U.S gas


Can’t say what the net effect of Iranian crude on the world oil market will be. It’s not looking good for the Alberta tar patch or U.S. frackers, but that’s not what this is about.

Before he passed last April just short of his 9oth birthday, I spent a week with my uncle Larry Edwards in Ponoka, Alberta. Ponoka’s the Real McCoy, a cowtown on the highway between Edmonton and Calgary, home of the Ponoka Stampede and the Ponoka International Airport. Every summer just prior to the Calgary Stampede, the airport hosts an invasion of rodeo stars from across North America, flying in on their private jets to compete in what everyone says is the last pure rodeo. The rest of the year, Ponoka is a drive away from wherever people want to be, whether it’s Calgary or Edmonton or Red Deer.

I was sitting with Larry in the Ponoka Hospital while he was getting a platelet transfusion for the leukemia that was killing him. We got around to talking about the oil companies. The perfidy of Big Oil was one of Larry’s best rants. Like most Western Canadians, Larry and Bernice drove a lot, and I’m not talking about shopping in Red Deer. They’d hop in the SUV for the half-day drive to the family farm in Three Hills or a day’s spin to Saskatchewan to see Larry’s daughter. They’d take a quick spin over the Rockies to Vancouver. Or they’d drop the camper into the pickup and head East to see family in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. When it came to knowing how to get the best mileage out of whatever he was driving, the canny old farmer had it.

“Jim, there’s something fishy with Canadian gas,” Larry said that afternoon. “You just don’t get the same mileage with it that you do with U.S. gas.” It wasn’t the price difference or the metric/Imperial conversion, he went on, but the bang for the same quantity. “Don’t believe me. Try it yourself.”

I was skeptical. Gas is sold according to octane rating. All else being equal, two tankfuls of gas of the same octane rating should deliver the same mileage. But since my conversation with Larry I’ve been running my own experiment. I drive a 2010 Toyota Venza V-6 with AWD. When I fill up on this side of the border with 87-octane regular, I get in the neighbourhood of 475 km from a tankful. When I’m gassing up in Ontario I usually spring for the 94 octane mid-grade, which raises my mileage over the 500 mark. When we drove to Malone, N.Y. to buy Powerball lottery tickets, I filled up with U.S. regular. That tank took me 525 km before the low-gas warning light came on. I was so pleased I could almost forget not having won the $1.5B US.

Was Larry right? Is there something fishy about Canadian gas? I’m continuing my experiment and I welcome comment.



No vaccination against vacillation

The Trudeau cabinet’s inexperience will end up costing Canadians dearly. Not because they’ll inevitably make the wrong decisions, but because of their vacillation before coming to them. Case in point: Bombardier Aerospace. The issue is whether the federal government should follow the Couillard government’s lead in propping up what analysts agree is a troubled investment. The NDP and the Bloc both favour a cash injection although neither has a clue of how much might be needed. Sad.

Theoretically the bailout money is there. Earlier this month United Technologies repaid more than $1B CDN in government loans made to subsidiary Pratt & Whitney to develop the geared turbofan engines used to power Bombardier’s C series. Although the loans were not due until 2030, they’ll be off the books by 2020. While UT never drew a direct connection, the inference was that Ottawa would have less of an excuse to say no to a Bombardier bailout.

We learned this week the Harper Tories had all but decided against staking the planebuilder to $1.3B CDN in bailout loans. Harper knew Canadians had been badly burned by the GM precedent. After the feds and Ontario propped up GM’s Canadian operation with $13.7B CDN in 2009, the automaker last August dumped a thousand jobs in its Oshawa plant. GM’s decision cost us an estimated $3.5B. Bombardier is Quebec’s GM, having moved production offshore to Mexico, Ireland and China. Despite that, the provincial Liberals pumped $1.3B CDN into a family-controlled company with no strings attached – a far cry from the restrictions and demands the Caisse de dêpot imposed on its investment in Bombardier Rail. Québec Inc., the closely entwined, incestuous circle of directorships heading this province’s largest corporations, was once its fortress. Now it’s Quebec’s economic prison.

Maxime Bernier, the Conservatives’ industry critic, has it exactly right when he says it’s a question of fairness. “Small business doesn’t have the means of paying lobbyists, so it’s always the big well-connected businesses that get [the bailouts], supposedly to create wealth.”

More proof of the Trudeau government’s incoherence: the pre-emptive announcement by Transport Minister Marc Garneau that Ottawa would not grant regional carrier Porter Airlines landing rights for commercial jets at its downtown Billy Bishop terminal. Despite polls showing Torontonians evenly split on the question, Garneau put a fork in any interest Porter may have had in buying the CSeries. If Ottawa can’t bring itself to believe in Bombardier, why should taxpayers? Garneau’s motivation appears to have been purely political — the Trudeau Grits had promised during the election campaign to ensure jets were not allowed at Billy Bishop. If so, it’s one of a diminishing number of election promises the Trudeau team has kept or will keep.

I believe the Canadian economy is in the early stages of a tectonic shift. There’s little doubt oil prices will recover — eventually and somewhat. The world consumes 97 billion barrels daily. Canadian oilsands production accounts for roughly two million — the estimated world overproduction cited as the reason we’re awash in cheap oil. Once the major Mexican, North Sea, North African and Middle Eastern producers have driven the U.S. shale and Canadian oilsands producers out of the market, prices will be allowed to recover, but not so much the sun starts to shine on capital-intensive fracking, deepwater drilling and oilsands expansion.

What’s this mean to Canadians?  Federal deficits and provincial austerity measures. A 65-cent loonie. Higher prices for almost everything, coupled with a pathological fear on the part of the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates because of the indebtedness of the average Canadian household. Unemployment is guaranteed to increase as gun-shy corporations hunker down. We don’t know the full extent of the exposure of Canada’s major banks and financial sector to resource extraction debt but you can bet the Seven Sisters will survive by cutting services and firing their little people. The Liberals will come under enormous pressure to counter that and I don’t think they have the balls to stare down the financial establishment. I hope I will be proven wrong but pharma has yet to develop a vacillation vaccine.

My advice to the PM and Finance Minister Bill Morneau: it’s either jump or be pushed, so pick your target and make the leap.

Projected against the backdrop of the faltering Canadian economy, a federal refusal to pump more cash into aerospace would not be out of line. The problem lies in this government’s inability to make those important linkages that demonstrate an overall understanding of how the Canadian economy works. Trudeau and company can get by on blaming their predecessors for betting the ranch on oil, but sooner or later they’ll have to present Canadians with a coherent, comprehensive plan that moves this nation past that. The Bombardier bailout — or refusal — should be a part of that bigger picture.











Pissing it away

Back when, Hudson mayors were notoriously cheap. The late Taylor Bradbury kept a shovel in the trunk of his Caddy and legend has it he would stop to dig out a blocked culvert instead of calling public works. I wonder what Bradbury would make of $7 for a litre jug of windshield washer juice.

The pennypinching former Sun Life CEO must be spinning in his grave at the profligacy evidenced in the list of payments released at the Jan. 11 council meeting.

Some ratepayers might be okay with the town cutting a cheque for $1,200 to the Montreal Pipes and Drums Band or $500 to les Zouaves de Je Ne Sais Pas Ou for their appearances at the Santa Claus parade. I have an issue with spending money for the sake of spending money, like $2,086 to the Holiday Inn in Vaudreuil-Dorion for the 15-person production team here last fall to shoot an episode of La Petite Séduction. To what purpose? The RadCan production’s Xmas show featured celebrity chef Ricardo in St. Sauveur, where there are things to do. But Hudson? The dilapidated downtown core, replete with shipping containers and other blatant zoning violations? Potholed streets? Pine Flats? A guided tour of Hudson’s scandalously overpriced infrastructure projects and the homes of the key players? The Hudson episode is scheduled to air sometime this spring. Any bets on the net effect on tourism?

Advertising without a campaign plan is money squandered, like whatever it cost for those impossible-to-decipher Welcome to Hud5on banners. A spelling mistake? A reference to the 150th anniversary, now over? Whoever came up with these oddities should have consulted a graphic designer. One out-of-towner told me she had to stop her car to be able to read them. I preferred the duck.

Hydro: Nearly 20 grand, according to the last list of payments. Hydro bills two months at a time, so I’m assuming the bill doesn’t include December. Lighting up Hudson’s splendid firehall costs almost $4,000, followed by the Community Centre ($3,782) and the sewage plant ($2,800). Is there no one on the payroll capable of turning out the lights?

Then there are disturbing legal bills, beginning with $10,083 to law firm Dunton Rainville to represent an elected Hudson official in hearings before the Quebec Municipal Commission into an alleged breach of Quebec’s code of ethics and behaviour. Dunton Rainville is also representing the town in a civil action instituted by Judy Sheehan, the labour-relations specialist hired by the municipality less than two years ago to negotiate a new collective agreement with municipal employees. Dunton Rainville has also been mandated to pursue a defamation action against an unnamed person.

The town’s new DG told me recently current legal expenses are in the neighbourhood of $200,000. I’m still attempting to learn whether that’s for a year — or for active files.

Now I’m wondering whether that is why administrative expenses have shot through the roof in the 2016 budget.

We turn to the Index des memoires, an itemized list of files discussed in caucus and at working tables which resulted in resolutions the public may or may never see. This document made its first appearance at the last council meeting and like any successful striptease, hints at far more than it reveals. I identified nearly a dozen resolutions hinting at legal action — files about former employees, former DG Louise Villandré’s trial, CSST complaints and the creation of “an operational task force to implement…” something in connection with “Cynthia Maher c. Ville de Hudson Pine Lake”. Like I said, it reveals less than it conceals.

Another item reads “Article 81 recover Haulard’s computer and stolen files, demand damages and interest,” the latest instalment in the legal imbroglio involving Hudson’s former director-general and the current administration. Inquiring citizens might well be asking whether Dunton Rainville is piloting this file as well, and for how much. Prior experience has shown the current administration is fast to institute legal proceedings at considerable cost to taxpayers, then settle on the eve of court proceedings.

Far worse are veiled references to libel actions. “Préjudice personnel — atteinte a la reputation. Citizen.” […] “Valente c elses and Hudson.” Anyone who has criticized any of Hudson’s elected or appointed officials seems to live in fear of the bailiff’s knock. Resident David Vance began the opening question period with a demand that Mayor Ed Prévost confirm or deny that he was planning to sue Vance. My recording has Prévost assuring Vance he has no plans to sue him.

The Charest Liberals adopted a law protecting citizens from libel chill but municipalities across the province (Hudson is no exception) continue to use the threat of legal or economic sanctions to silence dissent.

Journalists are used to libel chill. I’ve been sued repeatedly throughout my journalistic career, including by a former Quebec premier. (We settled out of court.) The right to fair comment is a principle worth fighting for, but sometimes it’s better to apologize and live to fight another day.. In some dictatorships, dissenters have to be prepared to die for what they believe. In Hudson, critics of the current administration don’t have that problem, but this bunch appears to believe it can impose its agenda and quash criticism with the implied threat of libel action.

Canadians need to be aware there is no such animal as freedom of speech in this country, no equivalent of the American First Amendment.  A nuisance lawsuit launched against you with your tax dollars can cost thousands and who needs the aggravation and stress? My advice? Transparency activists can draw more attention to their cause by using humour and wit to make a point and energize the disinterested. Keep it funny and nobody gets hurt. Except the lawyers.


By Jim Duff

NOTE: This column appeared in the Nov. 9, 2011 Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges:

Readers may recall our front-page stories in June, 2007 about the worrisome condition of the Ile aux Tourtes bridge. It all began with call from Norm St. Aubin. He’d been passing under the bridge when he spotted a dangling steel cable, rusted through.
Our reporter Matthew Brett learned it was one of the post-tensioning cables installed after the bridge opened back in ‘66, supposedly to enable it to carry more weight. These cables are steel, four inches thick, running along both sides the entire length of the span in plastic sleeves supported by steel guiderails. They were installed in 1990-91, replaced and more added in ‘97.
We never got a straight story from the Ministère du Transport why, if those cables were thought to be necessary to enable the bridge to carry more weight, their condition wasn’t a matter of concern. Looking back, we can speculate it was part of the collective state of denial just now emerging in the leadup to the Charbonneau Commission inquiry into criminal collusion in the construction and engineering consulting industries.
We ran the original Frankenbridge story on our June 17, 2007 front page. The Montreal Gazette and the electronic media fell all over each other in their rush to debunk and ridicule our story. Their only source — the MTQ.
The week after our first story, St. Aubin took Matt and a boatload of structural engineers out to have a closer look. Their verdict: the bridge was in terrible shape and the modifications made it worse. One of those along for the ride was Kaare Olson, who designed the bridge. He took a long look at the way it had been widened and supposedly reinforced before saying “that’s not the bridge I built.”
We fought to get the 2006 inspection report. We were turned down. MTQ spokesman Mario St-Pierre told us we wouldn’t understand what it said. Don’t worry, he added — the next major inspection is in 2009 and with the work being planned, the Ile aux Tourtes bridge is good for another 70 to 75 years.
Four years later, almost nobody believes anything Transports Quebec says. The Charest government, fed up with having been caught in so many lies, ordered the MTQ to post all bridge inspection reports on the web. You’ll find them all, including the June, 2009 inspection of the Ile aux Tourtes Bridge, at http://www.mtq.gouv.qc.ca
The report is a 114-page diagnosis of all that ails the 45-year-old prestressed-concrete span with a poor maintenance history. It also suggests the bridge’s problems began with the addition of cantilevered decks on both sides, apparently without much concern as to whether the original 1966 structure could carry the weight. The accompanying 117-page PDF illustrates the delaminating concrete and rusting re-bar we described two years before that.
What I find mind-boggling is that Genivar’s inspection team agreed with Kaare Olson: “Une verification de la capacité en cisaillement des poutres fissurées en tenant compte de l’ajout d’étriers externes est requise afin de préciser le CEC. Un suivi de la fissuration des chaises est requis.” Translation: Keep a close eye on the cracks in the main beams, because the concrete’s shear strength may have been compromised by the addition of superstructure the bridge was never designed for.
Imagine adding a concrete balcony all around a highrise that was never designed to carry the additional weight and and you get an idea of the forces on the original girders and seats.
For motorists who use the bridge daily, there’s a clearer, more present danger summed up in the report’s observations about the road surface: “A significant accumulation of debris on the right-hand shoulder appreciably affecting the security of users (blowouts, projection of debris, etc.) could cause poor water runoff in the event of heavy rains.)
Draw your own conclusions, but these two findings say “stay out of the two outside lanes.”
You’ll find another observation throughout the report: Slack, corroded post-tensioning cables, always with an oblique reference to the work either underway or planned for next year. The impression I get is that the inspection team was so worried at what they found, they felt they had to cover their butts.
Do I believe the Ile aux Tourtes bridge is safe? Last week, I interviewed Mario St-Pierre, the same MTQ spokesman Matt talked to in 2007. He told me they’re planning to replace it by 2020. Four years ago, he told us it was good for another 70 to 75 years.
We’re learning that here in Quebec, steel corrodes and concrete crumbles faster than elsewhere on the planet — but eight times as fast? Welcome to the State of Denial.

Île aux Tourtes bridge backgrounder

NOTE: The following story first appeared in the Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette in July 2007. It was dismissed as scaremongering by the Ministére des Transports and the anglo media, including the Montreal Gazette. Since then, engineering reports by several major consulting engineering firms for the MTQ have confirmed what the Hudson weekly was first to report — the bridge is in failing health. Scheduled for replacement by 2020, the cost of keeping the Ile aux Tourtes span open is accelerating. According to the MTQ’s own figures, it will cost $65 million to keep the bridge open until then — $45M prior to 2015-16 and another $20 million by the time a replacement opens. Estimated cost of replacement: $750M. 

By Matthew Brett
Standing under the eastern side of the Ile aux Tourtes Bridge, one feels and hears the constant thudding overhead from the big rigs roaring to their destinations. The thudding has taken its toll on the bridge as the first pier to reach the water, pier 24, is almost entirely marked off with spray paint for repairs. Exposed steel bleeds rust down the pier, and a sliver of light beams through a crack where cement has spalled away.
The Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette camera snapped a series of photographs of the bridge from the shore and by boat, which provide graphic detail of what is happening to the underbelly of the 1.8-kilometre span between Montreal Island and the mainland.
The six-lane Highway 40 bridge carries an estimated 75,000 vehicles a day.
Upon examination of the photographs, bridge engineer Hellen Christodoulou said “repairs are clearly warrented.”
Christodoulou, who was involved in a post-examination of the de la Concorde overpass collapse which claimed five lives on September 30, 2005, said “the bridge design capacity remains inadequate to sustain current loading. There should be stringent requirements and monitoring of traffic loads and speeds.”
Kaare Olsen, who was Atlas Construction’s VP and Chief Engineer when construction began in 1963, was in complete agreement with Christodoulou when he saw the photographs. (Olsen, left with fellow Hudson engineer Brian White during the Gazette’s 2007 inspection tour,  passed away on March 23, 2014 at the age of 91.)

“When we built that bridge it wasn’t meant to take the load its taking today,” he said. “They didn’t visualize the capacity that’s going now.”
The Ile aux Tourtes was one of the first pre-stressed concrete bridges built in Quebec, Olsen explained. Like an elastic, it was designed to flex under load.
Lack of maintenance, Quebec’s harsh climate and an ill-advised bridge-widening project to add a breakdown lane on both sides have contributed to the deterioration of the bridge Olsen built. Spalling, leaching and cracking are now widespread after 42 years of service. Already, the bridge has exceeded its 35-year lifespan.
“Geez, look at that,” Olsen said as he looked at a section of exposed and rusting steel. “That’s all from weathering, it’s not from any stresses.”
The weathering is exacerbated by what Olsen regards to be a poorly designed drainage system. Gaps in the concrete barriers designed to drain the surface water were placed directly above the piers, allowing water and salt runoff to erode the beams and piers.
Olsen noted the original prestressed bridge design was not taken into account when the MTQ replaced the original lightweight retaining rails with a solid concrete parapet, prompted by the number of vehicles tumbling into the Outaouais after losing control. The bridge flexes but the barriers do not.
Olsen’s comment upon seeing the deterioration of the heavily modified structure: “I didn’t build that bridge.”

(Since Matt’s original story ran, a 2011 inspection by the consulting engineering firm Genivar discovered the added breakdown lanes cantilevered onto the original outside beams have had the effect of prying them apart, exposing the original structure to even greater weathering.)
Christodoulou’s summary notes work was done on the bridge in order to increase its capacity by transforming  sections of the bridge’s initial girders into box girders —a reasonable repair, but the workmanship was substandard. She also said the box girders were only a temporary solution.
Several of the cables used to construct the box girders are rusted, “indicative of the fact that they were either not galvanized, or insufficiently galvanized,” she said.
Several sections of the bridge also reveal cracked and delaminated surfaces. “there is no doubt that the work done was a patch-up job,” Christodoulou said. She said the delaminated concrete may be the result of poor quality or fast-hardening concrete.

(Since Matt’s story was published, there has been growing concern worldwide about the catastrophic failure of structures built with calcium aluminate concrete. Originally preferred because they set, or achieved most of their final strength more quickly, these aluminate cements (ciment fondu) were widely used during the building boom in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, nowhere more so than here in Quebec. The Europeans were the first to note the correlation between aluminate concrete and accelerated aging in dams, bridges and buildings. According to the late Brian White, most of the cost of Quebec’s deteriorating infrastructure could well be due to the widespread use of ciment fondu. White believed the failure of Hydro Quebec’s transmission network during the 1998 ice storm should be blamed on the use of ciment fondu in insulators.)

NOTE: This June 15, 2007 summary by consulting engineer Hellen Christodoulou followed a visual inspection of the Ile aux Tourtes bridge by a team which included the late Kaare Olsen, under whose supervision the bridge was built.

1) The bridge was initially a girder bridge. From the photos it is evident that work was done to deepen the girders, in order to increase the bridge capacity.
2) In order to achieve this, the individual girders were transformed into box girders, except at the end girders.
3) The photos illustrate that this transformation was done by the installation of bottom plates and vertical bars, as a means to strap the existing while lowering the bottom to increase capacity. The lowering was achieved by pouring a concrete layer to connect the girders.
4) Once the above was completed the plates and cables were left in place. It is evident from the photos that several of these cables are rusted, indicative of the fact that they were either not galvanized, or insufficiently galvanized.
5) As for the cracked and delaminated surfaces seen in the photos, there is no doubt that the work done was a patch-up job, the reinforcing used has rusted (not galvanized), the concrete has delaminated, possibly resulting from the use of poor quality or fast-hardening concrete. Repairs are clearly warranted.
6) As for the horizontal post tension cables, there lies an even more serious problem. These cables have been placed at the end girders. The photos clearly show that one of these cables has snapped off. Why is this serious? These types of cables are installed to increase the capacity at the ends and reduce flexure. The fact that they have snapped out of place implies that the bridge capacity has weakened and that section is overstressed. This situation can be quite volatile and more serious problems may occur.
7) As for the substructure (piers), it seems they have been marked-off for repairs, yet no work has been done. The spalled and delaminated surfaces as well as the rusted reinforcing bars, require immediate review and repairs.

Christodoulou’s conclusion: The concept of transforming the existing girders into box girders and deepening the sections, is reasonable, however a) the workmanship seems substandard and b) this solution is not a permanent one, since this modification may only partially increase the bridge capacity. The fact that post-tension cables were required, is proof enough that the capacity is insufficient for current loading requirements. The bridge design capacity remains inadequate to sustain current loading. There should be stringent requirements and monitoring of traffic loads and speeds.




Île ‘o’ Torture Bridge woes

Looks like the lane changes on the Ile ‘o’ Torture bridge will be with us well into 2016 and quite possibly longer. Last week, Quebec’s transport minister and the region’s two MNAs called a presser to announce the creation of a median crossover at the Vaudreuil-Dorion end and moveable Jersey barriers so morning and evening rush traffic gets the use of three lanes.
I wasn’t invited, so didn’t get the opportunity to ask why wasn’t the bypass completed and opened BEFORE the eastbound slow lane was closed in mid-December? Three years ago, the temporary Île Thomas bridge was built and opened BEFORE demolition began on the double span just to the west of the Île aux Tourtes Frankenbridge.
The Ministère de Transports news release concluded:
Les travaux de réparation du pont de l’Île-aux-Tourtes ont commencé durant la fin de semaine du 18 décembre et se poursuivront au cours des prochaines semaines. Le Ministère précisera ultérieurement la date de fin des travaux, dont la durée est tributaire des conditions d’exécution en période hivernale.
Translation: A completion date for repairs depends on whether work can continue over the winter.
You know something is serious when crews worked weekends and statutory holidays to install a temporary shelter and construction trailer on the south side of the bridge and fired up a heating system.
This says ‘emergency closure’ to me.
Equally concerning was the reaction to my questions about the latest in the list of Île aux Tourtes contracts posted on the SEAO website. (SEAO is the Quebec government’s electronic tendering system, born out of the collusion shitstorm.) “Oh, that contract has undergone major revisions,” said the MTQ agent named in the tender documents before handing me off to a Montreal colleague. “I have no record of any such contract,” he told me.
However SEAO documents tell us this:
The work now underway is based on a survey by consulting engineers CIMA Plus released Nov. 10. (A request for comment was unreturned.) It counselled an evaluation of the load-carrying capacity of the 50-year-old bridge, specifically the damaged box beams and the bridge deck. Of particular concern is a 40-millimetre hole and cracks which seem to have appeared since a scheduled inspection in September.
Why the scramble to close the eastbound slow lane and reduce the speed limit? It’s contained in the 2012 Genivar report, a 114-page litany of woes based on four main concerns: age, poorly designed and engineered modifications, slapdash maintenance and a load it wasn’t designed to carry.
Last point first: the bridge, one of the first ever built in Quebec with prestressed flexible trusses, was designed to handle 25,000 vehicles a day; it carries an estimated 85,000. To handle the load, the original deck was widened to 30 metres by adding what can best be described as porches on both sides. They did this by cantilevering supports on the two outside main beams, then replacing the original lightweight guardrails with much heavier, less flexible concrete barriers. As we reported in 2007, the result was a heavier, less flexible structure.
It was originally designed with a 35-year lifespan (In 2012, the MTQ announced it would be replaced in 2020). Road salt, inadequate drainage (and possibly the wrong kind of concrete), coupled with a demonstrated lack of maintenance, have contributed to its accelerating deterioration and skyrocketing cost of keeping it open. Up until last year it cost taxpayers more than $45 million in maintenance. For 2015-16, the tab will be $7.9M, $12.6M between 2016 and 2020.
All this to say there’s a good reason for maintaining and upgrading public transit between Vaudreuil-Soulanges and Montreal Island. Imagine what off-island life would be like without the Île aux Tourtes bridge. Meanwhile, I’m driving in the inside lanes or taking Highway 20.

Badawi: My question for Justin Trudeau

In an earlier post, I suggested Canada’s new Liberal PM was walking the diplomatic tightrope, with pressures from Badawi’s supporters on one side and the need to appease Canada’s Saudi allies on the other. My question to Justin Trudeau: where do you stand on the right to peaceful dissent and at what point does the fate of Raif Badawi become a matter of principle for you and your government?

In his Dec. 28 La Presse column Raif Badawi and us, Patrick Lagacé writes about his visit to the Sherbrooke apartment Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar and their three kids Najwa, 12, Doudi, 11 and eight-year-old Miryam call home. Lagacé’s visit followed Haidar’s acceptance of the Sakharov Prize, the annual award created in honour of the dissident Soviet physician and Nobel Peace Prizewinner whose writings heralded the collapse of the USSR. Sakharov was freed in 1986, the year the USSR collapsed and Lagacé draws a parallel with Badawi, whose blogs during the Arab Spring were seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the most authoritarian of the Gulf petro-dictatorships.

Sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes in 50-blow instalments, Badawi is on a hunger strike in a Saudi prison. Although the lashings have been suspended after the first 50 nearly killed him, he is said to be in failing health. The Swiss claim they have been told he’ll be pardoned and released, but none of this has been confirmed. (The Canadian mission in the Saudi capital isn’t known for its agressivity in advocating for Canadians who have run afoul of Saudi law.)

Saudi Arabia is a black hole, I can’t understand why we treat these people with respect, ‘we’ being the Western world. Here is a violent dictatorship which tolerates almost no political dissent, which condemns to death the softest critics of Islam. – La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé

Look in vain for harsh criticism of Saudi Arabia from Canadian, French, American and British leaders, Lagacé continues, because Sunni Saudi Arabia is a trusted ally against Shiite Iran — even if they are a violent dictatorship.
Lagacé quotes Algerian writer Kamel Daoud, who published a damning Nov. 20 think piece in the New York Times. In it, Daoud describes Saudi Arabia as an Islamic State which has succeeded, a nation which exports the wahhabist brand of radical Islam which fuels God’s fools from Syria to the streets of Paris. The West supports Saudi Arabia at its peril, Daoud continues, because it’s a trap. The Saudis export fundamentalist Islam and its tenets — subjugation of women, hatred of infidels and savage justice — via a vast state-supported propaganda industry throughout the Muslim world. Daoud wonders which is more schizophrenic — the Saudis for their condolences at the Charlie Hebdo massacres or the Western world for believing them.

Lagacé concludes: Raif Badawi is important because his fate helps us understand the true face of this false Saudi friend, the great exporter of of the radical islamic sickness. No matter that the Saudi dissident isn’t a Quebecker or a Canadian; he’s the icon in the struggle for human solidarity in the face of evil.