New Ontario Trade Bridge: Harper’s Legacy

On June 15 it was announced during a press conference where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Denis Lebel and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder were present, that a $1 billion bridge will be constructed between Windsor and Detroit to create another crossing at the Canadian-American border. Buzz words and phrases that were thrown around by those fast tracking the project included increased trade, a stronger economy and more jobs.  And for the most part, it seems like a progressive idea. A new route between the two countries has been desired for some time with promises for such plans going back ten years when former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was at the helm.  According to MSNBC, “The Windsor-Detroit corridor is Canada’s most important trade artery. Nearly $200 billion of commerce crosses the Windsor-Detroit border corridor annually, Canadian officials say.” And with concerns that due to gridlock the Ambassador Bridge just isn’t cutting it anymore, it makes sense for Harper to jump on board with this project if it will improve trade while making him appear more desirable to his American counterparts.  Harper really has never been one to disappoint our neighbours to the South. “Canada’s exports to the U.S. rose in the first quarter to their highest level in three years, with the U.S. accounting for 73 percent of total shipments. That share touched a record 85 percent in 2001,” a Bloomberg online article wrote. “Sales to the U.S. by Linamar Corp. (LNR), a parts maker based in Guelph, Ontario, increased 29 percent last year to C$188 million. While U.S. revenue has increased, some automakers have cited bottlenecks at the border as a drawback to sourcing supplies in Ontario, said Mark Stoddart, chief technology officer and executive vice president of marketing at Linamar. ‘We have had customers indicate to us that the bridge issue is a concern that they have in sourcing Linamar,’ Stoddart said by phone,” the article continued. As the saying goes, if you build it they will come.  Big construction projects have always been a sign of power.  The Egyptians and Aztecs had their pyramids, the Romans had their aqueducts and the Colosseum and the Greeks have the Acropolis, just to name a few.  Fast forward a few centuries and we see the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal, and the Empire State Building as well as small islands being created in Dubai to show the world how big one country’s wallet is.  These new construction projects provide services, entertain the masses, host business and allow business to flow freely (or at a price, cue the toll booths), they become essential in our lives.  But this new bridge project will also have a secondary purpose – Harper’s edifice, a physical reminder that he was here. It is interesting to note that 2012 marks the bi-centennial of the war of 1812.  US forces, under the command of General William Hull, were sent north to liberate us from tyrannical British rule, as they saw it, and plundered and burnt York (modern day Toronto).  Little more than a year later the British, lead by Major General Robert Ross, returned the favour and torched President James Madison’s presidential mansion (now known as the White House).  It has been documented that his wife, Dolly, risked her life to save a portrait of George Washington from the conflagration.  What a difference 200 years can make.  I like the idea of a bridge both physical and metaphorically. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Evidence of Earth’s Changing Seascape Found in Arctic Waters

Tides rise and fall, we eat and sleep, work and play all the while our Earth is ever changing.  We seem to never get used to the painfully slow movements of our governments as they seek solutions and thankfully for the most part our planet’s movements are also exceedingly slow but every now and then an event makes us take notice.  As the free world concerns itself with the state of the European Union and what that means for us a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes to mind, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Moving from politics and the economy to the environment there is something happening beneath the ice of the Arctic Ocean that is new to scientists and is very puzzling.  In 2011 a giant algae bloom was discovered by an American team of researchers while on their ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) expedition, as explained on the CBC radio broadcast Quirks and Quarks and also referred to on their website. The algae bloom, which is made up of the single-celled organism phytoplankton, is a food source for sea life and is fairly common.  However, the team of researchers who discovered this particular bloom were shocked to see that it was forming closer to the surface of the ice and was spread out over one-hundred square kilometers.  The researches determined that the algae is utilizing the UV-filtered light that comes through first-year ice to grow (usually the algae doesn’t begin to form until the ice is gone), essentially adapting to and thriving in the waters, all the while eating up carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. This unique arctic algae bloom shares a common characteristic with other algae blooms around the world; each one has different qualities depending on their habitat.  Back in 2006 a giant algae bloom was spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, as reported in a Cosmos Magazine online article.  At the time the algae bloom, which could be seen from space, was associated with climate change and was thought to be possibly toxic.  Algae blooms in that area were not unusual, but the 2006 bloom was thought to be the largest to date for the region.  It is also interesting to note that algae blooms are said to leave behind minute amounts of chalk, “which geologists believe created the limestone deposits off England known as the White Cliffs of Dover,” according to the Cosmos article mentioned above. So what are we to make from all of this change global, political and economic?  For me it is simply perspective. A changing planet as well as a changing economy is inevitable and unsettling for sure.  It shouldn’t be taken lightly but we should be cautious as we work to find solutions.  I was speaking with a colleague earlier in the week about Europe’s political and financial woes as the UEFA Euro Cup 2012 plays out (stadiums are full).  He, like many, is quick to say that Europe or more specifically Europe’s leaders have to get their acts together. Quit talking and act!  I pointed out that Europe, more specifically individual nation states, have had difficulty doing that since there was a concept known as Europe.  In modern times we have witnessed two world wars on European soil that destroyed countless lives and economies.  The likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco all took action to solve their countries economic and political problems as they saw fit much to the determent of society and mankind.  Blitzkrieg, doodlebugs, V2’s and other weapons of mass destruction greatly impacted the lives of millions of people.  That wasn’t that long ago, less than a hundred years.  The point is that some change is easier to take in stride and adapt to than others.  Look at European history over the millennium. So, what about those algae blooms?  They are just one organism adapting to the increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  Remember that within each challenge lies opportunity.  Have we evolved?  I like to think so.  Will the world change?  Absolutely; and to quote Pearl Jam, “It’s evolution baby!”  | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Spain’s Future Uncertain After 100 Billion Euro Loan

Over the weekend Eurozone economic and monetary union (EMU) finance ministers finalized a deal that will see Spain receive a 100 billion euro loan, a move that will be watched over by inspectors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund to make sure things stay on track. Amid the news that gave stock markets a lackluster boost, Europeans and others around the world may be asking where exactly is this money coming from and what does it mean in the long run. Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said it will be more efficient for the loan to come from the European Stability Mechanism, “ESM loans are senior to other creditors, ensuring that Spain’s debts to other EMU members would take precedence over private lenders in the event of a default,” a recent CNN online article reported. In the days following the loan announcement bond yields have risen, “Spain’s borrowing costs have risen to the highest rate since the launch of the euro in 1999”, a BBC online article writes, and on top of that there has been a reduction of foreign stocks and bond investment in the country for some time.  From this Spanish banks are left to pick up the loose ends prompting observers to wonder if this will leave the country’s independence at the mercy of its banks. A bigger question emerges from this storm, has Spain traded one evil for another?  Has Madrid signed away the country’s political sovereignty of tomorrow in order to deal with its fiscal problems of today?  I think this is the kind of question that we won’t be able to answer for another decade or so. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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