Entries from August 2005 ↓

I am lost

Got home last night in the rain – Katrina’s rain. I flipped on CNN for a few minutes, and watched what the world watched – helplessness, flooding, misery, despair and hopelessness – there in the middle of a legendary city.

Who could not have been moved by watching that man, kids at his side, who told of losing his wife in the torrent, despite holding on to her hand? He repeated her last words, “You can’t hold me. Take care of the kids.” He broke down in tears, saying “I am lost.” And the reporter cried.

Today it is said the water is rising again. Hundreds of people have been killed, untold others are trapped and thousands of cats and dogs are waiting to be drowned. It is an overwhelming situatuion, taking place at this moment in the middle of the richest country in the world.

Got a call last night from Jim Lamb, who lives in Burlington. He is a compassionate man, a retiree, who spends a fair amount of time in the United States. He was calling to see if I could help in facilitating people like him, here in Halton and across Canada, to getting relief dollars into the right hands. Making sure we did what we could, immediately.

On this web site you will find a link to local, emergency organizations in Louisiana and across the coastal area. There are groups who are out there right now, slogging through the water and the debris, rescuing people and animals. Please join me in giving what you can. I know it will be so appreciated.

Doubtlessly, some Canadians will sit back and say that if the United States can be the world’s policeman and the only superpower, then it can look after its own, even in extraordinary times. That may well be true. But this is not about politics, it’s about the helpless. It’s about a man losing his wife when their house splits open. It’s about a whole city turning into a toxic brew. It’s about animals slipping beneath the surface.

If this had happened in Toronto, do you believe our American friends would have stood by? I am reminded this morning of these words: There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Jim and I hope you can help.

No clothes

I went to finish off a poll last night in north Oakville, not too far from Esther’s house. Part of the same poll, actually, that bummed me out a bit on the weekend (I wrote about that – “Mean streets”).

This is key territory because I’m told it is the Liberal MP’s power base. He represented it for years as the Conservative member of provincial Parliament, before he changed horses in 2004 and ran federally as a Martinite. It’s an area of 10 to 20-year-old houses near the southern boundary of the riding, solidly middle class, predominantly white bread but with a healthy diversity of other languages, cultures and backgrounds.

After the weekend’s two canvassing sessions, I was resigned this would likely be a lackluster evening. But I was wrong. Last night recharged my batteries with a jolt of political adrenalin. It reminded me of why I am doing this, as I fed off the encouragement and support of a street of people I had never met before.

There was the gentleman who hugged me right there on his driveway – a big guy whose arms completely encircled me. “I love you, man,” he said. “I love you because you’re not a lawyer. You’re a business guy – I’m all over it.”

There was the blond woman in a T-shirt, smoking, with a lot of jewelry on her hands. Before she opened the door there had been a wild chorus of barking, so I asked her about the dogs. “I’ve got a German shepherd,” she said, “and a dog I’m not supposed to have.” Turned out that is a beloved pit bull, which became a banned breed yesterday in Ontario. We talked about that for a while.

Turned out she’s a diabetic, and one night the pit bull– who sleeps on the floor beside her – jumped up, started whimpering and turning in a circle. He wouldn’t stop the bahaviour, and it was only when the woman started to see double and triple did she realize her blood sugar had plunged during the night. That experience with the dog, she said, has been repeated many times, keeping her from collapse. “I love that animal,” she said, close to tears. “He’s my best friend in the world.” So, I hugged her. And we talked about how lazy, kneejerk governments pass bad laws.

There was the fisherman. He was taking half a dozen rods out of his trunk and lining them up in the garage when I went by. He’d had five kids out on the water that day, and when I gave him my Voter’s Guide he looked cynical and asked my why he should vote for me.

I told him: Because what you see if what you will get. I’m a small business guy who believes less government is more. We need more freedom, lower taxes and people who make sure we live within our means. If Paul Martin can find $5 billion instantly to keep Jack Layton happy, then he can put $5 billion back in your pocket and mine. I think the government’s lost its way, and…

“That’s enough,” he said. “I know you. My sister follows you like a hawk. I was just making sure.” He shook my hand.

On this one street, I knocked on 55 doors. This morning I reviewed my notes. Twenty-four houses were empty, and one person peered out through the sidelight, but would not answer. I ended up talking to 30 families. Of those, 10 recognized me on the doorstep and said so. Seven people volunteered they would vote for me, without being asked. I counted 15 who were friendly and seemed completely accessible as supporters. I found two people who wanted to volunteer once the campaign started, and one person said he wanted to take a sign. I left six doorsteps with absolutely no idea how they might vote, and I found one likely non-supporter. He hesitated in a tell-tale way when I offered him my Guide to read, but ended up taking it anyway. I am sure it was in the kitchen trash three minutes later.

But, other than him, it was enough to rev me up completely. It renewed my belief that most people have voted Liberal not because they are liberals, but rather because they didn’t feel Conservatives offered a realistic, centrist alternative. Now that has changed. Here I was, in the Liberal MP’s supposed stronghold, and the emperor had no clothes.

Back in the truck I picked up my Blackberry and emailed Esther. “I l-o-v-e this street,” I typed. And I do. I’m pumped.

Katrina

This morning Katrina smashed into the Louisiana coast. If you think that does not impact you, think again.

For the first time ever, the price of a barrel of crude oil touched $70 US. Light, sweet crude for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange jumped by more than $4.50 in Singapore to hit $70.80. Gasoline and heating oil futures surged about 12% overnight.

It is feared that Katrina could tear up much of the oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, which produces 1.5 million barrels a day – a whopping 25% of the entire American domestic output. There is the potential for crippling damage to oil platforms in the Gulf, which could affect production levels for years.

“If this thing knocks out significant quantities of refining capacity, we’re going to be in deep, dark trouble,” an energy executive told CNN overnight. Of course, the Katrina disaster is being layered on a situation which had seen oil hit $60 US, prompting fears that global economic growth could be slowed in a major way, accompanied by a resurgence in inflation as energy prices hit unheard-of levels.

In Canada the result has been a jump in the value of the loonie, since Canada is seen as a resource-rich country and our dollar a petro-currency. But this is exactly what we do not need, as a higher dollar makes our crucial exports more expensive, hurting sales, and ending up costing valuable manufacturing jobs. At the same time, the highest gasoline and home heating costs in history will certainly chew into household budgets and make people think twice about doing those things that the economy now depends on – buying cares, houses and home theatres.

Oil prices are now higher in Canada than during the worst of the 1980s energy crisis, as Patrick Brethour points out in an article in today’s Globe and Mail. It is, he says, “a danger zone that ratchets up the peril of inflation and recession.”

Sure, Katrina will have an immediate impact in the next few hours, and crude oil prices could surge further, and then fall back as the winds recede. But the reality is, energy costs are reaching a crisis state all on their own, and this monster storm is just another nail in the coffin of an economy so dependent on fossil fuels.

So, it is beyond time for leadership on this issue. The Canadian economy, so dependant on the twin engines of exports and consumer spending, could be wounded rapidly. We need strong statements from the federal government on measures it will take, such as reducing gas taxes immediately to offset the impact on Canadian families. The prime minister has a role in making this happen, just as the minister of finance needs to be talking the dollar down, as only he can do. Apart from that, this country needs to reduce its oil dependence, and become a leader in alternative energy sources. Eight decades ago we were leading the world, for example, in clean, safe and plentiful hydro-electric generation. Today we can barely cope with the demand. In a country with constant winds, ever-flowing waters and the world’s leading technologies, we could – and must – break the bond to oil, while continuing to mine that resource as a golden export.

The events unfolding now ask for a leader’s response. Who will answer?