#170 – DNDark: A Soviet Repair Tale

The Ottawa headquarters of the Department of National Defense looks like the government buildings in a particularly podunk post-Soviet region. It’s a dreary brown slab of shit sandwiched between a shitty shopping mall, a shitty university, a shitty “park” full of drunks and hoboes, and the spectacular shitshow of meep-meepery that is Elgin Street. A regular hangout spot for drooling morons and tuff-guy skateboard punks, this unassuming Soviet piece of shit is going to be scarring a lot more than the Ottawa landscape when its ventiliation, plumbing, or fire suppression are taken offline. While people are working. Well, at least the building and the policy are meshed because that’s some fucking bush-league third-world bullshit that further demonstrates how divorced from reality the Ottawa Caker Crew really is.

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(s) In Cakergrad, building designs you! Seriously though, this thing is total wank

The government has taken to advising employees trapped on the 11th floor without elevators and practically working by candlelight that the chance of fire is minimal, which is totally reasonable and not at all a ridiculous cop-out after basically telling your employees to eat shit. We’ll just ask potentially-combustible material to please stay sans fire and we’re golden! Backup plans? Nah. We’ve never had that problem before, especially not during renovations. This is also in the context of DND leaving this heaving hulk of a shit-campus in favor of a suburban shit-campus in the middle of fucking nowhere, which has been going about as well as Soviet Cakerstan can manage. Which is of course fucking not at all because these people can’t even take their own national defense buildings seriously.

This particular Soviet abortion of a building has a long, turgid history as the equivalent of a perfectly-coiled dog turd in a public park. Officially called the Major-General George R. Pearkes Building, the design was conceived by a deeply confused human being named Jacques Greber who thought highways were the future and who hated density and trains. This particular building consequently contributed to the loss of Ottawa’s downtown train station. So if you’re wondering why Ottawa got the name Cakergrad it’s basically shit like this building that did it. Rob Campeau would be proud – Greber took a dump on the city and contributed to it being the lifeless, low-density hole of a city that Rob would later take his own dumps on. Greber was a member of the City Beautiful Movement, but you wouldn’t know it from this piece of shit because all it can possibly inspire is snide commentary like mine.

So not only is it a horrible building (which was actually initially meant for the Department of Transportation, because those two departments have exactly the same building needs), but it contributed in its own shitty way to the ruin of Ottawa (if there ever was anything good there, which I frankly doubt). And now that the government is planning on moving out of that nasty place (ironically fleeing to the suburbs exactly as Jacques Greber encouraged Ottawa’s public serice buildings to do), they’re not able to figure themselves out to do that either. The whole building is a history of slap-dash whoopsie-doodles.

And that shitty pile of flaccid failure now squirts a stinking load, as necessary systems are now required to stay open despite have no water, refrigeration, fire protection, lighting (headlamps don’t exactly cut it), or toilet. It’s not like you can just say to an overseas mission “yeah, Canada shit the bed again, so we’re gonna leave you to it and we’ll catch up with you Tuesday”. People have to be there. They could have been in a proper campus where this Chernobyl sarcophagus wannabe’s maintenance schedule wouldn’t be a problem. But they aren’t so they’re stuck holding their shits in and praying the place doesn’t catch fire.

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(s) At least this place could possibly fucking glow or something.

Remember kids – safety first! Unless, you know, safety requires competence or expense, whereupon fuck that noise.

 

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#169 – Isbestos Country, Comrade!

Canada still imports asbestos-laden products.

Yup. That asbestos. Having worked in commercial real estate I can tell you that few words strike fear into the hearts of hilarious Quebecois contractors faster than the phrase “asbestos handling training”, because handling asbestos is a bitch. Originally a fire-retardant, asbestos became known for its life-retardant properties, namely that breathing in the fine particles that come off of disturbed asbestos gives people hell-cancer called mesothelioma (warning – nasty cancer picture associated with the link). Generally, hell-cancer is a bad thing that we ought to avoid.

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(s) By our forces combined, we are the Fuck Your Shit Up Squad!

The other thing about asbestos is that while encased it’s fairly harmless. The problem comes from the particles that come off of disturbed asbestos. If you ever renovate, rewire, suffer from any sort of damage to the building, bump into it, take out pipes or ductwork with latent asbestos particles inside, or indeed even damage the external casing you’re far past fucked. This means that you can choose to roll the dice with asbestos. Will another caker cut-corner contractor campus fail today in such a way that gives employees a neat case of the cancer-flakes? To find out if your friendly civil servant is eligble to play Am I Potentially Doomed to a Painful, Cancerous End, just look at this map of asbestos-laden federal buildings! Thankfully, Public Procurement saw the obvious danger and put a stop to building federal projects with asbestos…this year.

Forgive me a moment here. We’ve known that asbestos are a bad time for decades, and we’ve just gotten to the point where we’re not building with the shit anymore? And if it’s not safe for government workers why the hell are we importing the stuff? It’s one of the more common killers in the Canadian workforce and casualties, with 2000 deaths by asbestos exposure yearly. Canada’s labor unions are pushing for the substance to be outright banned. The Nords figured this out decades ago, banning this shit back in the early 1980s. It’s pretty apparent that anyone who values human life can find alternatives; we’ve grown past the fireproof cancer-fibre, thanks.

Except, not in Canada. Why is this? Part of it has to do with Quebec’s powerful asbestos industry, another example of idiotic resource extraction with no thought to other economic modes or ideas. I mean, there’s a fucking town called Asbestos in Quebec. You know who else opted to name a town after cancer? Russia. That’s not good company, guys. The Parti Quebecois stopped an attempted restart of the Jeffrey mines in 2012 because the Quebecois are a decent people when they aren’t deluded by Liberal fucks, and that was that. Someone valued human life over profits in Canada, and it shockingly wasn’t the Quebec Liberals.

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(s) Shocking.

As for other reasons why Canada tolerates asbestos and has for so long, I’m at a loss besides typical cynicism about cakers and their business practices. On that note – why are we fumbling about importing asbestos-laden brake pads when ceramic ones are made in Canada? It took me literally 4 seconds of typing to find this company. Why are we allowing for the importing of millions of dollars worth of deadly products when we make safer products here? It’s not like we don’t already have a problem with asbestos in our old buildings. 152,000 Canadian are still exposed to asbestos in buildings. The University of Windsor had to close a biology lab because of the stuff. We spend millions of dollars clearing this crap – why the fuck are we importing more of this shit, shit that we’ll inevitably have to deal with at massive cost and great risk?

And why did Health Canada claim that one kind of asbestos was healthier than another in 2012? What kind of public health body can deny the findings of the rest of the world (which rightly doesn’t think keenly of having to then pay for aggressive hell-cancer treatment and thus turfed asbestos wholesale) until last year? If they were covering for fucking asbestos who knows if they’re covering or apologizing for other dangerous materials? This is akin to having a health agency say that smoking isn’t that bad – it’s insanity to even pretend that asbestos is safe.

Pretending otherwise doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

 

 

 

 

 

#17 – The Circle of Suck, Fort McMurray Edition

Resource extraction in Canada invariably ends up with broken communities and shattered dreams. It’s a tale as old as Canada – a city finds itself rich with a certain resource and then proceeds to build an entire town devoted to that function over to then watch that town fail when the extractive industry bites the big one. It’s a carryover mentality from Canada’s colonial days which has never really changed; the land, the people, and the community established by the confluence of the two are less important than maintaining profits. These one-industry towns, usually finding themselves on the wrong side of the newest idiotic extraction trend before slowly, painfully twisting into obscurity and decay.

The Circle of Suck, as I’ve taken to calling this cycle of meteoric rise, gratuitous construction without regard for longevity, and brutal decline is on full display at Fort McMurray, a distant hellhole and extraction center for Canadian oil. A city where six-figure salaries ruled the roost while oil prices were sky-high, Fort McMurray drew in victims of previous resource crashes like Newfies and proceeded to build itself with no regard for the future. A city where drug use and pickup trucks are the primary sources of entertainment built itself into a concrete grave. What happens after the oil runs out? Who cares! Build more shit! More condos! More parking!

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(s) We’ll build our economy on novelty truck balls after the oil dies!

Mindless booming contrasts with other, saner techniques. Like Norway, which chose to forego the bumper stickers of Calvin pissing on a truck logo in favor of investing the money into a trust fund. This wild and insane idea allows Norway wiggle room while it retools itself when oil prices crash. It also means that Norway isn’t tempted to do what Canada invariably does when the lights at the caker party start to flicker and hand concession after subsidy to the industry in a desperate attempt to keep the lights on. The revenues gleaned from Alberta’s royalty system depend on, among other elements, “the price of oil, natural gas and other liquids; the production levels of an individual well; the age of a well; the depth of a well; the capital costs of an oilsands project; the value of the Canadian dollar; and the return on a Canadian government bond”. In Norway they tax corporate income around 78%, which total of which depends on…income. That’s it.

With plenty of beg-out options through the confusing-as-fuck royalty system the oil sands shockingly failed to provide the kind of revenue that would allow Alberta to retool itself after the price of oil inevitably crashed. Never mind the whoopsie miscalculation errors that the Alberta Tories loved so much – these people chose to let corporate bodies hold massive profits over figuring out what to do with overbuilt places like Fort McMurray. Does anyone expect that city to remain at its current size when the work dies off? What’s the degrowth plan? How is it funded? Fuck if we know! Surprisingly, giving the Suncors of the world a tax break they didn’t need somehow didn’t translate into a tenable Fort McMurray or a way for that city to keep existing when the industry finally fails.

And what happens on the downswing? When prices suddenly fall and the place depopulates for want of work or function the overbuilt Fort McMurray and the toys and the drugs won’t save it. Where Norway is currently doing just fine for itself Alberta is struggling to break both the culture of non-taxation that comes from constantly decrying taxation as “dangerous for the industry” and the monoculture that was the Alberta economy. Undoubtedly this translates as real pain for Albertans and for people who moved there to ride the wave only to find themselves mired in debt.

The natural predisposition of Albertans is of course to cry caker – it’s Quebec’s fault because they take equalization money! Rather than addressing the problem as the lights go out cakers opt for hand-wringing and pointing the finger of blame elsewhere. But the real problem is a Canadian one – the Circle of Suck is timeless and merciless, and only a cultural shift towards tenable construction and careful economic development will end it.

With this lot, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.