Saturday, December 31, 2011

London Children's Museum New Years

The London Children's Museum in London, Ontario is a gas. It is even greater fun if you're a kid. My wife and I took Fiona there yesterday when I learned that they were celebrating the new year 12 hours early for the children.

It was great fun. There was music, and dancing kids, and balloons --- lots and lots of balloons. Fiona's first balloon broke and she this really upset her. An older girl heard her distress and graciously gave Fiona her balloon. Fiona wiped her tears and whispered, "Thank you."

The latest display at the museum is My Arctic Discovery. Fiona loved it. The inukshuk display encouraged kids to build their own inukshuk. The little black blocks that Fiona is admiring are made of light, black plastic foam and the sculptures were done earlier by other children. Soon Fiona was making her own "stone" sculpture.

When I was in Iqaluit a few years ago, the Inuit told me that inukshuks were often used to mark trails across the arctic wilderness.

How busy was the museum on the last day of the year? Busy. I took a picture of the cars parked along the street half a kilometre from the museum. There was not a parking spot available anywhere near the museum. I guess kids love celebrating new years early.

Fences up, security guards in place

The fences are up and the security guards are in place. The Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario shows every sign of hunkering down for an ugly strike or a nasty lock-out. EMD makes diesel-electric locomotives and has made them in London since 1950.

Until 2005, the plant was part of the Electro-Motive Diesel division of General Motors. It was then that GM sold the entire company to an equity investment group for $201 million. They actually did a good job running the operation and flipped the company to Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., for $810 million just last year.

Caterpillar has a well-earned reputation as a powerful, and successful, union buster. Progress Rail is essentially a non-union company. The unionized EMD workers have been asked to accept a cut of more than 50 percent in wages, slashed benefits and put their pensions on the table.

Many see this not as an offer but as a gauntlet being thrown at the feet of the skilled workforce. The workers have responded by giving the CAW a strike mandate with a 404 to nine vote held Friday.

The question is will the company demand that the workers, returning after Christmas break, accept a cut in pay of 50 percent? If this happens, a strike is sure to ensue. Or will the company simply lock out the staff?

Many of the affected are skilled workers. They can leave London for work in the oil-rich western provinces. The older workers, facing retirement in a few short years, will be left with concerns for their pensions. And the City of London, already reeling from the recent recession and the loss of jobs, will lose another 2000 jobs if the plant closes, if one counts the jobs in the community that are only there to support the plant.

With an unemployment rate hitting almost 10 percent, this Southwestern Ontario city cannot afford to have this plant sit empty. Will the city rally behind their friends and neighbours, the EMD workers, or will the workers stand alone while Caterpillar strips them of their income?

Some have written that Cat is also trying to strip the workers of their dignity. I don't know that I agree. But dignity has certainly been lost here, and it is Caterpillar's. Sad.

I've posted two stories on this to the Digital Journal. These can be found here and here. Click the links.

The local paper, The London Free Press, also has some excellent reports. The ones by Jonathan Sher are especially good.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper once used as the backdrop for a photo-op. The PM toured the plant and briefly chatted with some of the 900 employees then employed there. The number is now down to about 700.

Harper used his stop at EMD to make an announcement on his government's efforts to make Canadian manufacturers competitive in a global marketplace. The London Free Press reports Harper proclaimed, "Ontario is the heart, it is still the engine of the Canadian economy. There's no reason the Ontario economy can't be as strong as the economy in any other part of this country." To spur growth, a $1-billion tax break for Canadian industry was announced.

If the Electro-Motive story plays out as poorly as many believe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be looking for a new photo-op back-drop in London. A deserted factory, devoid of workers, will not convey the right message --- but it would be an accurate one.

The Electro-Motive Diesel plant is down for the holidays. Will it re-open on schedule?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

'twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring . . . well O.K., one creature was stirring: Fiona.

Here's wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. If this isn't quite right for you, hey, I do hope you have a great time over the holiday season.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Eastern wild Turkey

It has been almost three decades since the eastern wild turkey was re-introduced to Southwestern Ontario. Before Europeans settled in the area, these large birds thrived in the forests. About a hundred years ago the species  disappeared due to unregulated hunting and the loss of native forests.

On the way home from the neighbourhood supermarket I noticed a number of turkeys in a field near my home. Under the glow of the setting sun, I grabbed a shot of one member of the grazing flock.

Today there are some 70,000 wild turkeys living across southern Ontario. Active during the day, the wild birds roost at night to avoid predators. In residential areas, it is not uncommon for turkeys to be found in suburban backyards, attracted by the seed that blankets the ground beneath backyard bird feeders.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First good dusting of snow for London, Ontario

The first decent snowfall has dusted London, Ontario. The light snow, when hit by the afternoon sun, reveals hidden patterns. The above is the result of snow-hidden paving stones. The ridges are caused by bulging moss.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Time in Canada

It is December 6th and time to get the Christmas tree up and decorated. Like many Canadians, we have an artificial tree. We have had it for years and it is developing a rich patina of memories. Tonight we burnished the patina. We let little Fiona, our 27-month-old granddaughter help decorate the tree.

When our daughters were young, we always had a real tree. The home filled with the wonderful aroma of a real fir tree. That part was nice. Then there were the not so nice bits: The fallen needles, the jammed vacuum cleaner, the carpet stained from the spilled mix of water and sap, and the trunk of our car filled with so many evergreen needles that we never got them all out.

Real trees are nice but artificial ones can be nice too. The memories that attach themselves to those ersatz branches are anything but phony. The memories are the real deal.