Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Barber's urban bias

Readers might be swept away by John Barber's torrent of exuberance over Professor Thomas Courchene's ideas on funding cities.

Globe and Mail - Saturday June 25 2005

However, those who manage to remain on dry ground should question Courchene's basic assumption. Are 'city-regions' really the 'prime centers of growth in new knowledge-based economy', or should we instead be crediting the companies and institutions that often happen to exist in those regions?

A key measure of success in the knowledge-based economy is the number of patents issued. The number of patents issued to universities especially portends of the long-term health of the 'KBE'. Per Courchene's hypothesis, urban areas should predominate in the standings of university patents issued. However, in 2003, five out of the top ten US universities in terms of the number of patents received are in small cities and towns. These are the Universities of Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The total number of patents granted to these five institutions alone far exceeds that granted to all Canadian universities.

We should be concerned more about our universities than about our cities. Canadian cities score well in quality-of-life measures - and most major urban areas are seeing strong growth. Most Canadian cities are in good financial shape. With one notable exception, our cities seem to be able to handle the always challenging task of balancing their budgets.

Only Toronto appears incapable. Despite strong growth in property values, booming residential construction, large social services transfers from neighbouring municipalities, extra-high business tax rates, regular bailouts from the Province, and now the lion's share of the Ontario gasoline tax - the situation seems to worsen.

Instead of trying to devise different ways of allocating tax dollars, Courchene would serve us better by coming up with a plan to restructure Toronto's costs.

Friday, June 17, 2005

TheStar.com - Ontario pledges millions for ethanol

Oh the idiocy!

TheStar.com - Ontario pledges millions for ethanol

Here we have a province that is in grave danger of running out of electric power, yet the province now plans to subsidize the construction of new ethanol plants. You may be wondering why this should raise a red flag. "Surely this is a good source of energy that we can produce locally?" you might naturally ask.

The trouble is for the full production cycle - from growing the corn, to processing the corn into liquid fuel - takes a lot more energy than ends up being available for transportation purposes in the end product. Here are some articles that explain:

Science Article

Health & Energy Article

Here is an excerpt:

Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

So, ethanol plants are the last thing Ontario needs. The energy used will be:

1. Motor fuel purchased from outside the Province to run the corn farms and move the corn to the processing plant.
2. Energy to run the processing plant - either:
- Natural gas imported into the Province - This uses up resources that will be in short supply - both gas, and gas pipeline capacity
- Electricity from the overall grid - if there is any left
- Electricity co-generated from refineries, chemical plants - isn't this a source being counted upon to help close those dirty old coal-powered generating stations?

Let's do the math:

The plan is to produce an additional 700 million liters a year.

At 131,000 BTUs a gallon - or about 34,210 BTU / litre - this will require 29,347 billion BTU a year.

This converts to 7,018,281 Megawatt Hours a year

With 8760 hours in a year, this will require the equivalent of an 801 MW power plant!

Surely it is better to let other jurisdictions subsidize the production of ethanol - and buy the stuff as cheaply as possible.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

New streetcar, what new streetcar?

The Save Our St. Clair Group - understandably and predictably - are launching a lawsuit to stop the contruction of a decidicated streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair West.

TheStar.com - Group aims to derail new streetcar

I'm not in any way surprised that the environment minister gave the go ahead for the project - without granting the additional environmental assessment requested by the group:

"We believed the ministry's decision was political," said Margaret Smith, spokesperson for SOS.

She got that right. I suspect Minsiter Dombrowski would have rather hidden out in Timbuktu for the rest of her term than incur the wrath of David Miller and his cabal. Now we are headed for court.

There is plenty of evidence that the EA process was a sham. The TTC and the ROW proponents were a private corporation (we wish!) they'd likely already be up before a comsumer priotection tribunal.

The EA propaganda pushed the idea of light-rail - but in reality, there will be between 5 and 20 years of excruciatingly ineffective streetcar "service". An expose in the Globe and Mail few weekends back showed how the TTC had misrepresented the success of the Spadina "LRT". This is called 'bait and switch'.

More bait and switch came in the at the council meeting where the plan was approved. There were resolutions to look at providing more replacement parking - as well as asking Toronto Hydro to bury the electricity lines along St. Clair. Well - guess what, neither is going to happen. No money - surprise, surprise! The streetcars suck up all the money - and there is nothing left for anything else.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Education minister in need of education

Let me get this straight....

TheStar.com - Province suspends funding for 9 boards - From The Toronto Star

... Ontario Education Minister Gerald Kennedy has just pulled money off the table from a nine ongoing negotations with teachers' unions. We can only guess that these are cases where the unions thought they could get more by pressing on with the work to rule.

Says Kennedy however:

“We are definitely moving away from that era of conflict.”

I guess he's right - sure. One side cancels kid's sporting events and refuses to issue proper report cards - and the other side then pulls a pot of money off the table. That isn't conflict, and furthermore freedom is slavery and 2 + 2 =5!

Kennedy obviously believed that his unilateral capitulation and payoff to the teachers - offering a well in excess of recent inflation 10.6% over four years to elementary and secondary teachers - would have bought an "labour peace".

Well - Mr. Kennedy, the teachers' unions are not interested in labour peace. They are in the game to negotiate more money for less work for their members. Conflict and confrontation are the main tools in their arsenal.