Ed Stelmach not afraid to sue

Post Image The big political news today of course, is the New Hampshire primary (as I write this, CNN has projected McCain for the Republicans and shows Clinton and Obama in a tight race). But there’s a different political story I want to share with you, one that hits a little closer to home.

From the CBC:

[Alberta] Premier Ed Stelmach is ready to take legal action against a university student who bought the rights to the domain name edstelmach.ca.

On Dec. 3, [Dave] Cournoyer received a letter from Stelmach’s lawyers, accusing him of stealing the premier’s persona. It demands that the blogger hand over the domain and the advertising revenue generated from it to Stelmach or face litigation.

Legal squabbles over domain names happen all the time. Usually they are handled a little better however, especially when a politician is involved. I didn’t have a very high opinion of Stelmach before this little debacle, so how do you think I feel about him now? His first reaction is to sue?

I can’t say it any better than Cournoyer himself:

Though I am still surprised that the +150 staffed Public Affairs Bureau failed to complete the simple task of registering a $14.00 domain name, I am even more surprised that Premier Ed Stelmach’s first reaction in this situation was to threaten to sue an 24-year old blogger and debt ridden University of Alberta student.

Might as well play the student card if you can. Daveberta (as Cournoyer is known) says he is seeking advice from legal counsel.

Read: CBC News

Why the Facebook ban will be lifted within two years

Post ImageAccording to the Globe and Mail, government employees in Ontario have been banned from accessing Facebook. Kristen at Mashable points out that YouTube, online poker, and various other sites are also banned. And Mark Evans points to this story about TD Bank banning Facebook during business hours. There are undoubtedly many other major organizations that have banned access to Facebook and other social networking sites.

I think these bans are ridiculous. And Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty makes it easy to understand why:

“I think Facebook is predominantly a social network. It has its value, but we just don’t really see how it adds value to work that you do in the workplace.”

You sir, Mr. McGuinty, are an idiot.

When you don’t understand something, the correct course of action is to learn about it. Admit you don’t know something, and then find out what it is that you don’t know!

The idea that work exists only between the hours of 9 to 5, and only in your place of business, is dead. Welcome to the 21st century. Human behaviour has changed, and it’s time that the workplace caught up.

I am reminded of something Leonard Brody said yesterday (I am paraphrasing here):

People often say “oh email, instant messaging, there’s too much information, I can’t take it!” Well, you’re all liars. You thrive on more.

It’s true. Employees today can be incredibly productive, so long as their employers make it possible. Banning them from something like Facebook isn’t going to help. There are no doubt many people working for the Ontario government who are part of an older generation, one that isn’t trained to be connected all the time. Perhaps banning Facebook won’t affect them much.

The ban sets a dangerous precedent, however. The next generation of workers the government hires simply won’t stand for it. They are fundamentally different, wired to be connected 24/7. To them, Facebook is both entertainment and work. It’s a tool, not a time-waster. They’ll use it to connect with friends, and they’ll use it to connect with colleagues. Banning Facebook for these workers will definitely hinder their productivity.

Don’t be surprised to read about the Ontario government reversing this decision sometime in the next two years. I don’t think they’ll have any other choice.

Read: Mashable

Voted NDP

Post ImageI mentioned yesterday that I had my choice narrowed down to two. Didn’t want to vote for the Liberals again (need some change) and I don’t align closely enough with the Greens (not that I entirely like any of the parties). For me, it was either NDP or Conservatives (I know!). I ended up voting NDP, for a number of reasons:

  • I like the Conservatives as the provincial government for Alberta, and indeed I did vote for Ralph Klein in the last election. I don’t think a federal Conservative government quite fits the same way.
  • Truthfully, Harper is a little odd, and I don’t think he’d make a very good Prime Minister.
  • The NDP won’t win the election, but a larger number of seats for them in the house is good for all of us during these minority governments (I don’t think the Conservatives will win a majority).
  • Apparently, my NDP candidate has a good shot of being the only non-Tory Edmonton MP.

So now we wait to see the results. Hopefully lots of people voted today, especially with the bogus emails floating around. Polls have closed in the east already, so it won’t be long!

Please Canada, develop the oil sands of Alberta!

Post ImageI have long thought that we as a country should be investing more money in energy, including properly developing Alberta’s vast oil sands. Canada could become the most important region in the world for oil if we were able to extract it efficiently enough – and while it may not the best for the environment, it would certainly be a welcome change to have the oil capital of the world in a democratic, peaceful place for once. A new report from CIBC World Markets seems to support the idea of developing the oil sands, suggesting it will become the most important source of new oil by 2010:

Alberta will sit on one of the most valuable energy sources in the world by that time, and one of the few still open to private investment, said Jeff Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, the bank’s wholesale banking arm.

He added that conventional oil production around the world apparently peaked in 2004.

Energy companies are finding new oil, but most of it will come from non-conventional sources. Ocean oil rigs are the primary source of new oil today, with Alberta’s oil sands tomorrow, with expansion projects rivaling those of Saudi Arabia.

If we were able to properly develop the oil sands, without ceding too much control to the United States, Canada could become very rich, and the world would have oil for longer than is currently projected. This means two things would happen; first, the push for alternative energy sources may be slightly delayed and second, Canada could use its new wealth to invest in those alternative energy sources to be prepared for the time when no more oil can be extracted. If we sit back and choose not to increase production, the world will shift to other sources of energy more quickly, and we might one day be left with a bunch of useless oil, or at least, much less valuable oil.

One of the problems with the oil sands is that our technology is not good enough to efficiently extract the oil on a large scale. There has been some progress, but not enough. So how do we solve that problem?

  • We could just hope that Syncrude, Suncor, and the other companies involved figure it out.
  • The Canadian government itself could hire lots of researchers, engineers, chemists, whoever it takes, to try and improve the technology.
  • Canada could sponsor a research competition, kind of like NASA or DARPA’s popular programs in the United States. Challenge people to develop the most efficient, least harmful process for extracting oil from the oil sands. This is probably the best way to get some quick, meaningful innovation.

The point is that problems are not insurmountable.

There are lots of people who want Alberta to be the only one to profit from our reserves, but I don’t think there’s any reason that Alberta cannot be properly compensated and still have the entire country benefit. We don’t want Trudeau’s NEP, but we do need a national policy that recognizes Alberta and benefits all.

Unfortunately, our political parties do not seem that interested in developing such a policy. Vitality Magazine has a good round up of the “green” platforms the parties have announced for Monday’s election. There are quite a few mentions of alternative energy sources, but no mention of the oil sands. I think if we’re serious about alternative energy, we need to invest a lot of money into it, and what better way to obtain that much money than by fully exploiting the oil sands?

The oil sands offer our country very unique possibilities for the future. Let’s do something with the oil sands and take advantage of those possibilities!

(For more information, read these notes I took during a September 2005 conference that included some discussion on Canada, the oil sands, and the need for a national policy on energy.)

Defending Canadian Democracy

Post ImageI signed the Green Party petition seeking to have that party included in the televised debates because I strongly feel they should be! I didn’t vote Green last time, and I may not this time either, but I still think that any party with a candidate in every riding should be allowed to take part. If the Bloc Québécois can take part, certainly the Green Party should be able to. Here’s part of an email I got today:

Thanks to the participation of people like you, we now have over 40,000 signatures on our online petition for Green Party of Canada leader Jim Harris to be included in the televised leaders’ debates. The broadcasters are taking notice, but still have not reversed their decision.

Now we need to push that number to over 50,000 people before the final televised debates start on Monday evening. Only 10,000 people submitted questions for the other party leaders in the first debates, so this would mean that five times more Canadians are asking for all five leaders to be in the debate.

Can you help us achieve that goal by asking friends, family, and colleagues to sign on too? Remember, this is not necessarily about supporting the Green Party of Canada, its about defending Canadian democracy!

The easiest way for you to help is to use the new page we set up for this at: http://www.info-greenparty.ca/petition/forwardmsg.asp.

If you’re in Canada and you agree, please sign the petition. I am skeptical that the television executives will change their minds, but stranger things have happened.

Reducing GST?

Post ImageOne of the big stories in Canada today was Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s pledge to reduce our GST from 7% to 5% if his party wins the election. The reduction would be 1% immediately, and another percent sometime within five years. Apparently, savings would be fairly good:

Canadians would have $4.5 billion put back in their pockets with the first reduction, said Harper. An average family of four earning $60,000 a year would pay about $400 less in taxes. The GST reduction would be a “tax cut you see every time you shop. No politician will be able to take it away without you noticing.”

Sounds good, but think about it for a second. Who does GST really affect? People who buy a lot of stuff beyond the basics (GST is not charged on basic groceries, most medical services, etc). Those are typically people who are already rich. So essentially, GST reduction helps those with lots of money. Personal income tax cuts in the lower income brackets, as the Liberals have suggested, help those with less money.

That being said, I agree with NDP Leader Jack Layton:

“Deep tax cuts right now are not what Canadians are looking for.”

Do I really care if GST is around after the election? I have lived most of my life with GST, and I have come to accept that it’s going to be there. Instead of giving that 7% back to me (or even part of it) I’d rather see the government do something meaningful with it. Of course that’s where it gets tricky, because what I think is useful may not be what someone else thinks is useful. For example, I wish we’d stop spending so much money on Africa, though there are lots of Canadian who would disagree with me.

The announcement today by Harper has “dirty” written all over it as far as I am concerned. Recall in 1993 the Liberals promised to abolish the GST and that didn’t happen. I don’t feel the Conservative promise is any more solid. How about announcing something more meaningful? A promise to cut GST is something I’d expect the day before the election to try and win the swing voters, not something you propose right away.

Read: CBC News

The Liberals Are Gone

Post ImageI am listening to 630 CHED and just heard the vote reach 171 in favor of the motion, which means the Liberal government in Canada has fallen. Actually, I have been listening for a couple of hours now, and there seems to be a few common refrains:

  • The coming election will be the dirtiest ever.
  • Southern Ontario will be the main battleground.
  • Canadians have lost faith in the political process in general.
  • All parties were hurt by Adscam.

You might recall that I voted for the Liberals in the last election. It’s pretty safe to say that I won’t be voting for them again this time around. That being said however, I don’t know who I will vote for. I don’t feel as though there is a political party that really represents me. I don’t feel as though any of the party leaders are really intriguing.

And perhaps worst of all, I don’t feel as though the coming election campaigns will be able to change that.

Tomorrow's Education

Post ImageHere are some notes on Kathy Gill and Paul Vogelzang’s session on tomorrow’s education:

  • The premise here is that students at the University level are still working with newspapers, and old media, and don’t get the connection when someone says “Flickr.” Maybe in the US it’s different, but in my experience, University students are pretty cutting edge.
  • Of Kathy’s students, juniors and seniors in Communications at the University of Washington, 11% had never heard of a blog, and only 7% had heard of Flickr. Only 11% were regular blog consumers.
  • According to Kathy, the most common place to find blogs in education today is in English classes. This is not surprising to me, the fit is so natural.
  • Blogs give instant gratification, something that “cannot be undersold” when you’re talking about University students.
  • How are blogs being used in education – media literacy, managing course content, helps make sure students have read their readings, can be used for collaborative editing, facilitates user-centered learning.
  • Some tips: use common tools for all students, specifiy a minimum post size, provide guiding questions so that students have a starting point, make sure comments are enabled, make sure a marking guide is well defined.
  • Kathy says that online education (distance learning) 2.0 is coming, and it will shake up the current educational institutions.
  • According to Paul, the US federal government is looking at blogs and podcasts as a potentially useful technology. He was forced to read at the start of his talk however, a small paragraph explaining that the government does not current do any blogging or podcasting.
  • RSS makes a lot of sense for government, the biggest reason being cost savings. RSS allows rapid information dispersal at relatively low cost. And, it fosters good social interactions with citizens.
  • In particular, the Treasury Department is trying to get more stuff online, and RSS will be key in that effort.

A bit of a shorter session, and definitely felt a little rushed.

Read: Gnomedex