Writing conversation: article reprint

March 11, 2014

Time has come to re-examine first-past-the-post elections

June 2010 Neil McKenty

Before the recent British election, there were three party leaders. After the election there were three party losers.

Labour leader Gordon Brown lost his government partly because he didn’t have a Clegg to stand on.

Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg lost seats when all the polls said he would gain them. Conservative leader David Cameron lost a majority when the pundits said he should have won the election easily.

Although it is true the Tory leader has half the prime minister’s job, shared with Clegg, I would suggest that Cameron was the biggest loser. Facing a tired, dispirited Labour government that had been in power for 13 years and was headed by the unpopular and befuddled Brown, Cameron should have won in a walk. He came about 20 seats short of a majority.

This forced Cameron and the Tories to go to the Lib–Dems begging for their support. The analogy is not perfect, but can you imagine Stephen Harper, hat in hand, asking for the support of the NDP? Neither can I.

And make no mistake about it: The Tories have paid a high price for the Lib-Dems’ support. The more extreme or ideological parts of the Tory program will have to be tempered, in the interest of cabinet unity, by the more pragmatic and progressive influence of the Liberal Democrats.

For example, though the strongly euro-sceptical William Hague is the new foreign secretary, the fight with Brussels he was spoiling for before the election will have to be postponed. The government cannot do anything that Clegg, a strong pro-European who is Cameron’s deputy prime minister, cannot defend to his own backbenchers.

Any cuts in public services ordered by the new chancellor, George Osborne, will have to be such as can be defended by his Liberal Democrat rival and critic in opposition, Vince Cable, who also joins cabinet. The people most likely to be upset by this are on the right of the Tory party, for whom compromise of ideological principle is a very high price to pay for office.

Perhaps the Labour Party chose the better part by not pushing for a coalition with Clegg. Now Labour can recharge its batteries under a new leader, probably David Milliband, ready to pounce if and when the Cameron-Clegg government falls apart, as I predict it will in the next year or so over any number of issues, including deficit financing and the reform of the voting system.

In the run-up to the election, there was no more vexatious issue dividing the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats than voting reform. The Lib-Dems wanted it at all costs because, among other things, it would improve the chances of a third party winning more seats in a general election. Consider that in the recent elections the Lib-Dems got 23 per cent of the vote, but only nine per cent of the seats. The Tories did not want to touch reform with a barge pole because they argued rightly that it would militate against strong governments and condemn them to minority status forever. But it is the Tories who have had to put water in their wine. The government will apparently offer voters a referendum on a system of voting in general elections to replace the traditional first past the post, which is the system we have in Canada.

“Can you imagine Stephen Harper, hat in hand, asking for the support of the NDP? Neither can I.”

But the referendum that will be voted on in Britain is not for proportional representation as such.

(In Canada, three provinces have had referenda on proportional representation and all three have rejected it.)

The alternative vote is the system used by the House of Representatives in Australia. It works this way: The system allows voters to list their candidates in order of preference. Using the Canadian system, this would mean that if you liked the Conservative Party, you could vote for its candidate alone or you could vote for the Conservative as a first preference and then, say, the NDP.

If a candidate got 50 per cent of the vote or more, he or she would win. If not, the votes of the candidate who finished last would be redistributed, until a candidate got 50 per cent of first, second, or third preferences.

Discussing this method in the Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson says it has four advantages. First, alternative vote gives voters something other than a black or white choice. Second, it moves a little toward matching total votes cast for a party with seats won. Third, it means that all MPs can say they received at least half the preferences, instead of in our system, in which many MPs garner fewer than half the votes. Fourth, it still usually produces a majority parliament (despite the fears of the British Tories).

Is it time for Canadians to look at Australia and Britain and modify our first-past-the-post system, which so distorts the relationship between votes cast and seats won?

From theseniortimes.com

Quebec Politics

March 9, 2014

Click below to hear Quebec politics discussed on Exchange.

Laurels and Lemons

March 7, 2014

Click below to listen to another episode of Laurels and Lemons on Exchange.

RADIO: Seal hunt

March 6, 2014

Click below to listen to the Seal Hunt discussed on Exchange

RADIO: Robert Bourassa, former Premier of Quebec

March 3, 2014

Click below to hear the former Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, on Exchange for the first hour. The second hour is a discussion on language rights in Manitoba.

RADIO: politics – 1984 Election fever

March 1, 2014

Click below to hear the election of 1984 discussed on Exchange.


February 27, 2014

A reprint of a blog entry from 2008:

Are you tired of waiting?

Did you know that a new survey reveals that 86 per cent of Canadians say they’ve given up on their purchases and walked out of a business after waiting too long for service.

Department stores are deemed the worst offenders with 78 per cent of customers say they’ve bailed out.

More than half have left a bank or convenience store in frustration. Two-thirds say they’ve given up on public transit and half have abandoned a medical facility.

Have you walked out of any of these places? Other places?

How long are you prepared to wait?

On average, consumers said eight minutes was enough time to wait in a grocery store and they’d give up after 15 minutes; they’d wait up to 22 minutes for public transit and 81 minutes to see a doctor before they walked out.

What is your experience waiting in these places? Other places?

How long do you think it is acceptable to wait?

Now, if you want to read how others handle this subject check out Larry Chung at IHateBadService.ca

  • SUZANNE Says:

Yes. Zellers is bad for that. I’ve decided not to buy stuff because the line-ups are too long.

There’s this one cashier at the Zeller’s close to my house who’s sooooo slow. It’s like molasses in January.

Actually, my bigger pet peeve is how they CONSTANTLY ask you if you want to sign up for a credit card (or use it), and even after you say “no”, the cashier tries to goad you into doing that.

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 3:11 pm e


neilmckentyweblog2 Says:


It’s just great to hear from you.

How do I enter your blog into my blog roll?


Posted on August 30, 2008 at 3:17 pm e


Paul Costopoulos Says:

Waiting is part and parcel of the philosophy of profitability and productivity. The more you sell or produce with the less people the more money you make. Of course when the consumer talks with his or her feet…then they start paying attention.

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 3:51 pm e


exposrip Says:

Line ups at grocery stores are nuts. Thanks to union rules and government regulations.

Nothing beats the “line ups” in the public health system.

On a slight tangent, I walked into a Horton’s last night wanting a maple dough nut. I was informed there weren’t any left. That really annoyed me. As a dough nut shop the least you can do is make sure, I don’t know, you have DOUGH NUTS. I’m not asking you to protect the Arctic.

And isn’t maple one of the classics? How can you “run out” of those?

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 4:48 pm e


neilmckentyweblog2 Says:

exposrip: -

Boy, does that ring a bell for me. I like Tim Hortons. And in my opinion the best doughnut they make is “Sour Cream Plain.” Trouble is you can hardly ever get it. They are always out.

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm e


Barbara Says:

Nothing equals a visit to my ob-gyn. I figure on two hours waiting time. Priority is given to immediate problems and I am going for a routine check up, so that has to be taken into account. Then a delivery may need attention suddenly and take him away. My solution, I use it as an opportunity to catch up on my reading, take a wee nap, do a Times crossword puzzle. What you cannot change, you must transform.

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 5:51 pm e


Chimera Says:

I check line-ups before I actually get in line. If the line is already too long, I come back later.

No, I don’t wait undue lengths of time.

I walked out on a boss, once, who tried the old intimidation game of keeping me waiting. He called me for an appointment at a specific time, and I was there prompty. Fifteen minutes past the time, I asked if someone was with him, and the answer was, “Oh, no. He’s just doing paperwork. He’ll be with you shortly.”

I told the nice receptionsit that I had better things to do with my time than wait for rude people to quit playing childish games, and that if he wanted to see me, he could catch up with me at work, and at my convenience. Then I left, with a roomful of people standing around open-mouthed.

I guess that incident went around the office and caught up with his boss. He never did that to anyone again.

Posted on August 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm e


Larry Chung Says:

Thanks for mentioning iHateBadService.ca =)

Companies continue to learn the hard way that bad consumer services stories can make their way from niche website through national television. And it could be one of yours ! We are thrilled that our traffics have been going through the roof since the new survey is released.

So if you hate bad service, come share yours with us.




Posted on August 30, 2008 at 11:02 pm e


neilmckentyweblog2 Says:

Hi Larry:-

Great to hear from you and to learn that some of our gang have looked in on your blog. Obviously you are providing good service. Thanks.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 12:36 am e


Cornelius T. Zen Says:

Good morrow, all!
The very first time I had ever walked into a Wal-Mart in the US, I was amazed. I was greeted both politely and enthusiastically. At every possible checkout, there was someone waiting to check you out. They would actually count “One, two, three…I can help you here, sir.”
Then Wal-Mart came to Canada. The greeters must have been trained by Homeland Security. The checkout people were few and far between. Checkouts were not opened until the lineup blocked at least two aisles of merchandise.
Canadians have to learn a simple reply to this: “Either give me better service, or I take my business elsewhere!” Then, walk! I would rather pay a slightly higher price for better service, more attention to my needs as a consumer, and a smile. By all means, give the big-blighters a hand — one finger at a time. But, I digress…CTZen

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 12:46 am e


exposrip Says:

CTZ, too funny AND so true. Quebec misses the whole point about Wal-Mart. It’s like you’re bothering people here. Whenever I get someone who is extra helpful it’s an exception.

And don’t get me going about restaurants. Servers today think they’re doing you a favour. Not in all cases but in a lot of them.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:32 am e


exposrip Says:


It makes no sense to me that Horton’s would run out of any d’nuts. None whatsoever.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:33 am e


Tony Kondaks Says:

CTZen, you’ve inspired me to tell of my Wal-Mart experience.

I am a stickler at the cash register; I know what the price of the items I’m buying are and I watch the cash register like a hawk to make sure the right price is being rung up.

I used to shop at other grocery stores that are in my area. Indeed, I preferred going to them because they were more personable and I liked the people I interacted with and it was more cozy than the very cold and impersonable Wal-Mart, which is huge.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:57 pm e


Tony Kondaks Says:

I can’t get the rest of my post posted.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:57 pm e


Tony Kondaks Says:


However, there was a problem: no less than 50% of the time there was always at least one item that was rung up at MORE than the price attached to the item on the shelf. Now, aside from the indignity of being charged more than I am supposed to be charged, there is also the issue of “price check!” being shouted out and the ensuing trip by the bagboy down the aisles and back to confirm the price while I and everyone behind me wait tapping our feet.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:58 pm e


Tony Kondaks Says:


Shopping at the Wal-Mart Super Store (which means they offer groceries in addition to all the other stuff) over the past 4 years I have not once — not ONCE! — ever had an item rung up that was not what it is supposed to be! This is truly amazing and the one reason, more than any other, why I shop there.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:59 pm e


Tony Kondaks Says:

For some reason, WordPress doesn’t allow me to post over a certain number of words, so I am breaking up my posts into little ones.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 4:00 pm e


exposrip Says:

WordPress doesn’t allow a lot of things.

Posted on August 31, 2008 at 4:59 pm e


Cornelius T. Zen Says:

Good morrow, Tony!
I think WordPress is probably marketed by Wal-Mart. I could be wrong.
But, I digress…CTZen

Your favourite three restaurants?

February 25, 2014

For the writing conversation today we rerun a 2011 blog-entry from Neil with comments from readers:

Do share your favourite restaurants with us.  Some day we may be in your neck of the woods and will be looking for a good place to eat.

I will divide my three favourites into breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For breakfast you can’t go wrong with Beauty’s (established in 1942) and located on Mount Royal Ave.  in the Plateau.  Catharine and I often go there early Saturday morning. We have fresh chilled orange juice, a stack of blueberry pancakes smothered in maple syrup accompanied by crisp crisp bacon, all washed down by gallons of rich black coffee.  Often there is a line-up but that is samll price to pay for Beauty’s.

For lunch or brunch we head out to St. Jaques in Notre Dame de Grace to Cora’s.  Cora is a French-Canadian entrepreneur who from a single site has built a chain of restaurants across Quebec and across Canada.  We tuck into onion soup and fresh fruit with custard.  YUm, Yum.

For dinner we fetch up aat the famous Schwartz’s (a.k.a. the Hebrew Delicatessan) on St. Laurent Boulevard just around the corner from Beauty’s.  Another line-up here.  When we get into the restaurant that goes back to 1928 (and does not take credit cards)  we seat cheek by jowel with a group that resembles the inside of  a Montreal bus and sprinkled with some gaily dressed tourists.  My regular here is a medium-rare Rib Eye steak, sizzling between crisp French fries and a gargantuan sour pickle.  This is the real McCoy.

Tell us about your three favourite restaurants.

We’ll tuck them away for the future.



1) I am not a big meat eater; indeed, my “default” is to always eat vegetarian. However, if my body “tells” me I need meat (usually manifested as an urge to eat red meat), I indulge. This happens maybe 2 or 3 times a year. And when I do have meat I want to have the best; and this is where my favourite restaurant comes in. In Scottsdale Arizona is a restaurant called “Cowboy Ciao” which, as the name suggests, a fusion of Italian and Southwestern cuisine (although there is hardly any Italian influence in the cuisine as far as I can tell). Anyway, they had a beef short ribs dish that was braised and served with a cherry/brandy reduction sauce, served on a bed of pecan grits and grilled vegetables. They charged $31.00 for it and I never, ever tasted beef like that. It was their signature dish. And the consistency was there each and every time I went.

However, I recently learned from visiting their website that they have changed it! They still offer the short ribs but it is served a different way.

2) I am now in Vancouver and you can’t throw a rock without breaking the window of a sushi bar. There are so many! And this is a paradise to a sushi lover like myself. And there is so much competition that the prices are incredible, ironic in a city where everything else is so overpriced (particularly real estate). Anyway, there is a sushi bar a 10 minute walk from where I live called “Watami” which is not the best in terms of either quality or taste but is up there in both values. But what sets it apart — and why it’s a favourite — is the special it offers: 3 sushi rolls (plus miso soup and endless green tea) for $5.95! And it isn’t their choice of rolls but your choice from a list of about 30! I usually take the spicy salmon roll, the negitoro roll, and the spicy Dynamite roll. I am in sushi heaven.

An amusing aside: with tax, the $5.95 would come to $6.66 but so many customers remarked on the “666″ that they jiggled the software on their cash register so that it now comes out to $6.68!

3) My third choice is really in response to Neil’s listing of Schwartz’s. Again, an unusual choice for me because meat plays such a small part of my life. Across the street from Schwartz’s is “The Main” which is never, ever as busy as Schwartz’s but also makes their own smoked meat and exists probably solely as a “spill over” from the always busy Schwartz’s. But, for some reason, I prefer The Main’s smoked meat to Schwartz’s. And, yes, I am the only person I know who feels that way. Indeed, it is sacriligious, it seems, to tout any smoked meat purveyor as better than Schwartz’s but there you are. I only order it medium fat, which of course is the only way to go (fat is what makes the bloody thing taste good in the first place, so why deny yourself?). A side of incredible fries and a cherry coke round out the experience.

So, I increase my cholesteral with my first and third picks and, neutralize the negative effects through the fish oils of my second pick,

Posted on August 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm e


Neil McKenty Says:


Thanks for your marvellously detailed additions to our restaurant list. I hope to get to that place in Scottsdale.

About Schwartze’s/ My friend – and your friend – Jim who contributes
tlo this blog – told me a long time ago that the place across from Schwatazes was in fact a better place for smoked meat.

Thanks again.

Posted on August 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm e


Trev Says:

1. La Friterie in Sainte-Adele: best poutine in the Laurentians. Basic American fast-food done with the panache and concern with quality that only french Canadians apply.

2. Shangrila: if you don’t know this place, get your skates on because this Nepalese-Italian fusion restaurant in Lachine (the up-and-coming edgy suburb of Montreal), at the corner of 25th ave and Notre-Dame will expand your spice horizons and blow your mind. Perfect for west-islanders.

3. The Jersey Giant: on Front street in Toronto, ace nachos and pints of Smithwicks

Posted on August 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm e


Bobby Says:

Time:The 50 Best Websites of 2011

Posted on August 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm e


Liz Says:

If you are a meat-eater you would probably not go to Annapurna, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Toronto. However, if you don’t mind skipping meat for at least one day I would recommend this place. I am not a vegetarian either but I will definitely head back for another visit.

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 11:29 am e


Lady Janus Says:

I don’t have only three favorite restaurants, and I divide them into ethnic cuisines instead of the time of day, but…keeping to the boundaries of the city of Vancouver without including any of the satelite cities, I’ll try:

(1) For Ethiopian food, I go to Axum on East Hastings. It’s a small, homey place with maybe a dozen tables, and the kitchen is easily viewed from everywhere, so you can watch the cook/owner work her magic. The food is redolent with spices and brilliant with color. The injira is presented on its platter at your table, and then, one by one, the individual dishes — each prepared in their own separate little cooking pots — are laid out on top of it until the platter is covered with dots of color and mounds of aromatic stews. No knives, forks, or spoons, but for each patron, a small plate full of rolled injira, for breaking off pieces and using as a “mitt” to pick up the food and carry it to one’s eager palate: http://axumrestaurant.ca/

Ethiopian meals are a social event, so take your time and enjoy the company as well as the food. Lovers traditionally feed one another the choicest bits on the platter. At Axum, sometimes a dance troupe will entertain. And, if you are lucky enough to be there when the coffee ceremony is happening, PLEASE do yourself the favor of taking part in it! You have never tasted coffee like Ethiopian coffee!!!

(2) For Jamaican/Caribbean food, I found a place on Carrall Street called Calabash Bistro. Also a small, homey place with only a few tables, Calabash is authentically Caribbean, The food is aromatic and richly flavored, the staff are attentive, and the ambiance is reggae and lively. Take a seat by the large window so you can watch the street theater, or head downstairs to enjoy the live music while you dine: http://calabashbistro.com/food

(3) And, just for fun, whenever possible, Japadog! Technically, it’s not exactly a restaurant, but a stationary hotdog cart with mobile tentacles. One of the few chains I will patronize, and the reason for that is that they are all different from one another! They all have some standard items (like the Terimayo and Oroshi), but each location also has its own specialty items that the others do not carry. My particular favorite location is the one in front of Waterfront Station on Cordova at Granville, because it is the only one that has the ebi chili dog — a shrimp sausage (!) on a bun, covered with a sweet chili sauce, a cheese sauce, and sprinkled liberally with tiny dried shrimp! They also are bringing in a smoked salmon sausage dog, at the Waterfront location only. Can’t wait for it! Voted THE BEST street food in Vancouver (even by all its competitors), if you’re visiting here and you don’t try it, shame on you, for you haven’t really been here at all: http://imonlyhereforthefood.com/2010/06/japadog-robson/

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm e


littlepatti Says:

I really like Madison’s for lunch where we can split a club done with French-style bread & a nice Baked potato & Slaw.
I also like to split a Baton Rouge’s Grilled Chicken salad with Honey mustard dressing.
In Winnipeg, we discovered “Haps”. A steak house downtown. Open Grill and nice salad & seafood. Exquisite service.
We often go to Chez Cora and it’s consistently good, where ever.
I’ve wanted to go to Schwartz’s this summer, but hesitate because of all the construction. I also like Orchidee de Chine and Piment Rouge-same owner.
Oh! And Hot & Spicy on Decarie!
OMG, I’m starved!


A Landmark Moment

February 24, 2014

Sydney Crosby’s defining second goal in Canada’s battle for hockey Olympic Gold

Triggered off some wonderful memories. Two weeks after our honeymoon in September 1972, Neil and I packed up our stuff and watched as the big guys from King’s Transfer Line loaded it all into their van. We were moving lock stock and barrel to Montreal and a new life with Neil going on air at CJAD.

We had been watching the Canada-Soviet hockey game, our TV set was the last to be loaded on the van. As we were about to run the key in the lock we heard the voice of the announcer shouting ‘He scores!” Henderson had shot the winning goal.


February 22, 2014

Top blog post:

Every so often we are republishing posts that are or were particularly important. From 2008, this page is the 4th most-visited on neilmckenty.com


As this is being written Canada has not won a single medal at the Bejing Olympics. Australia, with a much smaller population, has won several. Even Togo, Algeria and poor old Georgia have made it to the medal podium. Canada – not a one.

What’s the matter with us? The critics’ answers are coming in fast. Canada doesn’t take the Olympics seriously enough. The Canadian government does not spend enough money on Olympic sports. Canadian taxpayers must shell out more, much more, on elite sports programs to identify, develop and fine-tune athletes who can make us proud at the Olympics. If Australia can do, so should we, the critics say.

Let’s look at the money argument. Ottawa now spends some $166 million a year on sports in general. In addition to that Ottawa doles out more than $40 million a year to support high-performance-international-grade athletes. Canadian taxpayers routinely give annual subsidies of as much as $18,000 to registered Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls.

So should we spend more money on Olympic athletes? Not according to the Montreal Gazette we shouldn’t . Instead of spending another dime on Olympic athletes, the government should spend any extra money on general participation sports and build a few basketball courts in places like Montreal North where police killed the young black man. The Gazette asks whether perfecting a few specialists to win medals is really a worthy national goal.

Instead the Gazette argues that taxpayers’ money should be spent on sports in ways which will more directly affect the well-being of large numbers of Canadians.

Should more money go to elite or participation sports?

Are you embarrassed that on the seventh day of the Olympics Canada has not won a single medal?


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