Monthly Archives: October 2013

Duffy, Wallin and Harper II


The saga continues of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, fighting for their jobs in the Canadian Senate.  We covered this earlier on the blog and now new revelations have come to pass in the Senate.

Duffy stood in his place in the Chamber and said not only did the PMO’s Chief of Staff bucks up to the tune of $90K for Duffy’s expense issues, but the Conservative Party itself, the chief legal beagle, coughed up more than $13K for Duffy’s legal fees fighting the expense issues. 

Yesterday and today, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Tom Mulcair, has been very surgically cutting our Prime Minister, Stephen “Call Me the Right Honourable Stephen Harper” Harper a new one about every time Mulcair rises in the House to ask a question or two of the PM.  It’s coming down to who knew what and when and then decided to bullshit us about it.  We are condensing the argument a bit.

Herewith however is a prediction on the endgame: 

Harper can’t afford to lose this one as he will come off as not only less than accurate with the truth but willing to throw anyone under the bus that comes near besmirching his reputation.  That means the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has the wagons in a circle and the pitchforks are out. Nigel Wright has already found out exactly what price you pay and it is steep:  Your career goes up in flames in the course of an afternoon along with the money, the pension and the kind of mind-altering demi-god power that comes from being in the PMO at a very high level.  Nobody from the party will answer your calls, sent immediately to voicemail as soon as your name shows up on call display.  Might as well move to Hamilton and open a nail salon for double amputees.

The PMO knows that the general public consensus is that the Senate is a bloated anachronistic money pit.  The Conservatives have run a few federal campaigns now saying they want to reform the Senate and make it over as a Triple E Senate, meaning Equal, Elected and Effective, but have never grown the set required to do it as the PMO has no other way to reward party hacks, flacks, bagmen and teat massagers at a certain level of contribution, except Senate seats.  A appointment for two terms to the Oil Seeds and Grains Commission isn’t going to cut it as a thanks for raising untold millions of dollars for the Party.  Ergo, the Senate has to stay for at least another two years in its current format of Triple E, inEqual, unElected, undEr the PMO’s control.

A formal RCMP or Senate (or both)- led investigation of the whole sordid mess would open doors the PMO would rather not have opened.  Both imply legal standing and the ability to subpoena witnesses to testify under oath, as well as the potential for actual legal charges.  The PMO knows that a legal investigation can’t and won’t be side tracked.  Nixon learned that the hard way with Watergate and even firing Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre only delayed the inevitable.

Opting to punt to a Royal Commission or a Standing Committee is an option.  By the time the results are tabled from either a Royal or Standing, Harper will have moved back to Calgary, finished up his career as an economist, then retired to Florida with his lime green Sansabelt slacks up to here, complaining about the government full-time.  Except the Opposition knows this game and not going to let it get traction by hammering Harper daily in Question Period.  QP is a blood sport up here, played for keeps under the provisions of Standing Order 30(5).

The last two endgames are the most grisly.  One, Duffy’s big clanking pair of brass attachments pushes Harper over the edge, with Wallin and Brazeau offering their own versions of the push off the ledge.  Harper could say “Eff this” and pull the yellow handle, taking his Rt. Hon to retirement.  Unfortunately the Conservative Party has no one on the bench to take over from Harper.  Anyone with even the slightest potential to be liked more than Harper is not sitting in the House.  Anyone who has a profile anywhere near Harper’s has already been ball-gaged and nobody from the private sector wants that kind of treatment from the party punks. 

The other endgame is also unpleasant.  We call it the “Bring It Bitches” scenario whereby Harper lets the RCMP loose and we find out exactly how venal the whole process of Parliament has become.  It might take two or three years, but we find out that the Conservative party very carefully vets any candidates before even the nomination meetings at the riding level to assess their malleability.  How funding at the party level makes sure that only those anointed are nominated and woe betide those that do not toe the line.  We’ll find out about the continuous cluster act that is our military procurement process and how far the Party is in bed with the military contractors who lavish money the right way.  We’ll also find out that the real agenda for the Party is to gut and privatize as much of the government as possible to their buddies as a reward.  We might also see that there is a real, tangible religious overtone to the behaviour of the PMO that harkens back to the truly odious days of the Reform Party.  (The Reform Party would have changed Canadian same-sex marriage laws to allow the use of copper-jacket or explosive-tipped rounds in dealing with same-sex couples, trade unions and aboriginal affairs.  We only partially jest.)

Now, which one will come to fruition?  We don’t know, but we’re in for a ride.  This isn’t going away.  Duffy and Wallin are owed too many favours by their old media buddies who still work the Hill.

And the headlines are too much fun to write.

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Duffy, Wallin and Harper


We’re going to go there.  Unfortunately, there also has to be translations for our non-Canadian readers.  If you do remember your Canadian civics class, you can skip through the first few ‘graphs.

Canada has a Senate, a chamber of sober second thought that reviews what is passed by the House of Commons and votes for or against it, with the resulting mess being given Royal Assent and whatever madness that results, later becomes Law.  With a few exceptions, the Senate is a rubber stamp operation up here, as compared to the US.  Other exceptions are also notable:  Our Senators are appointed by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.  They’re not elected.  Use that yellow highlighter marker you have there and highlight not elected.  Ooops, sorry about that.  

It used to be that a Senate appointment was for life, but that’s been scaled back to 75 years of age with a pension that is freakin’ amazing.  About all they don’t get is a lotion boy.  Technically the 105 Senators are appointed from each of the territories and provinces to provide a cross-Canada representation of seats, as well as experiences, backgrounds and expertise.  In reality, a Senate appointment is a payback for party hacks, flacks and clingons who have kissed so much ass that their noses aren’t merely discoloured; they’ve got a brown ring around their necks that show their Depth of Commitment.   

Canadian Readers can pick up here:

Three Senators, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau have been in the news with revelations that they have been playing either fast and loose with the expenses or have been victims of rules that are at best confusing.  Rumour has it, retired Senator Dr. Wilburt Keon, an internationally renown heart surgeon and medical researcher, with degrees out the wazoo (Harvard, McGill) and brains from here to Moncton took one look at the expense rules and said “Fooked if I know!”  We suspect the story is apocryphal.  (Disclosure:  I’ve met Duffy several times (he’s an ex-television reporter) and have shared breakfast more than once with Wallin when she hosted Canada AM at CJOH in Ottawa, in that toxic cafeteria at 1500 Merivale, 800 years ago.  Brazeau, we wouldn’t know from a knothole in a fence board).

Senators are allowed a housing and travel allowance if their residence is more than 100 kilometers from Ottawa, but here’s where it gets murky.  Is it your full-time residence or a residence of convenience to say you are representing a particular region or province?  Duffy said he lived in PEI and did in fact have property there, but didn’t have a PEI Driver’s License or health card, the presence of which would suppose actual residency.  Wallin said Wadena, Saskatchewan was home and she does own a joint there.  Brazeau lives up past Maniwaki, PQ and that meets the 100 km rule.

Being Senators and clever, they made sure they also have digs in Ottawa for when they’re in town, as nobody wants to live on borrowed sofas or shady guest rooms on an Ikea futon.  Four Senators, (let us not forget Mac Harb claiming a garden shed up in Eganville, ON as his permanent residence) got rousted by the Board of Internal Economy for fascinating travel and housing claims.  Duffy was on the hook for $90,000 worth and a few months ago paid it back, thanks to a timely loan from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff at the time, Nigel Wright who bucked up the $90,000 as Duffy didn’t have the coin immediately to hand.  Wallin has paid back most of what she got dinged for out of her own pocket.

Except the story doesn’t end there. Wallin and Duffy were both journalists of long standing with many friends and acquaintances in the Fourth Estate as well as the Opposition party.  Many hundreds of very pointed questions were asked of Stephen “Call Me The Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper” Harper to the point that Harper prorogued Parliament this summer in the hopes that no media coverage and the black flies would make the very pointed questions go away.  The questions are really only three:

1) Did the PMO give the $90,000 to Duffy to shut up the Board of Internal Economy and the investigation of just how fast and loose everyone plays with the expenses?  The RCMP is already looking into just how sloppy everyone there plays with the rules and a real RCMP investigation would reveal so much mud that the Conservatives would be doomed politically for an eternity up in the nosebleeds on the wrong side of the House.

2) Did the Prime Minister broker the deal, holding a figurative gun to Duffy’s head (and by implication Wallin and Brazeau) with a simple, “Pay it all back, sit down, shut the fcuk up, play the way we say and don’t ever contradict the PMO again” ultimatum.  Considering how hard the PMO bullies the House members, it takes about four milliseconds to assume that they do the same to anyone on the Hill and that includes Senators appointed by Harper.  You play by the PMO rules, or you’re dead to the PMO, forever. 

3) Is our Prime Minister a lying sack of ordure who will do anything short of actually gunning people down, to get the uncomfortable questions to stop?  Well, the Opposition won’t let up now that the House is back on the job and the PMO has demanded that Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau be suspended without pay or privileges right now.  That means being booted out of the Senate.

Monday, Duffy stood up in the Senate and essentially said he was jobbed by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the PM was in the room with Duffy and his Chief of Staff when Duffy was read the riot act.  Harper has always said that the loan was on his Chief of Staff’s own bat and he didn’t know about it.  (See Question 3) 

Wallin, yesterday. demanded to know why she was being railroaded with the PMO acting as judge, jury and executioner before any charges have been laid, or any proof of malfeasance has been brought forward and proven.  There was also an interesting sidelight about another Senator, Marjory LeBreton essentially being Harper’s consigliore in the Senate, who lead the charge to have Wallin s-canned.  LeBreton is the Leader of Government in the Senate which means she is the PMO’s enforcer: She packs serious heat and if she says so, then be assured Stephen says so.  LeBreton  is the Senator who brought the motion to the Senate.  (Disclosure:  We have dined with Senator LeBreton a couple of times back in the mid-90’s)

On the face of it, knowing some of the players at least a little bit, the PMO is doing everything short of producing a private porno of the Senators rolling naked in a pile of money, to make Duffy and Wallin go away, to stop the embarrassing questions from the Opposition in the House. 

The PMO wants the questions to stop because it is coming to light that what was only whispered about for the last nine years:  The PMO and the Prime Minster are desperate to gain and keep power as long as possible.  If that means being the biggest and baddest bullies on the Hill, then so be it: Grandma is going to get her hip broken.  They’re terrified that it will come out that the PMO couldn’t run a vending machine without their business buddies telling them how to stick a quarter in it. 

And they’re terrified that it will come out that the Conservative party is little more than an unelected oligarchy running the PMO, determined to manipulate our country into some kind of Reform Party masturbatory fantasy from 1953 where the “proper” people rule by fiat, the women wear slips, hats, white gloves and makeup while the children are all required to go to Sunday school every week.  And the rest of you had best shut up and be thankful we let you exist.

Oil Scorecard


We have some energy issues up here in Canada that we’re trying to sort out and get to the point of actually making decisions.  It’s difficult to understand the ramifications of all the potential decisions, so we’ve devised a rudimentary scorecard to help you get your head around it.

There are several issues.  One, our Oil Sands (or tar sands) contain the largest potential reserves of crude oil outside of Saudi Arabia.  Except the crude is mixed with mud, clay and sand in a bituminous mess that looks like, well, tar and sand.  We have managed to figure out reasonably effective ways of getting the oil out of the sand and making the crude usable for refining. 

There is an environmental cost, yes and it’s a steep one, but we also cannot uninvent petroleum products from our planet.  Too much of everyone’s life depends on oil, regardless of what the off-the-grid folks say.  That ASA tablet you took last night for your headache came from the petrochemical industry, so let’s agree that we need oil and will for the next several dozen generations.  The less we use, the better, is also agreed. 

Having oil, which Canada does, means we have two decisions to make.  First, who gets to turn the crude into things?  The KeystoneXL pipeline wants to move Canadian crude to Houston to refine it into things we need, essentially selling our stuff back to us at a monstrous profit.  There is significant blowback in the US about where the route will go. 

Line 9 is an older pipeline owned by Enbridge that runs more or less from Western Canada, eventually winding up in New Brunswick at a refinery there.  Enbridge wants to reverse the nearly 40 year old pipeline to work from the west to the east, instead of the other way round.  The line was engineered to do this and actually has been reversed once before, with no issues.  But Line 9 is nearly 40 years old and there is a risk of things going badly wrong.

Meanwhile a CN freight near Edmonton has derailed and thirteen oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) cars are now burning themselves out:  The fire department can’t safely get close enough to put the wet stuff on the red stuff.  We’ve been down that road earlier this year with the Lac Megantic derailment that destroyed the heart of the town and put the focus of safety on moving flammable goods by rail.

To simplify:  Moving crude by rail is not as safe as moving crude by pipeline.  Yes, Enbridge did have a pipeline break earlier this year in Kalamazoo that dumped a crapload of crude into the Kalamazoo River, which is also not good.  However, pipeline breaks tend not to explode and kill 47 people like Lac Megantic. 

The scorecard so far:  Move crude by pipeline is better than moving it by rail.  Both have an environmental cost, to be sure, but the first measure is safety for the majority of us.  Pipeline wins.

Now, where to move it to?  We’re very much in favour of not sending our raw materials out to be sold back to us.  Canada has been doing that for nearly 200 years and it has never worked to our advantage.

In a magic wand kind of way, we would punch two pipelines across Canada one going that way and the other going that way that Canada could use for their own interests.  This would lead to a handful of brand new Canadian refineries with the most modern technology and the smallest environmental footprint possible. 

Unfortunately, this is not going to happen.  Refineries have a seven to ten year lead time to engineer and build.  Pipelines, about a three to five year lead time, so we have to work with the infrastructure we have, which means Line 9 and a refinery in New Brunswick.  Not great, but not horrible either.

Getting our crude to a refinery in Canada means we make the gas, diesel, chemicals and goods out of it and sell it to the rest of the world at a significant profit.  We earn that profit by taking the risk of transporting it, refining it, selling it and taking the environmental hits that come from extracting the crude, using older pipelines and doing the grunt work to get the crude to the refinery with the infrastructure we have now. 

So here’s the scorecard now:

Still need oil

Pipeline safer than Rail

Line 9 better than KeystoneXL.

From the environmental perspective, only Line 9 can generate profits that can be used to improve and ensure the smallest possible environmental impact on the planet, including the extraction of the crude in the first place. 

Now, here’s the kicker:  Only government can put the conditions necessary in place to force the hand of private industry.  Private industry is not interested in funds being taken off the top to fund a clean-up of the oil sands. Private industry is not interested in building a new pair of pipelines with the most modern safety and environmental standards, to brand new refineries with the smallest environmental footprint.  Private industry is not interested in merely making offensive amounts of profit; they want grotesque, obscene amounts of profit.  And environmentalists hung from lamp posts.

Which is why government should step in..  Legislate the snot out of Line 9, as it is the most beneficial to the country as a whole, but also take 10% vig right off the top to fund the environmental clean-up of the oil sands and to ensure that the technology used in the next five to ten years is as safe and comprehensively monitored as possible.  Then take another 10% off the bottom to fund our own, new, safe, environmentally sane infrastructure to use Canadian resources for Canadian benefit. 

What this strategy means is we get the benefit of our oil and we dramatically increase the funding to fixing the environmental impact of the oil sands.  Both sides win.

Which is why it will never happen.

Blackberry Checks Out


We so wanted Research In Motion (RIM) to do well.  It is a Canadian success story that changed the path of “cellphones” forever, with the whole keypad thing that mere mortals could use, until Apple, Google and Microsoft ate BlackBerry for lunch

For those of us who remember the earliest days of the ‘cellphone’ like the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X brick, the sheer freedom of making a cellular phone call was of itself, amazing.  Real Estate agents, of course, flocked to the new technology, liberating many of them from the “car phone” that wasn’t much more evolved that a CB Radio, but would put you back a thou a month, not counting service.  You would hunt about for a signal then try to dial and get somewhere, amazing your friends and family with your technology-forward attitude.  Then came the flip phones, like the Motorola StarTAC that had a little-known feature:  You could send a short text message over it to other phones that supported Short Message Service (SMS), instead of voice-calling to say you’d be late for dinner.

About that time the BlackBerry was the ne plus ultra.  You could not only make calls on it and text on it with something like a real keyboard, but you could also check your mail and send replies too!

Sure it was cool and secure, (so we thought, thanks NSA!) but then cellphones became commodities and manufacturers packed more features and doodads into phones culminating with the superphones we have now that have all but supplanted the home computer as the gadget of choice. 

Monday, BlackBerry issued an open letter to the media to calm customers and partners.  They’re trying to pull a “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” stunt from the Mark Twain Book Of Corporate Communication. 

They have not succeeded.  Indeed, the Market (insert Choir of Angels voices here) has reacted like they’re received a personalized, gift-boxed turd.  BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is set to go public with a cross-platform version for Android and iPhone that will bring BBM to others, aside from the nine guys in Waterloo, ON who still have a BlackBerry. 

If past history is any guide, the 6 million people who have pre-registered for BBM on the other platforms will install it, use it twice, then ignore it, choosing instead to download the latest app craze “NippleSifter” that scours the entire Internet for all the newest nipple pictures of celebrities, tying your geolocation to where the pic was taken so you can determine exactly how many miles or kilometers your are from where a paparazzi saw and photographed Jennifer Anniston’s left nipple in 2003, then post it to your Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook accounts simultaneously.  Plus you’ll get a free small latte from the nearest Starbucks.  Whoo Hoo!  I digress.

The stock price, once in the zillions of dollars for a chance to actually look at and touch a share, is now not much more than horse tranquilizer on the (insert Choir of Angeles voices again) Market.  Today BlackBerry said it would sell unlocked smartphones directly to US consumers, as the big cellcos view their offerings as something on par with giving away a free regular carwash with every purchase of a BlackBerry handset.

Sad to say, but BlackBerry is on life support, waiting for the that last gasp where the DNR order can kick in.

Thanksgiving


This is our Thanksgiving Monday up here in Canada and each family tends to have slightly different celebrations.  They’re all based on the essentially pagan harvest festival, in that the crops are harvested, days are getting shorter and mornings are colder.  We figure we’ve got enough stuff put aside and hey, one last blowout before we go dark and cold for Winter.  That is the real root of Thanksgiving before it got all cluttered up with Pilgrims and the other political/religious zeal of long, long ago.

We did the usual on Sunday night, a fresh turkey, roasted crisp and moist, bread stuffing full of sage and onions.  Brussels sprouts, squash with butter and brown sugar, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and enough gravy to float a skiff.  There was also pie, an apple pie of delicacy and dimension that the leftovers had to be eaten Monday morning for breakfast.  That’s something to be thankful for:  I’m a grownup and I can, if I want to, choose to have apple pie and cheese for breakfast.  I did.  I feel no shame either, as there was fruit, carbs and protein in my meal.  Considering the better half had a leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich for breakfast, makes it right.  Call it the Communion of the Leftovers.

Today, the ‘holiday’ Monday has been decreed a day for rest and relaxation.  That lead us to asking what are we giving thanks for?

Good food, of course, our health, some reasonable prosperity, our life together, our nefarious heathen cats and all the other people we’ve shared with over the years, be it laughter, or tears.  Wherever they are, know that we’re thankful and grateful for having shared something with them. 

As for you, dear reader?  Yes, we’re thankful for you too.  Reading is not a solitary occupation as there are always two people involved, the writer and the reader.  Your reading is your way of saying thanks for what we’ve written. 

There will always be more to come, we promise.

Doing A Canadian Dream IV


We finish up the trip. And yes, we have posted a selection of photos from the trip, they’re here.

Toronto has a love-hate-loath affair with the rest of Canada.  It’s our biggest city and the seat of All Things Great in Canada, if you ask someone from Toronto.  The 416 is the Center of the Universe and the 905 is only marginally tolerated.  Beyond that is wasteland where no one of importance ever travels.  The city is big and to quote the old trope, for those not from Toronto, it’s the size of Atlanta, GA, but run by the Swiss.  We had a four-hour layover at Union Station until our train to Ottawa departed. 

St. Lawrence Market is two blocks from Union Station and is so grand they even have two Wikipedia entries, one for the North and one for the South.  Even National Geographic calls it really damn impressive.  We went for three reasons, first, to see if the Pyrogy lady was there and she wasn’t, dammit.  Secondly, to see what was available and there was plenty.  Third and perhaps more importantly after there being no Pyrogy lady, was a Canadian icon meal.  Back Bacon On A Bun.

In the day only a few years ago, there were several places at St. Lawrence Market to get Back Bacon On A Bun, but now there are only two.  We chose the older one, as we had their wares many times before.  For the uninitiated, what many call “Canadian Bacon” has nothing to do with Canada, or for that matter, bacon.  What we call bacon is the same smoked pork belly that is also known as rasher or sliced bacon that you would have a couple of fifteen slices with your eggs and toast on Saturday morning. 

Back Bacon, or Peameal Bacon is something else entirely.  Take the whole tenderloin from the pig, brine it for a couple of days, then roll it in cornmeal.  There is barely a fat cap on the primal cut, so brining is essential and the cornmeal is a holdover from the old days.  Sliced thick, (like pinkie finger thick) to medium doneness on a flat top.  Three to five slices are placed on a soft Kaiser roll.  Wrapped in foil and given to you in exchange for modest amounts of money, it is simply delightful.  There are those who insist that one must add mayo, or lettuce or tomato to a Back Bacon on a Bun.  These people are to be shunned as they are not worthy of your contempt.  This is the Law, the rest is commentary.    

Walking around St. Lawrence Market we both remarked on our respective gaits.  After four nights and five days on the train we both had a case of Train Legs.  We both felt we were wobbling around like we were about five rounds into a 30-round tequila bender, feeling the sidewalks buck uncontrollably, which meant the occasional stop to rest and reorient the inner ear was required.

We headed back to Union Station and boarded our ride back to Ottawa, this time a regular Via Rail run up to Ottawa.  This section of Via is higher-speed, hitting 160 kilometers per hour in stretches and you could feel the engineer getting on the throttle where it was possible to let things fly.  It being Via One, you do get served a meal and the bar is gratis.  We dozed for a bit then pulled into Ottawa Station, our nice niece Lindsay there to pick us up and return us to our home.

Here’s where we do the deep, intellectual wrap-up of Doing A Canadian Dream.

There are several Canadian Dreams.  One is to own a brothel over top of a Tim Horton’s, next to a bar that has $5 a jug Tuesdays, adjacent to the snowmobile trails.  The second is to see the Toronto Maple Leafs win another Stanley Cup before this generation of fans die off from old age. 

The third one, a little more approachable, is to see a lot of Canada, up close, from the train, to take in the expanse of our country in a civilized way.  It’s a big country Canada.  There’s a lot to see and a lot of room left over to observe, think, enjoy, reflect and ponder. 

Getting to share all of that and those moments with your partner means you have thousands more mental snapshot memories between you, in that emotional photo album called life.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Doing A Canadian Dream III


We continue our journey across Canada on The Canadian for our twenty-fifth anniversary.

The train rolled into Edmonton late, scheduled for 2300 (11 pm) we slowed on our passage through the foothills because of a derailment up ahead.  A freight had gone off past Edmonton near Wainwright and by slowing down we would hopefully not be caught in a traffic jam of trains at the derailment, held in place for hours.  We had finished dinner and gifted-amateur-grade Black Russianing after dinner.  After an hour of disconnecting some cars, adding two deadhead cars and the usual scheduling follies we were back on the rails at O-Ghastly o’clock.  The night passed without incident, me choosing to sleep on the top bunk, instead of on the precipice of the edge of the lower bunk. 

By the time breakfast was called, around 0630, we were on the Prairies proper heading to Biggar, Saskatchewan.  Their motto and I kid you not:  New York City is big, but this is Biggar

For those who have never seen The Great Plains, the standard joke is you can watch your dog run away for three days.  This isn’t accurate, of course, but makes for a great story.  We watched the last of the canola and wheat come off, combines gathering it up.  As the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, it would illuminate long swaths of golden hay off into the distance.  Small villages, clustered along one street in front of the grain elevator would swish by, grain cars waiting to load on a siding to take the crops to one side of the country or the other.

There is a rhythm to the Prairies that is hard to explain until you experience it.  Stand at a cross-roads for more than five minutes between two small Canadian Prairie towns and you get it, seeping up into the soles of your feet.  You’re connected to the land, the seasons and the people all at once. Every crossing you would see someone wave to the train and you naturally wave back, complete strangers passing a greeting of shared experience.  Even if you are some high-strung Uber-Type A from the 416, five minutes is about all it takes to get it.  It’s the quiet confidence that dare I say, is very typically Canadian.

In need of a stretch we decided to ‘walk the train”  As The Canadian rolled across the Prairies we walked from our car, Draper, all the way back to the Park Car at the tail end.  The Park Cars were built at the same time as the other cars, but rather than being cut off for another car to couple up, the Park cars are bullet-shaped at the end to signify the last of the train.  Seats line the walls, with large windows to let you look all around.  Of course, there is a bar and a dome too, but the Park Cars are the special ones that only exist on The Canadian any more.  With the seats all taken by other passengers, we slid into the empty bar areas.  Our server asked us if we would like a special coffee and, of course, we did.  Coffee, Bailey’s, whipped cream and shaved chocolate magically appeared in cups.  We exchanged pleasantries with the server, based out of Vancouver, going to the far end of her trip, in Winnipeg.  It would seem that not many people walk the train, most of the passengers being content to limit their perambulations to one or two cars. 

After finishing up our drinks, we walked all the way back past our room, up to the front of the coach class.  The Canadian does give you choices of accommodation.  Coach means you have a seat that reclines a bit more than that on a bus and bring your own blankets.  It’s inexpensive, but we were convinced that for four nights, there was no way in all of creation that we would inflict that kind of indignity upon ourselves.  Most of the passengers in coach were only on for a night or two, getting off a various stops along the way. 

Dipping into the valley that is Saskatoon, then up the other side towards Melville is one stunning panorama after another.  Frost was just barely hitting, the leaves turning on the foliage.  Not the peak yet, but enough hints of the colours to come that you feel you want to turn around and come back in about two weeks time.  We’re still behind schedule and roll through Portage La Prairie and wave at family members over there in the dark, hints of porch lights off in the distance.  We know where their house is in relation to the railway. 

After dinner and adjourning to the bar for more drinks and stories with another Aussie couple, a single woman, somewhat unsteady on her feet, staggers to our sever, asking for a drink.  She is politely refused, as over-serving is a problem and the bar has to close a hour before the end of their shift, which in our case was Winnipeg, She is not happy and tries to engage us in conversation, which tells us it is time to go to our room. 

As I’m passing behind her, I get grinded upon by her modestly lumpy arse, in a very deliberate manner.  Any, our server notices and gives me the “Oh crap, she is a mess isn’t she?” eyebrow.  Marylou, bless her, recognizes that the woman is, to be generous, shitfaced and only turns a few shades of red.  Luckily there were no large bottles or heavy items like a fire extinguisher readily to hand, as Marylou is not above using blunt objects with a combination of zeal and skill to settle discussions in her favour.  Grinder-Girl was very fortunate. 

We know that Winnipeg, Marylou’s home town is our next stop so we stay up, rolling in to the station about four hours late, recognizing streets from the train.  We have an hour to get off the train, see a little bit of the Forks and stretch our legs.  Most of the other passengers do too, but it being late, The Forks are closed for the night.   We take the night air, exchanging pleasantries with a younger woman who had apparently been sharing a glass with the Grinder-Girl.  She didn’t know her but had commented that Grinder-Girl had several drinks in rapid succession and was travelling alone, but with her tiny bait-sized dog in the baggage compartment.  We had seen Grinder-Girl on previous days, striding intently to the front of the train, with that just-a-little-too-glittery look in her eye that lead us to comment that Lithium is a powerful chemical and must be kept in proper balance by trained, skilled medical professionals.

After a quick walk across the Forks to the new pedestrian bridge, we head back to the train station.  We see Grinder-Girl seated on the curb, her hands behind her back and her hoodie over her wrists.  One of Winnipeg’s Finest is speaking with her, one foot on her hoodie to keep Grinder-Girl seated.  A second squad glides up, two more officers engaging in discussions of a persuasive nature for Grinder-Girl to get in the back of the squad.  Her trip on The Canadian was at an end for the time being. 

As the new crew boards and the cars are replenished, we overhear some radio chatter.  They’re getting the dog off the baggage car, our unspoken concern that her dog would go on to Toronto, without food, water or companionship, while his keeper got to spend a night in the crowbar hotel.  We sit up in bed at watch Winnipeg trundle by the window, the lights fading over to the deep quiet dark of a Manitoba night.

When they were laying out the railroad in 1850 or so, the survey crew reached the Lake of the Woods and noticed the ground was fairly even with very few trees.  One surveyor stood at the Ontario border and the other surveyor walked for 450 miles to Winnipeg.  They snapped a chalk line and told the railway construction foreman, follow that line until you hit a big building in Winnipeg, then stop.  The Trans-Canada highway and the railway are the result.  Dead straight on a half-moon night, we go to sleep to the sound of the rails running true following that one warm line from long ago.

The northern part of Ontario from Rice Lake to Sioux Lookout is a result of glaciers millennia ago, scouring the soil from the surface.  The soil wound up in the Twin Cities and further down the Mississippi.  The Canadian Shield left exposed could support some trees and bugs.  It isn’t farming country, the rails roaming around the edges of hundreds of glacial lakes, the trees starting to show off the fall colours a little more flamboyantly.  The towns along the way sound like an old Warner Brothers cartoon, Malachi, Ottermere, Minaki, Redditt, Farlane, Canyon, Red Lake Road, Richan, Sioux Lookout, then followed by a long ‘and Cucamonga” in that peculiar Mel Blanc voice from the Bugs Bunny days.  Still running late we breakfast, as picture perfect, icy cold lakes peek out from between the trees, living advertisements for “Sport Fishing In Canada”.  Except they are real, not a set, or a Photoshop collage dreamed up by advertising mooks in a boardroom on the 35th floor of a skyscraper in Toronto. 

We watch the trees and lakes for hours eventually winding up in Hornepayne around time for the third sitting of dinner.  The towns that rolled by, like Mud River, Auden or Carmat are not much more than wide spots on either side of the rails.  A collection of dwellings, haphazardly dropped among the trees with a weather-beaten pickup out front, two or three ATV’s and a smattering of snowmobiles visible in the yard, smoke curling from the chimney of the houses as The Canadian waddles along.  In the depths of summer, black flies and mosquitoes will carry you off.  In winter, a moose in your yard means it is Tuesday and no more remarkable than that.

After adjourning for a post-dinner cocktail with some more Aussies, we call it a night.  Through the dark we roll past more bugs, trees and rocks, stopping a O-Gawd o’clock in Capreol, north of Sudbury.  By the time we get up for breakfast, we’re starting to see signs of habitation.  Still in the country, now running down the shores of Georgian Bay, looking cool and blue through the amber and red trees.  There are fewer pines with more houses and roads.

Eventually we reach Toronto.  We had to get there eventually, as that’s where they put the rails and The Canadian is not very good at off-road adventuring.  We peer into the back yards of the houses, a pool there, a garden with a canoe up on sawhorses there, then suburban office buildings, then condo high rises and the skyscrapers that make up downtown Toronto.  The Canadian eased to a stop at Union Station  Union Station is the nexus of the Toronto Subway, the GOtrain commuter trains and busses that bring 200,000 commuters into downtown Toronto every day.  Union Station opened in 1927 and has been restored to something near the original glory.  It is the kind of edifice that still speaks of the glory days of travel, when men wore hats, women wore gloves and one dressed up to travel.   We had a four-hour layover before our final leg home to Ottawa.  After putting our luggage into temporary storage, we headed out to the hustle and construction of Front Street.

More in our final instalment shortly.