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Olympian needed years to get over loss, writes book to help others deal with it

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – Jason Dorland beat himself up for years after losing his Olympic race and he doesn’t want to see others do the same.

So he wrote “Chariots and Horses” in the hope that it can help coaches and athletes avoid what Dorland experienced. The book title? He was a rower to whom boats were chariots and the athletes pulling the oars were horses.

Dorland, who now coaches rowing at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ont., was in the Canadian eight that entered the 1988 Seoul Olympics final with high hopes but finished last.

“I hope that by sharing my story you may continue to develop a greater appreciation for and greater understanding of the reality that there is more to sport, to business, and to life than just winning,” he writes.

How Dorland has changed since that Olympic final.

“I wouldn’t want to know the adult version of the 24-year-old who raced in Seoul,” he says during an interview in his home across the street from Ridley. “He was a jackass.”

He wanted to beat the living daylights out of the men in rival boats in Seoul. It was macho mania. He viewed competition as war. After the war, which existed only in his head, he was a casualty.

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“There was no debrief,” he recalls. “We were never gathered together to talk about what happened. Everybody went his separate way and we were each left to deal with it.

“One of the neat things about writing the book is that I’ve reconnected with almost all the guys in the boat and for the first time in our lives we’ve talked about the race. The majority of the guys I talked to buried that experience – completely took it out of their mind, didn’t want to reflect on it. Some of them crashed harder than I did.”

Meeting and learning from world-class runner Robyn Meagher was a turning point for Dorland in more ways than one. She could celebrate after a loss when she knew she’d given her best and most effective performance and her upbeat attitude reshaped Dorland’s thinking.

They would become husband and wife.

“There’s so many things we can learn from sport,” says Dorland. “But look around at the current climate of sport and we really haven’t come that far.”

He says that when he delivers oral presentations, there often are one or two people who linger.

“They’ll come up to me and introduce themselves and it’ll come out that they were an Olympian and they’ll tell me their story and they get choked up and they start to cry,” he says.

He got an e-mail from a man who competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

“The fact that he didn’t win is now a deep dark secret,” says Dorland. “He just will not celebrate. The Olympic Games should be a highlight in people’s life experiences but for many it’s not. There’s just so much dysfunction in that.”

Given those sentiments, it comes as no surprise that Dorland has issue with some of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Own the Podium program.

“Own the Podium is really a prime example of everything that’s wrong with sport in Canada,” he says. “I have no problem with the initiative of Own the Podium. They provide great services to the athlete. The whole initiative is to raise big money, better coaches, better facilities, better lifestyles for the athletes – I’m totally in favour of that.

“What challenges me is the branding of Own the Podium. The name Own the Podium, you are telling the athletes that the only way we’re ever going to celebrate what you do at the Olympic Games is if you win. That’s it, and if you don’t, we don’t want to hear from you.

“It’s no wonder that you get athletes apologizing to the nation after they have an off day. My question to anybody is: When was the last time you apologized to the nation for having an off day at work? It never happens. But we have present-day athletes who apologize to us. It’s bizarre. We should be apologizing to them because we’ve allowed that culture to take over.”

High performance sport craves sponsors and they like the Own The Podium message, the 47-year-old Dorland argues.

“After Vancouver 2010 there was discussion about changing the name and one of the reasons they left it, from what I understand, is because it was attractive to their current sponsors,” says Dorland. “The current sponsors like the bravado, the confidence, the cockiness, the outright comment that, ‘I’m going to win, I’m a winner,’ and so they wanted to be associated with that.

“There’s a prime example of corporate interests or money coming before the best interests of the athlete.”

There’s a “much cleaner way” which could use a title such as Olympic Journey 2010 or Olympic Journey 2012.

“We could become an international leader in how we prepare our athletes for the Games, how we support them during the Games, and how we debrief them afterwards,” says Dorland. “I don’t think there is a country doing it very well and I think we could be that country.

“But that was shot down. No surprise. I just think that if we made it more about the journey of the athlete – how they prepare and train – not only might we own the podium more but we’d have a healthier culture around sport. We wouldn’t have kids growing up in a culture where it is all about winning, all about owning the podium.”

So many children who get into organized sport leave by the time they are teens and one of the reasons is the pressure to win.

“I was the poster child for Own the Podium in Seoul. Own the Podium is wonderful when you’re winning. When it doesn’t work, who picks up the pieces? I want someone to answer me that question. Who takes care of all the athletes who go home, don’t get the articles written about them, don’t end up on a cereal box, and carry that around for the rest of their lives? Who takes care of them?

“I won’t argue that focusing on winning can’t work but what I question is what happens when it doesn’t? If everything doesn’t line up in that one moment and you lose, what are you left with? What is it you can take away from it and celebrate?”

His critics might say he has a warm and fuzzy approach to coaching, but his 16- and 17-year-old rowers might disagree.

“If they say my guys won’t be tough enough, that’s a crock,” he says. “My approach is a strategic approach.

“I believe that when you draw a line in the sand you have told the body and the mind that that’s as far as we’re going to go and it’s done. There’s no line in the sand when I coach. I continually ask my athletes to show up every day and redefine their line.

“In essence, you open the possibility of being better than you ever thought you were. If you never define what the win is, you open up far more possibilities. This is the thing I find now that works so wonderfully well with my athletes. They discover things about themselves that might not have otherwise done if all it was about was beating the guy beside them. What if you’re capable of a lot more than beating the guy beside you? You’re never going to discover that if all you’re thinking about is beating the guy beside you. That’s what I do.

“Much of my philosophy revolves around taking care of the athlete and making sure that if something goes sideways on race day they’re going to be able to live with themselves. It’s also about building excellence. I believe in high performances and holding the bar really high. The difference in my approach is that if my athletes show up and have the best race of their lives and they get beat they can still walk away from that race able to celebrate something. If everything was about having to win the race to have something to celebrate then, yeah, they’re devastated, and I haven’t done my job.

“As coaches, there has to be something more, something bigger, than winning to our job. My job isn’t to create winning crews. My job is to change lives.”

By concentrating on the process rather than the outcome, an athlete is not less competitive, says Dorland. He’s merely smarter than those going to war to win.

Everybody likes to win and the 16- and 17-year-olds he coaches are no different.

“If you ask any of the guys I’m coaching in the heavy eight if they would like to be the fastest crew in Canada, they’ll tell you they want to win, and they recognize that the approach we’re taking is a very good strategy in order to achieve that.”

Dorland is passing on to them the reality that in sports, as in life, it’s all about the journey.

Dorland led crews to national titles while coaching at Shawinigan Lake School in British Columbia, where he co-founded the organic, natural food company Left Coast Naturals before moving back east to coach at Ridley, where his father was a teacher and coach.

Chariots and Horses, 237 pages, Heritage House Publishing, $22.95 paperback.

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Missing Women inquiry commissioner upset over report leaked to media

VANCOUVER – Missing Women inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal said he was upset over an “ethical lapse” that led to a report being leaked to the media.

“I find it reprehensible,” Oppal said as the inquiry resumed Monday after a one-week break.

“I find it upsetting and I’m disappointed,” he said of the report being leaked Friday to a television outlet, which passed it along to Toronto-based newspaper.

The leaked 580-page report by Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans is expected to be made public today at the inquiry.

The inquiry asked Evans to provide an expert opinion and analysis of what went wrong with the Vancouver police and RCMP investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.

The Evans report was filed today as an exhibit for identification only, meaning it won’t be made public at the moment, because of an objection by lawyer Cameron Ward.

Ward, who is representing 20 families of Missing Women, objected because he wants to challenge Evans being tendered as an expert witness.

Evans is not expected to testify at the inquiry until January.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who was arrested in 2002 and was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder.

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Commission counsel Art Vertlieb told the inquiry that the lawyers representing inquiry participants signed legal undertakings not to disclose or copy documents until they are publicly released at the inquiry.

“This appears to be a serious breach of an undertaking,” Vertlieb said.

“It’s a breakdown of trust,” he added. “It’s an embarrassment to the process.”

After the morning break, Vertlien told Oppal that he met with reporters from the Vancouver Sun, Province and Canadian Press to discuss the reasons for not releasing the report.

Vertlieb said the reporters were concerned that there wasn’t a level playing field because some media have the report and others do not.

He asked Oppal if he would reconsider making the report public.

Oppal said he wanted Ward to make a submission at 2 p.m. about his objection to the report being made an exhibit.

“I wouldn’t have any objection to the members of the media getting it,” Ward told Oppal.

The lawyer said he objected to the report because it was unnecessary and it was done by a police insider who is not independent of police.

Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Doug LePard has taken the stand for his fourth day of testimony.

The inquiry took a one week- break to allow counsel to read the Evans report before lawyers begin their cross-examination of LePard.

LePard did an internal review of the police failures in the Pickton investigations by the VPD and the RCMP.

He issued an apology to the families of Pickton’s victims, saying the police should have done a better job.

The inquiry has already heard testimony of families of Pickton victims, who said police didn’t take the reports of missing women seriously enough.

LePard testified that police initially believed that the women had gone missing were historical “so it didn’t raise the level of urgency that it ought to.”

It didn’t become apparent until mid 2001 that an active serial killer was preying on women working as street prostitutes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police received tips about Pickton in 1998 and he was the VPD’s prime suspect.

Pickton had attacked a woman with a knife on his Port Coquitlam farm in 1997 and the woman had escaped naked and bleeding to the street. She flagged down a passing car, who took her to hospital.

Three informants told Vancouver police about Lynn Ellingsen witnessing Pickton butchering a woman in his barn one night, but the RCMP interviewed Ellingsen, who denied she had seen anything.

She later admitted she was blackmailing Pickton to keep quiet.

Pickton had offered money to a person to lure Ellingsen to Pickton’s farm, so she could be killed.

Pickton was finally arrested in February 2002 after a junior Mountie executed a search warrrant on Pickton’s farm to look for illegal weapons.

After officers found identification of some of the missing women, it turned into a homicide investigation and the search of the farm continued for 18 months.

Pickton’s murder charges were divided into two trials.

A jury at his first trial in 2007 convicted Pickton of killing six women who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

After Pickton exhausted all his appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial involving another 20 murders, which outraged the families of the victims.

Pickton confessed to a jail cell mate – an undercover officer posing as a criminal – that he killed 49 women and planned to kill dozens more.

A First Nations group of about a dozen people have formed a circle of drummers and singers at the intersection of Georgia and Granville, blocking traffic.

The drumming can be heard inside the inquiry.

A large number of the missing women were first nations.


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Food bloggers share their passion, along with recipes for followers to try

LONDON, Ont. – One of the best things about old, especially hand-written recipe books, is comments written in the margins: “From Ruby Kerr” or “Mabel Cook’s biscuits”; “We really liked this” or “Use less sugar.” It gives the reader a mini-history of the recipes and a connection to the person who took the time to write them out.

The modern, high-tech and infinitely more accessible version of this is the Internet food blog.

Many of the bloggers, mostly amateurs, have a theme: Chocolate, barbecue, Italian, Greek, sweets and pastries, protein-free, beer, wine. But they all have one thing in common. They are passionate about their areas of interest and want to share not only their recipes but also their thoughts and stories about food.

There are literally thousands of bloggers. One website alphabetically lists hundreds of food blogs in Canada alone. It hasn’t been updated since September 2010 and wasn’t complete then.

Bloggers are even organizing. They have conferences, mostly in the U.S. but attended by many Canadians, to network with other bloggers and to discuss the technical aspects of the Internet, food styling and photography, a key part of many blogs.

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Valerie Lugonja of Edmonton – acanadianfoodie杭州夜网 – started blogging in 2008 to show her middle school students she could “walk the walk.” She has just retired after 30 years as an English teacher but that year was assigned to oversee a “foods” option for the students. She always had an interest in food and had taken a few cooking classes but had no formal training.

The focus of her blog is Canadian, especially Prairie, cuisine. Her goal is to explore and archive Canada’s food heritage and family food traditions.

She and her husband travel extensively, and for the last three years parts of all her trips have had a food focus. They were in Italy in October, London in March and in Paris last year, where she took a class in bread-making at the Cordon Bleu school. She meets local cooks, takes classes and brings all that information home to make dishes she has experienced, but with a “Canadian twist,” and to share them with her followers.

“We’re a multicultural country so (the international experience) fits in quite comfortably” with her theme, she says.

Her blog has an extensive travel section, a “store” informing readers where they can get some of the kitchen tools she uses, and fans can follow her on Facebook and Twitter. But her food-related activities have expanded well beyond the blog. She organizes cooking classes, “Taste Tripping” parties, and is the moving force behind Eat Alberta, which will hold its second one-day conference in April offering a keynote speaker and hands-on cooking seminars to 200 participants. It’s sold out.

“It’s a hobby,” says Lugonja, and she doesn’t want it to be more than a part-time business. Right now she spends about two hours a day on her blog and gets about 600 visitors daily. She estimates about 40 per cent are Canadian, plus a lot of Americans and many from other countries.

Kevin Lynch is a 35-year-old computer programmer from Toronto who started his blog, closetcooking杭州夜网 (Cooking in a Closet-Sized Kitchen) in 2006. Before that he had no interest in cooking. He hadn’t cooked as a child and when he was on his own, home cooking “was mostly frozen pizzas and Kraft Dinner.”

But in 2006 he went to Japan and was very taken with the food. He realized how “boring” his own meals were. When he came home, he went online to find recipes for some of the dishes he had eaten.

“I came across some food blogs and found it really amazing that average everyday people were making recipes and taking these amazing photos that really got you into it and publishing it on the web.” He started his own blog almost immediately.

In the beginning, he would search out several recipes for a certain dish and pull out the elements he liked best to create his own.

“But more frequently these days,” says the man who is a totally self-taught cook, “I’m coming up with my own recipes” and sharing them with about 400,000 visitors a month (almost five million a year) on his website.

He doesn’t have a specialty and his recipes cover everything from appetizers, soups and entrees to drinks and desserts. But he does admit to an obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches, experimenting with different breads and cheeses and additions such as salsa or jam. Some of his recipes are family-sized, some more suitable for one or two. And like Lugonja, he does his own photography, another interest he hadn’t developed before he started blogging.

To read some of the innumerable food blogs out there, type “food blog” into a search engine. On their websites, Lugonja and Lynch both list and have links to other food blogs they read. For those who would like to start a blog, all the information you need is on the Internet and you can also hire firms to set up a website.

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Review: Jackson’s music is re-imagined for Cirque Du Soleil, but needs context

Michael Jackson, “Immortal,” (Epic)

“The Immortal World Tour” is a new Cirque du Soleil extravaganza that pays tribute to the life of the late King of Pop through his rich catalogue of hits. Word has it that the show, which will tour the United States beginning in December, is a must-see production.

Listening to the show’s soundtrack will leave you with a “must-see” feeling about the show as well, mainly because you will feel like you have to see the show to put much of the re-imagined versions of Jackson’s hits in context.

Without the imagery and plotline of the show, much of the album seems disjointed. Some songs are oddly chopped up, others are spliced together without much finesse, and there are a myriad sound effects, from bullets firing to glass shattering to the whistle of a train to basketballs bouncing, that just sound like noise.

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There are a few exceptions. “Dancing Machine” is paired with an electro-groove that gives it a nice updated feel (until it is bogged down by the weird insertion of “Blame it on the Boogie” and lots of slamming sound effects); “I’ll Be There” sounds gorgeous with just Jackson’s voice and a piano; and the a cappella confrontation scene from the “Bad” video fits perfectly into a brief interlude of “State of Shock.”

But just as you’re jamming to that, the song switches to “Beat It,” leaving you with a sense of confusion.

Onstage, it probably all makes sense beautifully – well, let’s hope. But without that visual picture, the listening experience is a disappointment.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The addition of a choir, as well as the foreboding boots marching, makes Jackson’s anthem for the oppressed, “They Don’t Care About Us,” even more powerful.

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Liberal Dave Levac elected as new Speaker of the Ontario legislature

TORONTO – Longtime Liberal Dave Levac was elected Speaker of the Ontario legislature Monday, taking the reins as chief political referee in Ontario’s first minority parliament in a generation.

Before being whisked away to be fitted for his new black robes, Levac admitted he “got a little verklempt” in the legislature after learning the results of the secret ballot.

“I’ve prepared for this for a long time in terms of my skill sets and I hope I can not lose favour,” he said outside the chamber. “I deeply appreciate the confidence that the members have shown.”

His experience as a former school principal should also come in handy as he takes on the new job, which comes with a bumped up $153,000 salary and an apartment in the legislature.

“I was a fair principal,” Levac said. “I was tough when they wanted me to be and I was very lax when they didn’t want me to be.”

Three of his Liberal colleagues were also vying for the job: Toronto-area members Donna Cansfield and David Zimmer, and Oakville member Kevin Flynn.

Flynn was dropped after the first ballot, while Zimmer and Cansfield – who could have been the first woman elected to the post – lost to Levac on the second ballot.

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Cansfield said she was pleased with the outcome, even though she lost an opportunity to make history.

“I put my name forward for all the right reasons, thought I had the credentials and that’s what happens,” said the former cabinet minister. “It’s called democracy.”

Zimmer, who also failed in his bid for Speaker in 2007, said he wasn’t disappointed by the results.

“As Dave Levac said – and I adopt his statement on this – that the legislature would have been well served by any of the four candidates had they won the Speakership,” he said.

But with the Speaker’s robes comes the heavy responsibility of being called upon to be the tiebreaker in a minority parliament.

The Oct. 6 election reduced the governing Liberals to just 53 of the 107 seats and the opposition together control 54.

The Speaker, by convention, tends to vote with the governing party, although there have been exceptions.

In his acceptance speech, Levac vowed to work with all three parties to “keep the dignity and the honour and the trust” of the legislature in their hands.

Levac said he has read essays by former Speaker Peter Milliken, who cast five of the 10 tiebreaking votes in the House of Commons since Confederation.

“Quite frankly there’s a very large argument to be made about how convention works, and convention is a good tool in this case (because) historically it shows how it can be done properly,” he said outside the chamber.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Levac’s experience on both sides of the legislature will help him in the impartial role of Speaker.

“I think I agree with David that no matter who was to win that position or to win that vote, they have an obligation,” she said.

“They have an obligation to neutrality and to making sure the house operates for all the members, and I know he’ll do that, as would any one of them likely.”

Levac, 57, was first elected to the legislature in 1999 and served in the Opposition benches before the Liberals took office in 2003.

In 2009, he teamed up with the NDP and Tories to pass a private member’s bill that declared Holomodor Memorial Day – to remember the victims of the man-made Ukrainian famine.

There was speculation after the Oct. 6 election that the minority Liberals might push for a Speaker from one of the opposition parties, which would level the playing field by taking away their one-vote advantage.

That didn’t happen, but the race did generate some controversy when Conservative Frank Klees announced his intention to run – against the wishes of Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.

Klees abandoned his bid less than a week later after sparking furious comments from his fellow Tories.

Levac replaces Steve Peters, who held the post since November 2007, and will be Ontario’s 41st Speaker since 1867.

Along with the higher salary and apartment, the job comes with another perk. The Speaker is one of the few people honoured with a portrait on the walls of the legislature, along with the premier.

Now that a Speaker has been chosen, the legislature can officially get back to business with a throne speech on Tuesday.

Premier Dalton McGuinty congratulated Levac on his new job Monday, noting that the role of Speaker is “vital” to ensuring that the legislature functions effectively and that “all voices are heard.”

“The challenges facing Ontario are, perhaps, greater than they have ever been since the Great Depression,” McGuinty said in a statement.

“Families are counting on their MPPs to work together to create jobs and strengthen the economy.”

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GM continues to shake up leadership of money-losing European unit

DETROIT – A leadership shake-up at General Motors Co.’s money-losing European unit continued Monday as the company named Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky as head of the board that oversees the bulk of GM’s operations on the continent.

Girsky replaces Nick Reilly, who resigned from the Opel supervisory board and announced his retirement as president of GM Europe earlier this month.

GM also appointed Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann and International Operations President Tim Lee to the 20-member Opel board, which governs Adam Opel AG, made up of GM’s Opel brand and its British Vauxhall brand. Lee will take the post created with Girsky’s promotion to chairman, while Ammann will take a seat vacated by Opel sales and marketing Chief Financial Officer Keith Ward.

In 2009, Girsky led a successful effort to shoot down plans to sell GM’s European operations to a group of investors led by Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc. Girsky, a former financial analyst, has served on the Opel board since January of 2010. He has represented the United Auto Workers union’s retiree health care trust fund on the GM board since July of 2009, when the company emerged from bankruptcy protection.

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“GM is committed to Opel and wants the brand to grow in a profitable way,” Girsky said in a statement. “To realize Opel’s full potential, we will continue to optimize its cost structure, improve margins and better leverage GM’s scale.”

GM announced earlier this month that Reilly would retire as head of GM Europe in March of next year. Opel-Vauxhall CEO Karl Stracke, a former chief of engineering at GM, will replace him starting Jan. 1.

GM’s European unit swung to a pretax loss of $292 million in the third quarter. The loss forced GM to back off of a forecast of breaking even in Europe this year.

Europe faces a financial crisis and could slip into recession. Growth is slow is several key nations. Italy, the region’s third-biggest economy, is bucking under the weight of government debt, and the region is dealing with high unemployment, stingy bank lending and declining exports.

GM CEO Dan Akerson said earlier this month when the company announced its third-quarter results that the European performance is unacceptable and said GM must look for more ways to control costs. But he stopped short of giving specifics or talking about plant closures or layoffs.

Last week, Akerson also wouldn’t give specifics, but he made reference to French competitor Peugeot Citroen SA’s plan cut 6,000 jobs because of flat demand in Europe.

Sales in Europe are about 18 per cent of GM’s 2.2 million global total, but they are expected to weaken as the economy slows in the fourth quarter.

GM shares fell 53 cents, or 2.4 per cent, to $21.15 as the broader market dropped in afternoon trading.

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KJ can barely see over steering wheel, but he can drive monster trucks like pro

OCALA, Fla. – Kaid Jaret Olson-Weston is strapped into a 1,270-kilogram half-scale monster truck, humming playfully as he waits for the green light.

KJ, as he is known to his fans, sits patiently as he and his coach go over the safety features in his truck.

The roll cage is lowered. KJ starts the engine and jumps over humps of dirt before crushing a beat-up car. He spins the truck – and its 90-kilogram tires – clockwise, then backwards, leaving behind a cloud of dust in its tracks at his training centre in Ocala, Fla.

Despite these feats, KJ can barely see over the steering wheel. At eight years old, he is the youngest monster truck driver.

“I’d never seen anybody that young,” said Rev Prochnow, who started the American Monster Truck Association 20 years ago.

KJ, a somewhat shy kid with a passion for “everything else you can name with a motor in it” performs across the U.S. at about 60 different shows every year, from large arenas to small fairs. He signs hundreds of autographs at each show, but still considers himself an average kid.

“I do really good in school and am able to drive this, which people think it might be hard but it’s actually pretty easy,” he said.

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Monster truck driving is growing in popularity and that’s why it’s catching the attention of young drivers like KJ.

“All the big names recognize that this is it, this is coming,” said Tod Olson-Weston, KJ’s coach and father, who is starting to train eight other young drivers through his company Uncle Tod’s Motorsports.

KJ drives half-scale trucks, which are about half the size and a quarter of the weight of a regular monster truck.

“There is a distinction between what he’s doing and what we do,” said Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, which does not allow drivers under the age of 18 to perform in full-fledged monster truck events. KJ’s has a 200-horsepower truck compared to the larger monster trucks which have 1,500 or 2,000 horsepower.

“It would be like calling a go-kart a race car,” Garza said.

The MTRA, which has a 25-year history of developing safety standards for the industry, does acknowledge that the smaller trucks are very well built in terms of the safety for the driver. And although KJ doesn’t say much while he’s driving, his coach is in constant communication with him through a headset worn beneath his helmet.

“We can appreciate what he’s doing and he’s the ultimate fan,” Garza said. “As long as he’s in a controlled environment and all the safety precautions are taken to make sure that no one is in any sort of danger, we don’t have a problem with it.”

There has been opposition from other organizations, though.

The Monster Truck Challenge said in an email that having drivers this young is “not something we want to be associated with.” And Monster Jam, the world’s largest monster truck tour with more than 350 events in North America and Europe annually, said that although “KJ has a unique skill” it “does not intend to pursue youth mini-monster truck performances/competitions for its events.”

“Put all that aside, you look at it and say he knows how to control it. He knows how to handle it. He’s safe around the people. He’s mature,” Tod Olson-Weston said of his son. “His passion for monster truck driving is clearly there.”

KJ’s Monster Bear truck was customized to fit his size and has all the safety features required in a monster truck: A five-point safety harness. Neck restraints to keep his head from moving too far. Custom built seat. Pedals can slide to position. A fire-suppressant system and a Kid KJ helmet. There is also the Remote Ignition Interrupt System, which can stop the truck on a radio command.

KJ’s younger brother and mother also drive monster trucks, so the sport is a family business – and a costly one. Each half-scale truck costs between $50,000 and $100,000. (The larger monster trucks which costs between $150,000 and $250,000.)

“My family loves monster trucks,” Tod Olson-Weston said. “And I am right there with them.”

As for KJ, he is looking forward to being able to drive a truck that is “a lot bigger.”

“I’m probably going to be even more fearless,” he said.

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Place d’Armes: Old Montreal’s public square cradle of city’s long history

MONTREAL – It’s the frequently overlooked public square that rests in the shadow of Old Montreal’s captivating Notre-Dame Basilica and only a statue of the city’s founder offers a hint of its significance.

Place d’Armes is one of the most-visited sites in Montreal but sightseers usually stroll across its cobblestones to line up the perfect photo of the iconic Basilica’s towers. Few realize the 320-year-old plaza itself radiates the city’s long history.

Now, after a two-year, multimillion-dollar facelift, one of Montreal’s oldest public squares has reopened to the public.

Over the centuries, Place d’Armes has been a graveyard, military parade ground, transportation hub and gathering point for major events. Its name literally means “place of weapons” but parade ground would be a better translation.

Until 1834, the square also held a secret. The missing, decapitated head from a bust of Britain’s King George III sat submerged in its well, where American invaders had plunked it more than half a century earlier.

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Today, Place d’Armes is easily recognized by its statue of founder Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve but the space’s most-striking characteristic lies in the fact it’s wedged between architectural treasures spanning several centuries.

Standing in the centre of the plaza, visitors can take in a quick historical tour of Montreal in one 360-degree spin.

There’s the old seminary and Basilica that represent the initial Catholic influence, a classical bank building from a time when the area was the cradle of Canada’s financial power and foreign architectural designs that signal Montreal’s emergence as an international city.

“You also see the clash of these functions, which is basically part of the DNA of Montreal,” Dinu Bumbaru, director of Heritage Montreal, said of the recently renovated Place d’Armes.

“That statue of Maisonneuve . . . is like the pivot of the whole space – everything rotates around it. I think it’s one of those anchors in time.”

This unique historical panorama provided at Place d’Armes makes it a regular stop for students taught by McGill architecture Prof. Julia Gersovitz.

The buildings bordering the square include the old Sulpician seminary (built in the 1680s), the gothic-revival-styled Notre-Dame Basilica (1820s), the Bank of Montreal building (1840s), the red sandstone New York Life Insurance Building (1880s), the 96-metre, art-deco Aldred Building (1930s) and a more modern bank building (1960s).

Gersovitz says the plaza offers the quickest-possible history lesson about Montreal’s transfer of power but she notes the area is often overlooked.

“You’re often focused on the built environment, rather than the squares or the public spaces that help to define that built environment,” she said.

“There’s a lot that happened in the negative space that isn’t built up, that has an impact on us.”

Until recently, the square, which is visited by five million people annually, was hidden behind construction fences as it underwent a $15.5-million makeover.

During the excavation, workers found the remains of around 200 people in an old cemetery linked to the original church that sat on the square – before the Basilica was completed. The city says it moved the remains to a cemetery on Mont Royal.

Through its history, Place d’Armes has also held other secrets – one of them that decapitated head from a monument to King George III.

The bust was erected in the square in 1766 as a power symbol of the British Empire, according to the website of Montreal’s McCord Museum, where the item is now displayed. The museum says that in 1774 angry British citizens vandalized the monument after the Quebec Act came into effect, giving new privileges to French Canadians.

“They painted it black, hung a potato rosary around its neck and topped it with a sign reading, ‘Behold, the Pope of Canada, or the English idiot,’ ” the museum says.

The king’s woes continued a few months later when American soldiers stormed into Montreal. The monument was beheaded and the bust disappeared and didn’t turn up until 1834.

Bumbaru said the statue of a British king was a natural target around the time of the American Revolution.

“So they started making jokes about it and then cut his head off and dropped it in the well,” he said of the invaders.

Place d’Armes has also held its share of crowds who tried to get into the Basilica for major events. These include the funerals of hockey legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard and former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, as well as singer Celine Dion’s wedding.

“This is not a full summary of Montreal, because we have many other things elsewhere, but it’s a wonderful anchor,” said Bumbaru.

If you go. . .

Getting there: Place d’Armes is in Old Montreal, right in front of Notre-Dame Basilica. The best option is a trip on the subway (Metro) to Place d’Armes station. But there are many parking lots and parking spots available on nearby streets.

Accommodations: There are lots of hotels within a short walk of Place d’Armes.

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Former AIG chief Greenberg’s company suing US over bailout, saying it violated Constitution

WASHINGTON – A company run by the former CEO of American International Group Inc. is suing the government for US$25 billion in damages over its taxpayer bailout of the big insurer.

Former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg’s current company – Starr International – filed lawsuits Monday in federal courts against the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The suits accuse the government of taking valuable assets from AIG’s shareholders without their consent or fair compensation, in exchange for the government’s 80 per cent stake in the company. The suit says the government’s actions violate parts of the Fifth Amendment.

Much of the $182 billion in rescue money that AIG got from the government went to pay the New York-based firm’s obligations to big banks.

Starr International was the largest shareholder in AIG. It is suing on behalf of AIG and the AIG shareholders and says the $25 billion or more in damages it wants represents the market value of the 563 million shares the government received, as of last Jan. 14.

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“The government is not empowered to trample shareholder and property rights even in the midst of a financial emergency,” Starr International says in the suits. It contends that the government discriminated in its action against AIG, by refusing to provide loans or loan guarantees or access to the Fed’s discount borrowing window as it had to other financial institutions such as Citigroup Inc.

The AIG shareholders didn’t agree “to the proposed taking of their property rights,” the lawsuits say. They were filed against the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington and against the New York Fed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Tim Massad, Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial stability, said “It is important to remember that the government provided assistance to AIG – and stopped it from collapsing – in order to prevent a meltdown of the entire global financial system.

“Our actions were necessary, legal and constitutional,” Massad said in a statement. “We are reviewing the lawsuit and expect to defend our actions vigorously.”

AIG’s latest repayment to the Treasury, $972 million on Oct. 31, brought its outstanding balance from the bailout down to about $68 billion. The government now owns 77 per cent of AIG’s common stock, having sold shares to reduce its stake.

Treasury has recouped $18 billion of the $68 billion it provided to AIG through the government’s so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program. The rest of the money came from the New York Fed, to meet AIG’s obligations to its Wall Street trading partners on financial instruments called credit default swaps. AIG has repaid all but $17.5 billion of those loans.

After the subprime mortgage bubble burst in 2007, the credit default swaps – which insured against default of the securities tied to the mortgages – collapsed. That pushed AIG to the brink. The company got an initial $85 billion infusion from the government on Sept. 16, 2008. The aid ultimately grew to $182 billion.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the rescue money also received federal bailout infusions themselves. They included Goldman Sachs Group, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup.

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Ottawa and provinces to formally begin talks for post-2014 health deal

OTTAWA – The federal government will officially begin discussions on the next health- care accord this week – talks that will define the fiscal and social-policy relationship between Ottawa and the provinces for years to come.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is to meet her provincial counterparts in Halifax on Friday for their first formal talks on how to reform and pay for health care after the current agreement expires in 2014.

“This will be an opportunity to talk about what’s working and begin to talk about what principles will guide upcoming decisions about health care,” said Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Aglukkaq.

Billions of dollars and the quality of hospitals, medical treatment and prevention measures are at stake, as is the very nature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s relationship with the provinces.

The federal government is providing $27 billion to the provinces for health care this fiscal year, an amount that is set to rise by six per cent a year for the next four years even as Ottawa struggles to balance its books.

But the provinces provide the bulk of the funding – often at the expense of other programs and their general fiscal health.

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They are desperate to find ways to wrestle down costs and that process is well underway in many provinces. Ontario, for example, has pledged to hold health-care increases to just one per cent a year. And other provinces are poised to cut outright.

“How do we, facing the challenges that we face now as a country, ensure that we don’t break the bank, but that we continue to have a system which ensures healthier Canadians?” asked health-law expert Maureen McTeer, who leads a Canadian Nurses Association task force.

McTeer says the federal and provincial ministers need to find a way to preserve an acceptable acute-care system based in hospitals and complement it with much better and more efficient primary care based in communities.

But the formal beginning of the health-care talks this week is a soft launch.

The ministers are only devoting an hour to the topic during their meetings.

“There are still more than two years until the health accord expires and it’s important to point out that work is underway on a number of topics that affect the health of Canadians,” said Outhouse. “These initial discussions will be one of several agenda items this Friday.”

The health ministers don’t plan to tackle the thorny issue of who will pay for the mounting costs. That will be left to finance ministers.

Critics fear the fiscal squeeze will mean cuts to health care or privatization and they plan to make their concerns known loudly from the margins of the meetings.

But the tough decisions are still a ways off. The recent round of provincial elections means most of the provincial health ministers are new to their jobs, and not yet ready to plunge into serious negotiations.

And Ottawa has taken off some of the heat by promising to continue six-per-cent annual increases in funding for two years beyond the expiry of the current accord in 2014.

Plus, the federal government has made it clear it does not want to conduct the kind of crisis-fuelled negotiation that former prime minister Paul Martin conducted earlier this decade. Conservative insiders say that kind of atmosphere led to long-lasting, but poor decisions, with little accountability.

While ministers have only just begun formally setting out their bargaining positions, officials at both levels of government have been preparing the groundwork for almost a year.

At the same time, a range of professional groups and researchers have conducted their own cross-country hearings and investigations into the state of health care.

There seems to be a consensus that the long-time focus on acute care in hospitals is insufficient, said McTeer. But there is also a realization that to expand publicly funded health care beyond its current realm would require finding significant reforms and savings elsewhere.

But where those efficiencies can be found and whether or not governments can afford them as the population ages are open questions. At the same time, calls for more home care, better palliative care and a national pharmacare program are growing constantly louder.

McTeer’s task force and others call for a national, consensus-building conference next year to give governments a solid basis to build upon.

At this point, the policy makers and the experts are talking past each other, noted economist Don Drummond said in a recent report.

“Many analysts and health-care stakeholders have been sounding the alarm: Canada’s health system is unsustainable. But their alarms are not being heard by the public and government action is slow and incremental,” he said.

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