Let Ottawans use Uber if they wish

To conjure up the metaphor of the buggy-whip maker is to make a point about how the introduction of new technology to an industry has made old products obsolete. It has been used so often since the advent of the Internet and even more so with the ubiquity of today’s apps and smartphones, that it is now cliché.

But if I may, the story of the buggy-whip maker is perhaps no more apt than when discussing the introduction of Uber to the marketplace.

When was the last time you took a cab in Ottawa and thought, “well now, that was a pleasant experience”? From the late or forgotten pickups, to the way your driver looks at you sideways if you offer to pay with your credit card – as if it were the first time someone had ever tried something so preposterous – the Ottawa cab industry is due for a shakeup.

Ottawa residents may be surprised to discover that their city doesn’t have a competitive taxi marketplace. A monopoly exists in dispatch and most of the cab companies are owned by Coventry Connections. Were you offended by BlueLine’s service and opted for DJ’s instead? Sorry, they’re owned by the same parent company. Capital, West-way, and Airport taxi? Peel away your impression of competition, and instead you’ll find a cab cabal.

Of course, the City of Ottawa has an interest in protecting its revenue stream via its licensing system. The Uber model disrupts and easily supplants this antiquated and closed system. Yet, Mayor Jim Watson says the City of Ottawa will throw the book at Uber if it operates as an unlicensed taxi service in Ottawa.

Like all products and services that people want, Uber has been able to grow organically. As a result, the startup is now in over 45 countries and 200 cities worldwide. The “secret” to Uber’s success – and that of almost any technology company – has been to innovate in part of the marketplace that is poorly or inefficiently served. Just ask a travel agent – if you can find one nowadays – how the booking industry changed since grandma learned how to book her cruise with a “point and click.”

Today, Shopify is the darling of the Ottawa business community. It revolutionized e-commerce and helps small businesses reach new customers with easy-to-implement web storefronts.

Of course, companies who dismiss it all as a fad find themselves out of business quickly.

Imagine if traditional brick-and-mortar shops had turned away from adopting better ways to serve customers, to instead stop Shopify by regulating the company out of existence. “If only there were a law to shut down the Internet,” they might say.

For the rest of us who aren’t trying to alter reality, shouldn’t we be free to transact how we wish with companies that provide a superior service?

Uber is a boon for this town of government and professionals. Payment information is preloaded in the Uber app, so no need to pull out cash or credit. A receipt is automatically emailed for easy expense filing. For those concerned about transparency and accountability, receipts provide not only the cost of the trip, but a map from origin to destination.

Virtually everyone that tries Uber is both surprised about the positive difference it provides compared to traditional cabs, and also that such a service had not already been invented. Let the people of Ottawa be free to choose their ride. Indeed, Jim Watson can continue to trudge along in his BlueLine buggy, but for the sake of the rest of us, it’s time to retire the whip.

This article originally appeared in the October 9th, 2014 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, published by Postmedia Network.

This town is sick

In the news todaya taxpayer-funded CBC panelist, HuffPo journalist, and Trudeau biographer,

with notes from a taxpayer-funded partisan Liberal research bureau,

writes a story about taxpayer-funded Conservative partisans,

on direction from the taxpayer-funded Prime Minister’s Office,

protesting this previously alluded-to taxpayer-funded politician,

on his transparency pledge that omits his private business which raised money from taxpayer-funded charities.

The protest was done in order to change the channel on this taxpayer-funded politician’s taxpayer-funded housing allowance,

though another taxpayer-cheating Senator,

may be welcome back in a tax-exempt political party that issues 75% tax deductions on amounts donated,

to direct taxpayer-funded partisans to protest, like they did against this taxpayer-funded politician,

who once cheekily posed with taxpayer-funded partisans,

protesting a tax on everything.

Protest in Ottawa

Around 300-500 protesters in support of the Tamil Tigers descended upon Ottawa yesterday and disrupted traffic for about 8 hours on Wellington street and Queen street.

Though declared a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, members of the Tamil diaspora in Canada showed up by the busload in support of the LTTE and marched between the British High Commission on Elgin street past the Prime Minister’s Office to Parliament Hill. I am told that the Prime Minister could not make meetings on the Hill yesterday because of the protest.

Here, courtesy of Jeff Davis at Embassy Magazine are supporters of the LTTE camped out in front of the Prime Minister’s door.

and on Elgin street (from Flickr)

I found this article from the Mackenzie Institute to be good for background reading on the LTTE, the Canadian diaspora and the group’s claim of genocide. Here are a few excerpts.

1976-1983: Classic Terrorist Group: The LTTE is created and established connections with Middle Eastern terrorist groups and Indian intelligence agencies. It worked to limit effects of liberalizing government policies and to destabilize local areas, encouraging repression by police and military to polarize Tamil society. Terrorist cells evolved into embryonic guerrilla forces. Base organization of Diaspora political front organizations and overseas organized crime by LTTE-related gangs first appeared in Europe.

1983-1987: Classic Guerrilla Warfare: LTTE attacks provoked violent communal rioting by Sinhalese, hundreds of Tamils were killed and tens of thousands displaced inside Sri Lanka. LTTE guerrillas began to engage in conventional warfare with the Sri Lankan Army. The Tigers encouraged refugee emigration into Western Europe, Australia and Canada while using political fronts to tap them for support in their new countries. The Tigers began to destroy rival Tamil militant organizations and absorb other factions.

Genocide, as we have all too often seen, requires much more extensive and enthusiastic massacres than a week of violent rioting 26 years ago. It requires wholesale ethnic cleansing – which is something the Tigers have repeatedly attempted, but not so the Sri Lankan authorities. It requires labour camps and death camps – something that the Sri Lankans have never built. Notwithstanding the events of 1983, Colombo and other Sri Lankan cities have large populations of Tamils who haven’t felt the need to live in fear and apprehension of their neighbours for the past quarter century.

The charges of genocide from the LTTE and their supporters have no merit, and should be immediately ignored whenever they are raised.

Al Qaeda: Besides providing training (presumably on a commercial basis) to a number of member organizations within al Qaeda; the LTTE has assisted members of al Qaeda with false passports and in joint arms purchases before the 9/11 attacks.

Over the decades, the LTTE has frequently pioneered terrorist techniques that have been copied by other groups. These include the suicide belt bomb famously used in the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and later to such effect during the Second Intifada by the Palestinians, the use of chlorine tanks in vehicle bombings to generate a gas cloud, later much copied by al Qaeda in Iraq,and suicide speed boat attacks such as were later seen in the attack on the USS Cole. This has led to widespread speculation that the LTTE provides training and instruction for other terrorist groups.

Among the Diaspora, the only organizations that were permitted to exist were at best strictly neutral and non-partisan. However, most were pro-Tiger. Tamils who had left Sri Lanka found that every Tamil cultural body, temple, newspaper, or language and immigration service that they might resort to was pro-Tiger. Being known to hold Anti-Tiger views was to risk ostracism (a severe threat to a new immigrant) or a beating. Trying to avoid paying ‘War Taxes’ meant running the same risks; and could result in penalties to family members still living in Tiger-controlled areas back in Sri Lanka.

Frequently, if the Tiger controlled front organizations needed to make a point, mass attendance at a protest march might be compelled. In recent years, Tamil store owners have been ordered to shut their shops to maximize attendance; and the men used to collect War Taxes might also go door to door in Tamil neighbourhoods ordering people to appear at events. However, as the Diaspora community matured and disappointment with the failure of the 2002 ceasefire grew, a growing number of Tamils started avoiding Tiger events. Legal prohibitions and orders against the LTTE and its front organizations in a number of countries have also encouraged many Tamils to defy these groups.

Click here to read the full article. It’s worth the time.

Huge gulf still exists in Ottawa bus strike

The breaking news late this evening is that Ottawa bus union voters voted tonight on returning to work and ending the strike. A vote against continuing the strike would effectively end the suspension in bus service.

However, that will not happen as 74% of union voters voted to continue the strike (64% of eligible union voters)

Developing…

Thank you!

To everyone that made the Rally for Canada rallies a success, I want to say a sincere thank you. In Ottawa, we braved -10C weather and managed to turn out between 2000-4000 (RCMP said 3000, Ottawa Citizen reports 3500!!). In Toronto, about 1500 turned out to the rally there. Calgary had reports of up to 5000 people in the city core rallying. We rallied people in cities from Halifax to Victoria and places like London, Kitchener, Saskatoon, and Kelowna in BC. In total, over 20 cities held rallies today. Looks like we have a real grassroots movement on our hands here. We’re having the debate that they didn’t want us to have. Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible.

It’s been a busy day, and I expect a busy couple of days wrapping up this event. Please pass on your stories from the day and I’ll post them here!

UPDATE: Winnipeg had 600 people in about -25C weather (with windchill). The rally was bigger than the coalition rally which was held in a warm hotel ballroom.

We get letters: In response to Jeffrey Simpson

The following comes from a good friend who read Jeffery Simpson’s Globe and Mail column today and found himself a bit perturbed at the lacking quality of Simpson’s arguments for the National Portrait Gallery to be located in Ottawa. My friend doesn’t get to do a lot of this sort of creative writing in his job, so I’m glad to post it here with his permission.

Mr. Simpson makes the quite excellent point that the private sector really shouldn’t house our portrait gallery and that the portrait gallery shouldn’t leave the capital because, after all, no other country does it that way.

No! Its not about the potential beauty of some new facility in some new city. After all, what could be more arrestingly beautiful than the status quo? It’s certainly not about the efficient use of tax dollars. How crass to worry about how we spend other peoples money when the issue is the arts. I mean….just look at the CBC. Who but a philistine would begrudge those tax dollars given the artistic sitcoms that the CBC produces. The new Portrait Gallery could even model itself after the CBC except the CBC has moved to Toronto which is impossible because it should be in Ottawa where all the other art stuff is, except for the other art stuff like Telefilm that moved to Montreal.

And of course it’s certainly not about putting the Portrait Gallery where whole new swaths of the country could appreciate it. What kind of ugly ideology would support that? I’ll tell you what kind, a very, very ugly one.

Anyway….if anyone has an ideology that is worth following it is Jeff Simpson who is easily Canada’s most articulate proponent of the ideology of sameness. We should do it the same way as we always have, because that’s the way we’ve always done it. We should do it the same as the Americans because its the only thing that they’ve ever done right.

I see now where Jeff is leading us. He’s saying that we can lead the world if we do everything the same way, but do it with even more vigour and enthusiasm than we have in the past, except we do it the same way, because that’s the way we’ve always done it. You know….I feel exactly the same way.

Tories targeting Ottawa-Centre

I live in downtown Ottawa in the riding of Ottawa-Centre. The riding itself is a special one as it is populated by the workers the keep the gears turning of the very government that all Canadians voters elect. My neighbours are staffers from each federal political party (Bloc staffers know the rent is cheaper in Gatineau), bureaucrats, journalists and you wouldn’t even know the riding has any NDP inclination until you find Bank st.

Despite this, Ottawa-Centre will be a battleground during the next federal election. In recent history, the riding has been held by all three political parties (the PCs won it in 1979). While the Conservative candidate Keith Fountain lost by some 9,000 votes during the last election, he and the Green Party candidate David Chernushenko were the two major candidates that were able to raise their respective parties’ vote share while Dipper Paul Dewar (the current MP) and then-Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney lost overall party vote share from the previous 2004 election.

Six ten-percenters from the Conservatives

For the Conservatives, the strategy to win this riding would require splitting the vote among NDP-Green voters and demoralizing/converting Liberal votes. The current nominee of the Conservative Party Brian McGarry has good name recognition in the riding as his family have been prominent small-business owners in the riding for some time. The combination of the right factors and McGarry’s candidacy may just allow the Tories to challenge and win in the riding.

A key strategic element of the Conservative push in this riding has been effective use of ten-percenters. Since January, I have received not one but six of these mailings from this House of Commons program.

The Liberals have been railing against the Conservatives for sending out these partisan (perish the thought!) mailings from their House of Commons research group. As a party in perpetual opposition, the NDP has been quietly onside with the Conservatives in sending out these mailings as opposition parties (such as Conservatives themselves and their legacy parties) have needed to innovate in order to get their message out since traditional mainstream channels tend to project and focus upon the government’s message (or information about the government) as that which is newsworthy.

As I’ve received six of these ten-percenters since January, I imagine that Ottawa Centre is a target riding. This is compounded by the fact that other MPs from other ridings are legally using their ten-percenter quota to blanket this riding with information about the Conservative government’s agenda.

I do think that the messaging could be even more specific and strategic in this riding. Conservative ten-percenters in Ottawa Centre should question the NDP’s commitment to the environment and rhetorically ask who will keep Canada along the proper environmental path. If the Conservatives are not going to get left wing votes in Ottawa Centre, they should make sure that these votes are going into the most advantageous column. To win the riding, Conservatives need to challenge the NDP and get their base to move green. To best the Liberal voting total in Ottawa Centre, Conservatives need to do as they are doing elsewhere in the country; an effective Conservative campaign will not so much win on converting ardent Liberal partisans but rather by demoralizing them and have them ponder why they should get and and vote for a so-called leader that will not stand in the House of Commons and vote for them.

Ottawa

As some of you may know, I’ve been living in Kingston for a few years now completing an undergraduate degree and now working on a graduate degree in biochemistry (yes, all at Queen’s — I didn’t want to rent a moving truck, I used to joke). Well now that I’m in the sweet spot of the graduate degree — data accumulation and committee work finished — I’m now just left with the last bit of the write-up.

In the closing months of 2006, I was given another reason to rent a truck; I was offered a job in Ottawa and in my chosen profession (and hobby). For those of you joining this game already in progress, the profession is science and the hobby, communications. I’ll be blogging about some of that later as I get the feel for what’s appropriate. I will say that I do remain outside of the employ of the Conservative Party and government of Canada.

I am a new arrival in this epicentre of Canadian politics and I hope that the blog will reflect my vicinity to the Hill.

For those of you whom I know in Ottawa, do send me an email so that we can catch up!

Belinda speech in Ottawa

I travelled to Ottawa from Kingston today to attend the Belinda Stronach speech at Chateau Laurier, one block east of parliament hill. I met conservatives of every type at the function; supporters of Stephen Harper, supporters of Tony Clement and of course mostly Belinda Stronach supporters.

I also met two guys with whom I went to Queen’s. Both are hill staffers and were out to see what all of this “Belindamania” talk is about.

Belinda Stronach’s speech was a great improvement from her launch speech that I saw just one week ago. She started out with an anecdote about her son’s advice before her launch that day. “Don’t trip” and she expressed proudly that she didn’t trip acknowledging that while she didn’t fall flat in her political debut, it wasn’t without its obstacles. Indeed, she acknowledged to the crowd of supporters tonight that “I’m not a professional prolecision…” to which the crowd cheered. Somewhat humbled she corrected herself, “I’m not a professional politician” to which the crowd cheered again. Belinda Stronach also declared her position on senate reform. Stronach believes that senators should be elected and that as prime minister she will discuss, with the premiers and the provinces/territories, what would consist of a fair balanced upper house. She reiterated her stance against the federal gun registry, which has cost this country over $1 Billion. This likely pleased Tory MP Bill Casey who started the website gunregistry.ca. The website is a critical look at the wasteful federal programme. As always, Stronach also restated her stance on creating a more competitive Canada through economic reform.

After Belinda Stronach’s speech she worked the room and was surrounded by a hoard of cameras and well-wishers. The mass of people seemed to have a life of it’s own as Stronach led it through the ballroom shaking hands with as many supporters as possible. I instead wandered around the less congested perimeter of the room and met some other students. We discussed our common enthusiasm about the Stronach campaign. Belinda then exited the room with her senior team.

After a speech comes a press conference so I spotted the open room where the cameras were setting up. I set myself up behind the bank of cameras, just behind the reporters and I stood with the boom-mic operators who were recording the reporters’ questions. Interesting, I found myself in the media scrum behind the stage. I actually could have asked a question myself!

CTV’s Roger Smith asked Belinda whether or not she was buying up all of the organizers in Quebec to which she answered that all of the campaigns have paid and unpaid volunteers and that the salary figure that Smith quoted was grossly exaggerated. Later on, Smith asked Stronach a somewhat cynical question “Have you ever heard any of Paul Martin’s speeches?” When Stronach ignored the question, Smith yelled back “Obviously not!” Bizarre… I thought that reporters were supposed to report the news instead of chide the candidates. Later on CTV Newsnet, I read the headline “Stronach takes hits over Quebec campaign”. It seems that while Belinda answered Smith’s question adequately, what is newsworthy to CTV is that Smith asked her the question and thought that he did some damage.

After the press conference, after most of the supporters and press had cleared out, I hung around and met some more of the campaign staff, most of whom are either slightly younger or slightly younger than me. The youth team on Belinda Stronach’s campaign is likely a key factor helping her take a fresh approach to the leadership race. I was chatting with Belinda’s press secretary when she asked, “Do you want to meet her?”.

So, I got to meet Belinda Stronach and we chatted for a little while and I got my photo-op. I thanked her for what she’s doing for youth involvement in federal politics. I also told her that we’re going to rally Queen’s around her campaign.

She also told me something very exciting and encouraging about Kingston and the Islands. But that will have to wait for another day…

Belinda Stronach
Click to enlarge