Articles by: Dan DonovanDan Donovan
Dan Donovan is the founding Publisher of Ottawa Life Magazine, the capital’s largest and longest running (est. 1996) general interest and lifestyles magazine. His work has been featured in The Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Sun, Ottawa Citizen, Masthead Magazine and The Hill Times. He is a regular guest commentator on public policy matters on CFRA, 1310 AM and the Corus networks Charles Adler Radio Show. He is a former Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at Magna International. He served as Chief of Staff to the former federal minister of youth and labour and as Director of Publications and Communications at the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. He is a former Director of Environment Policy at The International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, France. Dan holds degrees from both the University of Ottawa and the Université de Strasbourg (Institut d’Etudes Politique et Economie). He is a past member of the Executive Committee and the Board of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, former member of the Board of the National Cycling Centre and a former governor of the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. His first book, True Grits, New Grits was published by Hemlock press in 1993.

Silversea: Discover The Gold Standard in Cruising

June 13, 2016 1:38 pm
Silversea: Discover The Gold Standard in Cruising

A privately owned Italian cruise line that is recognized as the gold standard in luxury cruising, Silversea’s new class of elite vessels are designed with more space for fewer guests, where travelers experience adventurous voyages to remote regions while enjoying the highest levels of personalized service. Silversea sails to the islands of Oceania, Southeast Asia, the Russian Far East, Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast, Central and South America and the exotic western coast of Africa. I recently took my 17-year-old daughter on a Silversea Caribbean cruise aboard the Silver Spirit sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Maya Mexico and then back to Florida. Silversea sets the bar for cruising and is the company others try to emulate.

The Silver Spirit is the largest vessel in the fleet, but is still considerably smaller than ships sailing for the big-name brands. Silver Spirit proves that size does not trump quality and service. With just 270 cabins and a crew of 376, it offers one of the most favourable crew-to-guest ratios in the industry, just 1.4 passengers for each crew member. Cabins are all located in the forward section, allowing dining and entertainment facilities to be focused aft for guest comfort. Classic, elegant and luxurious are the words that come to mind when you first arrive. We shared a comfortable two bed ocean-view suite with luxuriously designed finishings including a marble-tiled and mahogany bathroom suite, two satellite televisions, a cozy sitting area, walk-in clothes closet and fully stocked refrigerator. Each cabin has butler service and the all-inclusive fares cover drinks and gratuities. Amenities include a full-service spa, salon and gym, multiple restaurants and bars, a casino and a showroom featuring live entertainment. Silversea offers free wifi to all guests (the amount of free wifi will depend on your suite category).

Panorama Lounge - Deck 9 Aft Silver Spirit - Silversea Cruises

Panorama Lounge – Deck 9 Aft Silver Spirit – Silversea Cruises

Comfortable lounge chairs were always available on all decks. We spent hours relaxing at the outdoor pool on deck nine. We never felt crowded and enjoyed an immense sense of calm in a completely stress-free environment. For passengers wanting to mix and mingle, there is plenty of opportunity to participate in group activities like bridge, bingo, team trivia and shuffleboard.

Dinners are a treat on the Silver Spirit. On casual evenings, men wear open-neck shirts and dress pants, while women opt for dresses, blouses and skirts or pantsuits. On informal nights, men bring up it a notch with jackets, though ties are optional. One night each week is set aside for formal dining so bring a suit jacket or a tux and a gown for the ladies. We enjoyed dressing up for dinner and looked forward to cocktails beforehand at the art-deco inspired Panorama lounge or outside on the pool deck. Both have a swanky, chill vibe featuring live, jazzy music from some exceptional musicians and entertainers.

La Terrazza - Deck 7 Aft Silver Spirit - Silversea Cruises

La Terrazza – Deck 7 Aft Silver Spirit – Silversea Cruises

As for the meals themselves, they are a foodie’s delight. French fine dining at the elegantly appointed 24-seat Le Champagne restaurant with a wine cellar in the centre and superb cuisine prepared in partnership with the Relais & Chateaux cooking school is on par with the finest French cuisine in the world. We enjoyed consommé with a truffle-coated scallop, shellfish with asparagus sorbet and smoked salmon with asparagus tips. (A dining fee of $40 per person is applied here, reservations are required and dress is formal business attire). Sushi at the Seishin Restaurant is incredible as well. The nine-course menu includes signature dishes like teppan grilled wagyu beef and carpaccio of king scallops with flying fish roe. The four-course meal is $30, and a nine-course meal is $40. The menu is the same every night, but changes seasonally.

Poolside on deck nine, The Grill features a wellness breakfast that offers smoothies, blended fruit and vegetable drinks, as well as a smattering of low-calorie entrées like cumin-scented egg-white omelets Florentine. It’s a great option for early morning post-workout dining. The Grill on deck 10 overlooks the pool area and serves burgers, hot dogs, grilled salmon, pasta dishes, all-in-one salads, sandwiches, wraps, barbecued steak and chicken throughout the day. At 7 p.m. it reverts into a steak and seafood restaurant where you can dine under the stars. Premium choice beef, pork, lamb chops, veal and salmon steak are grilled on hot heated lava rocks at your table. Stars, on deck seven, is an art-deco styled venue featuring cool live entertainment by South African jazz duo Helene and Garth who attracted their own following by passengers on the cruise for their exceptional talent performances. The tapas-style servings features cuisine from five continents including gorgonzola with roasted beetroot, pine nut and red wine dressing, asparagus paired with caviar cream, oysters poached in sparkling wine and sashimi wrapped in curried aioli.


The Restaurant is a contemporary dining room with classical features and that can seat 456 passengers and serves as Silver Spirit’s main dining room, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (you never feel like it is crowded). There’s always a great buzz in the room with the chatter and constant activity of passengers and a busy crew. Each day, the chef recommends a three-course selection and other selections could include beef filet mignon with foie gras-poached potatoes and shallot jam, a layered partridge tart with Rouennaise sauce, and wild boar ragout with porcini mushrooms, marinated short ribs one day, salmon coulibiac or Asian specialties like vegetable stir-fry, Malaysian beef curry or Thai food. For breakfasts we enjoyed La Terrazza on deck seven, where, whether we were sitting indoors or out, we felt like we were in a five-star hotel or a café in Geneva, Vienna or Paris. Offerings include a wide selection of fresh, healthy and delicious breakfast choices served on tables lined with rich white linen tablecloths, fine china and stemware. Afternoon tea is also served at La Terrazza from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with scones, cream, delectable treats and mini sandwiches provided as a pianist entertains in this wonderfully attired room. If you’re still hungry, a room service menu is available 24 hours.

April2016_SilverSpirit_IMG_6190-450pxlThe day excursions and ports-of-call were a great addition. Key West is wonderful (read more at to just walk around and visit. The Butterfly Museum is a fascinating stop and if you feel peckish, try Caroline’s on the main street for lunch. We spent a relaxing two hours listening to a local musician troubadour on the Key West Pier, which is touristy but still fun. In Belize, we had a beach day and in Guatemala we took an eco-jungle tour and learned about local history. Our favourite jaunt was in Costa Maya Mexico, a quaint seaside beach town at the very southern part of the Mayan Riviera where we took an exhilarating three-hour segway tour before spending an afternoon snorkeling.

There was no pressure or hard sell for tours, shopping, spa treatments and art auctions, on the Silver Spirit. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Silver Spirit provides exceptional services in all these areas and hosts guest lecturers each day on different topics. Art advisor, Pasquale Iannetti, held seminars about some of the fine art available onboard including originals of Marc Chagall, Renoir, Joan Miro, Bob Dylan’s watercolours and Bert Stern’s original shots of Marilyn Monroe. Phillip Rosenthal is a diamond and gemstones expert who provides advice on best options for ports-of-call purchases, shopping taxes and related matters. Dr. Philip Martin, a guest lecturer form the University of California-Davis, gave several lectures on the history of wine making and the history of the Caribbean that were very popular with passengers.


Each morning, passengers receive a newsletter which details daily happenings on the ship including info on the ports of call for the day. They make great souvenirs as well.

Luxury cruises have become more affordable in recent years thanks to competition and higher occupancy rates. The per diem for a comparable Silversea cruise is in the $400-600 range and most fares include an onboard spending credit of $500 to $1,500 per suite that you can use for shore excursions, Internet-access fees, surcharges in specialty restaurants, premium wines, spa treatments, or shopping. All-inclusive shouldn’t be taken literally. You’ll be charged for shore excursions, spa treatments, and additional Internet access but many items that are extras on other cruise lines, such as drinks and crew tips, are included in the fare at Silversea.

To check fares and special offers, see the cruise listings at

Ottawa Police Services Crisis: The Cart Pulling the Horse

May 26, 2016 10:00 am
Ottawa Police Services Crisis: The Cart Pulling the Horse

Ottawa Life Magazine has been writing about the problems with the Ottawa Police for the past five years. In 2011, we said that Councillor and Ottawa Police Services (OPS) Board Chair Eli El-Chantiry should resign over his all too cozy relationship with then Police Chief Vern White. El-Chantiry saw no reason why he or anyone should be concerned about him socializing with the Police Chief he was supposed to be overseeing. When current Chief Charles Bordeleau was accused of allegedly interfering in a court case involving a careless driving charge against his father-in-law, El-Chantiry did nothing. His chummy, wink wink, nod nod relationship with the police management team and complete misunderstanding of his role as OPS Chair has now crossed into gross incompetence.

The OPS Board was later forced to send the case to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) after the accusations were reported by Postmedia. When referring it for investigation, El-Chantiry said that the board was not passing judgment on what the Chief did but, acting in the interest of “openness and transparency.” He does not even seem to comprehend that the entire point of oversight is to monitor and pass judgment on a regular basis to ensure that the police are operating at the highest possible standard. Chief Bordeleau vehemently denies the accusations and El-Chantiry has further damaged the Chief’s reputation. El-Chantiry should have sent the original accusations to OIPRD and let them do their job. By not doing so, Bordeleau’s reputation has been damaged in the public eye. Bordeleau has been trying to bring change to OPS. He has a small mutinous crew of undisciplined officers on his force and continues to deal with an unacceptably high number of incidents of police misconduct by Ottawa constables, including cases of spousal abuse, driving under the influence and police improperly accessing personal data on police computers. There are also investigations underway involving 11 Ottawa police constables allegedly involved in fraudulent reporting activity. Under the current Police Services Act, Chief Bordeleau cannot terminate any of these constables. If the accusations are true, they should all be fired.

Related: Why Police Fear Evidence-Based Research.  

Ottawa Centre MPP and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi will soon introduce changes to reform the Police Services Act, but until then, Bordeleau must work with the current Act which is outdated and does not have the provisions to allow Police Chiefs to fire officers for criminal or inappropriate activity. The Ottawa Police Association, like most others, circle the wagons and protect their own, even when criminal behaviour is involved. This harms the good police officers and creates an environment where some police think they can commit crimes and are untouchable. In Ottawa, there have been five violent murders since January. All of them are gang and drug related. Otherwise, overall crime across the city is down. After the fifth murder, Chief Bordeleau issued an open letter asking the public to help the police. A day later, one of “Ottawa’s Finest,” Constable Paul Heffler, sent out a cowardly email to the entire force criticizing Chief Bordeleau. It was a breathtaking and insolent act of insubordination that should have resulted in his immediate termination with cause. Heffler, who has almost 30 years in policing, sent it knowing full well there was little at risk for him as he will soon retire on a fully indexed, taxpayer-subsidized fat cat pension. He actually wrote in his email that “there are few services and businesses that pay their employees $100,000 salaries and treat them like they are dime store security guards.” He raises an important point. Why are we paying police constables like him and others such high salaries, amongst the highest salaries of any public servants in Ontario, when private sector companies are available to cover these duties at one-third of the cost? If we did that, then the Ottawa Police would have the money to pay for intelligence gathering, equipment and extra resources they require to combat the serious and growing issue of gang violence in Ottawa. Instead, we have a head of Police oversight who is dumber than a bag of hammers and police constables who have become so arrogant and entitled that they now think they don’t even need to listen to the Chief of Police.

OLM Argued the Case Against Mike Duffy was Groundless Back in May

April 21, 2016 3:31 pm
OLM Argued the Case Against Mike Duffy was Groundless Back in May

Update: Today all 31 charges were dismissed against Sen. Mike Duffy. Below you can find an article Ottawa Life Magazine publisher Dan Donovan wrote last May, arguing that Duffy was being unfairly targeted by the media. Today, the judge confirmed this suspicion.

21st Century Lynching and Shakespearean Tragedy Take Centre Stage

The Mike Duffy trial is a public showcase for all the secrets and lies that are the realpolitik of the capital. Duffy has already been tried and convicted in the public eye. For theatre, he was first drawn and quartered by Canada’s national media in what can only be described as a 21st century lynching. I worked for many years on Parliament Hill as a speechwriter, legislative assistant and political staffer. The place has its own rules and more importantly, its own governing conventions. The Parliamentary press can be a self-involved and pretty sanctimonious bunch. Duffy’s trial at the Ottawa Courthouse is having the dual effect of bringing out the real story about his expenses while exposing the shallowness and callousness of the Parliamentary press and the elitism of the “pundit class” at Canada’s major broadcasters.

The national media narrative is that Senator Duffy pilfered taxpayers dollars and broke spending rules and got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In fact, it goes further and suggests that he took the whole cookie jar…whatever that is. Even though these journalists work in the parliamentary precinct and have access to the players and procedures or conventions that govern the Senate, few, if any of them took the time to investigate or explain the conventions of the Senate related to spending. The trial is exposing much of this and shedding some new light on Senator Duffy. He, like all senators seems to have run his affairs as a senator using the vagary of Senate rules and conventions. The issue about his residency and related expenses is key. He has been consistent that he expensed these within the rules. Ironically, the Senate still refuses to release to the public several audits which show how other senators dealt with housing expenses.

The release of this information could greatly help bring clarity to the Duffy affair. If the convention was that it was ok to claim part of housing expenses in various ways and all senators did this, than Duffy has done nothing to break the rules. Duffy’s problem was that he was both popular and ambitious, which can be a deadly combo in Ottawa. He is a former award-winning and respected journalist who, for years, was one of the most popular political broadcasters in Canada. MPs from all parties and their staff would seek him out and share information or give him stories that they wouldn’t give to others. He had a great reputation, was always gracious and never betrayed anyone’s trust. People genuinely liked and trusted “Mike.” He loved Parliament and he knew “the game.”


The evidence to date seems to indicate his Senate expense claims were not for personal enrichment but were used to pay people for tasks he was involved with as a senator. The duplicity of the press regarding their outrage and the amount of time they have spent over the expense receipts for his makeup is laughable. This, coming from the very same people that use makeup in their jobs on a daily basis, understanding that makeup is as important to a broadcast journalist as a stick is to a hockey player. It would have been far more responsible for at least one journalist covering the Duffy case to get the RCMP to explain why he was charged with bribery. Bribery requires a “bribee” and a “briber.” According to the RCMP investigator, Duffy is apparently the person accepting a bribe…yet no one was charged with giving him one.

Duffy maintains he never accepted any bribe and it appears his lawyer is making that case for him. Proportionality and fairness in broadcasting must be put back into play regarding Senator Duffy. Regardless of what you think of Mike Duffy, his rise to prominence and fall from grace are like a Shakespearian tragedy. The Shakespearian comedy in this is watching broadcasters, especially those at the CBC (who are paid with taxpayers’ money), sanctimoniously rail away at Duffy for betraying the public trust when they themselves have accepted large personal payments from private corporations to give speeches and attend conferences. Talk about a hand in the cookie jar.

Book Review: A GOOD READ! Negotiating So Everyone Wins by David C. Dingwall

April 12, 2016 5:44 pm
Book Review: A GOOD READ! Negotiating So Everyone Wins by David C. Dingwall
David C. Dingwall

David Dingwall.

David Dingwall is a lawyer and former Member of Parliament who represented the riding of Cape Breton East Richmond for 17 years between 1979 and 1997. For a time, Dingwall was the most powerful and influential minister from Atlantic Canada in the Chrétien Liberal government of the 1990s. As Minister of Health, he brought in the most progressive anti-tobacco legislation in the western world, which was widely copied in other countries. As Minister of Public Works he helped navigate some of the largest structural changes that department had seen in a generation. After an unexpected election defeat in 1997, Dingwall had to reinvent himself and set up shop as a negotiator and lobbyist. Since then, he has participated in or facilitated numerous complex negotiations in the private, public and NGO sectors and has became one of Canada’s leading experts on negotiating. During this period, he also spent a couple of years as President of the Royal Canadian Mint, where he successfully implemented a labour efficiency and business growth program that lead  to an increase in earnings of over 100 million dollars in just 18 months.

Jean Chrétien used to famously say that the Liberal way is one “where everybody wins,” and it’s a theme Dingwall embraces as he  uses real examples of the strategies and tactics that he and more than 20 of the country’s best deal-makers have used to get a deal. The book provides insight into the things that went right, and more importantly, the mistakes he and others made and the takeaway lessons. This list of deal-makers and negotiators who share their experiences in the book includes Paul Zed, Chairman of Rogers, Janice Payne, Canada’s most revered labour lawyer, former Canadian Auto Workers President Buzz Hargrove, former Ontario Premiers David Peterson and Bob Rae, Don Fehr, President of the NHL Players Association, former Conservative Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, former TD Bank President Ed Clark, Gary Corbett, former President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service and former Deputy Minister Peter Harder (who most recently led the transition team for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

Dingwall’s  candor about his own mishaps is refreshing and at times funny, and will make anyone who has really screwed up at some point on the job feel better. Each chapter ends with a section called TAKEAWAYS which should be required reading for law students and MBA or MPA students.  At its core, Dingwall’s book looks at negotiations though the age-old premise that “a thing can be understood by breaking down its parts and understanding how each relates to the other.” He  provides  suggestions on how to hone negotiating skills and improve capacity to get an agreement.  His description of lessons he learned from the late great Canadian lawyer, scholar and businessman Gerry Godsoe,  legendary United Mine Workers of America Union Leader Bull Marsh and fisheries expert Herb Nash are worth the price of the book alone.

The book also comes with video links to an interview Dingwall did with some of these key negotiators. David C. Dingwall, is a Cape Bretoner who now practises law in Toronto and teaches negotiation at Ryerson University.

The Lebreton Flats Fiasco and Why Melanie Joly Must Reform the NCC

March 22, 2016 12:46 pm
The Lebreton Flats Fiasco and Why Melanie Joly Must Reform the NCC

For years the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been the most inept, closed, secretive, elitist and incompetent organization in the federal government. Their tagline should be “The NCC—We Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity”.

The NCC board of directors has 15 members, including the chairperson and the chief executive officer (CEO). Thirteen members represent the regions across Canada. Five are from the Capital Region. They are appointed by the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission (now the Hon. Melanie Joly), with the approval of the Governor-in-Council. Their role is to oversee the corporation, ensure that the corporation’s resources are used effectively and efficiently; to monitor, evaluate and report on performance; and to foster relationships between the NCC and other levels of government and the public. In all cases they get an F.

The NCC’s continuous incompetence over decades is mind boggling. Where to start? They botched the memorial to Victims of Communism project, interfered and tried to delay Ottawa’s $1 billion light rail, against the wishes of the democratically elected Ottawa City Council. In 2011, they spent 5.2 million taxpayers’ dollars to install seven new ice chalets at a cost of $750,00 each (shacks) along the Rideau Canal which is double the value of most families homes in Canada. They messed up the so called Metcalfe Grand Boulevard plan, the King Edward Avenue redevelopment plan in the 1980s, spent decades fighting with Public Works Canada and the City of Ottawa over the development of Sparks Street, embarrassed the entire country by making a complete mess of the Millennium Celebrations in 2000, tried to unilaterally expand the Champlain Bridge against the wishes of every local city council in the region, destroyed the town of Hull in the late 1960s with the horrible development of federal buildings on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. In 1998, Rhys Phillips, in his book Great Gaffes of the National Capital Commission said of the NCC and Hull: “what emerged from the rubble was a textbook example of the twin horrors of postwar urban renewal and late-modernist architecture. Brutalist concrete buildings encase a soulless mall that spans a bleak, six-lane street; they cruelly mock the former humanely scaled cityscape. Four thousand people were displaced. The new ‘city centre’ turns a cold shoulder to the river and the parliamentary precinct across the water.”

The NCC board members are largely unknown. One is a forest industry person, another in general management and marketing, a philosopher and the rest are all either government administrative or education management bureaucrat types. There is not one serious entrepreneur or businesses corporate executive like a Terry Matthews or Jim Balsillie. This explains the insanity of the current Lebreton Flats redevelopment proposal. NCC conditions for applying were so ridiculously secretive and onerous that only two bidders stepped up. Of these, only the Rendezvous LeBreton, 100 per cent private money proposal led by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is credible. The other, the LeBreton Re-Imagined by Devcore, Canderel and DLS Group (DCDLS) is not a serious bid. Their plan is built around an NHL arena and reliance on existing government incentives (whatever that means!). DCDLS does not own an NHL team and will not own one. This should disqualify them immediately from consideration. If the NCC board is dimwitted enough to proceed with the DCDLS LeBreton Re-Imagined proposal (and we know from their track record that they are foolish enough to do this) it will create the biggest white elephant in the region’s history. DCDLS is jesting in the media that they can build and then sell their rink to the competition. This is unprofessional and disrespectful to what should be a serious process. Their glib remarks about Mr. Melnyk are in poor taste to the Ottawa Senators organization who has put hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy over the past quarter century, including millions to local charities. The Rendezvous LeBreton proposal should be approved and given the fast track to proceed as soon as possible. Heritage Minister, Melanie Joly should introduce a bill to disband the NCC and set up a new agency that can better serve Canada’s capital region, of which the Mayors of Ottawa and of Gatineau should be permanent ex-officio members. The incompetence of the NCC does not serve the public interest and continues to destroy the soul of our great city.

Céad Mile Fáilte: A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

March 17, 2016 9:40 am
A view of the port city of Cobh with The Cathedral of Saint Colman in the background.

I’m of Irish descent and like millions of other Irish Canadians, the pull towards visiting my ancestral homeland has always been strong. My great great grandparents came to Canada from Waterford in County Cork in the mid-18th century at the height of the potato famine and my Irish heritage has held a strong presence in my life. The opportunity to visit last December with my son did not disappoint. Ireland is glorious in December. Cool days and colder nights, but still green and charming. I noticed a sign upon arrival in Dublin that said Céad Mile Fáilte or A hundred thousand welcomes. Hard to explain it but upon arrival, it felt like home. I rented a car and adjusted to the reality that the Irish, like their British counterparts, all drive on the wrong side of the road. It concentrates the mind and makes you forget your jet lag pretty quickly.

dubbr_phototour54We checked into the historic Shelbourne Dublin, a luxury hotel in Dublin city center, overlooking St. Stephen’s Green, Europe’s grandest garden square. This would serve as our point of departure for the next two days as we began to explore Dublin’s cultural and historic buildings. After a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel’s famous tea room, we began a 6-hour walking tour of the city through its heart, St. Stephen’s Green. Our first stop was The Little Museum of Dublin. This museum tells the story of 20th century Dublin and features over 5,000 artifacts in a collection that was entirely donated by Dubliners. It was a perfect start and served to put Ireland in context for us historically, culturally, socially and economically. A highlight of this museum was the exhibit celebrating the career, music and roots of U2. Irish humour flourishes in the place. Take a quote from Bono for example, in explaining the difference between the Irish and Americans. “In the United States, you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.”  The Irish are cheeky and their humour and joie de vie are evident everywhere. Next up was a short walk to Trinity College, the oldest university in Ireland. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth 1, the 40-acre site retains some of its ancient seclusion of cobbled squares, gardens and parks. The College is famed for its great treasures including the Book of Kells, a 9th-century illuminated manuscript, the Books of Durrow and Armagh, and an early Irish harp. These are displayed in the College Treasury and The Long Hall (library) which house over 300,000 books, some dating back to its foundation.  Most of Ireland’s state-funded museums are free and very close to each other. Ireland’s Parliament building, Leinster House, can be toured weekdays. Next door is the National Library,  which features exhibits on W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and other famous Irish writers and poets. The National Gallery,  holds the national collection of European and Irish fine art.The Archaeology Museum displays Celtic gold artefacts, including beautiful artistic necklaces called lunulas and torcs. The National Museum of Ireland, is Ireland’s premier cultural institution and home to the greatest collections of Irish material heritage, culture and natural history in the world. After 6 hours of touring we decided it was time for a “Guinness Stop” something that would become a regular occurrence on the trip. In Dublin there are hundreds of bars, pubs and restaurants that serve great beer, whiskey and food. The most renowned is the Temple Bar district. The Temple Bar pub and O’Donoghue’s are among the many great pubs of Dublin that cater to visitors and locals and serve as a musician’s paradise for live performance venues.

Temple_Bar_02We left the Temple Bar district for a stroll on Grafton Street, Dublin’s famous shopping area. Taking in the atmosphere of Christmas lights and the sounds of buskers was truly magical.We had dinner that evening at the Shelbourne Hotel’s Saddle Room Restaurant. This cozy and intimate spot  specializes in steak, oysters and seafood and has an exceptional wine list. As we dined, a light crisp, white, shining snowfall covered the streets. The snow was gone by the time we left the next morning. It was a cool brisk sunny day and we  made our towards Kilmainham Gaol, one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Europe

It has been described as the ‘Irish Bastille’. Between the year it opened in 1796 and its closure in 1924, Kilmainham Gaol witnessed some of the key moments and personalities in Ireland’s emergence as an independent nation. It is Ireland’s leading historic monument exploring the theme of nationalism. Robert Emmet and the leaders of the 1916 civil war uprising were executed here. Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, was imprisoned here in 1881-82. The Gaol museum holds one of the finest collections of nationalist memorabilia in the country, and the exhibition displays some of Irelands most impressive objects, including an original and rare 1916 Proclamation and some items relating to Michael Collins and the circumstances of his death in 1922.For me, Kilmainham Gaol was one of the highlights of our trip to Ireland. Next up was a stop at The Porterhouse, Ireland’s first brew pub located in the Temple Bar, to drink some genuine Irish Stout. Porterhouse beers have won gold medals at the world’s most prestigious international brewing industry award (the brewing Oscars) in 1998/1999 and 2011/2012. They make their  own stouts and ales for their pubs in Dublin, Cork and other locales in Ireland and they ship to the US beer market. They also import  various beers from around the world with a keen eye on Belgium.

Gallagher’s Boxty House was next, in the heart of the Temple Bar. This is a restaurant with a strong connection with the land, culture and history of Ireland. It’s a place where people are invited to embrace the origins of the Boxty Pancake and the history of the potato in Irish cuisine and culture. Owner Padraic Gallagher is one of Ireland’s most renowned and respected experts on the potato and other Irish foods. We sampled the dumplings, corned beef, Irish stew, roasted black pudding and some Irish whiskey.

The next day we left Dublin and headed south through the rolling Irish countryside towards Cork. We stopped for lunch in the small village of Delgany, Co Wicklow to meet with Patrick Ryan at The Firehouse Bakery. Ryan is a former lawyer turned master baker. His 2011 BBC programme The Big Bread Experiment, a three-part series following a unique social experiment with one ambition — to reunite a community through bread — made him a celebrity with foodies in Britain and around the world. The wood fired oven is at the heart of everything Ryan does. Hand-crafted loaves, freshly-baked pizzas, slow-cooked meats define this award-winning artisan bakery. Ryan and his partner Laura Moore also operate a bread school in Heir Island in West Cork.

We enjoyed the next three hours driving through  the  mist and rain of the Irish heartland  arriving in Cork  (the name Corcaigh means a marsh) in the early evening. A historic seaport city, Cork began on an island in the swampy estuary of the River Lee and over several centuries expanded up the steep banks on either side. Today, the river flows through Cork City in two main channels, which explains the many crossing bridges throughout the city. We checked  into the famous 5-star Hayfield Manor Hotel. The Hayfield Manor is very welcoming and friendly property located on a hill-top estate overlooking the city. It features large luxurious and comfortable rooms with all the amenities including free wifi, beautiful grounds, a work-out room, spa and indoor heated pool. The decor is elegant and tasteful and the newly-built additions complement the older parts of the building. The Manor serves sumptuous Irish breakfasts with a variety of fresh fruit and juices. Fine dining is offered at Orchids Restaurant or you can drop into Perrotts Garden Bistro, a casual meal alternative. Head Chef Stephen Sullivan prepares contemporary Irish cuisine using the freshest ingredients from the land and sea in the Cork region.

The best way to see the city of Cork is to walk. St. Patrick’s Street and the heart of the shopping district and attractions of Cork is a twenty minute walk from Hayfield Manor. Cork offers a wealth of shops, bars, restaurants, and attractions. We spent two days exploring this historic port town whose coat of arms bears the motto ‘A Safe Harbour for Ships’. Corkonians are known as the most chatty of all the Irish. In the heart of the city, is the English Market, which is a large, gallery-type building covering an entire city block with a vaulted glass roof. First opened in 1788, the Market has undergone various changes. The market provides vegetables, fresh seafood, dairy, meats, cheeses — everything for the table. After a morning of walking around Cork it was nice to step out of the overcast mist that had engulfed the city and step into The Farmgate Café in the English Market. Committed to food grown in the Munster region, its small menu is dictated by the food stalls in the market so menu options change daily. Their lamb stew with Guinness and apple strudel hit the mark.

448px-Jameson_distillery_in_DublinCork is a foodie’s paradise and there are pubs and restaurants everywhere serving Irish comfort foods, curry, chowders, spiced beef, fish and chips and glorious desserts. Most restaurants stop serving food at 8 p.m. After that beer, wine and spirits reign until closing time. Like Dublin, you can find traditional live Irish music in venues throughout the city. Next up was a quick side trip to The Jameson Distillery in Midleton and then a visit to  Blarney Castle to take part in the ole Irish tradition of Kissing the Blarney Stone (although I still think it is a tourist thing-but it’s fun-sort of like kissing the cod in Newfoundland). Cork is a destination city for  beer and cider and you can get some of Ireland’s best cider at The Roundy’s home-made hot cider house.

After two and half days in Cork, we once again saw sunshine as we made our way south to Cobh for a guided walking tour along The Titanic Trail and  a visit to the Cobh Heritage Centre. Cobh is the port city where the Titanic left on its maiden (and last) voyage. More importantly, this small town was the port from which millions of Irish people left Ireland during the great potato famine to immigrate to North America. The rich history and tragedy of this period is well documented in The Cobh Heritage Centre. Any Canadian of Irish descent visiting Ireland should visit Cobh. I was struck by presence of The Cathedral of Saint Colman in Cobh — built by money sent back from Irish immigrants to honour the town from which they left. A  large and elaborately detailed neo-Gothic building, it prominently overlooks the harbour. The historian Emmet Larkin has called it “The most ambitious building project undertaken by the Church in nineteenth-century Ireland.” It is still imposing today. The next day we drove to the small port town of Kinsale and checked into The Old Bank Townhouse. Located in the heart of Kinsale, it is within walking distance of everything and directly across the street from the town harbour. It is an amazing heritage building (over 200-years old) that has been renovated but retains its charm. It serves hearty breakfasts, with home-made breads (from the bakery downstairs) and jams. We spent an afternoon exploring Kinsale. A popular venue is Fishy Fishy Kinsale, a ‘must do’ stop. This restaurant  has won acclaim with foodies in Ireland for its  wonderful seafood dishes made from  the freshest local catch from lobster to crab, crayfish to cod, monkfish, squid, john dory and haddock. They serve the best traditional fish & chips you will ever taste in their newly-established Fishy Fishy Chippie.  Like many restaurants in Ireland, Fishy Fishy is committed to prioritizing the core indigenous ingredients of Irish cuisine and promoting local and artisan producers.

After a day in Kinsale we headed back to Dublin and checked-in to the modern and stylishly contemporary Fitzwilliam Hotel in St Stephen’s Green, which caters to business and family travelers. After settling in we headed out to learn more about the Gaelic games. In Ireland, Gaelic games, music, dance and language are at the heart of what it is to be Irish. The two main ones are Gaelic Football & Hurling, both of which are organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Other games organized by the GAA include Rounders and Gaelic Handball. During the late 19th century, Gaelic games in Ireland were dying out. This decline was stopped and reversed by the Gaelic Revival group. Today, Gaelic Football and Hurling are the most popular games in Ireland.

Players are boys and girls across all age groups from under 8 to under 18, and men and women of all ages. Every weekend, Club matches are played in every town and village of Ireland. The very biggest matches regularly attract attendances of over 40,000 per game. The All-Ireland Finals attract 82,500 every September to an extraordinary stadium in Dublin: Croke Park based close to city centre Dublin. The Gaelic Games have are as popular to the Irish as hockey is to Canadians. We headed back to the Fitzwilliam Hotel for dinner at the famous Michelin starred Thornton’s Restaurant. Head Chef and Proprietor Kevin Thornton is widely regarded as Ireland’s best chef. Thornton’s offers a wonderful, fine dining experience in a beautiful setting. It was a majestic way to spend our last night in Ireland.

If I was to give Ireland an Michelin rating it would certainly be three stars.

How to get there: Air Lingus

How to get around: Hertz Car rental 

About Ireland: ,

About Dublin:

Blue Rodeo – Canada’s Band

February 22, 2016 1:55 pm
Blue Rodeo – Canada’s Band

Photo By Dustin Rabin

Canada’s Band is the only way I can describe Blue Rodeo. Since 1987, Blue Rodeo has been a fan favourite on the Ottawa (and Canadian) music scene.  They are as symbolic and important to Canada as the beaver, the maple leaf, poutine, the toque, hockey and politeness. Their music spans three decades, 14 studio albums, 4 live albums, 1 compilation set, 54 hit singles and an important part in life’s soundtrack for millions of Canadians. They sing about love and loss, the land, pain and redemption, joy, forgiveness, drinking, dancing and hope. At times they touch on politics – rarely – but when they do they have an impact. They wrote the song “Fools Like You” back in 1992 to describe Canada’s treatment of aboriginal peoples and their September 2015 song and video “Stealin’ All My Dreams” helped shake the foundations of Stephenharperdom as it concisely and angrily described the failings of the Harper government and captured people’s collective anger towards the many misgivings of the Harper regime. You know you’re in big trouble in Canada as a politician if Blue Rodeo has actually taken the time to write a song and produce a video slagging you. That’s because for three decades their songs have connected with Canadians at an intuitive level. Their presence on the Canadian music scene is prolific. Blue Rodeo are inductees in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2012) and received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in May 2014 for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, which is Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts. They are recipients of the Massey Hall Honours award which celebrates the cultural contributions of great artists and their commitment to performance at Massey Hall. According to The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Blue Rodeo has sold in excess of four million records and won an unprecedented 11 Juno Awards, establishing themselves as one of the premier groups in Canadian music history.

For younger musicians and upcoming bands, Blue Rodeo has legendary status. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are regularly referred to as Canada’s Lennon/McCartney and their songbook easily backs that claim. Blue Rodeo’s current tour landed in Ottawa on Valentine’s Day and the band gave another exemplary performance that ended with a standing ovation by the 7500 plus fans in attendance.

Ottawa Life Magazine met with Greg Keelor before the show and asked him about the song “Stealin’ All My Dreams and the timing of the release. He said “the song started out as me trying to figure out why the CBC was so “Fu—d UP” and the trail led to the PMO and then it led to what Harper was doing on a whole bunch of other things in Canada.” Keelor added that he thought the Canadian bands Hey Rosetta! and Yukon Blonde song “Land You Love” by Yukon Gold was a great protest song but that his favourite was a song called “Vote that F—ker OUT” which he said “was both true and hilarious and could apply to anyone doing a bad job in any elective office in the world when you think about it.” Keelor has a wonderful sense of humor and a subtle defiance to him that comes out in conversation. Although I don’t know it for sure, I think he may be the guy in the songs who brings the edge while Cuddy brings the melody. However they do it, it works. We get a chance to have a quick meet and greet with the rest of the band before the show and they are all genuinely pleasant. A local singer is in the room and she hands Jim Cuddy a CD of her music and asks him if he’ll listen to it, adding nervously that “I don’t think it’s that good.”

Cuddy responds – “don’t say that, I’m sure it is great.” (The CD actually is great, and she is a talented singer, but her nerves upon meeting Cuddy got the best of her).

After a high energy and melodious opening set by Toronto rocker Terra Lightfoot, Blue Rodeo took to the stage with “Trust Yourself,” followed by a series of rootsy alt-rock country hits from previous years before mixing in several new songs including “Superstar” and “Rabbit’s Foot”, both strong additions to the Blue rodeo songbook which are sure to get lots of commercial radio airtime. It wasn’t long before the fans were on their feet singing along with Cuddy and Keelor as lead guitarist Colin Cripps created his own magic with well-timed riffs and the occasional solo. Bassist Basil Donovan stayed in the background, as always, while pianist Michael Boguski was front and centre for a few solos of his own on “5 Days in May” and “Dark Angel”. A highlight of the night was the Cuddy-Keelor acoustic segment and Cuddy’s still amazing rendition of “Try”, which he has probably sang 10,000 times but still makes it sound new, and Keelor’s haunting rendition of “Dark Angel”. The finale featured Terra Lightfoot and her band along with Blue Rodeo and thousands of fans singing “Lost Together”. A magical moment for sure. It occurred to me that the reason Blue Rodeo concerts are so good is that these guys genuinely love to perform. They just love what they are doing and it shows and they seem happiest on stage when their fans are singing and dancing along. Years ago Jim Cuddy wrote a line in the hit song “Rena” that says it all: “I taught myself to play so I could be where people danced.” We’re still dancing.


OLM Editorial: The LeBreton Flats Fiasco and Why Melanie Joly Must Reform the NCC

February 3, 2016 1:55 pm
OLM Editorial: The LeBreton Flats Fiasco and Why Melanie Joly Must Reform the NCC

A concept image for Rendevous LeBreton. 

For years the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been the most inept, closed, secretive, elitist and incompetent organization in the federal government. Their tagline should be “The NCC- We Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity.”

The NCC board of directors has 15 members, including the chairperson and the chief executive officer (CEO). Thirteen members represent the regions across Canada. Five are from the Capital Region. They are appointed by the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission (now the Hon. Melanie Joly), with the approval of the Governor-in-Council. Their role is to oversee the corporation, ensure that the corporation’s resources are used effectively and efficiently; to monitor, evaluate and report on performance; and to foster relationships between the NCC and other levels of government and the public. In all cases they get an F.

The NCC’s continuous incompetence over decades is mind boggling. Where to start? They botched the memorial to Victims of Communism project, interfered and tried to delay Ottawa’s $1 billion light rail, against the wishes of the democratically elected Ottawa City Council. In 2011, they spent 5.2 million taxpayers’ dollars to install seven new ice chalets at a cost of $750,00 each (shacks) along the Rideau Canal which is double the value of most families homes in Canada. They messed up the so called Metcalfe Grand Boulevard plan, the King Edward Avenue redevelopment plan in the 1980s, spent decades fighting with Public Works Canada and the City of Ottawa over the development of Sparks Street, embarrassed the entire country by making a complete mess of the Millennium Celebrations in 2000, tried to unilaterally expand the Champlain Bridge against the wishes of every local city council in the region, destroyed the town of Hull in the late 1960s with the horrible development of federal buildings on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. In 1998, Rhys Phillips, in his book Great Gaffes of the National Capital Commission said of the NCC and Hull: “what emerged from the rubble was a textbook example of the twin horrors of postwar urban renewal and late-modernist architecture. Brutalist concrete buildings encase a soulless mall that spans a bleak, six-lane street; they cruelly mock the former humanely scaled cityscape. Four thousand people were displaced. The new ‘city centre’ turns a cold shoulder to the river and the parliamentary precinct across the water.”

IllumiNATION LeBreton

IllumiNATION LeBreton

The NCC board members are largely unknown. One is a forest industry person, another in general management and marketing, a philosopher and the rest are all either government administrative or education management bureaucrat types. There is not one serious entrepreneur or businesses corporate executive like a Terry Matthews or Jim Balsillie. This explains the insanity of the current LeBreton Flats redevelopment proposal. NCC conditions for applying were so ridiculously secretive and onerous that only two bidders stepped up. Of these, only the Rendezvous LeBreton, 100 per cent private money proposal led by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is credible. The other, the LeBreton Re-Imagined by Devcore, Canderel and DLS Group (DCDLS) is not a serious bid. Their plan is built around an NHL arena and reliance on existing government incentives (whatever that means!). DCDLS does not own an NHL team and will not own one. This should disqualify them immediately from consideration. If the NCC board is dimwitted enough to proceed with the DCDLS LeBreton Re-Imagined proposal (and we know from their track record that they are foolish enough to do this) it will create the biggest white elephant in the region’s history. DCDLS is jesting in the media that they can build and then sell their rink to the competition. This is unprofessional and disrespectful to what should be a serious process. Their glib remarks about Mr. Melnyk are in poor taste to the Ottawa Senators organization who has put hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy over the past quarter century, including millions to local charities. The Rendezvous LeBreton proposal should be approved and given the fast track to proceed as soon as possible. Heritage Minister, Melanie Joly should introduce a bill to disband the NCC and set up a new agency that can better serve Canada’s capital region, of which the Mayors of Ottawa and of Gatineau should be permanent ex-officio members. The incompetence of the NCC does not serve the public interest and continues to destroy the soul of our great city.

Astana Emerges: Expo 2017

January 26, 2016 1:49 pm
Astana Emerges: Expo 2017

The most important green energy Expo of the decade takes place in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017.

Nursultan Nazarbayev President of the Republic of Kazakhstan is inviting the world to attend Expo 2017 in Astana, one of the world’s most modern and green cities.

The Expo 2017 global gathering will showcase developments from around the world in the field of green, renewable and sustainable energy. Expo 2017 will place Astana, Kazakhstan in the international spotlight for three months from June 10 to September 20, 2017. During the world-class event, Kazakhstan will host delegations from over 100 countries, and will showcase cutting-edge green energy and sustainability technologies that could provide solutions to energy issues around the world. It will draw three to five million visitors, which would make it the largest international gathering of its kind for both Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

Kazakhstan is a major producer of non-renewable energy sources, but it has been using the profits from these successful ventures to transition to a “green” economy. Expo 2017 is expected to increase foreign investment, international trade and tourism in the country and raise its international profile, making it one of the most influential states in Central Asia.

Roman Vassilenko, Chairman of the Committee for International Information, said that a key part of Expo 2017 is the Future Energy Forum.

“Future energy is one of the most universal discussions of our time, which is why we have chosen it as the central theme for Expo 2017.” The Future Energy Forum will attract the world’s leading experts in green energy, renewables, green technologies and science-related matters. Organizers hope the Future Energy Forum will be the nexus to establish cooperation between international governments, social and business structures and academic communities, including universities, academic institutes, research centers, public foundations and NGOs.

2017 President

Nursultan Nazarbayev President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Expo 2017 will turn Astana into a showcase for the latest global developments in the energy sector and will transform it into a hub for developing alternative energy solutions across Central Asia. Vassilenko said that Kazakhstan will also use the 2017 global fair to call for increased use of renewable energy resources and “will be an important platform for innovations in renewable energy, including wind, solar and hydro power.” Organizers expect that the expo will expand Kazakhstan’s global cooperation with industrialized, developing and less developed countries. Kazak officials have a particular focus on developing nations south of the equator, hoping the Expo will trigger a new era of expanded development programs with them. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has told his officials that Expo 2017 will be “the greatest achievement at the international level since Kazakhstan’s independence.”

Expo 2017 will also bring hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and considerable international exposure to the country and offer it the opportunity to showcase and advance the latest technological, scientific and cultural achievements in green energy on the world stage.

Canada is expected to have a strong presence in Astana. Canadian Foreign Affairs officials have been actively working with Kazakhstan on governance models for over a decade, and the Canadian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Shawn Steil is highly regarded by government and business officials in the country. In addition, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a highly respected Canadian think tank, has been working closely with Kazakhstan officials and using its in-house expertise and its worldwide network of practitioners to share their knowledge on some key governance issues in the country. CIGI is also a partner in the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), an institute for advanced research, education, and outreach in the fields of global governance and international public policy.

Jim Balsillie is the founder of the BSIA and is the former founder of Blackberry. He is currently the Chairman of Sustainable Development Technologies Canada (SDTC), the Canadian government’s six billion dollar cleantech fund. SDTC works to bring economically viable, clean technologies to the market. SDTC invests in globally competitive Canadian companies that produce tangible environmental benefits that make Canada’s economy more competitive. It is expected that Balsillie and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and other senior Canadian officials will be invited to attend the global expo along with green energy stalwarts like Al Gore, Elon Musk, Laurent Fabius and many of the key participants in the 2015 Paris Climate Change agreements. Over 2.5 billion people live in close proximity to Kazakhstan, and it’s only a three-hour flight from the capital city of India, a five-hour flight from the capital of China and a three-hour flight from Moscow. In addition, there are excellent connections from North America for western visitors.

The government of Kazakhstan has allocated almost a half-billion dollars to construct the expo site and build a new generation of mass transit and roads to serve it. The expo itself will be held on 113 hectares (279.23 acres) of land at the end of Millennium Alley in the new southwest district of the city. The Millennium Alley area “combines numerous facilities of political and cultural significance for the city…close to the city’s new center.” The expo site has also attracted $1.3 billion in foreign investments for the new buildings, roads and transit systems, including a new city railway system.

2017 Logo“This includes the costs of constructing the exhibition pavilions and new hotels for visitors,” said Expo 2017 National Coordinator and Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rapil Zhoshybayev. “This will be mainly paid out of new investments. And it is in line with the average amount spent on holding other Expos around the world.” Organizers also plan to install streaming cameras throughout the expo site to broadcast the event worldwide.

“Astana will become the first digital Expo, with video cameras and Wi-Fi everywhere, so that every corner of the world with access to the Internet can see this historic event,” said Aidar Kazybayev, chairman of the Trade Committee of the Ministry of Economic Development.

“Astana will become the first digital Expo, with video cameras and Wi-Fi everywhere, so that every corner of the world with access to the Internet can see this historic event,” said Aidar Kazybayev, chairman of the Trade Committee of the Ministry of Economic Development.

And all of this effort will not go to waste after the expo is over. Venues built for the exposition will serve as longer- term investments by positioning Kazakhstan and its capital as an attractive center for future large international expositions and information presentation platforms.“Part of the exhibition facilities and platforms will be used as scientific laboratories, scientific centres and research institutes after the exhibition is held.

“We want to use the buildings erected as the expo village and the hotels in the future as (government-owned) apartment buildings. This will help resolve social issues and development of our capital,” Zhoshybayev said. Part of those facilities will be used as a new Nazarbayev University research center, which could be used to further the innovations presented at the expo.

Hosting Expo 2017 comes at a perfect time for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan recently became a member of the World Trade Organization and that combined with Expo 2017 will exponentially increase awareness in the global community about Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan officials hope that by helping stimulate international discussion on sustainable green energy and economies through their hosting of the world’s most important green energy expo, it will increase their presence in world affairs.

Visit the official site of the Expo.

Ottawa Expertise on Display In Kazakhstan/Central Asia

January 21, 2016 2:59 pm
Ottawa Expertise on Display In Kazakhstan/Central Asia

Downtown Astana, photo by Ken and Nyetta.

Kazakhstan is a country on the move.

Kazaks are the ancestors of the great Genghis Khan. Today, their diverse multicultural society, with its historical tribes, numerous languages and religions and their international outlook in global affairs has made it one of the most compelling countries to watch in Central Asia.

Economic growth in Kazakhstan is led almost exclusively by the coal, iron, gold and copper sectors. It is the world’s largest supplier of uranium. It has the second largest uranium,  chromium, lead, and zinc reserves, the third largest manganese deposits and one of the world’s largest copper reserves. It is a significant diamonds exporter and has one of the world’s largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas. The giant Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea has made Kazakhstan one of the world’s top oil exporters. The past decade has also seen exponential growth in its banking and financial services sector. The country is on a roll but none of this came easy. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Kazakhstan experienced a difficult transition from a planned to a market economy. One of the key problems was dealing with the consequences of the fallout of 456 Soviet nuclear weapons tests held in northern Kazakhstan between the 1950’s and late 1980’s covering a geographic area larger than France. Over 1.5 million Kazakhs still suffer radiation-related illness from those tests today. Under the leadership of its first (and only) President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan voluntarily rid itself of all nuclear weapons and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaties. Nazarbayev then launched Project ATOM (Abolish Testing is our Mission) to promote nuclear disarmament and end nuclear testing resulting in the passing of the Declaration on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World at the UN General Assembly. These efforts were supported by Canada.

Nazarbayev also devised an economic plan for the newly emerged country. A slow but gradual recovery began in the early 2000s, followed by a rise in Kazakhstan’s total trade in the second half of that decade, when it became one of the world’s top grain exporters and its mining economy started moving into overdrive. As a result, the Kazak people have seen their standard of living, incomes and quality of life improve dramatically. Nazarbayev’s free market economic reforms have made Kazakhstan Central Asia’s strongest and wealthiest economy and its capital, Astana, has become one of the most important financial centres in Central Asia.

In his sunset years, Nazarbayev is now working to secure the future for Kazakhstan and protect his legacy with Constitutional changes that embrace democratic governance models and the rule of law, all overseen by the country’s freely elected bicameral Parliament.

Some of the wealth and profits generated from Kazakhstan’s diverse economy have gone to underwrite the wonderfully extravagant capital of Astana. This city is like Dubai on steroids. To see it is to believe it. Astana has an energetic vibe and boasts an impressive skyline of buildings, ministries, museums, malls and boulevards that scream 21st century. Kazak citizens are young, educated, professional, multi- ethnic and busy. Very busy. They are true internationalists and whether it’s in the private or public sector they look to other countries to gain knowledge about how to best develop their own governance and business models. Canadian diplomats and NGO institutions from the Ottawa area are playing an important and active role in this effort.

On December 9th the Canadian Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) organized the inaugural Central Asia Security Innovation in Astana in cooperation with the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Republic, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) to discuss security governance challenges in five major key areas: anti-terrorism, border management, human and drug trafficking, energy and nuclear security, and transboundary water management. CIGI policy experts were on hand to provide a Canadian perspective these matters.

image (1)

Participants from CIGI, Canadian Embassy and Central Asian States at the Central Asia Security Innovation Conference in Astana Dec. 9.

The tone was set at the outset of the conference by Shawn Steil, Canada’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan and Ottawa based Margaret Skok, Senior Fellow, CIGI and a former Canadian Ambassador who both observed that there was an absence of region-wide cooperation between Kazakhstan and its smaller neighbouring countries. Skok suggested these five countries work on setting aside their various enmities and try to work on a multilateral relationship that could provide them with a collective influence as a Central Asian bloc. Steil said it was his experience that “lots of dialogue, conversation and programs are the key things that build trust between states.” He also said this was easier said than done, noting that “Kazakhstan must balance the competing interests between its geographical neighbours, Russia and China, against its determination to maintain its own hard won independent foreign policy and economic relationships with the European Union, the United States and Canada.” Steil and Skok suggested Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics – Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – have a vested interest in closer regional co-operation.

Stockwell Day, Canada’s former Minister of International Trade and former Minister of Public Safety, said that the Central Asian states should work together and share information wherever possible on mutual security matters, on technical matters and on health issues. Day noted that the United States-Canada relationship was “a friendship based on respect and the ability to link arms and work together on issues and share information in areas of mutual concern in security, trade technical matters, health issues and even military.” He said that cooperation and preparation are the things that can get countries “through moments that could otherwise be disastrous” and noted that “Canada had learned from disasters within its borders and among its neighbours.”

A common theme raised by the five central Asian countries was the issue of how to prevent Central Asian citizens from joining international terrorist groups like ISIL and then returning home to cause havoc. Former Canadian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former CSIS Director Reid Morden responded to these security issues with a recommendation that Central Asian governments consider coordinating their intelligence efforts. Reid said that “intelligence today comes from across all areas whether its transportation, health, immigration, export, trade or other areas, but intelligence gathering must be based in law through an act of Parliament.” When asked about the guidelines and rules related to the collection of intelligence, Reid said that “while intrusiveness is allowed, it must be governed by the proper oversight and that there must always be a balance between security needs and the inherent rights of citizens.”

Ambassador Steil said that better communication between Central Asian states was the first step in moving forward to form a “Central Asian bloc” and that region-wide cooperation in a variety of areas including trade, border controls and the harmonization of customs regulations were good starting points. CIGI invitee and Former Ambassador of the United States to Kazakhstan (2009–2011) and Tajikistan (2003–2006) Richard Hoagland said that the kind of cooperation that could drive Central Asian prosperity would be stunted unless there was an end to “endemic and sometimes government-sanctioned” corruption. He said that the Central Asian states themselves need to understand that it is in their interest to fight corruption for their own international reputation and credibility.

Colin Robertson, a trade expert, former Canadian diplomat, CIGI fellow and Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute stressed the importance of these Central Asian nations to develop a professional civil service. He said that those involved in the military, policing and border security should be “well educated, well trained and have a high esprit de corps because these are traits that help protect countries from corruption practices.” He added that “border enforcement is important but so is trade, and it is important to expedite goods at the border and keep them moving.” Robertson said that the Central Asian countries should not see cooperating and the sharing of information as something that weakens their country, but as a strength. He noted “that sharing info builds trust and that the Central Asian countries should share info on infrastructure, roads, and pipelines.” Robertson provided numerous examples of cooperation between the American and Canadian governments in trade, commerce and border issues. He said that Canada and the United States understand the importance of dialogue and communication on many issues but they also understand that on other issues “good fences make good neighbours.” Attendees to the conference  included representatives from key ministries in Kazakhstan and the four other Central Asian governments and a large group of Central Asian university students. Two graduate students told Ottawa Life Magazine that they were impressed with the views of the Canadian participants. One said he was very impressed by the way Reid Morton explained the requirement in democracies to balance security needs with citizens’ rights and a female student said she thought Ottawa’s Margaret Skok was an outstanding moderator who “got Kazakhstan” and really seemed to understand Central Asian issues.

MPs and Ottawa Media – Some Advice

December 14, 2015 4:37 pm
MPs and Ottawa Media – Some Advice

There’s no place like home for the holidays and that’s where our “cover girl” likes to be at Christmas. The immensely talented mezzo-soprano singer Wallis Giunta is a global tour de force and renowned Ottawa photographer Paul Couvrette captured Wallis perfectly in our stunning cover shot. We have a wonderful story by Ottawa’s well-known fashion designer Justina McCaffrey and we begin our Canada-Turkey Friends series with an interview with Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal. We thought it would be appropriate to offer the newly elected MPs a Christmas gift in the form of an op-ed with some sage advice from the legendary Patrick Gossage, author and press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the late seventies and early eighties.

MPs and Ottawa Media Some Advice
By Patrick Gossage

As new Members of Parliament, you will be wondering if you have any role with the national media who crowd around cabinet ministers and opposition leaders and critics every day in the lobby of the House of Commons.

The short answer is you do, but it’s one that does not come automatically. Some MPs over the years with strengths in particular issues of concern to the public have in fact become go-tos for the national media. Often this has been a result of innovative private members’ bills that received wide media attention.

Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Reform Act is a case in point. Through sheer will and perseverance and lots of support from the national media, his bill was passed just before Parliament broke for the last election.

So, in the new Parliament, if there is a cause you are dedicated to, think of a private members bill to give it substance.You will not lack for media attention.

In the more day-to-day setting, you can be useful to the media in a number of ways, or you can be damaging to your party. So be careful.

If you are in opposition and a government action has definite negative consequences for your riding or your part of the country, your opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Talk to the media and help your cause.

If you are part of the governing party, the reverse holds true. You know how beneficial a government policy can be to your riding in specific human terms. Letting the media know can be helpful to the government.

Being well-prepared and asking articulate questions in committee can get you attention from the national media, as can a solid performance in Question Period.

In the new session, however, spewing out the party line or being belligerently partisan will no longer get you good marks with the media or the public.

Warning! The media is obsessed by signs of fracture or divisions among MPs. You are most vulnerable to being a hero with the media but a villain to your fellow party members if you get sucked into negative comments emerging from caucus.

All in all, the Ottawa media are not out to destroy anyone, unless you deserve it! You can help them with your knowledge of how government or opposition actions are going down in your riding.

A good rule too is to always answer when reporters call. Listen very carefully to the question and see what the reporter may be trying to make you say or a supposition he or she is trying to make you agree with. There are all sorts of ways of saying: “I can’t really comment on that...” if you are uncomfortable with the question.

Finally, never go “off the record.” This apparent means of protecting yourself from a quote doesn’t exist on the banks of the Rideau.

Turkey Welcomes Refugees with Open Arms

3:45 pm
Turkey Welcomes Refugees with Open Arms

The last 40 years have seen a rapprochement in the relationship between Canada and Turkey. The  economic, cultural and  trade relations between the two countries have blossomed and a deeper mutual understanding has resulted. His Excellency Selçuk Ünal, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada, has travelled to all corners of Canada since taking up his post in Ottawa in September 2014. (He also had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver-area home where his parents once lived and studied before returning to Turkey).

In this first instalment of the Canada- Turkey Friendship Series that will look at the bonds between our countries, Ünal shares his thoughts on the role Turkey has played in the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Like many other countries, Turkey’s humanitarian assistance and response to the Syrian crisis placed a great strain on the country, its people, budget and economy. However, that did not stop Turkey from stepping up to the plate and doing its share to help refugees. Ünal explains that: “Turkey has an open door policy for Syrians without any discrimination and Turkey strictly complies with the principle of non- refoulement at the border.” He said that according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: “Turkey has become the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world with the total number of Syrians living in Turkey reaching over 2 million in September 2015.

Here are just some of the particular measures Turkey has adopted to assist these individuals who are desperate for help.

  • 260,000 Syrians have been welcomed in 25 temporary protection centres and provided with food, non-food items, health and education services as well as psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities.
  • 1.8 million Syrians who live outside these centres are also under Turkey’s temporary protection regime and thus benefit from free medical services.
  • At present, 230,000 Syrian school- aged children receive education and 460,000 children will be integrated into the Turkish education system until the end of 2015.
  • More than 7 million Syrians have benefitted from the Turkish health- care system. The average number of daily applications to health centres is around 10,000.
  • More than 9 million medical consultations and 280,000 surgical operations have been carried out for Syrians in Turkish hospitals.
  • Turkey has so far spent approximately 8 billion US dollars for all of these efforts, whereas the total contributions Turkey has received bilaterally and multilaterally from the international community to date have totalled only 417 million USD.
  • The UN Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for the period 2015- 2016 to alleviate the heavy burden Turkey is 624 million USD, but so far only 185 million USD (30 per cent) has been funded.
  • In addition to Syrians, over 200,000 Iraqis came in via Iraq because of the threat of ISIL. Turkey has established 3 camps in Northern Iraq for civilians fleeing to the north and delivered around 800 trucks of humanitarian assistance to Northern Iraq.
Dec2015_Turkish Amb_COG_5122

His Excellency Selçuk Ünal, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada.

Ambassador Ünal said he and Turkey have been greatly distressed about the number of illegal migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea which he says has reached 6,000. In 2014, in response to this crisis, The Turkish Coast Guard initiated an “Operation Safe Med” in the Mediterranean Sea and “Operation Aegean Hope” in the Aegean Sea in 2015 in order to maintain safety and security at seas. Since the beginning of 2015, the Turkish Coast Guard has rescued more than 55,000 migrants from sea and apprehended hundreds of migrant smugglers. This number is more than the total number of rescued migrants at sea in the last five years.

Ambassador Ünal says that “successful migration management is difficult when the government is trying at the same time to take every precaution to prevent irregular migration.” In 2014-2015, half a million irregular migrants were apprehended while attempting to cross into Turkish territory. Ünal believes that irregular migration is a global problem and has global repercussions. “This issue requires a global and comprehensive approach and all countries, including Canada, should exert joint efforts in order to prevent and overcome the problems brought by irregular migration to the countries.” The operations for combating irregular migration by sea have put a heavy financial burden on Turkey and neighbouring countries. “Currently, the operations conducted by the Turkish Coast Guard cost 5 million Euros per month that has to be met from national resources.” Ünal says that some of the target countries in migration tend to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of transit or forefront countries in the fight against irregular migration. However, he says: “this approach is not only unfair but will also not yield positive results.”

Ambassador Ünal also underlined that the overall solution will require a combination of elements. “The crisis will also require a political resolution, one that allows people to stop fleeing from their homes in Syria. Canada and other countries and the UN all have a role to play in making that happen.”

In terms of assistance, Ünal said he was pleased to see Prime Minister Trudeau is adopting a new approach on the refugee crisis by committing to provide more aid and to take in a larger number of refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey to the West. Turkey is thankful for all the assistance provided during the crisis and looks forward to working with Canadian officials to learn more about the help from Canada.

The Turkish Community invites you to join us at Fundraising Gala Dinner for Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, CHEO on the occasion of Turkish National Sovereignty and International Children’s Day on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at Delta Ottawa City Center. For information :


October 23, 2015 11:56 am

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marc Carisse.

Voters Decided It Was Sunny Ways Rather Than Rainbows and Unicorns

Ten years is a long time for any government to be in power. Stephen Harper led Canada through some tumultuous times. He deserves a great deal of credit for guiding Canada through the 2008 global recession that threatened the very underpinnings of the Canadian and world economy. However, the record is less stellar internationally. The Harper government made no bones about where we stood on most issues. However, our bravado on the Ukraine or the Syrian crisis was not matched with meaningful contributions on the ground that made a significant difference. The Harper government was in denial about climate change and its shameful and mean-spirited response to do more to provide for certain Syrian migrants sealed Mr. Harper’s fate.

The Conservatives’ perceived callousness on that one issue upset millions of Canadians who viewed the response as both vulgar and contrary to core Canadian values. The Harper response, that Canada was doing more on Syria than it was being credited for, was blown to pieces by Canada’s former Chief of the Defence Staff, retired General Rick Hillier. Hillier said that not only was the response wrong, but that Canada could bring in 100,000 refugees by Christmas. Hillier’s heft contrasted against the lightweight and at times nasty Minister of Immigration, the now defeated Chris Alexander, only highlighted the need for change.

Enter Justin Trudeau. His discipline in the campaign is a good harbinger for things to come. His positive message contrasted sharply against the angry and negative approach of the Conservatives. His call for a government with a greater spirit of generosity and one focused on hope rather fear resonated big time with Canadians. Thomas Mulcair came across as creepy at times or smug and short-tempered. Trudeau seemed to have his pulse on the mood of the country. The biggest loss to Ottawa in this campaign was the defeat of Ottawa Centre NDP MP Paul Dewar. They don’t make MPs much better than Dewar. However, Mulcair’s misreading of the niqab issue and lax campaign combined with the tough battle with the talented Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna proved too much.

In the dying days of the election, Harper referred to Trudeau and the Liberals as “all unicorns and rainbows” while Trudeau talked about “Sunny Ways.” Obviously, Canadians prefer sunny ways.

We hope you enjoy our 15th Annual TOP 25 People in the Capital issue. Kevin Vickers leads the list for his actions during the terrorist attack on Parliament Hill last year. The CBC’s Catherine Cullen has proven her mettle as one of Canada’s top national reporters and Ottawa Sens GM Bryan Murray is revered by Sens players and fans alike and beloved by all in our great city. Pierre Poilievre was the lone Conservative in Ottawa to win his seat. We applaud his achievements and hard work but note that sunny ways for him and his party may have to wait. His days may soon be filled with unicorns and rainbows. Enjoy.

Marion’s Way

September 14, 2015 2:19 pm
Marion’s Way

One of my favourite quotes is from U.S. President John Kennedy. He said: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.That is a question every person in Canada should reflect upon as we watch the disastrous human tragedy unfolding before our eyes in Europe as millions of innocent people flee the wrath and pure evil of both ISIL and the despotic regime in Syria.

As the chaos unfolds and world politicians sit by dimwittedly, wringing their hands and passing the buck, thousands die tragic and horrible deaths. To complicate matters, the United Nations and other world “leaders” have shown no stomach or courage to use all the tools at their disposal to combat and destroy ISIL and the Syrian regime and to bring them to justice at the International Court in The Hague. The Saudi, Egyptian, Turkish and Jordanian governments are allowing the carnage to continue while the Western countries, including Canada, have shown little appetite to do anything significant to help.

The victims, of course, are the innocents. Consider the heartbreaking case of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach on September 2nd. He died along with his brother, Ghalib 5, and mother Rehan as they were trying to escape the civil war in Syria by paying smugglers for a dangerous boat trip from Turkey to the Greek Island of Kos. The boys’ Canadian aunt, Fatima Kurdi, who lives in Coquitlam, B.C., was heartbroken as she described how their father tried to save Aylan and Ghalib when the rickety ship they were on flipped in the Mediterranean, plummeting everyone into the water and his family to their deaths. Kurdi had been desperately trying to sponsor other members of the Kurdi family to come to Canada.

Canadians are angry that Canada is not showing more compassion as this tragedy unfolds. We can and must do more. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has proven in spades that he is a bureaucrat and not a leader. When there is war and death and genocide and families are fleeing in terror, the most important focus should be on doing the right thing and not focusing obsessively like Alexander does on doing the right paperwork….Agh. Alexander has the full authority and discretion under the Immigration Act as the Immigration Minister to allow anyone into Canada on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. In years past, this instrument has been used to allow over 10,000 people into Canada per year. Yet he dithers. Mulcair and Trudeau both would pull Canada out of supporting the military mission against ISIL and the Assad regime. They are Chamberlain-esque in their desire to appease rather than confront and defeat pure evil. Canada needs to show its spirit of generosity and accept more migrants and get them here quickly while meeting our military commitment to work with coalition forces to repel ISIL and the Assad regime. These are not incompatible objectives. The only way to stop the migrant crisis is to stop ISIL and Assad.

If only Canada had an Immigration Minister who had some of the talent, skill, compassion and leadership qualities of Ottawa’s great former Mayor, Marion Dewar. In 1979, Dewar led Project 4000, in which Ottawa residents sponsored 4,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees. Ottawans overwhelmingly opened their doors, wallets and hearts to the “boat people.” If Ottawa could take 4000 people, surely Canada can take 40,000. Marion Dewar simply did it and people followed. People will follow if someone trustworthy will lead. As a nation of immigrants, we should all remember when seeing the suffering of those migrants that there but for the grace of God, go I.

Discover the Hidden Secret of the Dominican Republic at Casa De Campo

September 8, 2015 10:00 am
Discover the Hidden Secret of the Dominican Republic at Casa De Campo

If you are looking for first class hospitality, gracious service staff, luxurious accommodations and a Caribbean resort experience like no other, Casa de Campo is the place. Located on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, this spectacular 7,000-acre resort, residential community and tropical playground is a golfer’s paradise and a tourist’s delight. In short, Casa De Campo offers a perfect getaway for families, couples or businesses.


Casa de Campo’s impressive front entrance.

Upon arrival at the hotel, you’ll be greeted with a glass of Moet champagne and given keys to a golf cart and directions to a suite that is both elegant and comfortable. The hotel rooms are large, with marble baths, televisions, excellent internet, refrigerators, daily fresh fruit, towel service and room temperature controls. They have all the modern accessories you would expect from such a luxurious spot. I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop with all the offerings. Following my first instinct, I quickly headed out to explore the resort grounds in my golf cart. The adventure took me back to my days of being a free-wheeling teen, when I loved to spend afternoons at the local go-cart track. The difference was that these golf carts are quiet and the scenery is spectacular.

Manicured lawns, spectacular private residences, picturesque golf courses and a white sandy beach with illuminating turquoise water compel you to quickly get into decompress-mode. The Minitas resort beach is very accessible and the beach café has superior service, cold beer, great tapas and a large canopy to protect you from the hot afternoon sun.

Back at the hotel, the pool area is immaculately maintained and there is a fitness center with the latest workout equipment and a spa offering a plethora of soothing treatments. Families can take advantage of supervised programs for children and teens.


Seating at one of the resort’s many fantastic pools.

If you love golf you would be in heaven here. I’m not a golfer but my travel colleagues both said that the famed Teeth of the Dog golf course at the resort was one of their all-time best golfing experiences. Aside from golf, Casa offers tennis, beach water sports, river and ocean fishing, horseback riding, polo and clay shooting.

The Casa de Campo Shooting Center is a world-class sport shooting facility with more than 200 different stations. The stations catapult clay targets into the air at different heights, speeds and angles, each one designed to represent the movement of different animals such as pheasants and rabbits. I had never gone clay target shooting before and I have to say I really loved it. The coaches were patient and professional. Your adrenaline gets going each time you line up and hit a moving target.

The Shooting Director and Game keeper  is Gary Salmon, a world renowned specialist in the field whose previous postings included stints at Sandringham, at Queen Elizabeth’s estate in Norfolk, in Suffolk, in  Essex and then for 16 years in Northamptonshire in England. In the shooting and game keeping world, Salmon is widely known and respected and his clients have included some of Canada’s leading business families and two of Canada’s former Prime Ministers.

My clay shooting experience was only slightly surpassed by an invigorating trail ride with one of the estate ranch horses. I thought I was pretty good on a horse until later in the day when I went to watch a local polo match. I am now convinced that although ice-hockey requires a certain level of talent, it is nowhere near the ability and dexterity required to play polo.

Horseback riding, clay shooting and a long swim at the beach all made for a great day. Later, I enjoyed dinner at the resort’s newly renovated signature restaurant on Minitas Beach. We watched the sunset and dined on a mix of delicious seafood, grilled meats, pasta, fresh salads and side dishes. We ended the meal with amazing desserts, all prepared with a distinctive Caribbean flair.

33605467-H1-Casa de Campo Marina Aerial

La Marina, filled with boats and picturesque homes.

Lago Grill offers breakfast, lunch and dinner each day alongside its amazing views of the Teeth of the Dog 18th hole and the Caribbean Sea. I enjoyed several early meals here as I felt the cool sea breezes and listened to a Dominican folk band playing “perico ripiao.” Lago offers a wide variety of salads, home style bread, all kinds of seafood, cassava empanadas, a variety of meats including the famous goat “chivo higueyano” and traditional Dominican stew. You can also enjoy a wonderful meal at La Caña by IL Circo which offers a choice of dining in an air-conditioned indoor area or al fresco on the terrace with views of the pool and garden. Their menu is varied and features selections like salmon carpaccio and turbo fillet, risotto with lobster, porcini skirt steak and some pretty incredible desserts.

Casa de Campo has a port called “La Marina” for ships and yachts. It’s really a small village with private residences, shops and restaurants that you could easily spend at day at relaxing and reading a book. However–nothing beats reading a book on the beach. It’s worth it to take the 30 minute Catamaran trip to Catalina Island, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The Catamaran races along the coast and out into the Caribbean Sea before docking on site at Catalina. Plan to spend a day on this beach under a palm tree. Bring a lunch or buy one from the locals.


The gorgeous Altos de Chavón village and theatre.

Another big draw for visitors is the nearby Altos de Chavón, a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Chavón that is part of the Casa de Campo resort. You’ll need a day to explore the cobbled streets and local merchant shops tucked away in the little courtyards that define this unique place. It was constructed in the 1980s as a living cultural centre for local artists to produce and sell their goods. Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and the Italian designer Roberto Coppa worked with Dominican artisans to create the buildings, ironwork, pathways and stone carvings. The Regional Museum of Archaeology is located onsite at Altos de Chavón and is a must stop destination for anyone visiting the area. It features a treasure trove of more than 3,000 artifacts that chart the history and culture of the region’s pre-European societies. You’ll pass a number of restaurants and bars serving local and international cuisines.

We had a fabulous dinner at La Piazzetta, a gourmet Italian restaurant featuring antipasto selections, homemade pasta dishes and a great selection of wines. Then we went to Altos de Chavón’s huge 5,000 seat open-air amphitheater to see the show Kandelá, a musical extravaganza featuring over 50 dancers and two renowned local singers who take you on an incredible musical journey infused with the rhythmic essence of the Caribbean. International stars such as Sting, Carlos Santana, Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias and Shakira have also graced its stage.

Casa de Campo has it all, from luxury hotel rooms and villas to a wide selection of exceptional restaurants, the Cygalle Healing Spa, chic boutiques, beaches, horseback riding, golf, sports facilities, a marina and of course, the Altos de Chavón village –with its museums, restaurants, amphitheatre and church. All make for an exceptional experience. Best of all are the abundant smiling staff members who are well-trained in the art of hospitality and are some of the most generous and genuine people you’ll meet. Bravo Casa de Campo.

For more information on the gorgeous resort and bookings, dive into the Casa de Campo website.

Win-Win Cooperation

July 20, 2015 12:00 pm
Win-Win Cooperation

Dan Donovan, Publisher of Ottawa Life Magazine, sat down to chat with Chinese Ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui after his first year in Canada.

OTTAWA LIFE: Ambassador Luo, you’ve been in Canada for one year now, what’s your impression of Canada?

Ambassador: I have four general impressions. First, Canada is a vast land with a rich natural resource endowment and a high level of economic development. Second, Canada has remarkable environmental protection endeavours. Personally, I find Canada a most liveable country. Even long winters seems to be “warmer” than I expected. Third, Canadian people are warm and friendly. I’ve seen heart- warming smiles wherever I go, be it in streets, parks or shops. Last but not least is Canada’s inclusive cultural diversity. People of different colours live in harmony and all cultures thrive in coexistence.

I have visited a number of Canadian cities and provinces since my arrival in Ottawa. I have felt for myself Canadians’ friendly sentiments towards China. Many of the people I have met have great expectations of China-Canada relations. I do feel that China-Canada cooperation is mutually complementary, our two peoples are genuinely supportive of a stronger and closer China-Canada relationship, and our bilateral relations have broad prospects.

OTTAWA LIFE: How would you briefly characterise the current China-Canada relationship?

Ambassador: Both China and Canada are countries of global influence. In 2005, our two countries established the strategic partnership, opening a new chapter in our all-round cooperation. China has been Canada’s second largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years. According to China’s statistics, our two-way trade in 2014 was valued at 55.2 billion US dollars, 368 times of the figure in 1970 when the diplomatic tie was established. Canada is now China’s second largest overseas investment destination. As of the end of January 2015, China’s accumulated investment in Canada totalled nearly 58 billion US dollars, creating over 6,000 jobs for Canadians. The mutual visits between our two countries numbered approximately 1.14 million. Canada is home to nearly 1.5 million people of Chinese origin. Over 100,000 Chinese students are pursuing their studies in Canada.

The fruitful cooperation between the two countries in the political, economic, cultural and other fields has brought practical and tangible benefits to our two peoples and contributed significantly to the common development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

China’s contacts and engagement with Canada are believed to date back to time before the formation of the Canadian Confederation. Over 200 years ago, tens of thousands of Chinese came all the way across the oceans to the North American continent for mining gold and building the Pacific Railway. The Chinese workers made significant contributions to the development and prosperity of the land now known as Canada.

Over 70 years ago, Dr. Norman Bethune came to China and sacrificed his precious life in the Chinese People’s War against the Japanese Aggression, becoming a common hero in both China and Canada.

Over 50 years ago, Canada took the lead in breaking the Western trade embargo against China, exporting wheat to China to help the natural disaster-stricken people to get through difficulties.

Our friendly sentiments towards each other have been sowed and cultivated in history. Such friendship constitutes the firm and solid foundation for our bilateral relationship and for its steady and continued growth.

OTTAWA LIFE: Where are the potential growth areas for China-Canada relations and cooperation?

Ambassador: China is the world’s largest developing country while Canada is one of the major developed countries in the world.There are huge potentials for cooperation in such areas as trade, economic relations, financial services, energy, science and technology, culture, education and tourism.

As you may know, China is now making comprehensive in-depth reforms, including the change of growth model. In the next five years, China’s imports of goods are expected to surpass the mark of 10 trillion US dollars and its overseas investment may amount to 500 billion US dollars. Chinese outbound tourist visits are likely to rise to 500 million. All this offers tremendous opportunities for China-Canada relations and cooperation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to China last November represents another milestone in Sino-Canadian relations. During his visit, the two countries issued a Joint List of Outcomes, which covers 20 specific items or areas of cooperation.

As a result of the two sides’ joint efforts, the renminbi clearing bank, the first of its kind in America, has been successfully inaugurated in Toronto; the reciprocal arrangements for multiple-entry visa valid for up to 10 years are well in place; the Montreal- Beijing direct flight is scheduled to take off in September; and the 2015- 2016 China-Canada year of people- to-people and cultural exchanges has lifted its curtain. Other listed projects of cooperation are also progressing steadily.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the tenth anniversary of China- Canada strategic partnership. The two sides need to seize such important opportunities and work closely to follow up to and implement each and every item on the Joint List.

In this connection, the two sides should prioritize the negotiation and conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the opening of a China- Canada Maritime Energy Corridor.

Given the natural resource endowment of our two countries, the size and strength of our two economies and the scope of our two markets, there are tremendous potentials for greater bilateral cooperation in trade, economic relations and other areas. With the entry into force of the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) between China and Canada last October, the logical next step for the two sides is to start FTA negotiations. China is ready to work with Canada in a joint effort to launch FTA negotiations at an early date, which, I believe, would provide a strong policy support to our trade and economic cooperation.

Against the backdrop of falling oil and gas prices, the opening of an environmentally-friendly Maritime Energy Corridor connecting China and Canada can help upgrade our energy cooperation while strengthen- ing our maritime and environmental protection cooperation. The Chinese side will step up communication with the Canadian side on the envisaged “corridor” project while doing the necessary on its part so as to lay the groundwork for substantive progress towards the opening of the “corridor”.

China and Canada’s influence in global and regional affairs has long been substantial and significant. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the world anti-fascist war. China will host a series of grand commemorative events in September. We have invited world leaders, including Canadian leaders, to join us at these commemorations. China will continue to strengthen cooperation with Canada under such multilateral frameworks as the United Nations, G-20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in a bid to further contribute to the global and Asia- Pacific development and prosperity.

OTTAWA LIFE: Mr. Ambassador, are there any issues or difficulties in China-Canada relations? If yes, what are they?

Ambassador: China and Canada have different social systems, cultural traditions and are at different stages of development. That being the case, it is quite natural that we have different views and positions on this or that issue. For example, the Canadian side complains about its trade deficit with China, and they often make indiscreet comments on China’s human rights situation.

My general feeling is that Canada cannot follow the pace of China when it comes to developing the bilateral relations, and our priority areas are different. I hope Canada will adopt a more proactive and constructive approach.

In spite of the differences, we should not let “a single leaf block the view of mountains”, as a Chinese proverb suggests, nor should we “make a mountain out of a molehill”, as our Canadian friends would often say. In other words, we should never lose sight of our overall interests because of our difference on any individual issues. Differences cannot and should not disrupt our bilateral relations. We should focus on practical cooperation and expand the positive aspects of our relationship while keeping disputes or differences under effective control and solving them properly.We should work together to promote a sound, steady and sustainable development of the strategic partnership in the common interests of the two countries.

In Defence of Parliament

July 13, 2015 10:00 am
Creative commons photo courtesy of Endlisnis

As I watch the frenzied, over-the-top media coverage of the supposed Senate scandal, I’m reminded of the famous Will Rogers adage. “All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.” Lost in this mass media morass is balance and proportionality. There must be a recognition that while the Senate has some issues, Canada has also greatly benefited from the service of numerous senators, past and present, who have had distinguished careers as parliamentarians. Senator Eugene Forsey, the renowned intellectual and constitutional expert, Allan MacEachen or Pat Carney all spent years contributing to public service. There is Senator Michael Kirby whose groundbreaking work on mental health revolutionized mental health treatment for all Canadians. Serge Joyal is another senator who has greatly contributed to constitutional and democratic reform issues.

Ask anyone from the Inuit community and you will hear nothing but respect for Senator Willie Adams, who retired after over 32 years of federal service to the Canadian Arctic. What about Ottawa’s own senator, the globally respected and renowned heart surgeon Dr. Wilbert Keon? These parliamentarians have made great contributions to the public interest in Canada and their service should be lauded rather than shamed. There is much more that is good about the Senate than is bad. It is true that there was a need for expense reform within the Red Chamber. The House of Commons did so a decade ago by posting all Member of Parliament expenses online. When the actions of a few rogue senators were magnified to “crisis proportions” by some elitists in the national media, it caused the Senate itself to call in the Auditor General to clear the air.

Who would have ever thought that the actual cost of the audit would be 25 times costlier than the problematic expenses it uncovered. Auditor General Michael Ferguson, whether through ego, hubris or incompetence, owes all Canadians an explanation. He spent over $23 million of taxpayers’ dollars on the Senate audit to find $976,000 in questionable expenses. That is out of $180 million worth of expenses investigated. The Auditor General, a person tasked with protecting the integrity of public spending, deemed it reasonable to spend $23.5 million of taxpayers’ money to find out that 0.5 per cent of Senate expenses were questionable. Ferguson flagged 30 senators (23 current and seven former senators). However, 12 of these senators were reported for questionable expenses of under $11,000 which means the apparent expense scandal in the Senate involves only seven senators and a half a million dollars in total. And of those seven senators, five of them are no longer there. This means only the expenses of two sitting senators were deemed serious enough to send to the RCMP for possible investigation. The majority of the senators named in the report have very forcibly defended themselves, stating that they believed these to be simple administrative errors, or that the Senate rules, as they stood at the time, allowed the expenses. All deny personal enrichment or premeditated wrongdoing. Clearly, there is no massive fraud or crisis in Canada’s Senate. The real scandal is the Auditor General.

When questioned about his spending for this audit, Ferguson said: “It’s easy to add up what we found and to look at the cost and do that strict comparison, but I think there’s a lot more behind that to get to understanding.” However, in the words of Oscar Wilde: “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.” Ironically, Ferguson uses the same justification for his spending of taxpayers’ dollars that the accused senators do for theirs. Well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. It would be good for our democracy in Canada if some sober second thought was brought back to the media coverage of our Parliamentary institutions.

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