Category Archives: Lake Erie Lowlands

V8689: I like to make things complicated (or: why my April Fail-Bingo blouse was finished late May, posted in June, and also a multitasking RBG trip)

Oops! But the picture looks pretty cool I think so ... here it is anyway.
Oops! But the picture looks pretty cool I think so … here it is anyway.

Saturdays are busy days Chez McDowell.

Yes, yes, Saturdays are busy for everyone–but this is my blog, so I get to talk about my own busy Saturdays.

Saturdays are the days I do a full week’s worth of errands (groceries, bills, library, drugstore, etc.) , get in a decent workout, a longer-than-average-shower, any required yard work, and oh yeah, wouldn’t it be nice to do some blog photos or some sewing? All before 6pm, which is when my daughter comes back from her Dad’s house. Technically yes I could do some of that on Sunday, but my Frances-time is precious to me and I prefer to keep it as free as possible so we can hang out and I can listen to all of the amazing and quirky and clever and hilarious things that go on in her head. I do laundry on Sundays. Everything else I try to do on Saturdays, before 6.

Royal Botanical Gardens Lilac Dell with a band playing. Lots of trees = privacy, right?
Royal Botanical Gardens Lilac Dell with a band playing. Lots of trees = privacy, right?

As a result, my handmade garments have been piling up and I haven’t had a chance to shoot any of them. Why do I think every year that May will be a great chance to get outside for some decent photographs? Of course I’m outside–mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, picking up branches, trimming the hedges, and generally filling up my time and getting myself so sweat-grimed that a camera lens is the last thing I want to see.

This Saturday I was determined to get those photos done. I thought–hey! The lilac dell is in full bloom at the Royal Botanical Gardens; I need to renew my membership anyway; I can combine it with a hike while I’m there and kill two birds with one stone, plus it’s the RBG and so guaranteed to be gorgeous. Accordingly, I brought my camera, timer and tripod to the RBG and took some hopefully discreet selfies in the lilacs and along the trail while Getting My Exercise, Appreciating Nature, Renewing My Membership, and Losing Five Pounds in Sweat Through My Face.

Fortunately you can't see the sweat pouring off my face like the Mississippi. Right?
Fortunately you can’t see the sweat pouring off my face like the Mississippi. Right? Also: to go with the multi-tasking theme, you can expect this outfit to reappear when I blog the shorts. I’ll try to use different shots though.

It was so hot, Dear Readers; almost 30C. In May. I tremble to think of August.

Keep all that in mind while you read about the many ways I unnecessarily complicated my Fail Bingo shirt.


So this blouse took a long time.


Partly because it was a new pattern, to me. I made it up in a size 14D as a test garment, tweaked the fit to be a bit looser around the bust and less loose around the waist, along with the standard shorter in the back and broader in the shoulders. On the whole it was pretty good and I consider these minor tweaks. Oh, plus moving the shoulder seam forward by about 3/4″.

Partly because I made it out of the cotton/silk voile that I adore so much and used for the other Vogue blouse. It is quite sheer and needs underlining. In fact, even with the underlining, it`s still a bit sheer. But I can wear it to work without embarrassing myself, and that’s key.

Of course, it`s a yoked blouse with princess seams, which means there are fifteen pieces to be underlined before assembly.

View D, the one I made–but without the boob pockets.


Two of each, of course, stitched together carefully by hand before assembling the blouse. I bought 1 1/2 metres originally, and ran out and needed to buy an additional half metre to finish the shirt. That’s two-metres for one short-sleeved blouse (cost-wise still not bad though; under $30 including thread!).


Partly because this blouse pattern suggests felled seams. Which means sew together, trim one side of the seam, press the other one in half, fold it over the trimmed side, and sew it down again. Or you know, buy a felling foot and use that. I don’t have a felling foot. I`m reconsidering this, however, in light of the amount of time spent assembling this blouse. Though Janome doesn’t make a felling foot. Anyone have any generics they can recommend?

The Back. Horizontal lines brought to you by the treachery of tucking in. Why do they do that?
The Back. Horizontal lines brought to you by the treachery of tucking in. Why do they do that?

The pattern does not suggest finishing the seams in the sleeves, which is just odd. I ended up felling the sleeve seams and french-seaming the shoulders, then top-stitching the french seams down. This voile is incredibly light-weight and cut edges essentially disintegrate on contact with air, so sturdy finishing is necessary. I accidentally top-stitched the french seam down outwards instead of inwards (oops) but I love it anyway.

Inside Out. Yes, this is the inside of the shirt. Right? Also you can see how semi-transparent it is by reading the dry-cleaning joint's logo through the yoke.
Inside Out. Yes, this is the inside of the shirt. Right? Also you can see how semi-transparent it is by reading the dry-cleaning joint’s logo through the yoke.

I wish the buttons were a bit smaller and a closer colour match. It turns out that citron is not an easy colour to find in small shirt buttons. Who’d have guessed.  Other than that, I freaking love this shirt. It’s incredibly soft and lightweight, it’s loose enough to be comfortable to wear without being baggy, and it’s CITRON. Consider: it was 30C, just about; my face was a river and my bottom half got plenty sweaty under those shorts but the shirt, even double-layered as it was, stayed comfortable to the very end, even hiking in the woods.

The Side. From very far away. Sorry about that.
The Side. From very far away. Sorry about that.

I interfaced the shirt with a light sew-in interfacing; I avoid fusibles wherever possible. It’s not as crisp as a fusible would have been but it keeps the softness and drape beautifully.

I’ve now fitted three separate and slightly different Vogue button-up shirt patterns (this one with yokes and princess seams, one with princess seams only, and one with princess seams and a gathered front–yes, there’s a theme). I’ve got one with pintucks left, and then I’ll have four blouse/shirt patterns that should get me through whatever kind of button-up shirt I want to make pretty much forever. Add to the list a wish to learn how to make a hidden button placket on every shirt forever so I never need to worry about perfectly matching buttons. I’m reading through David Coffin’s two shirtmaking books right now (yes, simultaneously) in an effort to master this and other tricky bits of shirtmakery before tackling the pink cotton voile shirt I’ve already cut out.

Jian Ghomeshi, eh?

I’m not going to share (many of) my own thoughts. Instead I present for you, a massive collection of the thoughts of other people on this story.

No, it’s not sewing related. But who can think of sewing at a time like this?

OK, yes, I can. But not yet.

Background, for those of you thinking “Jian who?” or “don’t you mean John?” Though at this point, that might be two people total in North America:

Jian was a popular radio broadcaster at our national public broadcasting corp, CBC. He’s got quite a fan following. Last week we heard he was taking extended leave for “personal reasons.” On Sunday, CBC said they fired him because of “information” that had come to light. Late Sunday, Jian published this letter on FB, claiming he was let go as part of a BDSM Persecution Witch Hunt, where everyone knew everything he did was consensual but they disapproved so they canned him.

In order of relevance to the sections of his FB post, links!

Dear everyone,
I am writing today because I want you to be the first to know some news.
This has been the hardest time of my life. I am reeling from the loss of my father. I am in deep personal pain and worried about my mom. And now my world has been rocked by so much more.
Today, I was fired from the CBC.


For almost 8 years I have been the host of a show I co-created on CBC called Q. It has been my pride and joy. My fantastic team on Q are super-talented and have helped build something beautiful.

Also true. Not sure it’s relevant. See: Woody Allen, Charles Dickens, etc. Doing good work does not mean you are not an asshole.

I have always operated on the principle of doing my best to maintain a dignity and a commitment to openness and truth, both on and off the air. I have conducted major interviews, supported Canadian talent, and spoken out loudly in my audio essays about ideas, issues, and my love for this country. All of that is available for anyone to hear or watch. I have known, of course, that not everyone always agrees with my opinions or my style, but I’ve never been anything but honest. I have doggedly defended the CBC and embraced public broadcasting. This is a brand I’ve been honoured to help grow.

Does this link cause you to think that his behaviour, on and off the air, is dedicated to “dignity”?

And maybe think, while you read this letter, how much assistance the PR firm Navigator provided him in crafting this “deeply honest and personal heartfelt appeal.”

Plus, should it matter whether or not you like Jian Ghomeshi?

Anyway. This paragraph serves little than to cause people to react patriotically to his message, much like American Republican senators caught with some hanky-panky in their personal lives immediately try to wrap themselves in the flag.

All this has now changed.
Today I was fired from the company where I’ve been working for almost 14 years – stripped from my show, barred from the building and separated from my colleagues. I was given the choice to walk away quietly and to publicly suggest that this was my decision. But I am not going to do that. Because that would be untrue. Because I’ve been fired. And because I’ve done nothing wrong.

Please note, then, that the airing of allegations was his choice. He aired the allegations.

Also: CBC does not have a history of firing staff for their public sex lives. See Sook Yin-Lee.

I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.

Jilted Ex Girlfriend
However, there were at least 3 women involved in The Star story
Plus a coworker
Plus the xoJane article from last year, linked above
As well as numerous rumours about his dating conduct for quite some time now (there are forum links all over the net to discussions among women sharing stories, but those are all password protected, so no shares here)

A beautiful piece from out west about the rumours circulating about Jian for over a decade.

And already, another woman has come forward with her own abuse allegations from a decade ago. Then, about an hour later, another three. God knows what the total will be by the time this gets published.

Here’s the “freelance writer

As friends and family of mine, you are owed the truth.
I have commenced legal proceedings against the CBC, what’s important to me is that you know what happened and why.
Forgive me if what follows may be shocking to some.
I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.

Friends and family, huh? His FB followers? Are friends and family? Wouldn’t actual friends and family deserve something more than a post on FaceBook?

Response of BDSM community part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Really to me it looks like they’re just not having it.

As well, is this about BDSM, or is it about consent?

About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year. I don’t wish to get into any more detail because it is truly not anyone’s business what two consenting adults do. I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.

LATE 20S??????

Late 20s? The man is 47.

According to the Star, all women who have come forward so far are in their 20s. I haven’t yet heard him denying that he was involved with them. So this is a man who likes to date women 20+ years younger than he is. Moreover, when he hurts them, it makes him come. Whatever else has gone on, he sure don’t like having women in his sex life who are his equals. That is the best-case scenario based on his own words.

Sexual preferences are a human right, but Canadian courts and law do not permit a person to consent to sexual abuse. Whether or not you believe it should be illegal, currently, it is.

Also, one’s personal human rights to one’s sexual preferences ends where harm to another person begins. See: pedophilia

Also also, see BDSM community reactions to Shades of Grey comparison in above links. I.e., not actually helpful. Because Shades of Grey misrepresents abuse and rape as consensual BDSM.

Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.

How dare she! Plus, you may want to see the court documents, which have more detail. In that he claims they were dating non-monogamously by mutual consent, and he didn’t so much “end things when it became clear that it was unlikely to grow,” as cut her off when she decided that the non-monogamous thing wasn’t working for her anymore. So that’s two stories, that contradict each other, already from Mr. Ghomeshi.

After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.
It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.
Someone also began colluding with a freelance writer who was known not to be a fan of mine and, together, they set out to try to find corroborators to build a case to defame me. She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign. The writer boldly started contacting my friends, acquaintances and even work colleagues – all of whom came to me to tell me this was happening and all of whom recognized it as a trumped up way to attack me and undermine my reputation. Everyone contacted would ask the same question, if I had engaged in non-consensual behavior why was the place to address this the media?

Well. When I broke up with the abusive/stalkery guy some women did reach out to me via email and FB, and I’m glad they did. Those conversations were helpful. Not sure what this proves of her, even if it is true.

And maybe she went to the media because our courts are broken, so far as sexual assault goes. If you don’t go to the courts, of course, you’ll be accused of making it up and trying to destroy an innocent man. But if you do go to the courts, you will still be accused of trying to destroy an innocent man. Plus, since so few accused are found guilty, the man then effectively has been publicly exonerated for his behaviour. He gets a shield. He gets to go around for the rest of his life saying, “Yeah, that crazy bitch accused me of rape, but the judge saw right through it.”

AND THEY DO. This happens. I’ve seen it. I have friends who were advised to this effect by their lawyers.

When I went to counseling to deal with my abusive ex, my counselor advised me to just wait it out. “Eventually he’ll latch on to someone else,” she said. “They always do.” So my best way out, according to a professional, was to sit tight until he started victimizing someone else.

Women who want to protect other women from rapists and abusers are better off using gossip. That is simply a fact of our current judicial system.

Now, how about this “vindictive ex-girlfriend” thing?

That he has friends who told him what was happening is quite possibly true. But it is not relevant. Plenty of famous rapists have friends. This does not mean that they are good people or don’t rape. Plus, at least one of his friends has publicly come out on the side of the victims. Plus a group of Canadian musicians put out a petition supporting the victims.  Whether or not you think this was appropriate is beside the point; his insinuation that his friends are unanimously in support of his version of events is simply not true.

The writer tried to peddle the story and, at one point, a major Canadian media publication did due diligence but never printed a story. One assumes they recognized these attempts to recast my sexual behaviour were fabrications. Still, the spectre of mud being flung onto the Internet where online outrage can demonize someone before facts can refute false allegations has been what I’ve had to live with.

This was clearly not true, as the Star’s decision to then print the story demonstrates.

And this leads us to today and this moment. I’ve lived with the threat that this stuff would be thrown out there to defame me. And I would sue. But it would do the reputational damage to me it was intended to do (the ex has even tried to contact me to say that she now wishes to refute any of these categorically untrue allegations). But with me bringing it to light, in the coming days you will prospectively hear about how I engage in all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom. And the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie. But it will be salacious gossip in a world driven by a hunger for “scandal”. And there will be those who choose to believe it and to hate me or to laugh at me. And there will be an attempt to pile on. And there will be the claim that there are a few women involved (those who colluded with my ex) in an attempt to show a “pattern of behaviour”. And it will be based in lies but damage will be done. But I am telling you this story in the hopes that the truth will, finally, conquer all.

So what exactly are we to think that these girls would get out of it? The pleasure of seeing him unemployed?

And if she didn’t succeed in contacting him, how does he know what she was going to say?

Also, see analysis from this lawyer about whether or not his lawsuit is going to go anywhere.

And more analysis about why, when he must know that his suit is not likely to be successful, he would go ahead and file it anyway.

I have been open with the CBC about this since these categorically untrue allegations ramped up. I have never believed it was anyone’s business what I do in my private affairs but I wanted my bosses to be aware that this attempt to smear me was out there. CBC has been part of the team of friends and lawyers assembled to deal with this for months. On Thursday I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual. I did this in good faith and because I know, as I have always known, that I have nothing to hide. This when the CBC decided to fire me.
CBC execs confirmed that the information provided showed that there was consent. In fact, they later said to me and my team that there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent. They said they’re not concerned about the legal side. But then they said that this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC. They said that I was being dismissed for “the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.” To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.

Look at that last sentence a few more times. Does it seem familiar? Perhaps because it is the same appeal used by Rob Ford when the crack cocaine story first broke.  “I am the best mayor in the world and I am being persecuted for what I do in my personal life!” Maybe because every prominent abuser in recent history has used that line–“it shouldn’t matter what I do in my personal life!” Except that when you use your prominence to befriend victims, and carry out crimes, it very much does matter.

Also, it is legal to fire employees for what they do in their personal time, even if it’s legal, under some circumstances.

Also also, even if BDSM were legal in Canada, it is impossible to demonstrate consent to an employer. A text message or an email would not mean there is consent. It would mean that, at best, in advance of the event in question, a woman expressed some interest or enthusiasm for the idea in concept. But that doesn’t mean that she consented to what actually happened once she was in his apartment, or house, or whatever. So that doesn’t hold up at all.

Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.

That is not true. See above.

And so, with no formal allegations, no formal complaints, no complaints, not one, to the HR department at the CBC (they told us they’d done a thorough check and were satisfied), and no charges, I have lost my job based on a campaign of vengeance. Two weeks after the death of my beautiful father I have been fired from the CBC because of what I do in my private life.
I have loved the CBC. The Q team are the best group of people in the land. My colleagues and producers and on-air talent at the CBC are unparalleled in being some of the best in the business. I have always tried to be a good soldier and do a good job for my country. I am still in shock. But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard. And to bring an end to the nightmare.

News on the CBC’s ongoing internal investigation.

This is a fantastic example of the pity-the-abusers story that gets trotted out whenever someone with a promising career is charged with abuse. See: Ray Rice, Steubenville football stars. Their “nightmare,” their suffering, is invoked as if it compares in any way with the suffering of their victims. It does not.

There are two possibilities here that I can see:

Jian Ghomeshi is telling the truth, despite the inconsistencies in his account. Three women plus a freelance journalist are out to get him. They went to his boss and complained. The boss, despite excellent legal and HR teams and a history of dealing with sex in more progressive ways, decided to fire their highest-grossing staff, even knowing that he was going to sue and that they had no real cause. At that point, another four women came forward, and the same rumours that have circulated about him for years–even where I am, and my connection to the Canadian arts scene isn’t even cobwebby, more where a cobweb strand might be if a spider decided to spin it–have become something like public knowledge. But it’s all a conspiracy.

Or Jian Ghomeshi is a liar and an abuser.

You are entitled to come to your own opinion, of course.

As am I.

Contrary to what you may believe, my brain is not a courtroom, and I am not obliged to apply the same reasoning to my opinions as judges do when making legal findings. “Innocent until proven guilty” applies to the legal system, not whether or not I like someone, or find him credible.


The Royal Botanical Gardens is an extra treat for those of us who live nearby; it has the gardens, yes, but also many kilometres of hiking trails through nature preserves and active nature education programs for artists, adults, kids and families. Naturally Frances has been a constant attender of the daycamps since we moved here a few years back. This past weekend we took advantage of the other programs and attended their Fun with Fireflies evening.

The RBG staff started with a presentation on fireflies (fun fact #1: fireflies aren’t flies. They’re beetles) a few games outside while waiting for the sun to set; then we set off on a short walk to the shore to see if we could find any fireflies, bug nets in hand.

Did we ever. There were hundreds of them, twinkling in the trees like a fair city. Frances didn’t manage to net any, but I did get one exceptionally blurry photograph.


Besides stalking fireflies in the woods in the dark, which was pretty fun, I loved learning about their deceitfulness. No, really. They use their flashing butts to talk to each other and find mates of their own species, as you probably already knew. But females will also use the flashing patterns of females of other species to lure in those males, and then eat them (yes, fireflies can be cannibalistic). And, in a lovely mind-bending twist, the males will sometimes use the flashing pattners of females of other species who are pretending to be his species in order to convince the males of their own species that they are in imminent danger of being eaten, to frighten them away, so they can have the territory and the females to themselves. Amazing.

Fireflies are declining in numbers and becoming endangered, due likely to light pollution (hard to talk to each other when they are being washed out by streetlights everywhere) and habitat loss. If you’d like to learn about how you can help them, or about the different species of fireflies, check out You can even contribute your firefly sightings to help scientists further their research into these important and beautiful insects.

Failing Better is Still Failing

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner released the annual update report on provincial progress on greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is, we are not failing as badly as we were. Our greenhouse gas emissions are falling provincially, largely due to decommissioning coal electricity plants.


The bad news is, we are still failing. We are still above our 2014 target of 166 Mt, and considerably above the 2020 target of 150 Mt, with no clear plan in place for how we intend to bridge that gap. In fact, the ECO is predicting that GHG emissions will rise as the nuclear plants are refurbished and the electricity demand gap is met by natural gas. As well, while we have done an excellent, back-patting-worthy job of reducing emissions over the past approximately 10 years, forecasts past 2020 predict a rise in GHG emissions to 190 Mt by 2030.

You can practically hear the poor guy banging his head on his desk in frustration in the report.

It’s brief and well-written, so I’d encourage everyone to take a look and see where we are, and where we’re headed. A few key points:

  • Road transportation, and particularly private vehicles, are the largest source of emissions in the province (58 & 45 Mt respectively). In order to meet GHG targets, we must fund public transit, including the Big Move proposed by Metrolinx. I’ll add this, though it shouldn’t need to be said: Nothing is free, and we’ll either pay for this now through increased transit funding or later through climate change adaptation costs, and any half-qualified economist will tell you that the future costs of dealing with climate change make that $470/household/year Big Move projection (already offset by congestion savings of $1600/household/year) look like a fruit fly on an elephant. Just get over it, and pay up.
  • Industry emits 49.6 Mt. Ontario has been putting out policy papers on establishing an Ontario cap-and-trade system to bring that number down and put a price on carbon for four years now. It is time to move beyond policy papers, and actually put something into action.
  • Buildings emit 31.7 Mt–a high number, but one that has remained about the same while the total number of buildings continues to rise. The ECO attributes this to the 2006 Ontario Building Code, which explicitly considers greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of “the most progressive in North America.”

To put it in context:


Ontario produces fewer Mt/person than most Canadian provinces–which is good, but in a global context still makes this one of the most wasteful places to live. And our emissions are on the right track. We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

The atmosphere refuses to be pragmatic. It’s a geological and chemical process that will react to inputs, regardless of how desirable the outcomes are or how politically feasible the solutions may be. It will not negotiate with us. Or in other words, while we are improving, and that’s good, we are still failing by a wide margin. We can and we should do better.

may apples

The may apples are finally blooming–now that it’s almost June, thanks I’m guessing to the chilly spring. I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing, though …

1305_rail trail hike_016

…since when they bloom, they look like this. Go ahead. Find them!

A large field of flat-topped five-lobbed leaves, and underneath every plant with two leaves, growing from the joint between them…

1305_rail trail hike_016  text

… one hard, waxy, white flower with a bright yellow centre.

As is common with other spring ephemerals (trilliums, trout lilies, bloodroot, etc.), may apples reproduce both sexually (through the flowers & fruits) and asexually (by spreading roots underground and forming colonies). The colonies can be quite large so while it is difficult to see the flowers when they’re blooming, it’s impossible to miss the leaves! And if you scootch down on the ground and take a peak beneath, you’ll see dozens blooming all at once, a whole dimly-lit wonderland of lovely ivory flowers.

1305_rail trail hike_009

Later in the summer they’ll become small fruits, which are not poisonous if eaten when ripe in small quantities. The leaves and roots, however, are toxic, although First Nations would use the extracts to treat stomach aches.

May apples are another way nature has to reward those who are willing to take their time and really look. No one ever saw a may apple, while distractedly rushing through the woods.

Public Participation, Petro-State Style

I am sitting here this afternoon with a copy of the National Energy Board’s Application Form to Participate, for the upcoming Enbridge pipeline reversal to carry tar sands oil through Ontario, and specifically through my community. The Government of Canada, in order to streamline environmental approvals for tar sands projects, now requires people to fill in an application to participate in the public consultation process. No more can you show up and just start talking to people because you’re a citizen in a democracy and you care about what happens. As of now, if you can’t demonstrate in writing a direct impact on your own personal life and/or special expertise in the subject under question, your participation is neither wanted nor required and will not be allowed.

If I (or you or anyone else) want a chance to participate, we must complete and submit this application form to Enbridge–yes, that’s the proponent–by April 19th.

From the Application Form:

Page 2: “If you need support to fill out this form, please contact the Process Advisor. … The Process Advisor cannot tell you what content you should provide on the form. It is your responsibility to demonstrate that you should be allowed to participate.”

Wow. You know, if a proponent under the Ontario process were to try pulling something like this, their project would never be approved. A citizen must demonstrate to a corporate entity that they should have the democratic right to participate in an environmental assessment process?

Page 5: “If available, please provide documentation with your application that supports your qualifications or describes the source of your relevant information (for example, a curriculum vitae, a reference letter, description of your relevant experience, etc.).”

Yes, that is correct. If you want to claim special expertise relevant to the public consultation process, you must submit supporting documentation, including a resume.

Page 6: “NOTE: The Board will not consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of the oil sands [sic], or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.”

The entire project is about the tar sands; the pipeline in question currently carries natural gas from east to west, and is going to be reversed to carry tar sands dilbit from west to east. How can you talk about whether or not this project is acceptable without talking about the tar sands? That’s like having an environmental assessment for a highway expansion and ruling out, from the start, any discussion of the environmental impacts of cars or alternatives to private transportation.

In the case of the pipeline, by ruling out the tar sands, you’ve limited any discussion of environmental impacts to pipeline spills. Not nothing, to be sure, but also not the important part. Which, if Canadians had any chance to weigh in on tar sands development in any other forum, wouldn’t be so offensive. But we don’t. The Government of Canada is going to develop the tar sands, come hell, high water, oil supply gluts* or, what’s more likely, all three at once.

I’m sure the NEB and Enbridge think this is going to save them all kinds of time. By eliminating 99% of the people who would like to participate in the hearings, it sure will be a lot more streamlined–to the point of being a slam-dunk for Enbridge; I’ve never heard of a project being turned down because you might have a hydrocarbon spill–and I’ll bet you they won’t have to deal with anyone showing up for a public meeting and standing in the front row screaming threats at the panel. Just my guess.

But say, wouldn’t it be fun if, before they got the slam-dunk streamlined review process, they had to wade through about 5,000 application forms first?


*There is so much oil being produced in the tar sands right now that a supply glut is requiring producers to sell their product significantly below market value–$80 instead of $120. So not only is Canada destroying the environment to produce a fossil fuel with enormous social and ecological impacts lasting over a geological time scale, but we’re doing it at a discount because the product is not currently needed. I’m sure an economist can fill me in here on the wisdom of the free market in this regard and how it is effortlessly taking care of our true needs.

Nearby Nature: wildlife vet

Frances wants to be a wildlife vet when she grows up.

Until recently, it was just plain vet, from her lifelong fascination with animals of all kinds. You can imagine how excited she was when I told her that “wildlife vet” is a real job, not just some pie-in-the-sky fantasy she dreamed up.

On the weekend, she got to practice when a baby bird got itself tangled up in our thorny rosebush.

A cluster of little girls gathered at my back as I carefully cut out the rose branches keeping the little bird pinned, and carried it out to freedom, where it promptly began hopping towards the road. “Oh no, little bird,” I said, heading it off and picking it up. “Should we take it into the backyard, where it will be safe?”

“Yes!” chorused the girls.

I put it down on a rock in the back garden–where I took the picture–and then, probably panicking at the aggressively nurturing group of girls surrounding it, it hopped right into the poppy garden, and we didn’t see it again. Its almost-mothers, bereft to a one, spent a few hours carefully listening, calling, peeking through the poppy stems, and reading through my bird field guide in hopes of luring it out and caring for it again. What disappointed them most, I believe, was that the bird wasn’t properly injured and they couldn’t tuck it into a homemade nest and coo over it for a couple of weeks. (Lucky bird.)

But it’s cute, eh? And, as Frances joyfully reminded all of her friends and her father for at least 24 hours, she got to be a wildlife vet!


Outdoor adventures have changed from Frances’s early years, as our skull walk also demonstrated. The world is a big, exciting place to be explored, and at the same time a big, terrifying place to be protected from. When she was a baby or toddler or even kindergartener, we’d say, “Look!” and she’d look. Often at what we pointed to–the mountain range, the cactus, the elephant, the big tree with the oddly shaped branches–but just as often she’d look at the squirrel or seagull or pebble or something else closer to hand and more accessible. Looking seemed perfectly satisfactory. Now she explores and interacts; nature is something to put in her hands, wrestle with, clamber over. It’s a wonderful phase, though somewhat exhausting.

After spending last weekend with The Nature Principle, I’ve spent this week reading through the first half of Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors, by David Sobel (he of ecophobia fame). He discusses the different phases of children’s adventures outdoors quite extensively. Unlike my other kids-and-nature books, it’s more memoir and less manual. I expect to like the second half as much as I liked the first–in which case, you can expect to see a glowing review here in the next few weeks.

Six Months In to the Green Energy Act and Ontario Regulation 359/09

An excellent vantage point, but not much of a view.

The most exciting part of working under a new piece of legislation is that no one, and that includes the people who wrote it, knows what it means yet.

So far what it means is a whole lot more work under a process that was meant to streamline things–but never mind. The learning curve is so steep we’re using grappling hooks and pulleys to climb it.

Ontario, you may remember, had that horrendous summer blackout in 2003, along with most of the northeastern United States. That blackout resulted in part from decades of mismanagement of Ontario’s electricity system: no new construction to keep pace with the exponential growth in population or demand, or to replace aging and fragile generation or interconnection infrastructure. You know how your cell phone can burn out in about six months? And a toaster or a kettle will work for a couple of years, maybe a decade? Our electricity infrastructure also has a shelf life, and in order to keep the cost of Ontario’s electricity to consumers artificially low, for decades, successive governments did absolutely nothing about it.*

We import electricity from elsewhere, which would be fine if the transmission system were up to date and functioning well, but it isn’t. A lot of the electricity we import is coal-generation, and while Ontario has an abundance of hydro power thanks to our large rivers, it is tapped out. Moreover, old-style hydro generation has enormous environmental costs. If you’ve ever had any concerns about the impacts of wind turbines on birds, consider that fish cannot swim around water turbines.

Anyway. Basically, despite our huge hydro capacity, we depend on coal generation transmitted through an ageing and faltering system, leaving us vulnerable to blackouts and problems with supply and killing hundreds of Ontarians each year** from air pollution. Conservation is huge. It has by far the greatest potential contribution to our energy woes. We should absolutely conserve as much as we can, and due to our conservation efforts (plus the recession) Ontario’s electricity demand was the lowest in 2009 since 1997.



Conservation alone will not allow us to turn those coal plants off.

And we need to turn the coal plants off, because they’re killing people. Not to mention destroying the environment via global climate change.

In order to turn the coal plants off, we need new, non-polluting electricity generation. We need it NOW. Actually, we need it fifteen years ago. But it didn’t happen fifteen years ago, in part because a) renewable electricity doesn’t pay enough to make it worthwhile to build, and b) the Environmental Assessments required to get permission to build it took too long and were too expensive.*** The Green Energy Act attempted to fix the former by establishing Feed-In Tariffs, or fixed rates for electricity produced by various renewable means (for large-scale wind, the price is $0.135/kwh), over 20 year contracts. Ontario Regulation 359/09 attempted to fix the latter by creating the Renewable Energy Approval process, meant to streamline and simplify Environmental Assessments. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way, but that’s a post for another day.

If you read the newspapers, and in particular the National Post and Toronto Sun, which seem to make careers out of taking potshots at anything anybody else does without ever proposing solutions of their own, you’ll read–frequently, and perhaps daily–about how we can’t afford the FIT rates for electricity. In fact, we can’t afford not to. This is counter-intuitive, I know–why is $0.056/kwh for coal too expensive, and $0.135/kwh for wind dirt cheap?

Because coal doesn’t cost $0.056/kwh.

(And nuclear doesn’t cost $0.086/kwh–this one easily dismissed, since that lovely stranded debt charge that shows up every month on your hydro statement relates directly to the substantial cost over-runs of Ontario’s current nuclear fleet. In fact last year when the Ontario government tried to commission new private nuclear investment, they found that no company was willing to undertake it for close to what the government planned to pay.)

Because coal kills workers. Thousands of people die every year from mining, transporting, refining and burning coal at power plants–69 in 2007 in the United States alone. You don’t pay for that. Meanwhile China is bragging that “only” 2,631 people died in their coal mines in 2009. I could not uncover a global statistic, but you can believe the total number of people who die just from the coal mining–not including black lung disease, not including injuries, not including refining, processing, transporting and burning–is substantial. And, for you, the end consumer, free!

Because coal sickens and kills Ontarians. We pay billions of dollars every year in health care costs for people with asthma–doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, lost days at work and school. And hundreds of those people will die, many of them children. A 2004 study by Daniel Kammen & Sergio Pacca, published in the Annual Review of Environmental Resources, found that when deaths and illnesses were factored in to the price of coal-fired generation, the price per kilowatt hour was fifty cents. That is ten times what you pay. Again–forty-five cents worth per kilowatt hour of injury, illness, disease and mortality is, for you, the end consumer, free.**** (Or so you think.)

Air pollution doesn’t just trigger asthma, it causes asthma. A recent well-publicized study shows that decreased smoking in Canada over the past few decades has led to a decrease in asthma among Canada’s children. Smoking is not the only form of air pollution that causes asthma. Outdoor athletes are far more likely to suffer from asthma than indoor couch potatoes, contrary to what you might assume, because they are far more exposed to air pollution.

Coal mining, refining and burning destroys the environment. The tops of mountains are blasted off. Rivers are filled with toxic sludge. Entire forests disappear. You don’t pay for any of that on your hydro bill–but you should.

You do not pay for the carbon output of coal on your hydro bill. Your kids get to pay that one, in the form of a dangerous climate.

The price of coal-fired electricity on your hydro bill reflects only a tiny percentage of the actual cost. It is heavily, absurdly subsidized by all levels of government, in order to placate consumers. You pay for coal-fired electricity in your hydro bill, and also in your tax support to Health Canada, the Ministry of Health, Environment Canada, to the Ministry of Environment, to the Ministry of Natural Resources, to your local Public Health Unit, and on and on. You just don’t know how much.

At $0.0135/kwh for wind, you are paying for everything. That cost reflects the total, as it factors in the environmental assessment and any requried post-construction mitigation for impacts to wildlife. There is no mining, no processing, no transporting, and no burning.  No one dies in a Wind Mine accident. No explosions. No blasted mountaintops, no ruined rivers. No kids in the hospital with asthma. No deaths. No hospital visits. No smog advisories. No kids kept inside on beautiful sunny days because the air will hurt them. And no ruined climate jeapordizing the future of human civilization.

All of that is included in the 13.5c/kwh for wind projects in Ontario under the FIT program.

It’s a bargain.


*This is like keeping your housing costs down by refusing to fix the leaky roof; in the long term, you won’t just need to replace the roof, but the walls, the floors, and all your stuff, from water damage. The motivation is clear enough: Ontario and nearby provinces and states were manufacturing powerhouses; keeping electricity prices low was a way to compete for factories and jobs. This has backfired and needs to be addressed–not least because it didn’t work, and caused Ontario to lag behind jurisdictions with higher electricity prices in both standard of living and productivity.

**249 in Ontario in 2009, despite our coal electricity generation being at the lowest level since 1945

***Ask anyone in the business of renewable energy how they feel about needing to conduct expensive, multi-year environmental assessments to build solar- or wind-farms to SAVE the planet when private developers can slap up a subdivision or an office tower without so much as a by-your-leave, when office towers are the leading cause of human-related death for migratory birds and both represent colossal wastes of energy and resources.

**** Their study found that the total price of wind was less than ten cents/kwh with human health costs factored in.

Pauline Browes on the Rouge National Park

Frances in the Rouge Park in January 2009

I wrote this story last winter after having been introduced to Pauline Browes at the Sustainability Forum in February at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. (Which, incidentally, is beautiful in the winter and totally worth a visit.) It ran in Phil Goodwin’s E-Don, a newsletter for the East Don Parkland Partners, a group I volunteer with and have written about before. If you’re interested in Don River issues you can find and friend the group on FaceBook.

I do a bit of volunteer writing that will probably find a home here from time to time. Volunteer writing is fun, but I’ve been trying to find this story a home with a wider readership for a while now. Alas, no luck so far. So here it is for you, Dear Readers; and if an editor wants to bite, send me a note!


The Rouge Park, Canada’s largest urban wilderness park at over 11,500 acres, with its well-preserved Carolinian forest, native Heritage Sites and agricultural communities, is a historic and environmental treasure within Canada. But because of its many-layered ownership (portions are owned by the Town of Markham, City of Toronto, Ontario and the federal government through Transport Canada) and idiosyncratic management under the Rouge Park Alliance rather than a single government body, it has not always been well-protected or promoted. The Rouge Park Alliance commissioned a consultant study in 2009 to outline and recommend the best option for protecting and promoting this resource; received early in 2010, it recommended that the Rouge be made into Canada’s first and North America’s largest urban wilderness National Park. Andrea McDowell sat down with Hon. Pauline Browes, a member of the Rouge Park Alliance and Director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust Corporation, to talk about the Park, the report’s recommendations and next steps.

Andrea: Let’s start with the history of the Rouge Park and the Rouge Park Alliance.

Pauline: It goes back to the early 80s when Save the Rouge Valley System, an organization of volunteers, formed to have the Rouge from Steeles to the Lake saved as a park. I stepped into this at the time, I was an elected member and they asked, what can the federal government do to help? I said, the province owns the land, I’m not sure, but leave it with me, I’m very keen about this being saved as a park. I was parliamentary secretary at the time to the Minister of Environment. The province was not happy about the federal government stepping in because they owned the land so the provincial government said it’s nice that the federal government says this should be saved but what about some money. Well, I got the minister to announce $10m for the Rouge and so that was in the late 80s that we got that.

David Crombie in 1995 announced the structure of what we call the Rouge Park Alliance, which is representatives of the municipalities within the watershed as well as the provincial and federal government, representatives from the NGO Save the Rouge Valley System. The present current park goes from Lake Ontario to Steeles, which is the Toronto part, and then from Steeles up to 16th Ave which is part of Markham.

When David Crombie set this up in 95, he said this would be an interim basis, and that in 3 or 4 or 5 years the structure would be reviewed to see how it should be. And we’ve had a lot of meetings over the years, but never been able to come up with anything that actually took hold. Just this past year, it was very evident that we needed to have a different governance model, and we needed more financing. And we needed to have a legal entity for this, because right now there’s no legal entity. Toronto does some stuff, Markham does some stuff, the Conservation Authority—I mean, it’s amazing that we’ve been able to accomplish as much as we have. So in the spring we engaged a consultant to review governance, come up with a model, and come up with the financing. And though we have done this in the past over 15 years, what we put forth to the consultant, we needed to have something that we thought would actually be able to work. Our consultant has been in contact with both the provincial and the federal government as well as the municipalities to review the prospective models. They have come up with the model of the national park.

A: What is the authority and the mandate of the current Rouge Park Alliance?

P: Well, that’s the crux of this problem. The mandate is to protect and preserve the watershed. We’ve had a major study of the Rouge watershed, we have a Rouge management plan for south of Steeles, we have a Rouge North Management Plan, but there is no legal entity for this. And this is why we need to have one level of government to step forward to be the lead on this. This report has said the best model would be the federal government. But we know that it doesn’t fit perfectly into the National Parks Act. So it’s going to be a hybrid of a national park, just like the marine parks.

A: The report mentioned that there some competing visions for how the park could look. What are some of the other options?

P: The park itself is one that needs to be discussed in terms of what are the uses here, are there some recreational uses that need to come in here …. This is such a treasure because it’s a wilderness area surrounded by 7 million people, and we want to keep it in this natural state. We also want to be able to preserve the agricultural lands. And agricultural lands that particularly are in the federal lands, the expropriated lands from the [Pickering] airport. This is excess expropriated lands that will not be needed for an airport even if it did go ahead. Also, there are some very interesting heritage homes buildings within the area. There are two national historic sites already established in the Rouge. One is an aboriginal burial ground, which is called Bead Hill, and the other is Carrying Place Trail. The aboriginal aspect of the Rouge is significant to celebrate, and so all that needs to be taken into consideration.

The other thing that’s really important to do is to have an interpretive centre. Right now, if I have friends come to visit me, and I say you should go and see the Rouge when you’re in the GTA, it’s absolutely magnificent. And they say, well where do I go? Every national park has an interpretive centre, even Bruce’s Mills and Conservation Areas have interpretive centres. So people can go to the interpretive centre, find out about this, where the trails are, look at the pictures, have interactive kind of stuff there, and then go from there.

A: What are some of the other main advantages of the national park model?

P: The Carolinian forest is one of Canada’s most endangered ecozones, and the Carolinian forest in the Rouge is one of the last and this is of national significance. It’s been stated that there are 15 nationally rare and endangered species in the Rouge. This area would be a tremendous ecotourism destination for the GTA and for Ontario. It would be a huge win all the way around in the public interest.

To be in the GTA and in to and take one transit ticket and you’re in a national park—I mean, I don’t know how many people are able to get to a national park so easily. If this can go ahead, this will be the largest wilderness park in an urban area in North America.

A: How do you see that process going forward?

P: We’ve had this report for 30 days, so in the next 30 days we’re going to be hearing back from our partners, all the municipal folks who are sitting as members of the Rouge Park Alliance, asking them to comment on the report. And we’ve been urging the federal government and the provincial government to begin negotiations. They have said they want to wait until this report is out. So now the report is out, now we’re going to hear back from the partners, and so we would hope that the players, the federal and the provincial government would then sit down and discuss this.

For more information on the Rouge Park, to volunteer or to read the consultant report, visit . A companion website to promote the National Park concept has been set up at .