowly won Maniwaki, the home town of David Smith, the incumbent Liberal M.P. The Conservative candidate, Lawrence Cannon, won the Municipality of Pontiac (which, confusingly, is outside the Pontiac MRC), and Chelsea in addition to the Pontiac MRC, but it was the Pontiac MRC that put him over the top.

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Surrounded by frickin’ idiots

My brother complained that my last post about Stephen Harper was just a little too fellatial, so it seems to me that I should say a bit more about the federal election.

(This is not without risk, given that I’m working on a government contract at the moment, and in the future there is always the possibility that I will be writing letters and briefing notes for a politician I take cheap shots at, but I think I’ll be okay; it’s not like anyone reads this thing anyway.)

The bottom line is that, despite my sordid partisan past, I’m politically neutral and have been for a decade. I’ve voted for each the three major federal parties at least once in past elections. And while the likelihood of my voting for the Bloc is less than zero, any of the remaining four parties (including the Greens) could, theoretically, win my vote. Though the course of the campaign may narrow my options, I generally try to vote for the best local candidate, on the basis that I’d rather have a competent, hard-working representative I don’t agree with than a meathead who’s barely capable of regurgitating slogans I do happen to agree with.

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Bringing Tim Hortons to the Pontiac

Yesterday at the post office there was a petition to bring a Tim Hortons to the Pontiac. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but there’s a corner of Canada that doesn’t have one. We’re it. Hi there.

Here’s the thing: if there was a business case to be made for a Tim Hortons in the Pontiac — be it in Shawville, in Fort Coulonge or wherever — we’d probably have one already. Tim Hortons is not a public utility: they’re not going to come here if they can’t make money here. Maybe they can, but a petition won’t convince them. The problem is that we’re not on the highway to somewhere else: all traffic along Route 148 is local traffic. And I don’t think there are enough of us. All a Tims would do would put a lot of local restaurants out of business before closing its own doors.

Some people have a serious and specific addiction to Tim Hortons coffee. That’s what’s behind this. You people need to find better stuff.

(Ironically, the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation has a children’s camp in Quyon.)

Another by-law update

My presentation in front of the town council tonight might have gone better if I had known beforehand the origins of the list of banned animals — and if I’d known that the current (circa 2005) by-law also prohibits boas and pythons. Oh, hell. I still think I did all right in front of somewhat skeptical councillors, but I would have liked to have done better.

The bottom line is that there will not be any limits on animals other than dogs and cats, but they’ll think over my proposal to use the provincial restrictions instead of the municipal list. About which I’m not optimistic. We may have to divest ourselves of our two boas and one python, which, all things considered, I can manage. Could have been a lot worse — as I said, we won’t have to move.

It may well have been better not to have addressed council tonight, but what’s done is done.

Previously: A brief by-law update; My response to the Pontiac MRC animal control by-law.

A brief by-law update

Some news about the by-law situation I mentioned before; I don’t want to jump the gun and announce anything before next week’s town council meeting, but things look reasonably positive at the moment. I may not get absolutely everything I want, but it looks like we won’t be forced to choose between moving and getting rid of all our animals.

In our neighbourhood

At home today, thanks to heavy snow. An SQ officer stopped by this morning: Atkinson’s, the bar across the lane from us, was broken into held up last night. Since the ATV theft from Bean’s a couple of years ago, the restaurant next door has been broken into a couple of times, and Bean’s was robbed again over the Christmas holidays (snowmobiles that time). Homes don’t get broken into in the middle of the night because they’re usually, um, occupied, and during the day our neighbours watch out for one another, so I’m not terribly worried. Also, we don’t have cigarettes, significant quantities of alcohol, or ATVs. It’s still a little disconcerting to be living right next door to what is apparently the high-crime area of Shawville.

(Updated March 6 to reflect the fact that it wasn’t a break-in, it was an armed robbery; also added the thing about the snowmobile theft.)

My response to the Pontiac MRC animal control by-law

As I mentioned earlier, the Pontiac MRC is planning a new animal control by-law. It has come up with a draft for each of the 18 municipalities to approve. I have laid hands on a copy of that draft, in all its typo-ridden glory, and made a PDF of it; you can download it here.

It’s the kind of law that makes dedicated animal lovers nervous because it makes illegal activities that have been going on for a long time, and that may be perfectly legal elsewhere. Reptile keepers are used to these sudden changes in fortune — though not, as you will see from this entry, in Quebec. But in addition to restricting animals that are legal elsewhere in Quebec, the by-law would also ban dangerous dog breeds — something that is only starting to happen in larger city centres — and fix a maximum limit of five animals per household. Not five dogs or cats. Five animals. You can see where this is going.

When I first heard about the by-law, I freaked. But once I got my hands on the draft, I was able to see how I might be able to address my concerns without going ballistic, mobilizing public opinion or waging a media campaign. So I drafted the following letter, and sent it to my mayor:

Continue reading this entry »

The Shawville Fair

I spent a couple of days this weekend at the Shawville Fair, for the first time in four years. Took a bunch of pictures; they should be up at some point, but I’ve got literally hundreds of them to go through.

Two years ago the fair hit its attendance peak when Stompin’ Tom Connors had a concert. Since then, they’ve scaled things back somewhat, at least in terms of the entertainment. At one point I thought this was a case of the organizers being afraid of success, that the fair was on the cusp of being something other than what they were used to, and that they would rather have a smaller fair on their own terms than a truly successful, enormous spectacle.

But I’ve since heard that the fair was at risk of choking on its own success: the crowds were overwhelming the on-ground services, to say nothing of the parking in-town. Now I see it: any bigger and the fair would have to expand, physically — upgraded, or larger, or even new facilities. Scaling back was the only reasonable option, and by all accounts fairgoers seem to prefer it less crowded.

Of course I can’t tell the difference, since I’ve been staying away during all this growth and contraction.

Public transportation in the Pontiac, 1928-2007

Picked up a schedule for our often-maligned and frequently threatened commuter bus service — now that I’m working in Ottawa again, it’s good to do a little homework, especially since the car’s been acting up lately and my commuting partner is on holidays this week.

I also happen to have a copy of the CPR’s passenger train schedule for the line that used to run through this region — from the summer of 1928. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two schedules. Here is the weekday afternoon bus of today compared with CPR Train #543 of 1928, which was also a weekday-only service:

*Measured from Rideau Centre, the stop closest to the now-former train station.
Bus, 2007 Train, 1928
Ottawa 3:45 PM* 3:40 PM
Quyon 5:05 PM 4:55 PM
Shawville 5:20 PM 5:29 PM
Campbell’s Bay 5:40 PM 5:47 PM
Fort Coulonge 5:45 PM 6:25 PM
Waltham 6:05 PM 6:55 PM
Total duration: 2:20 3:15

It’s interesting that the 1928 train and 2007 bus leave within five minutes of one another (at least from my arbitrary start point; the bus starts from the station at 3:30 PM). The 1928 train is faster through the city, as you might expect from a train (especially one in a conurbation that was then much smaller), but steadily loses time versus the 2007 bus (which has the reputation of being driven by a maniac).

Armed standoff in Shawville

Sometimes, when something big happens, you’re only aware of a part of it. Last Thursday I had my own version of the blind men and the elephant.

Helicopter incident (1) Came the call from Jennifer, doing summer-school tutoring at the elementary school: there’s a suicidal man with a gun, the school is in lockdown, and we think it’s taking place in the field just west of here — two helicopters just landed there. So I grab the camera and take off along the snowmobile trail, which leads to the field. I see the helicopter there. Thinking I’m too close to the action, and therefore at risk of putting the officers or myself at risk, I double back to the highway and snap a few, distant shots from there (1, 2).

But it turns out the action was elsewhere. I’ve taken the addresses from today’s Equity (link good for only one week) and plotted them on a map for reference.

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Local gas prices

I understand that gasoline is expensive; it ought to be. I understand that gas prices ought to be a little bit higher in my small town than they are in the city. But how much higher? A few weeks ago I noticed a nine-cent spread between gas stations here and a gas station in Aylmer (that admittedly has lower prices than some other stations). Last Saturday the spread was thirteen cents: 115.9 vs. 102.9. Can someone please explain why there’s that much of a difference in price between gas stations only 75 kilometres apart?

Mahoney defeated by Duncan McMillan for Pontiac Liberal nomination

Despite earlier reports, Richard Mahoney may not have been “encouraged” to run in my riding, Pontiac, by Stéphane Dion. Either way, he won’t be the Liberal candidate here: he was defeated by local farmer Cindy Duncan McMillan at the federal Liberal nomination meeting yesterday. Ms. Duncan McMillan didn’t come out of nowhere: she’s long been active in Quebec farm organizations; I remember covering a local farmers’ meeting in September 2003 (it was about the beef crisis) at which she spoke in her capacity as president of the Quebec Farmers Association.

To be honest, I’m relieved that we have a local candidate rather than an urban parachute (or, as I put it when I heard the news, “urban sloppy seconds” — Mahoney had lost twice as the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre).

But Mahoney himself, while no doubt a fine candidate on his home turf, presented certain problems. I was very concerned when I read, in last week’s Pontiac Journal, that Mahoney was not only anglophone (not a problem), but unilingual — and despite the large English-speaking presence in this riding, it’s still three-quarters francophone. Only the folks around Shawville — which, for better or for worse, is essentially Diefenbaker country — would not care about that, and they’ll be voting Conservative. Additionally, the fact that he’s a cottager here would not necessarily endear him to the year-round residents.

So, hats off to Cindy Duncan McMillan. Whether she stands a chance against Lawrence Cannon remains to be seen, but at least she won’t be carrying the baggage of either a parachute candidate or of the previous Liberal MP, who got into a mess of controversy over contracts awarded to his private company.

Liberal candidates

I’m getting old. My old friend Dan Hurley, with whom I conspired when I was politically active in my youth, is running for the Liberals in Winnipeg Centre against NDP MP Pat Martin. Of course, he used to be Stéphane Dion’s chief of staff, so he’s accomplished quite a bit in the interim. (Whereas I post cat pictures and make cracks about the Olympics. Sigh.)

Meanwhile, Richard Mahoney, the twice-defeated Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, has been asked by Dion to run in Pontiac — i.e., my riding — against Transport minister Lawrence Cannon. I’m ambivalent in that it feels like the Liberals are giving us their urban sloppy seconds, though to be fair to Mahoney he’s got a cottage in the riding. (But ask me some time about the tensions between full-time residents and cottagers.)

Neither of these seats are Liberal gimmes — Winnipeg’s urban core was solidly NDP in recent memory except between 1988 and 1997, and Pontiac has historically vacillated between the Liberals and Conservatives, making it one of the most Tory ridings in Quebec — and they have strong incumbents. We’ll see what happens.

Jack Graham

With today’s Equity comes news that Jack Graham, the long-time mayor of Bristol (a rural municipality just east of here), died of cancer on Saturday at Shawville hospital; he was 65. I met Jack (and his wife and his son) during my brief journalistic career, and always found him affable, if a bit gruff, and absolutely dedicated to his community — he had a reputation for getting things done for Bristol, let me tell you, from new buildings to highway paving.

Health care in the Outaouais

Proof that health care in the Outaouais does indeed suck: Gatineau’s hospital scored the lowest in L’Actualité’s report on 86 Quebec hospitals, with a score of 32 per cent. Hull’s wasn’t much better, at 42 per cent.

Note, however, that the hospital in Shawville scored 87 per cent. We’re enough of a health-care bright spot in this region that our doctors and our hospital have their hands full with patients from the city — exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a rural hospital. Of course, when you recall that a large number of Gatineau residents simply cross the river to Ontario for their medical care, you quickly realize just how dire the situation must be.

The hospital spokesman protests that the data are out of date and that the situation is different. This is the usual bureaucratic defence: our more recent, internal numbers are different and show we’ve improved. Of course, the public numbers usually run a year or two behind, so it’s a perfect defence: no matter how bad the numbers look, you can always say they’ve improved, so long as no one remembers what you said last year. Sir Humphrey would be pleased.

Local miscellany, with photos

A few items of local interest:

Anne McGowan, the principal of ELC, is retiring. Since Jennifer is one of their teachers and I am her spousal equivalent, I attended the retirement party on the 26th, where I put my swanky new camera to use.

Eric Campbell, a local character (and yes, you better believe he was one) who was active in heritage projects, died last week; my friend Robert Wills is assembling anecdotes on a memorial page.

The Pontiac Community Bonspiel wrapped up today; Jennifer played on the Pontiac High School staff team. It was her first time curling, though she’s no stranger to the sport as a spectator. Her team finished second in its division, but before you get too impressed, note that there are twelve divisions and 72 teams in all. Anyway, I was along with my camera today, and here is the photographic evidence.

Main Street

Considerable anxiety has been expressed of late about the commercial future of Shawville in the past two issues of The Equity. Folks are worried about businesses disappearing, particularly in what is risibly referred to as downtown (i.e., along Main Street). Two stores — a general store and an office supplies store — are up for sale because their owners would like to retire, and the local Curves franchise has announced it’s closing its doors at the end of the month. Much worry, then, about whether this town is losing its shops.

Continue reading this entry »

Those who served, those who died*

Shawville war memorial An interesting aspect of how small communities remember their war veterans is revealed by Shawville’s war memorial in our Memorial Park. I had been accustomed to such monuments listing a community’s war dead; this one has inscribed the names of everyone who served — the war dead are marked with an asterisk. Few enough, I suppose, that everyone who served could be thus commemorated.

(Note that the monument is relatively new — 1997 — which is interesting in terms of my thinking about the recent development of what I refer shorthandedly as the Cult of the Veteran.)

(Also note the wreath at the monument’s base, and the poppy taped to one name. This photo was taken on the 4th; weather conditions would not have allowed either to stay for very long, so this had been done recently, and is not a holdover from November 11.)

Not with a bang but a whimper

Remember that crazy emergency court injunction that the Regional Association of West Quebecers and some John Paul II High School parents were seeking, the one that would block the school’s closure on minority-language education rights grounds? Apparently, according to page one of today’s Equity (link good for one week only), it never got filed — and both RAWQ and the parents are blaming the high-profile lawyer for not doing so.

Meanwhile, the school board had only received an e-mail and voice message about the pending injunction, and I can add that the teacher’s union hadn’t heard of it, so it does seem that the PR side of things was moving much faster than the legal side. At any rate, I’ll bet there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than this. The paper does not mention whether they tried to contact the lawyer to get his side of the story, though I doubt attorney-client privilege would allow him to do so (even so, they ought to have made the attempt).

Since classes start next Tuesday, this is not a bad outcome.

JPII, the Charter, and entitlement

Even though preparations to move staff and students from John Paul II High School to Pontiac High are well under way, The Equity reports today on a last-ditch effort by opponents of the school’s closure: they’re teaming up with the Regional Association of West Quebecers (the local English rights group) to seek an emergency court injunction to prevent the school board from closing the school — on the grounds that closing the school violates their Charter rights to an English-language education!

Continue reading this entry »

Canada Day

Red flags I stayed home for the fireworks, because by then I was just too sore and tired (though I could still see most of them from the bedroom window). But I did catch Shawville’s Canada Day parade, which was what you’d expect from a small-town parade. Everyone seemed to be wearing red except me. Shawville is arguably the most federalist town in Quebec, and they take Canada Day very seriously. My photos turned out very well, I think.

Thanks to my involvement in the Archives, we’d been invited to a do at the town hall prior to the parade, where I felt a bit out of place: it was a bit more formal, with a lot more politicians — mayors from half the Pontiac, our MP — than I’d expected. I don’t get out much even by Shawville standards.

John Paul II High School to close

Jennifer’s school is now all but certain to close at the end of this year.

Last night, the WQSB’s planning review committee tabled its recommendations for school realignment. It has recommended that the high-school portion of the combined St. John’s/John Paul II school close, with its students moving to Pontiac High School for the 2006-2007 school year. (And, almost certainly, its teachers — so don’t worry about Jennifer’s employment.)

The elementary side will remain open, and no school boundaries will be put into place. Adult education, currently at PHS, will eventually move into the JPII building, but not immediately.

Formally, the council of commissioners must approve this decision at its meeting on the 27th, but, especially since the committee is a committee of the whole (i.e., the entire board acting as a committee), it’s extremely unlikely that this recommendation will not be followed.

You can bet that a lot of people aren’t happy about this. Chances are, though, this will work out for the best: the 80 or so kids from JPII will certainly face culture shock when they arrive in Shawville this fall, but they’ll have far more opportunities and resources at their disposal; PHS, due to its larger student population, is simply better equipped. The kids will be better off, though they won’t necessarily agree for a while. It’s a pity that so much of the debate over JPII’s closure has focused on what the school means to the community that their kids’ education — many of them are in high-needs, at-risk situations that would overwhelm a small school’s resources (JPII is so small it doesn’t even qualify for a guidance counsellor) — got lost in the shuffle.

Paving John Street

Paving John Street (photo) We used to live on the only unpaved street in Shawville. Not any more. Yesterday, a road crew came and paved our street in one shot. Of course, it came to less than a hundred metres of asphalt, but when you’re used to road work taking weeks if not months, it was still a pleasant surprise. I took a break from the keyboard and stood on my front lawn snapping pictures of them; I’ve posted a few of them to this photoset on Flickr.

An update on that Ledbetter editorial

More on the fallout from Richard Ledbetter’s editorial in the Pontiac Journal two weeks ago. Two more letters responding to the editorial were printed in The Equity yesterday — here’s where I explain why people write letters to the competition around here. Both letters, plus two others, were also printed in the Journal.

Mine didn’t see print, nor was Ken’s, but I’m gathering that they got a lot of letters about that editorial, if the snippy, defensive tone of Ledbetter’s editorial in this issue is any indication.

Continue reading this entry »

Letters to the competition

One of the advantages of having two local newspapers — though each paper has significant shortcomings, believe me — is that neither misses an opportunity to point out the competition’s troubles (example) or just plain take a shot at them, cheap or otherwise.

So it’s no surprise that today’s Equity contains two letters to the editor regarding the Journal’s editorial about John Paul II High School. (See previous entries: My response to Richard Ledbetter; More about that editorial.) One is from Ken Whicher, the principal of the high school, and another is from a graduate with a B.A. who objects to Ledbetter’s gross characterization of the school’s graduates as a bunch of underachieving rejects.

The Equity is a weekly, the Journal is a biweekly, so the Journal basically has to go another week before being able to respond. The two papers’ animosity towards another is well-known — it goes a bit beyond professional — so it’s no surprise if people write to both papers, or to just the opposition, to complain, especially if they have little faith that the one being complained about will print the letter. (I sent my letter to the Journal only; I’m still boycotting The Equity as a result of how I was treated when I worked there.)

Anyway, you can read the letters on The Equity’s web site here — until May 24, anyway, when page four of the next edition replaces it.

ATV theft

Bean’s — the gas station/garage/ATV and snowmobile dealership behind our building — was broken into overnight; two ATVs were stolen. This morning, their gate backing onto our lane was wide open. An officer stopped by; he was canvassing the residents to see if they’d heard anything.

Don’t for a moment think that rural areas are free of crime. There are petty thefts, and break-ins — and, more spectacularly, drug busts — all the time in this area. That country folks don’t lock their doors isn’t necessarily indicative.

More about that editorial

I’ve received some nice compliments for my letter to the editor regarding Richard Ledbetter’s editorial in the Pontiac Journal about the potential closure of Jen’s high school; I seem to have hit the nail on the head.

I’m not the only one up in arms over that editorial. It has not gone over at all well, and not just at JPII: the staff at PHS is reportedly just as upset. I’m given to understand that complaints have been made to the teacher’s union. There will probably be quite a few angry letters to the editor over this thing; it will be interesting to see how many will see print. (It matters a great deal, from the perspective of journalistic integrity, whether any do.) In any event, I expect that the Journal will find the education beat rather hard to cover from now on.

My response to Richard Ledbetter

You may have heard that Jen’s high school — John Paul II High School — is facing possible closure at the end of this year. The past few months have seen consultations and a campaign to save the school, and emotions have been running high. I’ve been trying to stay out of it — I need another scrap like I need a root canal — but I have been paying attention.

In this week’s Pontiac Journal, editor Richard Ledbetter has an inflammatory editorial that, like much of the debate, sheds more heat than light. Here are some excerpts:

Continue reading this entry »


As it turns out, we did have an earthquake last night. Only 4.5 on the Richter scale, and it lasted for about a second. Actually, at the time I assumed it was the neighbour’s kids bouncing off or crashing into something. While the idea that it might have been an earthquake did occur to me at the time, it was only when I talked to someone at the Archives this morning who also felt it that I knew for certain. She lives nearly two hours away; my neighbour’s kids are simply not that loud.

Pontiac volunteer group web sites

I’ve been working on web sites for a couple of local volunteer groups that I’ve been affiliated with, and this week I launched them as WordPress-powered blogs: Pontiac Environmental Protection (or PEP) and the Pontiac Archives. These are my first WordPress-powered projects ever: I’m in unfamiliar waters. Hacking WordPress is quite different from Blogger or Movable Type: it uses PHP directly, rather than proprietary tags. The blogs are still using the default template as a result, and I’ll have lots of tinkering to do as I learn more — it is me, after all — but so far people seem happy with them.

Local results

So, Conservative candidate Lawrence Cannon was elected Member of Parliament for Pontiac last night, defeating incumbent Liberal David Smith, who finished third.

Final results, according to the CBC web site, are as follows:

  • Cannon (Con) 16,067 (33.63%)
  • Émond-Lapointe (BQ) 13,790 (28.87%)
  • Smith (Lib) 11,539 (24.15%)
  • Brault (NDP) 4,759 (9.96%)
  • Garahan (Green) 1,512 (3.16%)
  • Legros (M-L) 107 (0.22%)

The Conservative results are nearly 12 percentage points higher than their results with Judy Grant in 2004; the NDP are up nearly four points, the Bloc results are more or less even, the Greens are down a point, and the Liberal results are 14 points down from last time.

It’s also interesting to compare these results with last week’s poll: Cannon’s up 7½ points, Émond-Lapointe’s down nearly two, Smith’s up five, Brault’s down four. (Which doesn’t add up — the poll results added up to 88 per cent, which presumably means, and I didn’t notice this before, a full 12 per cent undecided, much but not all of which broke for Cannon.)

Pontiac poll results

The Equity is reporting the following numbers from a recent CROP poll of the Pontiac riding (which is where I live):

Plus or minus six percentage points, 19 times out of 20, yadda yadda yadda. (I’d seen other numbers elsewhere for the same poll — Bloc 30, Conservative 29, Liberal 22 — but can’t source them; they’re proportionate, in any event.)

If these numbers are correct, they represent a significant shift in votes, particularly in terms of the near-total collapse of the Liberal vote — due not only to the Liberals’ unpopularity in Quebec due to the sponsorship scandal, but also because of incumbent MP Smith’s own difficulties — and a doubling of the NDP’s vote from last time, as the following graph shows:

Pontiac constituency: 2004 results vs. 2006 CROP poll

If you had asked me at the start of the campaign, I would never have predicted a single-point spread between the Conservative and Bloc candidates, with Smith well behind. A lot has happened since.

Remembrance Day and historical memory

In countries across Europe and North America, it’s traditional to pause on November 11 and remember the sacrifices made by veterans on behalf of our respective countries during wartime. As an historian who focused on twentieth-century Europe, and as the grandson of two air force veterans, I’m acutely aware of what it is we’re supposed to be remembering; hell, I’ve taught it. But, because of my historical training, I’ve been paying attention to how we remember those sacrifices. I’ve been fascinated by the subject of historical memory since I was first exposed to it in Henry Rousso’s Vichy Syndrome (if there’s a Canadian equivalent, I’d love to know about it).

In the same way that Rousso noted that books and films about France’s wartime experience were few until some decades have passed, I think I’ve noticed a greater emphasis on Remembrance Day in recent years. Maybe, the older and fewer the veterans from the World Wars get, the more we want to honour them before they’re all gone. (Quantifying this would make an excellent research project.) Meanwhile, I’ve noticed two things that I’d like to talk about here: the attempts by veterans’ groups to control the historical narrative and suppress portrayals they find offensive; and the role November 11 plays in small communities — something I saw first-hand as a reporter two years ago, and that I’ve been mulling ever since.

My thoughts on this subject are still half-formed, and I’m not going to mince words. If you think I’m being harsh or disrespectful, please have a look at this article, which I wrote two years ago. This post isn’t so much about veterans and their sacrifices back then, about which little more can be said that has not already been said, and said better; it’s about what we’re doing and saying about them today.

Continue reading this entry »

Stompin’ Tom comes to Shawville

Leaving the Shawville Fair The Shawville Fair is on this weekend. I don’t normally go; I’m not comfortable in crowds. It’s all the more crowded today because Stompin’ Tom Connors played tonight. Jen reported that the place was packed this afternoon, and for at least the last hour, a long, slow line of cars has been working its way, bumper-to-bumper, down Centre Street. The gate at the Fair is usually around 50,000; I suspect that the record will have been broken this time. (Keep in mind that this town has a population of around 1,500; this is its one big weekend.)

Two-way satellite Internet comes to town

An ad in today’s paper announces the availability of two-way satellite Internet from Telebec (the phone company for the Quebec sticks; civilization gets Bell). Prices range from $65/month for 512/128 Kbps to $190/month for 2Mbps/500 Kbps (which is what I get now with cable, at $42/month). Plus, a two-year contract is required, as is a $399 (or $20/month) connection fee. Not in the least bit cheap, but at least equivalent-to-cable speeds are available in places without cable or DSL. So, in theory, we could move to an extremely isolated location and still have highspeed. I wonder what the latency is like.

See previous entry: Satellite Internet for the masses.

Changes at the paper

My former editor, whose behaviour forced me to resign from the local paper I used to work for, is apparently no longer working there; the reporter who replaced me was listed as the editor in this week’s paper, and there’s a want ad for a new reporter. (At that paper, the newsroom is comprised of one editor and one reporter, total.) I didn’t catch last week’s edition so I don’t know if this is an abrupt departure or under happier circumstances, like getting hired by a major daily — despite everything, I hope it’s the latter. I’m dying to find out what happened, and I’ll probably hear something eventually through the grapevine; I doubt, though, that it’d be prudent for me to share anything I learn with you here.

At some point I’ll write about my experiences at that paper, but not just yet.

96 hours

For an outage of its size, it couldn’t have been better timed. Around noon on Friday, the cable company’s line to our home was cut. Don’t know how; presumably by accident, possibly by a passing vehicle or by the work crews working on the front and back walks.

Didn’t really notice until late that evening because we were busy, first picking up, then entertaining, David and Rita, who’d come for a visit. One drawback to rural life is that cable company technicians are stretched pretty thin — particularly after a big storm that no doubt fried some infrastructure. They couldn’t come before today; we’d be without cable television or any Internet access until then, a total of four full days.

But, because we had company for most of that, it was no real hardship at all — it’s not like I’d be glued to the computer working on web projects when we had people over in any event. And I was able to keep busy elsewhere yesterday and this morning. To my surprise, withdrawal symptoms were mild. There may yet be hope for me. Anyway, it was back up before noon today.

Meanwhile, though, we enjoyed ourselves, despite my back flaring up, which required me to retreat periodically and take some downtime. One of our little field trips was to Rolling Acres Farms, a few kilometres south of here, which has just opened a store selling their hormone-free beef. Barbecued up some of it on Sunday; some of the best beef I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not kidding. (I’d link to their URL if it worked.)

A thunderstorm’s mixed blessings

The thunderstorm last night brought considerable relief — temperatures inside the house are now back to the mid-twenties — but it knocked out cable (and Internet) for the rest of the evening. It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of the fragile infrastructure out here: I lost track of the number of times that the power went out, outage duration anywhere from one second to one minute. (Update: There were outages all over the place; the storm was more serious than I thought. Update update: This serious.)

Miscellaneous Pontiac updates

The things you don’t find out when you’re not a reporter any more and are not otherwise plugged into the local scene.

Some time in the last six months, Transport Thom cut its late Friday and weekend bus service to this region. The only buses that apparently remain are the commuter buses, which leave Shawville at 6 a.m. and Ottawa at 3:30 p.m. David and Rita found this out the hard way trying to visit us out here in the sticks.

The Pontiac Pet Shop may have moved rather than closed (see previous entry); I saw its sign in a little strip mall on Highway 301 just across from the entrance to the Smurfit-Stone pulp mill north of Portage du Fort. So maybe it’s relocated to a somewhat less prime location.

Sometimes I miss knowing the details.

Shawville loses its pet store

Today Jen pointed out that the Pontiac Pet Shop, which is just down the street from us, has closed up. She’d noticed it in the past week. My first reaction was surprise; I’d expected the store to succeed. It’s too bad.

I covered the store’s opening in September 2003; here’s part of what I wrote:

[The owners’] market research suggested that there was demand for a pet store in the area. According to data provided by Shawville Revitalisation, more than $1 million is spent on pet expenses [in the area] — including food, supplies, services and the animals themselves — every year.

On the other hand, we ourselves didn’t actually shop there very often. And we have more animals than the average, non-farming resident. Or rather we didn’t buy there very often; we stopped in a lot, but they frequently didn’t have what we were looking for. They didn’t carry reptile supplies, they didn’t have the cat things we wanted, and their selection of cat food was poorer than the supermarket’s next door. So we ended up going elsewhere, even though we wanted to give them our business.

Pet stores make money on supplies, not animals. But the store’s limited selection of animals may have had an effect on their other business lines. From my article:

The animals offered for sale reflect [one of the owner’s] preferences: small, purebred dogs and cats; ferrets and small rodents; goldfish; and finches and budgies. There are no larger birds such as parrots, more exotic fish, reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates — or, for that matter, run of the mill dogs or cats — at this time.

My bet is that $300 dogs would be a tough sell out here. Pet stores are a marginal business in the first place. I don’t know, but maybe it was too limited and upscale in its selection to succeed. Maybe they didn’t need a storefront on Main Street with purebreds; they needed a big barn in the outskirts with all sorts of stuff — everything from aquaria to horse tack.

Who knows. I don’t know why the store closed; I’m just musing about what it’s like to do business in this town. I wonder whether specialty stores can survive out here. We have a lot of small department/general/discount stores that sell a surprising amount of stuff, with considerable overlap. I’m not sure if one thing alone is enough to keep a business going — even the local newspaper sells cleaning supplies.

I’m beginning to think I’m jinxing local businesses. Of the three business openings I covered in my brief time as a reporter, only one is still open: the Curves franchise. Don’t tell the Chamber of Commerce.

Recycling and animal control

The things you find out when you check with town hall. Sometimes you have to be really proactive; they don’t necessarily broadcast these things on a regular basis.

There is curbside recycling in this town. Every second Wednesday (including today).

And, next month the animal control officer will be going door to door registering cats and dogs. Yes, there’s a by-law, and it requires cat licences. Saw that in the paper today, and I investigated. It turns out that this is not new: we should have gotten licences previously for our current kitties. Oops.

It’s $8/year per cat, for a maximum of two cats. That seems a little excessive: I mean, I’m the last person to argue on behalf of cat ladies (see previous entries: Animal hoarding, Cat ladies) but in Ottawa they let you keep up to five.

Of course that’s not the real reason I wanted a look at the by-law, as you well know, but the animal control contractor is only asking after dogs and cats. I’m crossing my fingers that sections 9 and 10 and Schedule II of the Regulation Respecting Animals in Captivity (CARCNET page) mean what I think they mean.

L’hiver est arrivé

The view out my living room window this morning.
Heavy snow in Shawville
Originally uploaded by mcwetboy.

It’s taken me some time to figure out which forecast is more applicable to Shawville: the Pontiac forecast, which ostensibly applies to our region, or the Renfrew forecast, because Renfrew isn’t far away at all in a straight line. It turns out it’s Renfrew’s: last night, the forecasts called for a few centimetres of snow in the Pontiac and considerably more for Ottawa, Gatineau and Renfrew. And we’ve got quite a bit on the ground now, as you can see. (Pontiac’s forecast applies more to the uplands around Otter Lake, I’m guessing.)

It’s a good thing we got new tires last month; the old ones were worn and wouldn’t have done well at all. We got all-season Michelin Destiny tires rather than snow tires: the back lane in this photo is as snowbound as our route ever gets. I won’t be surprised to hear that Highway 148 is more or less bare today; they’re pretty good at keeping that road clear.

Local politicians caught

The local-paper-I-used-to-work-for published a major jawdropper of a story last week but, for whatever reason, telegraphed it.

Five local politicians and one bureaucrat have been charged — and, since the article says they were fined, presumably convicted — under provincial electoral law. Their offence? Having their municipalities or organizations reimburse them for attending a $200-a-plate fundraiser for the provincial Liberal riding association. For the record, the people charged are as follows:

Continue reading this entry »

Election prognostication

I’m not much of a political blogger. Oh, I’m capable of it; I just lack the fervour and the need to spout off on a regular basis. More power to them that do; I just find the non-political niches that much more interesting at the present time.

Canadian political bloggers have been giving their predictions over the past few days — see here and here, for example — about the results nationwide and in their own particular ridings.

For my own riding (Pontiac), the usual conventional wisdom is whether the seat will stay Liberal or go to the Conservatives, what with Judy Grant as a strong local candidate. But I think that the riding could go to the BQ tomorrow.

Continue reading this entry »

Speedway of the Pontiac

Highway 303 between Shawville and Portage-du-Fort may roll with the hills along its 13 km, but its speed limit of 90 km/h is not particularly excessive. Still, I keep running into drivers — at least three different drivers in recent memory — who persist in driving no more than 60 to 70 km/h along that route. It’s not that I’m surprised that there are rural drivers who go well under the speed limit, it’s that they’re turning up only on Highway 303, and nowhere else in the Pontiac. What gives, I wonder?

Our fastidious town

Early every Friday morning the street-cleaning truck makes its rounds in Shawville. As was the case with this town’s snowplowing schedule, I’m amazed at how frequently it’s being done: in Winnipeg, my suburban street was swept once each year, in spring, to get rid of the accumulated sand from the previous winter. This town is obsessed with cleanliness. Next I’ll be finding out that there’s no litter in the park, either.

Conservative leadership results — the Pontiac edition

Stephen Harper didn’t win too many constituencies in Quebec today, but my own riding was one of them, according to the Conservative Party’s leadership results page: Harper 54.9%, Stronach 38.9%, Clement 6.2%. (Of course, he got nearly 82 per cent on the other side of the river in Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, but that seat was won by the Alliance in 2000.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if folks around here had something to do with it: it’s a really socially conservative area that would have an affinity for Harper’s pitch. I once heard the mayor refer to women by their husbands’ first and last names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). Things like that make me think I’m living in a time warp — it’s the 1950s, but with high-speed Internet and no railroad. And Harper did come to speak in Quyon a few weeks back. But then all the local politicians seem to be active in the Liberal party around here, social conservatism notwithstanding. So go figure.

Incumbents overboard

Sheila’s not alone; incumbent Liberal MPs have been dropping like flies of late, losing their nomination battles. My own MP, Robert Bertrand, lost the nomination for Pontiac to newcomer David Smith from Maniwaki, my old newspaper reports. Though the story only gives the barest bones of an outline — who’s the new guy, anyway? — it seems that Bertrand was simply outhustled for the nomination.

Pesky Joe (see previous entry), who was elected as an Alliance MP in 2000 but switched to the Liberals in 2002, met a similar fate in Richmond, B.C., losing the nomination to Raymond Chan, the Liberal MP he beat in 2000.

Neither of these guys had much of a profile in the House: Bertrand always struck me as the ultimate rural constituency MP; we’re not sure what Peschisolido’s been up to. But it’s interesting to note that while the Pesky Joe/Raymond Chan battle gets national coverage on the CBC web site, thanks in no small part to the notoriety of the story, Bertrand’s defeat is all but invisible. It’s not showing up anywhere in my Google searches. It’s like you now need the interesting angle to get any coverage at all — a sitting MP with a decade in the House losing his nomination battle (and, quelle horreur, being magnanimous about it) is no longer sufficiently newsworthy outside the riding.

Shawville has a posse

Lynn Wilson was in court in Campbell’s Bay yesterday over the incident four years ago in Shawville where a language inspector was followed around town by irate residents (including the mayor and, ahem, local media); CBC Ottawa and the Montreal Gazette have coverage. Locals know this issue all too well; it’s unfortunate that the only time Shawville hits the radar in the rest of Canada is when there’s a sign-law confrontation (see previous entry).

For those of you who need some background: Shawville is 97 per cent anglophone — the Pontiac MRC overall is 57 per cent anglo — and many of its residents don’t speak French well or at all. Shawville also has more little mom-and-pop businesses than anywhere else in the county. This makes clashes with the language police inevitable, since many of the shopkeepers wouldn’t be able to read their signs, receipts and labels if they were in French. (It’s also a convenient way, some suggest, to ratfuck a competitor through an anonymous complaint.)

White cake

White cake is the official dessert of the Pontiac. I can say that with some confidence now, having been to several community dinners, banquets and restaurants over the past four months. White cake. With something caramel-ish drizzled all over it.

Ladies first! Ladies first!

Every so often I get surprised by the old-fashionedness of this place — which is, I guess, a polite way of saying retrograde conservatism. At the Mickey Creek golf course in Vinton last night for Jen’s staff Xmas party, where the staff deliberately and carefully served the women first (five men out of 22 — to be expected when there are elementary school teachers about). This might be less of a problem if they were a little quicker about it, but the women were getting dessert before the men had finished eating.

I grumbled to myself that if they made a point of serving Protestants first, or anglophones first, there would be a hue and cry across at least some parts of the county. I remembered that in 19th-century French farm households women ate after the men, and ate standing — and I thought that this was no different. But I suspect that if I were to fulminate publicly about this, people would wonder what the big deal was, exactly.

Shawville snowplows

An unexpected benefit of living in a small town: the streets get plowed much faster. Since the snow began falling last Thursday — and if I had been smarter about it I would have taken pictures like a good blogger — the streets of Shawville have been plowed twice. So have the sidewalks. Even the laneway beside our building has been sanded. Compared with the city, where residential streets might go weeks without plowing as scarce municipal resources are spent on arterial roads, this is a pleasant surprise. I guess when you have one snowplow, you use it.

Signal strength in Quyon

In Quyon last night to cover a public meeting regarding a proposed engineered landfill site, about which I hope to have a nice article next week. Quyon has a good spot for cellphone signal strength by the Lions Club and ferry dock: I was able to call home without difficulty. But by the time I hit Clarendon Street (Quyon’s main drag), the call began cutting out. In the Pontiac, at least as far as Rogers AT&T Wireless’s network is concerned, all cell towers are on the Ontario side; it may be a matter of being on the wrong side of buildings — something that is less prevalent in cities where there are more cell towers in more directions. Or does that make any sense? I’m just guessing.

Low blows

Newspapers love to cover their competitors’ bad news, but there’s a fine line between being fair, albeit enjoying it, and just being mean. A local case in point: this week, our competition published an article about a lawsuit between my paper and its former editor. (Nothing like having your competitor airing out your laundry.) This, after using a readership survey meant to show that people read community papers to claim, on the front page last month, that they “beat” us — a misuse of the data, and not exactly true. They’ve been running a table showing it in every issue since. They even argued that municipalities were wasting taxpayers’ money if they advertised with us! It’s one thing to compete, quite another to wish for your competition’s humiliation and destruction. Not nice.

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.