Ottawa bike-sharing under new management

A Bixi bike-share station in Ottawa last June. Photo: Lucy Martin

A Bixi bike-share station in Ottawa last June. Photo: Lucy Martin

Readers may recall the Bixi bike share system in cities like Ottawa and New York City. Despite Bixi’s slew of financial and managerial problems, a recent press release suggests continued support for that form of rented transportation in Canada’s Capital region:

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is pleased to announce the transfer of its bike share program, Capital BIXI, to CycleHop, LLC, effective April 17, 2014. The new owner and operator will resume the bike share service in the core of Ottawa–Gatineau by this summer 2014, while making plans for system expansion.

CycleHop CEO Josh Squire positioned bike sharing as a plus for both residents and visitors, calling it “…a fun way to get around. It is good for your personal health, and for the health of our planet.” According to the NCC’s media release:

CycleHop is committed to doubling the size of the current program within the next few years, at its own expense. The current public bike share program serves the downtown core of Ottawa and Gatineau, with 250 bicycles at 25 locations. CycleHop also plans to work on increasing participation among individuals and corporate users, enhancing customer service, and renewing the public’s enthusiasm and support for the program.

The Ottawa Citizen says Bixi opened its very first bike share system in Montréal, with Ottawa being the second such effort, since June of 2009.

CycleHop operates bike-sharing systems in Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix, Atlanta and Louisville.

The Bixi rental season was due to begin in mid-April this year. On Thursday, the NCC said the new owner will resume the bike share service by this summer.

But Squire said it might happen sooner than that.

Earlier this week, the Montréal Gazette reported Bixi bikes are once more being rented in that city and that over 3,000 bikes should be in service by month’s end.

According to various media sources, Bixi’s international operations were recently sold to Montreal furniture manufacturer Bruno Rodi for a reported $4 million dollars.

An article about the convoluted Bixi saga in the Atlantic, makes parts of the bankruptcy mess sound almost exciting, even exotic:

Who is Rodi, anyway? Well, have you ever seen those Dos Equis ads featuring “the most interesting man in the world”? This dude gives that one a run for his money, and in real life. The owner of the furniture company Rodi, “le spécialiste du sofa,” is also a world traveler who has undertaken an almost ridiculous number of adventures and was reportedly on a boat in the Indian Ocean while the Bixi sale was going down.

They just look like a rack of clunky bikes. Apparently there’s plenty going on behind the scenes.

NY21 candidates have more than pocket money “on hand”

doheny

Correction: This post erroneously stated that the New York Republican party was supporting Matt Doheny. In fact, the statement of support linked to in this post is from the New York state Independence Party.

Candidates in the 21st Congressional District race were required this week to turn in the numbers on how much they have to spend on their campaigns. Tuesday was the due date, and the numbers are interesting for Elise Stefanik, Aaron Woolf and Matt Doheny.

All three candidates have respectable amounts of “cash on hand,” the Watertown Daily Times is reporting: That is, money they can spend on ads and other campaign expenses in the race. But Matt Doheny, who has the support of the Republican New York state Independence party and will likely go up against Elise Stefanik in a Republican primary in June, has the most, with $516,444. Democrat Aaron Woolf is next, with $403,405, and Stefanik trails the pack with $350,825.

Another interesting number is the amount the three candidates have loaned their respective campaigns: Doheny has loaned his $250,500; Woolf, $200,000; and Stefanik much less, at $15,000.

Meanwhile, the Independence Party is challenging Stefanik’s petition for that party’s ballot line, saying she got far too few signatures to qualify (WWNY-TV). Doheny, potential Aaron Woolf challenger Stephen Burke, and Green Party member Matt Funicello have also been challenged. So we’ll see where that goes.

 

Warren County moves toward selling its nursing home

Westmount

Westmount Health Facility in Queensbury. Photo via WarrenCountyNY.gov

The company that’s bought several nursing homes in our area in the last few years (including Horace Nye in Elizabethtown, the sale of which was finalized, after a long delay, earlier this month) is in negotiations to buy Westmount Health Facility in Queensbury. The Glens Falls Post-Star reports that Warren County’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward with the sale to Specialty Care Group, “despite protestations from some supervisors and local residents who urged committee members to hold off.”

The company would pay $2.3 million for Westmount, which will apparently likely cost the county $700,000 this year. There’s also an expensive complication with the facility’s heating system, about which there’s more detail in the article.

Those local residents and supervisors who were against moving forward gave a few reasons, having to do with unresolved legal issues around the heating system; Medicaid reimbursements; the sale price; and allowing more locals to have a say in the matter.

Gillibrand calls for USDA disaster declaration for North Country farms

littleriver

The Little River in the St. Lawrence County town of Canton, yesterday. Photo: Martha Foley

This press release this afternoon from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, after the flooding of the last 24 hours (our story from this morning). The North Country is still under flood watches and warnings until tonight, although it’s not raining or snowing. There’s still flooding and high water, and some roads do remain closed throughout the region. Officials are encouraging people not to drive through high water.

Extreme Flooding In Lewis, St. Lawrence Counties Damaging Roads, Bridges – Isolating Dairy Farms, Damaging Feed, Silos, Wells

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue an agriculture disaster declaration to send relief to farms in Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties where severe flooding is destroying roads and bridges, isolating local dairy farms, and damaging feed, bunker silos and wells. The ongoing flooding also threatens to submerge farmland and poses a significant threat to livestock.

Sen. Gillibrand's letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Image via Gillibrand's website

Sen. Gillibrand’s letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (click to enlarge). Image via Gillibrand’s website

“When New York’s farmers struggle, our entire economy struggles,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Heavy flooding is wiping out roads and bridges, isolating farms, destroying resources that keep them operating, and threatening to leave many farms under water. We need these federal resources on the ground without delay so we can help our farms recover and support our economy.”

Senator Gillibrand is calling for the swift disaster declaration for Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties, and could extend to additional counties as damage continues to be reported by local farm agencies.

A secretarial disaster declaration can release federal resources that provide a range of assistance to farmers, including low-interest emergency loans, technical assistance to repair damages and help to replenish lost livestock.

NY21 race roundup: Fundraising, challenging, and more!

New York's 21st Congressional District

New York’s 21st Congressional District

If you can pull yourself away from the weathertastprophe outside, there’s a lot going on today in the 21st District Congressional race. Specifically:

Republican/Conservative hopeful Elise Stefanik has raised more than $524,000 for her campaign, according to a press release from said campaign. Stefanik, who’ll likely face perennial NY21 candidate Matt Doheny in a primary for the Republican nomination (but not for the Conservative nomination, which has already gone to Stefanik), has so far gotten donations from 831 people, including 701 donations below $250.

Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf has raised more than $205,000 (he only established his fundraising account with the Federal Elections Commission on Feb. 21 of this year); combined with a personal loan of $200,000, North Country Now reports today, he’s reporting more than $405,000 on hand for the race. According to the Albany Times-Union’s Capitol Confidential blog, Woolf’s campaign says “more than 300 citizens have given to Woolf’s campaign, with over 60 percent of the funds coming from New York State and over 60 percent of the donors to the campaign giving less than $250.”

These numbers are required from candidates each quarter (reporting to the Federal Election Commission), and were due today. No word yet from the other candidates on how much they’ve raised.

In other news, WWNY-TV reports that “a few voters” are challenging the validity of petitions from candidates Stefanik, Doheny, Democrat Stephen Burke, and Green Party member Matt Funicello. Any registered voter can challenge the validity of the petitions, which are required from anyone wanting to run for Congress. The voters now have six days to specify the problems they have with the signatures.

High water levels slow Seaway ships

A Seaway freighter passes under the bridge near Massena in December, 2012. Photo: David Sommerstein

A Seaway freighter passes under the bridge near Massena in December, 2012. Photo: David Sommerstein

The heavy melt over the last few days, combined with rain, means a lot of places are dealing with high water levels, both in their rivers and in some cases on their roads. Another impact of high waters is in St. Lawrence Seaway, where ships passing through are being slowed down to prevent shoreline erosion.

St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Office of Lock Operations and Marine Services Director Lori Curran told North Country Now that water levels are high between the locks at Massena and the Iroquois Dam across from Lisbon, because the the Moses-Saunders power dam near Massena is holding back some of the water that would naturally flow downstream.

Apparently, the speed restrictions aren’t unusual, but they’re usually imposed later in the year — last year, the Seaway imposed the restrictions in May.

New U.S. ambassador to Canada calls for more trade

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Bruce Heyman as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2014. Photo: State Department/Public Domain, some rights reserved

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Bruce Heyman as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2014. Photo: State Department/Public Domain, some rights reserved

Bruce Heyman is now fully installed and beginning his official work as the newest U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Speaking to the Globe and Mail, Heyman said the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline project is important, but there’s far more to the U.S.-Canada trade relationship. In his first interview since taking office Heyman says he’ll jump in to help make that happen:

And what matters is growth, not in which direction trade is flowing, he said: “I am an agnostic about whether there is more trade going north or more trade going south. I just want more.”

The CBC listed issues that are likely to figure largely on the diplomatic agenda. Those include: Keystone XL, energy and the environment, who owes what to fund the Windsor-Detroit Bridge, U.S. concerns that Canada is not doing enough to curb production and smuggling of oxycodone, intellectual property issues and  Trans-Pacific free-trade negotiations. (On that last issue, the U.S. wants Canada to re-vamp supply-management in sectors like dairy and poultry.)

Heyman is on Twitter, and has already used that platform to expand on similar themes, as in this tweet: “We have a commercial relationship that is the envy of the world, no two countries do more economically together”

This “meet the Heymans” video includes Vicki Heyman expounding on her family ties to Canada, it turns out her Great-grandparents came to Canada from Russia, after which her grandfather moved to the U.S.



Massive loss for Parti Québécois

PQ Premier Pauline Marois (shown here at an event in March 2014) is out, Liberal Philippe Couillard is in. Photo: Benoit Meunier, Creative COmmons, some rights reserved

PQ Premier Pauline Marois (shown here at an event in March 2014) is out, Liberal Philippe Couillard is in. Photo: Benoit Meunier, Creative COmmons, some rights reserved

Broad results of Monday’s provincial election in Quebec are quite clear: the Liberal Party, lead by neurosurgeon Philippe Couillard, has won a solid majority government. The Parti Québécois, now reduced to the role of official opposition, has suffered a major defeat. And the rest of Canada gets to heave a sigh of relief.

We are already into hindsight territory where it can be said ousted Premier Pauline Marois made a bad bet at the outset and reaped a whirlwind of rejection. Last night Marois lost her own riding and announced she would step down as party leader, 18 months after she became Quebec’s first female premier.

The timing of this election was largely hers to control. The Parti Québécois chose the wrong campaign wedge issue – a controversial and divisive secular values charter. Most importantly, if accidentally, the PQ opened the door for the campaign to be about the exhausting issue of national sovereignty. That proved to be a decidedly unattractive prospect, for now at least, according to a majority of Quebec voters.

Few would have predicted this outcome going into the election. Many thought voters had yet to completely forget and forgive past sins laid at the feet of the previous Liberal government, after a tide of corruption scandals.

Quebec Liberals may have won fewer seats if the other flavors of nationalist parties in Quebec could successfully merge. It’s often observed that the so-called left on Canada’s national scene could likely replace Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party if the Federal Liberals and the NDP ever become one. Indeed, a main reason conservatives run Canada now is because the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance swallowed their divisions and merged a little over ten years ago.

But back to Quebec. What voters there really seem to want is fewer side-shows about religious symbols and bad-mouthing bilingualism and more focus on “real issues” like the economy and health care.

Here’s how the CBC’s Michelle Gagnon put that in this analysis: ”Quebec election 2014: Philippe Couillard’s mandate – to be anything but the PQ

For an election that many called rough and nasty, it was uplifting to hear some words of praise for the political process. Even before Monday’s vote, Michael Den Tandt wrote in Postmedia News that despite sharp pushing and yelling, the campaign still represented something healthy:

The cut and thrust of debate and reportage in Quebec media over the past month has been a sight to behold. Investigative reporting by journalists such as Radio Canada’s Alain Gravel, and independent commentary by columnists such as La Presse’s Vincent Marissal, set a high standard indeed. So did the four main party leaders themselves, in two televised contests; these were among the most hard-fought, intelligently gruelling political debates I have seen.

Not only did yesterday’s election say a lot about Quebec voters, Den Tandt thinks a similar story could be waiting in the wings outside of Quebec:

Since the 2008-09 recession, Canadians — including Quebecers this spring — have shown steadily declining patience with any program of government, or pattern of behaviour by a politician, that does not constitute a laser focus on value for taxpayers’ money, and simple economic pragmatism. The PQ bet the farm on the notion that Quebecers could be persuaded to coalesce around a philosophical, theoretical concept — the so-called charter of Quebec values — with economic management more or less taken for granted. It was a critical miscalculation, and holds lessons for federal politics — where the Harper government is busily shoring up its credentials as the cautious economic steward of choice — and the Ontario election in the offing.

I find it a bit audacious to write about politics in Quebec without understanding French and being able to follow the debate as it actually happens there. So it would be especially nice to hear comments from Quebec residents about what they think this election means, and what they’d like to see next.

Quebec’s dramatic election wraps up on Monday

Photo: Marie Berne, detail, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Backdrop at a Parti Québécois campaign event. Photo: Marie Berne, detail, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

On March 5th Quebec Premier Pauline Marois triggered an election that concludes Monday, April 7th.

Of course speculation about results is just that until the polls close and all the votes are tallied. But most observers think Marois either misjudged her timing, or mis-stepped in the course of her campaign. Few now think she will attain the majority government she’d hoped for. Indeed, it’s at least possible she’ll be out altogether and mostly because the Parti Québécois could not steer clear of internal conflicts and a sacred cause not shared by enough of their neighbors.

Here’s how long-time National Affairs columnist Chantal Hérbert summarized the campaign in the Toronto Star:

The campaign has been a washout for sovereigntists. At a minimum it stands to set their referendum agenda back for years. Some PQ insiders are gloomily thinking decades.

Over the past month Quebec voters have all but spelled the three letters of the word NON in boldfaced characters for Pauline Marois to read.

As a result a party that has steadfastly refused to take no for an answer since the 1995 referendum can no longer reasonably argue that the two-thirds of Quebecers who oppose either a referendum and/or sovereignty don’t really mean it.

Outside of Quebec at least, much of the late-campaign analysis has taken on the tone of an obituary for Marois’ political career, as with this from the CBC’s Michelle Gagnon:

Clearly, her campaign slogan — Déterminé — is more than bluster: she is indeed one determined woman.

But, now, perhaps more than ever, a weekend away from election-day Monday, Marois’s entire future is on the line.

Short of securing the majority she seemed so confident she would win just four weeks ago when she called the vote, she may well be forced to take her leave, even as early as Monday night.

In this election cycle four parties are considered the main contenders: The Quebec Liberal Party, Parti Québécois, Coalition Avenir Québec and Québec solidaire. Here’s a summary of main party platforms or promises from the Montréal Gazette.

According to recent polling, the main beneficiary of the PQ’s miscalculation may be Quebec’s Liberal Party, lead by former neurosurgeon Philippe Couillard. Here’s a Q & A with Couillard from the CBC for those interested in learning more about his positions should he emerge as Quebec’s next premier.

To hold a majority, a single party must win at least 63 seats in the 125 seat assembly. According to this interactive guide from the CBC, there are actually 18 provincial parties in the mix, most of which will not win legislative seats.

English language summary sites for the Quebec election and election results can be followed on CBC and the Montréal Gazette.

What can be concluded from the whole exercise? That is a matter of opinion, but here’s one take from Michael Den Tandt of Postmedia News:

Quebec is actually a federation of nations, in spirit at least – a collective, comprising new immigrants and allophones, rural francophones, the urban francophone bourgeoisie, three main aboriginal nations, and anglophones, both rural and urban. Montreal is a nation unto itself. Each group is distinct; each has its own particular identity. But a clear majority share an appreciation for the security provided to all by the larger Canadian federation. This includes a majority of Quebec francophones, it turns out, and that is something the PQ did not foresee. It was a historic miscalculation.

An interesting turn of events, to be sure.

Take your pick: rail, pipeline, both – or none of the above

TransCanada presents their case for Energy East at this informational session in North Gower, Ontario. Photo: Lucy Martin

TransCanada presents their case for Energy East at this informational session in North Gower, Ontario. Photo: Lucy Martin

It’s become pretty clear that shipping oil by rail raises serious issues. That might make the case for pipelines seem more attractive, but nothing’s ever simple, is it? We’re still left with questions about pipeline safety. Plus the still-larger debate about climate change and if we are doing enough to move away from carbon energy, period.

Within that big picture come many specific projects, such as Canada’s oil sands, the Keystone XL pipeline project, and something called Energy East, which would move oil sand bitumen from Alberta to Canada’s Atlantic seaways and shores.

The company behind that proposal, TransCanada, brought its Q&A road show to my village of North Gower, Ontario this past Thursday, with a 4 -8 pm event designed to accommodate most schedules. Here’s a generally-favorable report on that from the Ottawa Citizen:

Many, if not most, of the several hundred people who attended an “outreach” meeting Thursday evening on TransCanada Pipelines’s Energy East oil pipeline left the session impressed with the company and less concerned about the pipeline’s safety than they had been.

And more from the CBC:

Ben Powless, of Ecology Ottawa, said he is becoming more resolute in his opposition to the project as the months go by. He said he has less faith in the company’s safety record since a recent National Energy Board audit, and doesn’t necessarily believe what the company says.

His key concern is the possibility of an oil leak into the Ottawa River.

“If it got into there, that’s basically the drinking water supply for everybody who lives in the city,” said Powless. “The Rideau River also supplies a lot of sources of groundwater.”

TransCanada spends one billion dollars a year on its pipeline safety program, said company spokesperson [Philippe] Cannon, who adds that pipelines are the safest way to move large quantities of oil.

He adds that the company takes special measures in its pipelines near important waterways.

I attended as an area resident.

Few in number, but passionate in their cause, this group came to offer a different view. Photo: L

Few in number, but passionate in their cause, this group came to offer a different view. Photo: Lucy Martin

A handful of extremely well-mannered protesters hosted their own information table and a petition of opposition outside the municipal arena.

Inside, TransCanada had a small army of equally polite, attentive, well-trained and  articulate representatives tending different explanatory stations. (My tally was at least 30 working the floor, not counting greeters or TransCanada executives in civilian clothing.)

Still photos were allowed but signs at the door stated that video or audio recording was prohibited unless being conducted by authorized news media. Did that mean only pre-cleared news media would be allowed inside to report? Or was it some “no amateurs allowed” position? (As in “real” reporters only, no bloggers or citizen journalists?) I could have asked and found out. Higher officials from TransCanada were there and I am sure they would have happily spoken on record. But I chose to just observe and not out myself.

All the TransCanada representatives I encountered emoted friendly sincerity and were carefully non-confrontational. Sort of “We know you have valid questions and we’re here to help!” While there I ran into one pro-project friend and a skeptical acquaintance, who thinks we’ve pushed the planet too far and much more needs to be done to move away from oil.

Sample of background handouts at the TransCanada Energy East informational presentation. Photo: Lucy Martin

Sample of background handouts at the TransCanada Energy East informational presentation. Photo: Lucy Martin

We spent time discussing the route as a land issue with an extremely personable TransCanada representative from Calgary. (The team of presenters takes their show on the road as needed, and expects they may be doing it again in other locations this fall.)

The displays were high quality. Stacks of informational fliers were available, in both official languages. There were some give-away items (carabiner lanyards and tote bags) and a pretty nice spread of finger food. Let’s just say money didn’t seem to be an issue. Without arguing if the claims are true, false, or something in between, the whole presentation represents a massive display of intense public relations with every nuance skillful marketing can provide.

So here’s a negative take on that project, as presented in early March by Heather Smith of Grist, an environmental publication, “Big Oil’s new strategy: if you can’t build a new pipeline, just overload the old one“. The title is pretty self-explanatory, with criticism of what Smith calls:

“…part of a hot, new trend in trans-national pipe dreams: Skirting environmental review, and public scrutiny, by pumping dirty crude through existing pipelines rather than building new ones.”

One can argue day and night about these issues. If a well-funded corporate road show counts as public consultation. About the safety record of TransCanada, or the wisdom of this specific proposal. But I was struck by something my pro-project friend said “We need more pipelines.”  (The TransCanada rep seemed stunned and simply replied “Well, that’s not something I hear very often.”)

TransCanada representative discussing a cut-away section of pipeline. Photo: Lucy Martin

TransCanada representative discussing a cut-away section of pipeline. Photo: Lucy Martin

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the whole world should get off carbon fuels and switch to green, renewable resources. How fast does anyone expect that can happen? What are we going to do between now and that utopian end goal, keep shipping oil by rail?

For the purpose of this post, I’m thinking out loud about what we often call infrastructure.

It’s not hard to think of water systems, sewer systems, roads, bridges and yes, pipelines that are aging out. Many stand in great need of repairs or outright replacement. If one looks at pipelines in that category – as basic infrastructure we still use and will continue to need for some foreseeable future – is there a good case for supporting re-purposed pipelines? New pipelines?

Of course, the pro-oil camp considers this obvious: North America uses energy and may need more ways to deliver it.

But what does the environmental crowd think? Can we really move away from carbon fast enough to not need any more pipelines? I’m not criticizing, I’m asking.

This was the vista on the western skyline as I left the meeting. It’s a beautiful world. What’s the best way to live in it without causing too much damage?

Sunset from North Gower's Alfred Taylor Recreational Centre. Photo: Lucy Martin

Sunset from North Gower’s Alfred Taylor Recreation Centre. Photo: Lucy Martin