This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

July-August 2004

That & That, July-August 2004

This Staff

A collection of smaller THIS & THAT articles from the July-August 2004 issue.

Photo by Lisa KannakkoVespa Nation

La dolce Vespa, icon of chic Euro-style and Mod subculture, has motored back to Canada after an 18-year absence. The federal government banned the stylish scooter in 1986 because Piaggio, its Italian manufacturer, failed to meet toughening emission regulations. Its reappearance this past May was due to the diligent pestering of Piaggio by Morey Chaplick, president of the Toronto-based Canadian Scooter Corp.

Chaplick persuaded the innovators of Italian transport that there is a market for Vespas in Canada—our burgeoning urban areas are already home to thousands of devotees of vintage Vespas. And the machines themselves have come a long way. The new line includes a much more environmentally sound four-stroke-engine model, and even the two-stroke-engine model now complies with California emission standards, the toughest in North America.

Piaggio began manufacturing Vespas in 1946 to provide sturdy, inexpensive mobility to Italians on war-ravaged roads in a post-WWII economy. The Vespa has remained popular in Europe due to soaring gas prices, narrow streets and traffic congestion that have made the freedom of the compact, wasp-like scooter a common alternative on arrondissements, stradas and caminos. The Vespa ET4 costs around $5,400 and carries a 150cc four-stoke engine, while the ET2 costs closer to $4,000 and has a 50cc two-stroke engine.

Gridlock: The nimble Vespa measures a slight 1.7 metres in length and a little over half a metre in width. The average city parking space, measuring six metres in length and 2.7 metres in width, can accommodate about 10 Vespas. And you could fit 86 Vespas into the 25 parking spaces that line the length of the average city block on each side.

Fuel Efficiency: If Vespas made up 15 percent of vehicles on Canadian roads, and they were driven 15 kilometres a day, drivers would save more than 91 million litres of gas each month. The average four-door passenger vehicle uses anywhere from 7.89 litres per 100 kilometres to 17.20 litres per kilometre, while the Vespa ET2 uses 3.6 and the Vespa ET4 uses 5.6.

Pocket Change: With today’s gas prices hovering around 90 cents a litre, it costs about $8 to fill the nine-litre Vespa tank. Driving 15 kilometres a day at 90 cents a litre would cost 62 cents a day. If you were willing to bundle up and ride your Vespa nine months out of the year (taking a break for only the three worst winter months), you’d spend a total of $156.24 on gas. Insurance: For the average cost of insuring one car for a year you could insure six Vespas. In major urban areas, insurance rates range from $1,400 to $2,800 per year for a car. Vespas, considered less hazardous on the roads, can be insured for a mere $300 to $400 a year. By Jackie Wallace

Unread Menace
Though some call us a Communist publication, apparently This Magazine is not Communist enough for the Chinese government, according to a 2002 study by a pair of Harvard Law School researchers. Try to look up in China, and all you’ll see is an error page. Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman tested 200,000 websites and found that 50,000 offering information about politics, education, health and entertainment—as well as some 3,000 sites from Taiwan—were inaccessible on proxy servers in China because of longstanding policies of the ruling Communist Party. For a complete list of blocked sites, check out By Jenn Hardy

Split On Svend-Gate
When Svend Robinson revealed in April that he had pocketed a pricey antique diamond ring, conservatives were gleeful with schadenfreude, and progressives scratched their heads and wondered what had possessed their fallen hero. Even the experts seem divided about Svend-gate, with opinions almost as polar as Stephen Harper’s and Jack Layton’s.

“There are a lot of different ways to snap, and shoplifting is quite a common one in my experience,” explains therapist and recovered shoplifter Terry Shulman, who runs It’s not just a way to get free stuff. Those who shoplift for psychological reasons, he points out, often discard the stolen items soon after the deed is done. “With politicians, it’s hard to say whether it’s pure ego, or if they feel over-extended,” Shulman says. “Politicians are for helping people, that’s their job. That’s really an awesome responsibility, and their own needs may become sublimated.” He explains that many people, including him, have shoplifted as a way to compensate for feeling that they have sacrificed or over-extended themselves.

Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Mark Berber rejects this theory as applied to politicians. “Politicians are very well-supported—they have large staffs and lots of holidays,” he says. “I think sometimes celebrities and politicians may think that at some level they are above the law.” Shulman and Berber also have differing perspectives on Robinson’s case in particular. “When he said ‘I’ve failed,’ that tells me that he was putting a lot of pressure on himself to have this perfect image,” Shulman says. Berber takes a less sympathetic view, emphasizing the importance of knowing the sequence of events in Robinson’s case. “It’s been reported that he was looking at rings beforehand, and if that’s the case this becomes more complex, more pre-meditated,” he says.

Shulman sees the antique ring in question as symbolic. He says the ring represents commitment issues, and antiques represent a longing for times of old. Berber laughs when asked if he reads anything into the ring. “Let’s not get into Freudian issues now.” By Annette Bourdeau

Illustration of Paul Martin peering through shafts of wheat

Martin Bucks Wheat Agreement
The potential conflicts of interest involving Paul Martin’s ties to Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) are unlikely to go away soon. Martin owned the private company throughout his tenure as finance minister, keeping it in a blind trust while nonetheless getting briefed on the company’s affairs. During the debate over the Kyoto Protocol to address global climate change, many speculated that Martin’s ties to CSL, which is a major shipper of coal, was the root cause of his wavering support for the agreement.

CSL’s grain shipping business may also be a factor in Canada’s failure to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The protocol, finalized at a 2000 conference in Montreal, aims to protect against the risks posed by importing genetically engineered (GE) organisms. Once released into the environment, GE organisms can become a permanent fixture, contaminating domestic plant species. Canada signed the Biosafety Protocol in 2001, and the agreement came into force last September. Ninety countries, including Mexico, Japan and all members of the European Union, have ratified it. Even China has stated that it will ratify in the near future. Yet Canada is still dithering.

The biotech industry, worried about provisions in the accord requiring imports of GE products to be labelled as such, has aggressively lobbied against ratification. Pro
-biotech bureaucrats have put forward an ever-changing list of reasons for Canada’s failure to sign on. The latest justification, according to top officials on the file from various departments, is the effects the agreement will have on the grain shipping industry. And one of Canada’s top grain shippers is CSL.

In a September 2003, memo obtained under access to information, Stephen Yarrow, a director at the Canada Food Inspection Agency, stated that bureaucrats are still examining the pros and cons of ratification. “Specifically, this analysis is focussing on the potential impacts on the Canadian grain handling and shipping industries.” At parliamentary hearings this past March, lead bureaucrats from Agriculture Canada and Environment Canada confirmed that shipping industry concerns are the “principle point” hampering Canada’s ratification.

There is no direct evidence that Martin intervened to discourage Canada’s ratification of the protocol. However, his ties to CSL are widely known within government, and many bureaucrats, who already have a cozy relationship with biotech companies that are against the agreement, may be raising the shipping concern as a way of cowing others within government who support ratification.

As a result, so long as shipping concerns remain the primary justification for failing to ratify the Biosafety Protocol, Martin’s ties to that industry may cause some to question why Canada is opting out of a widely supported international agreement. Ottawa Report: By Aaron Freeman

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