Friday, February 23, 2007

Elagu Eesti!

Tomorrow is Vabariigi aastapäev (Estonian Independance Day), which for many Estonians is the most important holiday of the year (with Jaanipäev a close competitor). The past 2 years I was in Eesti during this weekend, actually last year I spent part of the weekend in Stockholm with Liisa, but I tried to make it to the military parade each year because not only was it patriotic but it was very interesting for me. Canada has a hard working but small military and I don't think we've ever had a parade with missiles, tanks, etc in my lifetime so the chance to see hundreds of soldiers marching was something I didn't want to miss.

This weekend there are lot's of Estonian events in Toronto as well. Today the mayor of Toronto will be hoisting the Estonian flag at city hall, there is a large party tonight at a Latvian bar (there isn't a proper Estonian bar in T.O.) where many Estonian youths will gather to sing Estonian songs and drink Saku. Tomorrow there is an official iseseisvuspäev ceremony followed by a gathering of Estonian veterans at Eesti maja. And to finish off the weekend the well known ETV show Laulge Kaasa will be filming an episode of their show on Sunday in Toronto.

It will be a full Estonian weekend in Toronto. :)

P.S. - I wonder if they they had held the elections this weekend instead of next turnout would be higher?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007


The upcoming elections are getting a lot of international press the past couple of days thanks to the use of e-voting. This will be the first time in the world that parliamentary elections are being voted for over the internet. It seems world apart from the US and their whole hanging chad, we can't figure out how to hold a incontestable election mess that will no doubt rear it's ugly head again in 2008. The one part about this that is troublesome is that it's still expected that 50% or less will bother voting in the elections. A lot of people use the laziness excuse to not vote, since they usually have to walk 10 minutes but that excuse is gone with internet voting. 72% of eestlased do their banking online regularly and a similar high percentage file their taxes online. So why do more people take advantage of the this new option and vote from the comfort of their living room?

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Time for a change?

Yesterday I cast my ballot in advance of the Estonian Parliamentary elections coming up in March. I've voted before in the Estonian national elections but this one was more relevant to me since I spent the last 2 years in Tallinn and have more of a connection and understanding of the country. I was happy to cast my vote but came away from the experience a bit confused and thinking that the Estonian electoral system needs some changes, let me explain.

First off, I barely understand how candidates make it to parliament. I've tried to read the voting laws and any other information I can find in Estonian and English but it's still not clear and I couldn't properly explain it to anyone else. I know that each party usually has 4-5 candidates per riding, but most of them don't have a chance of making it to riigikogu but at the same time no matter how low on the list you are you always have a shot at an individual mandate if you get enough votes. I know that a party needs at least 5% to get any seats but there are still areas that I can't fully understand. Why it needs to be so confusing? On top of that the entire process of voting seems to be too complicated based on my experience from yesterday.

I went to the Eesti Maja on Broadview Ave. since the consulate is located there and voting would be held there and at one of the larger Estonian senior homes in Toronto. I arrived before the after work rush so there wasn't too many people there but I asked and was told that turnout during the day had been exceptionally good. When I arrived I was asked if I was on the voting list, I was, if I hadn't been I would have had to provide my Estonian passport (which I had) or since most foreigners born with Estonian citizenship (valiseestlased) don't have a passport they would have had to provide valid Canadian documentation and have been authorized by the consul in order to prove they are Estonian, from what I've heard a couple of people have voted here only to be later denied by officials in Eesti but this is quite rare.

Once I had been verified to vote I was asked what riding (ringkond) I would be voting in. There are 12 ridings in Eesti and normally you simply vote in the one that you are living and registered in. However, since foreigners aren't registered anywhere you're allowed to basically choose a riding to vote in. In many cases people vote in the ancestral riding that they or their family left in the 1940's, if they don't vote there then they tend to default to Tallinn nr.1. This step often confuses both old and young alike and can lead to people voting in ridings where they have no knowledge of the candidates or issues.

I voted in Tallinn nr.1 not because of a default but because I had lived there for the past 2 years and thought it was appropriate. Once I had selected my riding I went to the little voting booth and needed to write a number on a piece of paper to register my vote. In order to get that number I had to look at the voting book (the whole book is listed here since people vote is almost all ridings), find my riding, then find the party I was supporting, then find the candidate's number. In total there are roughly 900 candidates so finding the one you want to vote for isn't the easiest exercise. By the time I've gone through all these steps I'm not longer sure who I've voted for, I can only imagine what the elderly pensioners who come to vote think of this process. Now since my candidate isn't high on the list there's a small chance he'll win and because I don't fully understand the way the system works I'm not really sure what will happen to my vote, oh well.

I'm no electoral expert but I see a few areas for improvement:
- Look at reducing the total number of seats in parliament, does a small country of 1.3 million need 101 representatives?
- Either create more ridings or put a more realistic cap on number of candidates in each riding. I don't think I've ever heard of a election system where a party has 4-5 candidates vying for the same vote. This also reduces the direct access government since your riding isn't represented by 1 person but a number of people. In Canada we have 1 candidate per riding and usually candidates have town hall debates and meetings where people discuss local events and issues. Can you imagine all the candidates in Tallinn nr.1 getting together and having a debate?
- Make the voting process simpler, instead of selecting a number to write down why not hand out a list of the candidates and next to it you place an X to mark your vote. That way you're sure who you voted for instead of worrying if the number is right. There should be no room for voting errors (don't get me started on why Americans can't figure out how to hold an election) and a simple X marks the candidate seems to work well from most countries.

There's been talk about electoral change recently which is good. I think the overly complicated system makes it harder for people to decide and lowers turnout.

It will be interesting to see what voter turnout in Eesti is like, how many people vote online and who comes out on top. I'm looking forward to March 4th.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Valimised 2007!

Today I'm going to exercise my civic duty and cast my ballot in the Estonian elections. Pre-elections are taking place in Toronto (and other places for valiseestlased) in the next week in anticipation of the big day in March. Toronto usually casts about 2500-3000 votes which isn't bad considering most people here are even less knowledgeable and uninspired to vote then back in Eesti. Valiseestlased tend to vote for Isamaaliit since they're considered nationalistic enough for people here and issues such as wages, health care and so on aren't as important to many since it doesn't affect them personally. I don't think this is a great thing since these are important issues in Eesti but at least Kesk won't get many votes (any votes?) from Torontonians.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Why are books 20% more expensive in Canada than in the US? I bought a book today and it listed 2 prices (as most books here do), the book is $14.95USD compared to $21.00CAD. When you account for the currency difference it's a 20% premium north of the border. So why do I have to pay so much more for a book than Americans?

Update: Apparently I'm not the only one complaining, I found this article from the Globe which states that prices were suppose to go down in July, guess they need to come down again.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Media storm

Pronkssõdur is a star. Somehow that little statue on Tonismagi has managed to capture the attention of the world media. Eesti passing the law to remove the statue managed to make the front page of the Globe & Mail (Canada's national paper) and even Google News. This crap makes Estonia look bad to a lot of people who know nothing about the country so hopefully this thing will go away soon.

Not being in Eesti anymore I'm not sure what the local sentiment is about the statue now but back in the summer when I was still there it was kind of a joke especially when they spent untold dollars and manpower protecting it with a police escort. It will be interesting to see what Toomas Ilves decides to do as there's been rumors that he may not ratify the law as it may be unconstitutional, it will also be interesting to see whether all this crap will somehow effect the upcoming elections.

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Condo fun

Toronto has had a lot of new condos going up the past couple of years. This one they're jumping from is a couple of blocks from my office.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Green power

The most recent polls in Eesti show that the Green Party is up to 3rd in popularity. To me this is a bit strange but seems to go along with the tradition that new parties do well in elections because they don't have any history to defend or as much baggage as existing parties. The poll also shows that Kesk continues to hold onto it's historic 20% or so which means that Savisaar will likely be asked to create a coalition, whether or not anyone is willing to work with them is still unsure. I'm not sure how accurate these polls are but the result is going to be interesting, advanced voting over here in Toronto is next week so I'll be casting my ballot.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible review

So I got a copy of Arcade Fire's much anticipated sophomore album Neon Bible this weekend, it doesn't get wide release until March 6th. This is one album I've been waiting for a long time as Funeral was my favorite album from the past few years. I'll say that upon initial listening I wasn't blown away, in fact I was slightly disappointed by what I was hearing but I've managed to listen to it 3 or 4 times now and I'll say that it gets better with every listen. One thing I can say for sure is that it sounds toned down. Funeral was often times a chaotic album, the band has about 8 members and play a couple of dozen instruments on the album, so hearing some of that chaos removed from their sound was at first a bit disturbing but the music is more subtle and layered. Neon Bible manages to incorporate a lot of Organ music into it which isn't your typical rock instrument but they manage to pull it off. Overall I'd say it's a very worthy follow-up and Arcade Fire will continue to grow but Neon Bible lacks a little of the raw passion that Funeral had.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

One finger victory salute


Friday, February 02, 2007

Inconveniently True

Can anyone still argue that Climate Change (what was called Global Warming before the skeptics managed to change the name) is real? The IPCC released their findings today which basically says that we've broken the earth and that we're screwed. I first remember hearing really scary stuff about global warming in 1st year university when I took a seminar by a professor who's contributed to the IPCC reports, the information was frightening.

In recent times I've watched Gore's excellent Inconvenient Truth which I recommend to everyone, especially to those who still 'doubt' and tried to take some small steps to do my part. Aside from not owning a car, I've switched a lot of light bulbs to compact fluorescents, it's amazing what a small change like that could do if everyone followed. I've also started thinking about the environment a lot more in general, things like carrying re-usable bags to the grocery store or trying to buy local (think how much energy goes into flying lamb from New Zealand or fish from Chile to where you live). If mankind collectively made a number of small and medium sacrifices we could probably do a lot.


Thursday, February 01, 2007


I rarely do restaurant reviews, but I figured once and awhile I would if I went somewhere especially good. Last night Liisa, Juri-Kari, Anu and I went to Canoe as part of the Winterlicious festival which runs every year. Winterlicious is a festival where hundreds of Toronto restaurants offer prix-fixe menus, generally this allows you to go to some of Toronto's most expensive restaurants but come out of the experience with a few bucks still in your pocket.

Canoe is one of Toronto's best known restaurants, it's located on the 54th floor on the TD Centre so the view is spectacular. It's a Canadian centric restaurant where they try and create dishes with Canadian grown products and flavors (think lobster and maple syrup).

My meal consisted of:
Appitizer: Yarmouth Lobster Chowder, Wild Rice, Sweet Yam & Drunken Raisins
Main Course: Alberta Lamb Sirloin, Smashed Celery Root, Grain Mustard & Rosemary Garlic Jus
Dessert: Spicy Gingerbread Bundt with Bourbon Maple & Vanilla Bean

The lobster chowder was good but the lamb sirloin was the best part of the meal. It was likely the best piece of lamb that I've ever tasted, very tender and perfectly matched with smashed celery root. The dessert was also very good and I rarely like sweets and the portions were enough that I couldn't have really eaten much more.

We also had a nice cocktail and some wine and a generally good time. I've heard a lot of complaints that during Winterlicious the service can be poor because waiters generally get lower tips since overall bills are lower than normal but I found the service to be excellent.

Overall it was well worth it, the view plus the food created an excellent evening out for us.