The slow death of a neighbourhood business

  • Jan. 24th, 2011 at 7:49 PM

The Sign Remains the Same
Farewell to the Glebe Apothecary

Photo by Geoffrey Dow
Photo by Geoffrey Dow

One of the comforting myths about capitalism — one that has the benefit of, sometimes, even being true — is that investment is about creating wealth, not just amassing it. And so we tell each other inspiring stories about the Steve Jobs of the world far more often than we do the cautionary tales of the Bernard_Madoffs or Conrad Blacks.

The reality, though — and more now than since the Gilded Age — is that most investment has little to do with creating wealth and almost everything to do with consolidating it (or stealing it outright). There are many more Blacks and Madoffs than there are Jobs.

I got a pointed reminder of this just after Christmas while cycling up Bank Street. I spotted a sign familiar from my first time living in Ottawa, Prospero the Book Company, which I remembered as having been a very good independent book store back around 1990. I decided to park my bike and pay it a visit.

What I found inside was a non-descript store with generic shelves displaying generic stock, little different from a Chapters mall outlet stuck between a Fairweathers and a Circuit City. And many of the books on display carried familiar-looking orange stickers, which should have given the game away right there.

I cruised the uninspiring shelves for a few minutes, then made a snap decision to pick up John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor (review forthcoming). The woman at the cash asked whether I had an irewards card and I realized why the looked so much like (almost) any other bookstore in Canada.

"I thought you were an independent company," I said.

The woman shook her head. "No, we sold out to Coles — let's see, my son's 26 now, he was three then — 23 years ago!" (I wish I could say that I cancelled my purchase in favour of a side-trip to the genuinely independent Perfect Books, but inertia had its way, even if I felt a bit like I'd been taken in by a confidence game.)

Not quite a lie, in an era of conglomerate mansions housing many rooms, but the name and sign outside, Prospero the Book Company, was certainly misleading, since there was nothing inside to distinguish the store from its corporate siblings. The name lives on but its purchase by a conglomerate has certainly diminished its reason for being.

I thought little more about it until I read about the sale of the Glebe Apothecary in the January 20 edition of Ottawa This Week, and was reminded of the ongoing strip-mining of the real economy by the same corporate behemoths who recently came close to knocking over the entire western economic system.

Conglomerate buys local business, starts lying to customers right out of the gate. Click for more behind the fake cut.

In Calgary we found ... Canada

  • Oct. 22nd, 2010 at 9:46 PM

Alberta reminds Canada of its past and its future

In Calgary, we have met the Other 
(and found only ourselves)

Traditional Canadian values: Calgary's mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi in victory. 
 Traditional Canadian values: Qu├ębec Premier Jacques Parizeau in defeat.

On Tuesday, the people of Calgary elected to the mayorship a brown man — the first time a Moslem has been handed the keys to a major Canadian city.

15 years ago next week, the people of Quebec very narrowly opted to hold  their province within the Canadian political experiment; the second time Quebecers voted for Canada in repudiation of their homegrown Ind├ępendatistes.

At first glance, you might not think the two events, separated by a generation in time and half-a-continent in space, have much to do with one another.

What does a narrow defeat for the forces of a defeatest tribal isolationism 15 years ago have to with an apparent victory by the forces of tolerance, progress and pluralism today?

Quite a lot, actually.

More on my site, Edifice Rex Online.


'Shut the fuck up on this issue'

  • May. 7th, 2010 at 10:45 PM

By their words shall we know them

Harper and friends never cease playing the politics of division and fear

(The following is cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.)

Steven Harper, not exactly as shown. (Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.)
Steven Harper, not exactly as shown. (Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.)

I would like to apologize for inflicting a four-letter Anglo-Saxonism upon you, but I can't in good conscience do it. All too often the truth is offensive and sometimes, using crude words is the best way to get us to confront the ugly truth in question.

In this case, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth seems to have let slip an ugly truth about her party that she might not even fully understand — otherwise, if she is the pro-choice feminist she said to be, she would surely have to cross the floor — wouldn't she?

Senator Ruth made the statement this past Monday to a meeting of international equality rights groups. The subject was the Harper government's decision, as announced by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda back on April 26, that Canada will not fund abortions in developing countries.

The next day, in what was either a remarkable case of foot-in-mouth disease, or else a cynical calculation that there were more votes to be had in pandering to the Conservatives' right-wing, "socially conservative" base than there might be in acknowledging that women in the third world sometimes also have unwanted pregnancies and so, like those in the west, will seek out abortions whether or not they are legal or affordable or safe, Harper disengenuously claimed the decision was meant to be "unifying".

According to the Toronto Star, he said, "We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population."

As if he didn't know that implicitly declaring women in the third world should not have the rights Canadian women take for granted wouldn't be devisive.

In any event, Senator Ruth wasn't not telling people to "shut the fuck up" about the issue this week because she is anti-choice, but because she is pro-choice and scared. Scared of her own party's leader.

And that fear speaks volumes about the nature of Steven Harper's so-called "conservative" government.

As I have noted before (and almost certainly will again; in the face of lies, the truth must be repeated twice as often), I am not convinced that Canada's Prime Minister, Steven Harper, has mellowed during his years presiding over a minority Parliament. It is just that minority status that has kept a frustrated Firewall Steve from enacting either the economic or the social "conservative" — in fact, reactionary — policies he would have had he a fully-subserviant House of Commons at his beck and call.

According to CBC News Senator Ruth continued by saying, "If you push it, there'll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country." She went on to say, "Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don't make this an election issue."

You can argue that Senator Ruth was simply giving activists some pragmatic advice, offering the benefit of her experience and position in government, but the subjext sounds to me like it is coming from someone who knows her leader and her party and is all-too-well aware of what might come if he gets the majority government he so desparately desires.

This government, which fires civil servants for doing their jobs, which panders to fears of crime while crime is decreasing with expensive "reforms" that won't work (see Sentencing reform could cost $10B over 5 years), which prorogues Parliament whenever it pleases, hides evidence that Canada has been complicit in torture and — the list is nearly endless; no doubt most of you can make your own lists. This government's own members seem to believe it is a danger to the Canada we have known, a reactionary, dangerous leopard held in check only by the fragile leash of a Parliamentary minority.

Harper does his best to colour his spots, but they keep showing through the second-rate dye-jobs and Senator Nancy Ruth's fear suggests it's not only his enemies who worry about what might happen if he gets free reign over the nation, but his allies as well.

With the ongoing global economic crisis now nearing its third year, the neo-conservative "revolution" has been revealed as nothing but a sham and a fraud. To its credit, Canada avoided many of the excesses of the past 30 years. It would be a tragedy were we to let Harper institute his own scorch-and-burn revolution so long past its best-before date.

Edited to remove strange duplication.

Attack ads - outside of election campaigns

  • May. 25th, 2009 at 10:57 AM
I'm certain we all have opinions about the use of attack ads during election campaigns. The key there is "during election campaigns."

What about parties that run attack ads where there is no election campaign going on?

Of course i am referring to the latest round of attack ads launched by the Conservative party against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. And while i know we commonly say that with a minority government situation, parties are always in election mode, there is no election on the horizon. The Conservatives have far more money to spend than any of the other parties (probably combined), and annoyingly for them, there are limits to how much of that cash they can spend during actual election campaigns. Hence why they like to use up some of their excess funds by running ads when there's no election going on.

Should the Elections Canada Act be amended to ban this sort of obvious non-campaign campaigning?

General ruminations on political reform

  • May. 1st, 2009 at 9:03 AM
On Monday of this week, Garth Turner was on Don Newman's Politics to promote his new book, Sheeple. I've not read the book yet, but Turner raised a few interesting points (hardly unique ones - others have raised these issues too):
  • the PM has too much power
  • a lot of people (maybe most), when they vote in general elections, are actually voting for who they want as PM and not for who they really want as their MP
  • because our system is based on party discipline, individual MPs, esp. backbenchers and independents, have no real power and have to toe the party line even if the party line is hurtful to their riding and constituents
Turner essentially stated that we should reconsider our form of parliamentary democracy and maybe start looking at a system similar to what they have in the US - where people could vote directly for who they'd like to see as PM, while still electing a local MP.

I'm putting this out more in the hope of generating some interesting back and forth on what you think works in our system of government, what you think could work better. Do you agree with the above points? Would you like to see less party-centric focus and give individual MPs far more freedom than they currently enjoy? I know any major changes would most likely involve having to change the constitution, and yes, i know, nobody wants to go there, but lets just forget about that for the moment. If you could wave a magic wand and reform our political system without having to worry about the constitution and all that, what would you like to change?

Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson has some interesting proposals for how to reform the post of GG. In short, she suggests:
  • The Prime Minister would still nominate a candidate;
  • the candidate would then be vetted by Parliament - in televised hearings so that the Canadian people could get a sense of the person;
  • the term would be limited to 6 years, which would allow the GG to experience two governments, which constitutionally are limited to five years, and therefore be experienced in office when or if the government changed.
Of course, there is also the argument that we simply do away with the position altogether, or that we elect our head of state. Both of those options would require changing the constitution, while i don't think the above would require any constitutional tinkering.


Structural deficits and raising taxes

  • Apr. 15th, 2009 at 1:23 PM
Yesterday, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stated that taxes would have to rise to reduce Canada's burgeoning deficit, but not at the expense of hurting any economic recovery. In other words, no tax hikes while the recession is on, but once the economy is sort of back on track, we have to pay down those deficits somehow. Of course the Conservatives jumped all over that comment, to the point of highlighting it on the party's website.

Personally, i think Ignatieff's right. The reality is that the federal government's revenues were seriously impacted by the GST cuts even before the economy started to tank, and there isn't a single economist anywhere who thinks the GST cuts were a good idea, never mind good policy. The only way to bring down these huge deficits we're racking up at the moment is either through massive spending cuts, or else by increasing government revenue  (or combinations of both). I don't think either individual Canadians or the provinces will want to see massive spending cuts (or in the case of the provinces, see Ottawa offload spending for programs onto them instead), so finding ways to increase government revenue seems like the most logical path back to fiscal health - and raising taxes seems like the logical place to start.


Welcome to the Canadian Politics community

  • Apr. 14th, 2009 at 3:58 PM
Nothing to see yet - i apologise for that. I will be drafting some community rules in short order and getting other maintenance stuff out of the way. However, feel free to sign up if you're interested in discussing Canadian politics, or simply curious about what goes on politically in Canada.

Edit: I've added some general community guidelines to the profile page.