Avoiding weeks of misery = flu shot
One the most frequently-read articles on my old MPP web site was always my annual post on getting the flu shot. Click or touch here to read it. I had never had the flu shot prior to being first elected in 2003. Over the years, I saw what a difference getting the flu shot makes. I get my own flu shot each autumn as soon as it is available. This year, the pharmacist at Rexall at Thomas Street and Winston Churchill administered my flu shot.
The annual winter surge in hospital admissions is almost completely driven by influenza cases. The peak time for the flu to lay waste to your health is from December to March. You can reduce your risk to almost zero with a free flu shot.
The flu shot works! But…
- You need to be healthy when you get your flu shot. As early in autumn as you can, and while you are healthy, get the flu shot;
- The flu shot requires some time, in most people a week or two, before your immune system benefits from it. Get your flu shot early;
- You need the flu shot each and every year. Getting the flu shot sporadically through a decade isn’t the powerful protection that an annual flu shot offers;
- Make sure each and every person in your household, especially children and seniors, get the flu shot.
Don’t put off the flu shot. Go into nearly any pharmacy, and ask for your flu shot. It is free. All you need is your OHIP card.
The ‘foundation’ ID documents everyone needs
As an MPP, I discovered to my shock and horror how many adults, especially those who are older, and those struggling with poverty, simply lacked the identification to show they were who they are, and lived where they did. It cost them money. It cost them the opportunity to vote. It lessened them as people. And it is easy to fix.
Here are the ID documents every person needs to have:
- Your Ontario Driver’s License or Ontario Photo ID;
- A birth certificate from the province or country where you were born;
- An up-to-date Ontario Health Card;
- A Canadian Passport;
- A Presto Card for transit;
- A bank card allowing you access to your account at a teller machine;
- If you were born abroad:
- Your Canadian landing papers;
- Your permanent residency card.
Older adults, especially retirees, are at severe risk of not having their set of ID documents up-to-date. Family members ought to ensure they check whether their parents and grandparents have their foundation identification documents, know where they are, and understand how and when to use them.
Every adult needs either an Ontario Driver’s License or an Ontario Photo ID card. You cannot have both. Think of the Photo Card as the Ontario ‘non-drivers’ drivers’ license. You need this piece of ID to vote, to board an aircraft for a domestic flight, to get a library card, or to prove who you are at your bank. You should always carry this card.
Your birth certificate
This is your first essential piece of identification. Many older Canadians have only a certificate of baptism. That document is no longer valid for proving you are who you say you are. You cannot apply for a passport without a government-issued birth certificate. You seldom need to have your birth certificate with you, but you should carefully store this document (with your passport) in a safe place.
Your Ontario Health Card
To receive coverage from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, you need an up-to-date plastic health card, with your picture on it, issued by ServiceOntario. See this page on my web site for more information on how to get an OHIP photo card. The old red-and-white card should no longer be used, and should be upgraded immediately at a ServiceOntario location. You should always carry this card.
There is no reason not to have a passport. You cannot leave Canada without one. Though this is perhaps the only ‘optional’ piece of ID in the list, because you don’t have to leave Canada, it is a document every Canadian ought to have in the 21st century.
A Presto Card
If you live in the Greater Toronto Area or in the Ottawa area, public transit is moving to adopt the Presto Card. Once you have the Presto Card, here are your benefits:
- You never need to worry if you have exact change to ride public transit;
- After you get it, and pay the one-time activation fee, the Presto Card doesn’t cost anything on an annual basis, to carry no matter how many or few times you use it;
- You only pay for the transit services you use, and you always get the best transit fare possible.
Additionally, families can empower their parents and grandparents by linking their own credit or debit card to their parents’ or grandparents’ Presto Card, enabling them to do what you want them to do: get out more. Gift suggestion: buy your folks, or your grandparents, a Presto Card. As a Presto Card holder, you should always carry this card.
A Canadian bank card
All adults need an account with a Canadian bank or credit union. You need a credit history. You need to be able to have social security, government income tax rebates, and salary cheques automatically deposited. You need an account to be able to save money. Don’t be part of the under-the-table, cash society. Have a bank account, and learn to responsibly use your bank card, and/or credit card. You should always carry this card.
Your Canadian landing papers and PR card
If you were born outside Canada, you (or your parents) received your Canadian landing papers when you first came to Canada. For those born outside Canada, this document is as important as your birth certificate. Keep it in the safe place you keep your passport and your birth certificate. Your Permanent Residency Card (PR Card) proves you are legally entitled to reside in Canada. If you or your parents or grandparents were born outside Canada, and haven’t got your landing papers and PR Card now, make the effort, and locate those very valuable documents. If you are not yet a Canadian citizen, travel outside Canada, and don’t have your PR Card, you won’t be allowed back in.
How do you and your family rate?
Take an evening, and see if you have all the above identification cards. How about your children and grandchildren? More importantly, how about your parents and grandparents, or those you care about? Be prepared to be horrified at what you find out when you begin to ask those around you.
The trans Canada energy corridor we need to build
Survey data shows half of all Canadians support the Trans Mountain pipeline. Canadians instinctively grasp the need and the wisdom of linking what powers our economy, as well as what it produces.
The first corridor across Canada was the Canadian Pacific Railway, to move people. Over the decades, the railway was augmented by roads. Long-haul people movement has mostly gravitated to the air; short-distance travel to the roads. Railways today mostly move freight and natural resources east-west, linking producers and consumers.
After moving people, freight, agricultural products, wood and minerals, comes energy: overwhelmingly oil, gas and electricity. These strategic Canadian resources originate far from where they are consumed and lack a Canadian east-west corridor.
It makes little sense to burn oil (in locomotives) to move oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan producers, to western shipping ports and eastern refineries, where it is converted to usable products. The least-risky, and lowest-cost way to move the oil and gas Canadians will produce, consume, and need for generations is through a dedicated pipeline. Canada needs that ‘energy railway’ to ship Canadian oil and gas to Pacific markets and expand existing pipeline capacity to central Canada markets.
Long-term, sustainable economic development means not the reduction of carbon emissions to zero, but to carbon emissions below the ability of the surrounding environment to rapidly absorb them.
Urban transit’s steady shift from oil to other fuels, such as electricity, natural gas, and hydrogen won’t displace oil, nor should it. Oil will power inter-regional and interprovincial transit and shipping, aircraft, heavy machinery, commercial, industrial and construction equipment. Oil will still be used for plastics, lubricants and other applications. Natural gas will heat existing homes for generations.
To replace oil, urban transportation and other applications will shift to electricity. Nearly 85 percent of Ontario’s electricity comes from Candu nuclear reactors and hydroelectric dams, mostly generated far from where it is consumed. Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nova Scotia will shift their electricity generation fuel from coal to renewables, and possibly nuclear. The pan-Canadian challenge lies in sharing power generation capacity for its efficient use, and not ‘stranding’ electricity because it can’t be transmitted to where it is needed.
Few Canadians realize there is no high-capacity electricity corridor to transmit electricity between western and eastern Canada through Canadian territory. A utility executive once summed up the Manitoba-to-Ontario electricity transmission capacity issue to me as “trying to power your house by sending electricity through a piano wire.” Manitoba has an electricity capacity surplus. Getting Manitoba power to southern Ontario, mostly for summer peak needs, means re-routing electricity south of the Great Lakes, through the USA, before connecting back into the Ontario power grid.
We need to send oil and gas back and forth between eastern and western Canada and transmit electricity in both directions.
Internal politics was a factor in building the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 19th century. Post-Confederation in the 1860s and 1870s, the Government of Canada saw a victorious Union army that was the equal of any European army of its day move west across the Mississippi River to knit together the east and west coasts of the United States across the prairies. What, they wondered in Ottawa, was to stop the U.S. Army from turning north and taking what is now western Canada?
America was exhausted, physically and financially, by the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. A third war with Britain within a century wasn’t a risk that the U.S. Congress of that day would entertain or could afford. But fear of that potential invasion was one of the forces that spurred Canada to draw people to the west and stitch the new country together with an iron road.
Canada’s indigenous nations need a 21st century energy corridor to broaden their economic engagement with Canada and the provinces. Public ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline means Canadian federal and provincial governments can do with oil, gas and electricity what Canadians did with people, freight, agricultural products and natural resources. A trans-Canada energy corridor is a national and not a regional priority, as strategic to Canada’s long-term well-being in the 21st century as a transcontinental railway was in the 19th.
Rule-of-law first; money afterward
Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, whose daughter, Meng Wanzhou, is accused of a breach of the law in Canada and the USA invites Canadians to abandon the rule of law, and “join us and prosper.” This tacit admission of the substance of the allegations against Huawei is as astonishing as his tone-deaf entreaty to Canada. Join Huawei in what, exactly? The creation of a surveillance state? The ability to take and use others’ intellectual property or personal information? The precedence of rule-by-dictator or rule-by-political-party over rule-of-law? Absolutely not! For someone who claims to have spent so much time in Canada, Ren Zhengfei just doesn’t get a fundamental fact of western-style democracy. Let’s try a very simple explanation.
You either believe in the rule of law, or you don’t. If you do, you either abide by the rule of law or you don’t. If you don’t believe in the rule of law, or don’t abide by it, then you are just another regressive state where entrenched politicians rule by whim or fiat, people have few rights and freedoms, and judges do as they are told by a dictator. Canada believes in the rule of law, and abides by the principle. That is why Mr. Ren’s daughter cannot leave Canada unless and until the allegations against her are dealt with in courts that are independent of politics in Canada and the USA. And there is nothing that the governments of Canada and the United States can do – or should do – about that.
Just as travellers can live with or without Boeing’s 737 jet, communications users and providers can manage with or without Huawei’s 5G routers and switches. If Mr. Ren really understood North America, he would approach his masters in China, ask them to change their ways, and join us in the western world with an independent and separate government, media, church and judiciary in China. On that basis, China and the western democracies really and truly could prosper together. Freedom and the rule-of-law come first; money afterward.
What happened to the Public Appointments Secretariat?
As a newly-elected Member of Provincial Parliament in 2003, our government set about fixing the Harris-Eves PC government situation of public appointment positions, volunteer or paid, having no job descriptions, no hiring criteria or evaluation standards, no consistent remuneration scheme, and no coherent position postings. That changed with the Public Appointments Secretariat, which addressed and fixed all these needs, and operated successfully from then onward.
No MPP could (or wanted to) affect who received a public appointment. All those who contacted MPPs were referred to the Public Appointments Secretariat. In 15 years of public service, I influenced zero public appointments – exactly as it should be. There were also no public appointments scandals or outrages – exactly as it should be.
The fair and cost-effective solution to nepotism and cronyism in public appointments was in place and operating smoothly when Ford’s wrecking ball Conservative government took office. A reasonable question to ask of this stumbling PC Premier is what happened to the Public Appointments Secretariat?
The Toronto Star carried this piece as a Letter to the Editor on June 27, 2019. Click here to see the letter as published in the Star.
Cautionary lesson for ‘star’ candidates
Columnist Chantal Hébert speculates about former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney running for Parliament as a Liberal candidate, and then being immediately ready to assume the party leadership. Really? Former first-term Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott will almost certainly lose this year as Independent federal election candidates and unnecessarily end otherwise promising parliamentary careers. They illustrate the media’s fascination with so-called star candidates, who are too often projected into the cabinet skies unprepared, to be shot out of that sky like clay pigeons.
Does your gender, age, race, religion or region really matter when assembling a cabinet? Those attributes, taken alone, are roughly equal to a coat of exterior paint. Perhaps leaders should focus on what actually makes a difference in a minister: managerial talent, legislative experience and communications ability.
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, as first-term MPs, should have spent their first term learning the rhythms and limits of Parliament, working with stakeholders and Opposition members, and seeing how laws really come together with committee work before being thrust into cabinet roles for which neither was properly prepared. Justin Trudeau’s government benches in Ottawa hold experienced, cabinet-ready talent doing parliamentary secretary, committee and House duty. It takes time for latent government talent to develop and mature.
Carney has never held elected office. Whether he might fare well thrust into a senior political role remains speculative. If he does decide to enter federal politics, one hopes he will get the same opportunity to learn the craft of politics as a promising and talented rookie gets in a pro sports farm system before moving up to the big team.
- Chantal Hébert Toronto Star column speculating on Mark Carney entering Canadian federal politics;
- Toronto Star Letter to the Editor by Bob Delaney;
- Bob Delaney Twitter account.
Moving to another instant message app
In the beginning, there was a Windows application (“app”) called ICQ. It meant “I seek you.” It was, in its day, a novel concept, allowing the user real-time instant message (IM) dialogue with a circle of other users of the app. You could send short text messages back and forth, without cluttering up your e-mail Inbox.
With governments in Canada then supporting the Canadian-developed Blackberry, out of Waterloo came the next generation of IM app, Blackberry Messenger, or BBM. It was a better IM app than ICQ, and more importantly, encrypted at both ends, and sent device-to-device. This meant that servers and routers didn’t retain your message. What appealed to users was that you could keep an exchange between them secure. Moreover, when users deleted the exchange, it went away permanently, just like shredding a piece of paper.
As an MPP, we used BBM extensively. To send short messages back and forth between the Legislature and the Constituency Office, or when, for example, my staff would ‘message’ me to let me know they had arrived for our meeting to review documents. As Chief Government Whip, BBM helped me track down our Members and ensure they were doing their House or Committee duty.
BBM made itself very, very handy in business and government. When Wi-Fi bandwidth grew sufficiently, you could have a user-to-user BBM voice chat over Wi-Fi. Like a message, a voice (or later, video) chat was encrypted at both ends, and even better, was digital in voice sound and video quality. I used it on business trips to keep in touch at home, and with the office. Our long distance charges went to zero. BBM didn’t require giving out your cell phone number. It used a PIN. This meant that the app could be carried, or ‘ported’ from one device to another when you upgraded your smart phone.
Other such competing IM apps appeared, notably Facebook’s WhatsApp, and Skype, later purchased by Microsoft. We’ll deal with them in a moment.
When the nature of Research in Motion’s business changed, versions of the BBM app were written for major hardware platforms (Android and Apple’s iOS). Once Blackberry hardware itself vanished, BBM was then a niche Apple and Android app. Once outsourced in this fashion, a lot of ‘code bloat’ appeared in BBM, which filled up with such eye candy as stickers and ads quickly. It wasn’t as tightly-focused as its users had remembered and loved it for.
BBM’s global user base of about 55 million has been in decline for a few years. In April, 2019, BBM announced that the app itself would cease working after May 31, 2019. Farewell BBM.
So what of the alternatives? With the impending end of the free version of BBM, users have four principal alternatives: two popular apps (WhatsApp and Skype), and two niche-market apps (Signal and BBMe). As well, there are other niche IM products that we’ll briefly examine.
WhatsApp and Skype
If you are losing your BBM circle of friends, you are nearly certain to find them all in one or both of WhatsApp and Skype. For non-sensitive personal communications, you’re likely to use one or both of these.
- WhatsApp is an IM and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) app linked to a user’s cell phone number. WhatsApp has more than 200 million users worldwide. If someone is in your WhatsApp network, they are going to know your cell number. If you view your cell phone as proprietary, and as a business tool primarily to enable you to make outbound calls, that could be a problem, or at least an annoyance. Being device-to-device, WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted. Unlike BBM, you cannot ‘redact,’ or permanently remove, messages on both ends of the chat. Facebook has announced that WhatsApp will shortly be blended into a new app that will combine WhatsApp with Facebook Messenger and Instagram. That makes commenting on features and security of a product that will shortly exist in a completely different, and undefined form difficult. The app could lose its focus, as the expiring BBM did. The development process could also accidentally expose personal data to the outside, as Facebook has admitted happened numerous times in recent years. Teething problems are inevitable when such a major software release is unrolled;
- Skype is another VOIP and IM app that does just about all of what the old BBM did. Skype is used by more than 300 million users worldwide, and is now a mature product. It allows the user end-to-end encrypted communication (with a warning proviso) between devices. It also allows a call to connect to a standard telephone, with the part connecting to the standard phone sent in the clear. Skype users have a Skype User ID, which could be your Microsoft user ID and password if you have other Microsoft products. Skype conversations are also portable across devices. If you start a Skype message thread on the bus to work, you can log into your laptop, and pick up where you left off, even going into voice and/or audio if you wish. Here is the warning: foreign and domestic governments, and police agencies, have the capability to eavesdrop on Skype conversations, and to have access to Skype users’ geographic locations. A simple request for information is usually sufficient, with no court approval needed. This ability was deliberately added for law enforcement agencies by Microsoft when they purchased Skype in 2011. Is it secure? Sort of. You are likely safe from rogue hackers. But don’t use it for important data or communications if, for example, you are doing business in another country where Internet traffic is routinely monitored by government agencies.
Signal and BBMe
When dependable security between users is an issue, you’ll need to leave the consumer marketplace. Two products built specifically for security offer users all the security they appear likely to ever need. If you are part of a government or a large corporation, and want to equip your people with a proven-secure IM app, you’ll want to test out and choose one of the following two:
- Signal is everything good and secure that BBM started out being, and adds open-source to that. It is free, not cluttered with ads or other annoying eye-candy, encrypted end-to-end, it doesn’t track you, and offers text, voice , video, document, and picture communications. Signal has iOS, Android, Linux and Windows 10 versions. It is secure and fast. Signal is often used by journalists and others who need the security that Signal offers. So why would you hesitate before gravitating to Signal? Probably because you might be the only one in your circle that uses Signal. Otherwise, it is everything you will likely ever need;
- The Blackberry Messenger Enterprise edition (BBMe) is similar in features to Signal, and most other IM apps. BBMe can be downloaded from the iOS and Android app stores. BBMe also has Windows desktop and Mac versions as well. BBMe is the very best of classic BBM, without the annoying parts and code bloat. It is free for the first six months, and $2.50 per six month period thereafter. If your organization and/or the people with whom you need to exchange sensitive information use BBMe, this is the IM app for you.
Other IM apps
- SMS (aka Text Messaging) The lowest common denominator for sending text messages. We all have this on our phones. Depending on your plan, you can be charged for every text message; have a set number of text messages per billing period; or have unlimited text messages. Outside your cell provider’s service area, SMS messages likely cost you money to send, even if you are on a hotel or airport free or trusted Wi-Fi point. SMS messages are not encrypted or protected in any way. SMS messages travel in the clear through different networks and routers, can be read or recorded at any point along the way, and are the most vulnerable means of sending a message between two points. Other than your provider’s supported emoticons, that’s the extent of the functionality. In short, SMS is better than nothing, but not by much;
- WeChat (Chinese for ‘micro-message’) is an IM app written by Tencent in mainland China. As of 2019, it reportedly has one billion users. If your circle of friends includes a lot of folks from Asia, you may want (or need) to connect with them through WeChat. The app has been subsidized by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since its creation in 2011. It is widely reported that PRC officials censor and monitor users. It’s been described as the ‘app for everything,’ as it is integrated tightly into e-commerce, allowing users to shop extensively, and make payments, through WeChat, a capability that differentiates it from western IM apps;
- Viber was originally developed in 2010 by Israel-based Viber Media, which was bought by Japan-based Rakuten in 2014. Since 2017 its corporate name has been Rakuten Viber. It is currently based in Luxembourg. Viber is available as freeware for Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux platforms. Users are registered and identified through their mobile device number. Viber service is accessible on desktop platforms without mobile network connectivity. In addition to instant messaging, Viber allows users to exchange other media such as images. Viber has more than a billion registered users on its network as of 2019. Why would you install it? Because a critical mass of the people you wish to deal with use it.
Wikipedia lists dozens of other instant message apps, along with a side-by-side comparison of their features. As we bid adieu to the consumer version of BBM, we at least have a number of proven choices to move to in managing and organizing the short messages that would otherwise clog up e-mail systems.