Monday, February 28, 2005

Number Crunching

You may have noticed last week's lack of updates. We here at The Maple Lounge were busy conducting a highly scientific study to discover what Canadians think is the most egregious financial disgrace in the news. Many of our readers are probably suffering from Academy Award hangover so we'll save the results of the survey until the very end. We provided them with four options:

  1. $100 million lost in sponsorship scandal

  2. Cost of Gomery inquiry into sponsorship scandal

  3. Nortel's accounting irregularities

  4. Strong loonie slowing economy to 1.7% annual growth pace in Q4 2004

The response to the survey was fantastic. It seems Canadians have money on the mind less than a week after the federal government released its annual budget. Of course there's also the looming RRSP deadline and thereafter the inevitable income tax crunch.

The Nominees

The loonie has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The strong Canadian dollar continues to hurt Canadian exports and manufacturing sectors, with growth slowing to an annual rate of 1.7% for the fourth quarter of 2004. Not a day goes by when Canadians aren't reminded of how the Liberal sponsorship scandal wasted $100 million of taxpayer money. The Gomery inquiry charged with getting to the bottom of this mess will likely end up costing even more than that $100 million when it finishes up in December 2005 (at the earliest).

It seems justice Gomery works only slightly faster than the accountants at Nortel, who have yet to produce audited financial results for 2004. On January 11th 2005 Nortel restated financial data as far back as 2001, but they continue to leave shareholders in lurch concerning the current state of the company. In a statement released today the company did say that they eventually do plan on filing 2004 audited financial statements, and to hold a combined annual shareholders' meeting for fiscal years 2003 and 2004. As one might expect, the company “ intends to seek a Court order extending the time for holding the Meeting to a date no later than June 30, 2005.”

Can't these guys get anything done on time?

The Envelope Please

We phoned 297,600,352.78 Canadians and were surprised to find that while 75% of Canadians believed the sponsorship scandal was the most sordid tale of lost millions and financial cover-ups, another 50% thought that the sheer cost of the Gomery inquiry outweighed the benefits while a further 32% of Canadians voted for Nortel's accounting woes. No one selected the strong Canadian loonie and its effect on economic growth because nobody actually understands that stuff. All this adds up to 157%, which means that Canadians really miss hockey.

Disclaimer

If you don't understand how scientific polls work then please rest assured that our numbers are fully audited by the same firm taking care of Nortel's numbers. If they're good enough for Nortel, they're good enough for The Maple Lounge.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Smoke and Mirrors

I told you Bettman and Goodenow were full of shit:
  1. McKenzie: Wheels in Motion for Deal
  2. Talks Back On: NHL, NHLPA to meet Saturday
  3. Great Leap Forward?
  4. Calling in the Big Guns
It seems that two guys who know a thing or two about playing hockey as well as owning an NHL club have finally weighed in on the dispute. Can Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky work the same magic they did during the Canada Cup?

One thing is for sure, when all the smoke finally clears I agree with Michael Farber that the NHL and the NHLPA need new leadership before the start of next season ... whenever that turns out to be.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Blowin' Smoke

Someone should have told Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow that the Kyoto protocol went into effect today. Bettman may have announced the cancellation the 2004-2005 NHL season during a press conference in New York, but the noxious fumes seem to smell worse north of the border.

Then again, how is that anything new? The USA is the biggest polluter in the world and they (along with Australia) have decided not to ratify the Kyoto accord. Canada remains committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even if we still have no idea how to go about doing it. Still, I'd take Canada's Kyoto smoke screen over Bettman and Goodenow's rank display of neglect for what hockey means to the fans.

Feigned negociations and a fake apology will get you nowhere guys. You've wrecked our game. Archie Bennitz was right, you guys stink!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Lax Tax

Think that Chretien showing off his balls to the Gomery commission would be the most comical headline to come out of a government inquiry? Think again. A newly released audit reveals that Canadian Revenue Agency, the government arm responsible for enforcing unwieldy taxation laws, has itself been found guilty of widespread abuse of its own regulations.

"Procurement rules and procedures are seen by many in the organization as unduly cumbersome and may frequently be overlooked in attempting to meet other priorities," says the September 2004 report. This do as I say not as I do approach "may result in a loss of credibility and public trust for the agency as a whole." You don't say?

While the sponsorship scandal continues to occupy the spotlight, other recent audits have shown that misuse of taxpayer's money is widespread amongst the fat federals. Offenders include the Bank of Canada, the Justice Department, Fisheries and Oceans, National Defense and the Competition Bureau, among others.

The Canadian Revenue Agency administers tax laws for the Government of Canada, in particular ensuring the strict compliance of ordinary citizens. The main reason why the tax man broke so many rules is because the rules themselves are too “complex and often difficult to understand.” Imagine that!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Man Overboard!

It appears that the news is going to get worse for the Canadian Navy before it gets any better. A search and rescue operation is currently underway in the Baltic sea to locate a sailor from the HMCS Montréal.

Leading Seaman Robert Leblanc, 24, is characterized as a young but experienced sailor, already a veteran of several deployments. When Leblanc failed to report to his station, the entire crew was mustered and a thorough search of the ship conducted. Last seen on the deck at 06:30 AT, it is believed that he may be wearing a winter jacket that can also serve as a flotation device.

The Montréal has been at sea for the past three days after a brief stop in Copenhagen. The frigate is serving with NATO Reaction Force Maritime Group 1, and is presently located approximately 30 nautical miles north of Gdynia, Poland. The temperature of the water off the Polish coast at this time of year is about 1 degree Celsius. Several military and civilian boats have joined to comb the water around the Montréal.

“The ships traveling in company with HMCS MONTRÉAL, the Danish corvette Niels Juel, the American frigate USS McInerney and the Dutch destroyer HNMS Witte de With, have joined the search. In addition, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Gdynia is overseeing the search and has tasked the Polish frigate ORP General Kazimierz Pulaski, the ASW ship ORP Kaszub, two Coast Guard vessels and a coast guard helicopter.”

Leblanc is a native of Halifax, where the HMCS Chicoutimi is currently undergoing repairs after a devastating fire crippled the newly acquired submarine and killed Lieutenant Chris Saunders. Although most eyes are focused Gomery inquiry, many Canadians are anticipating the final report from the board of inquiry tasked with clearing the smoke around the Chicoutimi. So far the board has concluded that the HMCS Chicoutimi was indeed set ablaze by water.

The HMCS Montréal's Sea King helicopter is also participating in the rescue operation. Let's hope the navy left out that detail when they notified Leblanc's family.

Update: After "serious consideration of the survivability chances of someone being in the water for close to 20 hours," the search has been called off for the missing sailor.

Monday, February 07, 2005

For the Love of the Game

While European hockey fans reap the benefits of the NHL lockout and Americans watch more golf, Canadians are left out in the cold. After all, hockey is the lifeblood of the great white north.

Not so, said the minister of social development outside the House of Commons earlier today. “I think that there are a number of fans in this country who have sensed over the last number of months that actually, maybe, it was more habit than it was passion.”

The personal opinions of members of parliament are rarely newsworthy in and of themselves, unless particularly scandalous or timely. With few Canadians still clinging to the faint hope of an NHL season this year, the minister's comments struck a resounding chord amid the growing din of disgruntled fans. This isn't just any MP, however.

As a six-time Stanley Cup champion with a great Montreal Canadiens dynasty, Ken Dryden is considered one of the best goaltenders to have ever played the game. As former vice-chairman of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the accomplished lawyer and best-selling author of The Game is uniquely qualified to comment on the state of hockey in the country.

Despite only playing seven full-time seasons, the six-time all star amassed an impressive array of hockey hardware. He won the Vezina trophy five times as the league's best goalie, and the Conn Smythe trophy in 1971 as the MVP of Montreal's improbable playoff run. The following year, his first full season, Dryden won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. When he sat out the entire 1973-1974 campaign to complete his law degree at McGill University, people began to realize that there was more to Ken Dryden than a future bust in the hockey Hall of Fame.

Dryden left the sport in the prime of his career. Nevertheless it would difficult to question his passion for the game, considering all he has done since retiring as a professional athlete. According to Dryden the love of hockey isn't automatic to everyone who can hum the theme song for Hockey Night in Canada. “You never want to give a fan a chance to find out whether it was passion or habit,” Dryden said on Monday.

With negotiations breaking down and the owners and player's union still as far apart as ever, there is a growing concern that many hockey fans, on both sides of the border, aren't going to come back whenever the league resumes operations. With North American fans languishing in the vacuous post Super Bowl sport calendar, a surprise deal to revive the NHL would have gone a long way towards sweetening the bitterness in the empty stands.

With the season on the brink instead of on the rink, it's the fans who suffer. To date both Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow have stood firm, but their money-driven posturing will not stand the test of time. We should all heed Dryden's words. His stance has long been immortalized.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Flag of Convenience

The maple leaf is emblematic of Canada in a way few other symbols can match. Emblazoned on the national flag, the stylized 11-point leaf centered on white ground separates bookend stripes. Recently the iconic leaf has been used to divide a lot more than opposing red bars.

The NDP has accused Ottawa of "selling off our cultural heritage like bunch of roadside hucksters" after it was revealed that millions of plastic maple leaf lapel pins were being made in China. Manufactured in Canada since 1954, the pins are a Canadian tradition used to promote national unity and pride. The Liberal government has responded that it would be in violation of trade laws if it refused to accept bids tendered by foreign countries.

Although it may simply boil down to good economic sense, this is not the first time that Prime Minister Paul Martin's commitment to Canadian heritage has been questioned when it comes to business ethics. Canada Steamship Lines Inc., his family's company and the source of his personal wealth, registers many of their ships offshore. These so-called “flag of convenience” ships allows CSL Group to skirt Canadian health, safety and environmental regulations. Taxes on the profits earned using such vessels are often minimal or even non-existent, as are the labour standards. CBC Disclosure reported on how the Canadian crew of a re-flagged CSL ship earning $11.68 an hour was discarded in favour of Filipino workers earning a mere $1.78 an hour.

Paul Martin was involved in a more recent flag flap last December. In a nasty dispute over offshore oil revenue, Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams ordered the Canadian flag be removed from all provincial buildings in the province. "It was not intended to show any disrespect for this great country of ours," Williams said in a speech to business leaders in Central Canada. "It was a statement to our fellow Canadians that we had issues that were deep-rooted, that were steeped in the wrongs of the past."

Williams may be trying to mend fences, but instead he has disturbed a hornet's nest. Festering deep within the heart of the Canadian west is a feeling that similar deals for other parts of the country are long overdue, especially in the suddenly wealthy Saskatchewan. First Ottawa capitulated and made special concessions to Quebec in the new health care deal, and now a combative premier bullies his way into a financial windfall. Williams bristles at the notion that he or other provinces may again resort to using the flag as a convenient bargaining chip. "The statement has been made and, from my perspective, that statement doesn't have to be made again."

While some worry that Martin's minority government may not survive votes on the budget or same sex marriage, the larger issue is whether the concept of Canadian federalism can withstand the inevitable assault from other alarmingly inflexible provinces.

All this recent shredding of the maple leaf has split the country. Perhaps it's time to give serious consideration to a new statutory holiday celebrating Canadian heritage. If Roy Mayer gets his wish, February 15th could be declared Flag Day. This year marks the 40th anniversary of our flag, and it could not come at a better time. Not only would this help mend the tears in our most treasured national symbol, it would provide a much needed break during the dreariest part of the winter season. That's the only thing our flag should ever be used to divide.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Devil's Rose

Atrocities committed in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region are not the result of an orchestrated genocidal policy, according to an eagerly anticipated report from the United Nations commission of inquiry.

The five-person panel was appointed by the UN in October 2004 to investigate what is being called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The commission found that while the Sudanese government and supporting militia groups may not be guilty of outright genocide, they have "conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement." Furthermore, the inquiry discovered what the UN deems "credible evidence that rebel forces were responsible for possible war crimes, including murder of civilians and pillage."

Three months after the commission began its work the evil shows no signs of abating. The inquiry concluded that the "the crimes against humanity and war crimes ... may be no less serious and heinous than genocide” and that “action must be taken urgently to end these violations." Secretary-General Kofi Annan concurs and recommends sending the matter to yet another committee, this time the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In short, everyone agrees the situation is dire and yet no one is prepared to intervene. By not officially labeling the tragedy in Darfur as genocide, the UN sends the message that the worst is over. In an address to the United Nations prior to the formation of the commission, Prime Minister Paul Martin lead the charge for action in Sudan. "We must not let debates about definitions become obstacles to action. We should not have to go through such painful debates to figure out how to respond to humanitarian catastrophe."

If all of this does not seem eerily familiar to the world community, it should for Canadians.

As former UN General for the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire knows what it's like to wade waist-deep in bodies while the rest of the world debates terminology. Haunted by the ghosts of 800,000 murdered innocents, Dallaire feels personally responsible for the massacre, refusing to find solace in having done the best he possibly could.

In an interview for CBC Newsworld, host Evan Solomon tries to comfort Dallaire by insisting that he did not commit the genocide. Dallaire's instantaneous answer: "I didn't prevent it."

No, indeed you didn't Roméo. But at least you tried, which is more than can be said for Kofi Annan and the UN. You tried, even though it meant calling genocide by another name and shaking hands with the devil.

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