May 28, 2008

PM Touts Our Green Record OR How the PM is Preparing for Life After Power

The following is from today's Toronto Star

May 28, 2008 09:15 AM


BONN, Germany –

Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised Canada's environmental record today during a speech at a UN bioversity conference in Bonn, Germany.

Following the PM's speech the international delegates promptly broke out into a chorus of laughter. Harper was also praised afterwards for showing a sense of humour despite his reputation for being stiff.

One delegate was overheard saying, "I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. It's too bad [Harper] didn't have more material. He definitely made this conference tolerable."

Harper is using this trip to lay the groundwork for the upcoming G8 meeting this summer in Japan, where he will do a full comedy set. In Japan, Harper will focus on the environment and other topics such as accountability and social equality.

Harper will now meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before heading to Rome, to get advice on how to improve his language and delivery.

May 26, 2008

Message from the Minister of the Environment

The following is a letter to the winners of the 2008 Canadian Environment Awards from the Minister of the Environment, John Baird. It can be found on page 93 in the June, 2008 issue of Canadian Geographic.

Congratulations to winners of the 2008 Canadian Environment Awards! Even though your contributions may play a significant role in defining new environmental standards for government, for private industry and for every Canadian, I don't really care and will never uphold them.

Every day, Canadians are taking action to tackle our environmental challenges because we won't. In homes, schools and workplaces across the country, we see people dedicated to the protection, restoration and preservation of our environment which we believe more than makes up for the unfettered development we'll allow for oil production.

The success of Canada’s environmental protection and sustainability lies within these community efforts because it sure as hell doesn't with us. Without a doubt, progress is being made to improve the way we develop and exploit our environment. Many of these tireless efforts and valuable contributions are recognized through the Canadian Environment Awards.

During Environment Week and throughout the year, there are a number of ways we can take action to protect our natural surroundings. Use brick for walls because they are strong and asphalt will provide a sturdy support for the ground. But most of all I invite Canadians to lead by example because I definitely haven't and carry on the challenging work of reducing air and water pollution, greenhouse-gas emissions so we won't have to ask corporations to and to continue their fight against climate change other things.

In order to tackle the challenges that face Canada’s environment, significant progress thinking still remains to be made. Our Government is committed to finding concrete and tangible approaches to solving these challenges as long as there are no costs or sacrifices. Let us continue to learn, support and take action in making Canada a leader in denying that environmental challenges exist.

We have the tools and the means for change; let’s continue to let them lay by the wayside and be underfunded. Once again, congratulations to all the winners - don't expect to ever get funding or be hired by our government.

John 'The Useless' Baird, Minister of the Environment

May 25, 2008

On Underestimating Stephane Dion

Dion hasn't had it easy since taking the reigns of the Liberal Party. He's been portrayed as weak, indecisive, lacking personality, not truly having the support of the party and more. Even I have written criticisms of Dion. Some of these characterizations are not without merit and his personal polling numbers bare these perceptions. However, I don't think Dion has yet been completely written off and can - will - make a huge turnaround.

I think Dion's biggest obstacle is his public perception. As his public perception has soured, so have Liberals' since we were essentially looking for a saviour, of sorts, during the leadership campaign. Dion didn't provide us that instant boost and things have been rocky for quite some time and the hopes of an instant change of government dissipated. If public perception were to change, I have no doubts so would the Liberal naysayers'.

The problem with Dion isn't so much that he isn't without vision, leadership, strength or the like. He crafted the Clarity Act. At the time it was risky and bold, and yet time has shown that move to be both the right one and highly significant as separatism has been dying a slow death ever since. His campaign to be leader was plagued by similar sentiments that he faces now yet he's the leader of the party because he was willing to be himself and take chances on ideas and issues he believes in. Once again he's proposing a bold yet risky plan in the carbon tax and with it he's willing to lay everything on the line. He's once again being himself.

Dion relying on what has been successful for him the past will is a gamble because public perception isn't favourable. This is based on the dual problem of him being both a Francophone and an academic. Neither of these are necessarily liabilities. However, as a Francophone, Dion hasn't shown he 's fully mastered his English-speaking skills. As an academic, he doesn't provide a series of nicely-packaged one-liners. These combined compound the issue how the media and opposition like to toy with quotes as was seen in the attack ads the Conservatives used to air. They take advantage of the fact that Dion isn't a walking sound bite. In turn, the public became acutely aware of this struggle and with it weariness and skepticism grew. Yet, this is understandable. As John Ralston Saul states in The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense,

A leader who read and thought and spoke in more than sound bites would disturb us because he would sound undecided. He would be forcing us to listen and respond to the authentic noises of a human brain functioning in a position of responsibility. (pg.271)
The public has become so accustomed to the concept of urgency and unnatural, context-less clarity through the media and elitist politicians (i.e. Stephen Harper) via sound bites, it's hard to understand the person who has a vision or idea and wants to share it. That is why selling the carbon tax plan won't be easy. It's complex and it's a tax system. It can't be explained in neatly packaged sentences and it will be easily manipulated by the opposition. Yet, it will naturally force people to begin paying attention.

This is something that Dion has been successful with in the past - getting people to listen. The opposition will aid him because while they're running campaigns of manipulation and division - something that is quickly losing public favour - people will slow down and begin thinking for themselves and will give time to this bold plan and other aspects of Dion's (and the Liberals') campaign. Underestimating Dion and attacking him while not presenting anything of substance - which is what the Conservatives and the NDP are facing - will be to their own detriment. Dion has shown to be a survivor and a fighter in the past and we'll see that once again.

May 24, 2008

Could Carbon Tax Turn Economy Around?

I'm not going to get into the encyclopedic version of what a carbon tax shift is or go off on an anthem of why we need to deal with climate change. Rather, I'm going to throw out there why I believe a well-designed carbon tax can make a difference for both Canada's economy and environmental impact.

In the last couple of weeks there have been several articles written about the state of Canada's innovation - or lack thereof coming from private companies. The amount of money invested per worker in innovation and R&D has steadily decreased. Since the early 1990's Canadian companies have dropped from 85% of what American companies spend to the current level of around 75%. This means that Canadian companies aren't as efficient in the way they are doing things and are missing out on new business opportunities. Furthermore, Canada is far behind in green technology investment and development. Out of the estimated $5 billion of investment in green technology in OECD nations, Canada only accounted for 3% and in terms of trade, Canada is an importer with a $3 billion trade deficit. Interestingly enough, on terms of strength Canada is apparently a leader on natural resource technology while we sit near the bottom of the pack on green technology. From this dismal outlook is where opportunity lies for a well-designed and implemented carbon tax. Not only could innovation be invigorated but the economy could also get a boost.

Currently there is a bit of stagnation in the manufacturing sector and Ontario has been dealt the largest blow. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a chance for some recovery as the recent news of Wal-Mart experimenting with a solar-rooftop project has also breathed new life into a local tool and die plant. This is the type of change and recovery that can take place if there was enough incentive for all Wal-Marts and other major businesses were to adapt this plan. Furthermore, if we hark back to the days of the Montreal Protocol and the banning of CFCs, a perfect example of innovation exists. Tim Flannery wrote about this in his book, The Weather Makers (p.220),

...consider how Nortel, a US telecommunications company, benefited from the regulation. It had used the chemicals as cleaning agents, and in the late 1980's it was forced to invest $1 million in new hardware; but once redesigned cleaning systems were in place and operating, it saved $4 million in chemical waste disposal costs and CFC purchases. Furthermore, the early adoption by the United States of regulations to reduce the emission of CFCs gave American-based firms a head start on the rest of the world in innovating alternative chemicals.

And therein lies the opportunities. In one instance regulation, or in this case a tax, could foster introspection for businesses looking to cut costs through tax reduction and energy costs, and therefore turn to innovation, while at the same time the methods to cutting costs and emissions, and the development of new technologies and solutions would lead to new manufacturing and business opportunities. Aside of the benefit to the environment, I believe that a well-designed and implemented carbon tax could reinvigorate Canada's economy.

To do this the carbon tax needs to be applied to all climate change-related pollutions. Initially, the carbon tax would have to be offset through the lowering and refunding of taxes in other areas (revenue neutral). However, there would then have to be a shift in the policy - the offset has to be temporary. This is where the incentive for innovation comes in. If a company wants to further reduce their tax burden, their only option would be through cutting their emissions or creation of pollution. In the end it means that companies control their own destiny in how much tax they pay. If they want to further negate environmental responsibility then that decision comes out of their bottom line. If a company wants to pay less tax and boost their bottom line, then they cut their pollution, which in turn would cut their taxes. It's a system of mutual benefits. Canada needs to drastically reduce their eco-footprint and businesses need lower taxes. Careful design of a carbon-tax may provide the solution to get businesses to innovate, develop, and manufacture, all the while lowering Canada's global environmental impact. Now, is the time to think in extremely creative ways and use incentives and policy in a positive manner. And so far Dion seems to be the only man willing to go that far.

Dion's carbon tax shift has created quite a stir and not surprisingly the Conservatives have already exploded into episodes of hyperbole and lies about what this plan may mean for Canada. Let's remember that it's the Conservatives who have essentially denied the existence of climate change, dropped Kyoto while holding the chair position of the committee and have consistently failed to sell their own pretend emissions-cutting plan internationally. And even though the Conservatives were touted as fiscal and economic conservatives, they themselves have shunned supposed economist-wisdom by cutting consumer taxes before income taxes. So it should be no surprise that the Conservatives are quickly attacking something that tries to solve issues pertaining to both the environment and methods of taxation. It just goes to show that the Conservatives lack ideas and leadership and is a big example of why this current group won't ever win a majority.

May 22, 2008

Survey on Natives

Last night I received a call from a survey/polling company. The questions were about Native issues and government strategies to deal with those. It became obvious that a certain level of government is looking for input on whether or not they should make it an issue to work on or go with the status quo.

Some of the earlier questions were about my personal feelings on the state of Natives' living conditions, their claims, etc. The questions then went on to how I feel about the methods that have been used to draw attention to these issues. There was then a group of questions on how the government has handled past and current issues. The last grouping seemed to be focused on how supportive I would be of resolving these issues and whether or not handing Natives money and land was something I would support.

At first I thought the questions seemed fairly benign and that it could have possible been a survey being taken for Natives. However, the further along we got in the survey the questions became very focused around the issue of government involvement and the like. The later questions didn't even feel like they were neutral in the sense that I was asked about land and money several times. And the wording of those questions felt negative or antagonistic about the issue of using land and money as pieces to assist in settling issues.

I just wanted to throw this out there to see if anyone else has been contacted about with this survey and get further feedback. It seems as though the federal or provincial government (though I highly suspect it's the federal) is fishing for some public response on settling land claims, etc. I worry that since the tone of some of the questions weren't necessarily neutral that the responses will also be tainted and may provide someone an excuse to continue passing off on their responsibilities and leaving Natives behind.

May 09, 2008

Stephen Harper, Prime Manager: The Problems with Only Managing Issues

It's funny that Harper endorsed the entire 'Dion Is Not a Leader' campaign when in fact Harper himself has also not been a leader within Canada. Rather he has only been a manager - much like he has been with his party. Yet, it's one thing for Harper to be a manager over his people it's another for him to approach government and policy the same way. Management of government and policy is ineffective and self-destructive. The downfalls of managing issues is rooted in two things: efficiency and reason.

When managing an issue, rather than dealing with the root causes of the problem, only the symptoms or the current manifestations of the problem are dealt with. This means that while the government has reacted with a policy or strategy to tackle what's making headlines, the underlying issue still exists. The real problem with the managerial approach is that the symptom itself is also only being dealt with the quickest shortcut to cover it up - as efficiently as possible. This should be a serious concern to everyone because it also means that it is unlikely that the symptom itself was effectively dealt with and the root cause will spring up somewhere else.

Much like how the few problem Conservative members have continued to pop-up and will likely completely explode somewhere down the road, so too will the issues that aren't being dealt with. Take the equalization program and its restructuring or the softwood issue. Both of these programs have underlying problems that haven't been addressed and the symptoms were given band-aid solutions. Both areas are seeing other symptoms arise and in some cases, it's the same or very similar problems that were 'dealt' with prior. Now picture the same scenario with poverty or the environment. These two issues' root problems haven't ever been truly addressed and under Harper and the Conservatives they are being talked about at best. This has to do with the stream of reason that they're applying.

Unfortunately being as efficient as possible doesn't work, not when you're working with complex social and economic issues. There are too many extremities and variables that need to be considered. Finding the easiest or quickest method to make the issue 'go away' doesn't consider the problem in the long term. This is much like the problem that one faces when they rely on reason alone.

The second major problem with pure management is the reliance on reason. It's not that reason is a problem in of itself. Rather, using reason alone is a flawed strategy because it leaves other qualities aside (i.e. creativity, emotion/empathy, common sense). Pure reason can only be truly effective inside a vacuum of sorts. This vacuum must contain simple absolutes. Facts that are true 100% when they are applied or are universally applicable. The problem is that in society, absolutes don't really exist. Again, not all people are the same or share the same experiences or develop the same understanding. Therefore, reason itself would dictate that if people aren't the same then neighbourhoods, cities, societies, etc. are definitely not the same or universal. These differences can range from tiny little details to massive generalizations. And consequently, there can be no universal answer. The smaller the base is and the fewer details that need to be accounted for, the more applicable pure reason is. Social and economic cases have huge bases and far too many details for pure reason to work - there can be no silver bullet solution, which is what managers look for.

The problems that arise from the managerial approach are exacerbated when ideology is put into play. Ideology is simply the marginalized use of reason to package a perspective and sell it as something significant. In turn, applying ideology to a problem relies on using a twisted concept of reason, usually based on personally accepted, yet often warped, assumptions of truths or absolutes. The scariest part of this type of thinking is that while itself is marginalized, its application will marginalize its targets as well. This is especially true in cases where theoretical concepts (i.e. economics, political theories/sciences) are applied, which hold little weight beyond the paper they were printed on. Issues only become even more confused and are left to drift in the ether until there's another flare of the symptoms or the issue grows beyond its tipping point and explodes into a pandemic of sorts.

Harper faces this dilemma. He is a notorious manager of both his party and our government. Unfortunately for Canada, his ideology dictates to him that he should be hands-off when it comes to economic and social problems, that everything will magically work itself out on its own, which is why we see extreme efficiency and twisted reason at work. Too bad it isn't true (that everything just works out). Why? Because there are forces of interference or influence at work. Whether these are other nations, other ideologies, cultural influences, corporations, or whatever, they exist and have effect. The response can only be about creating a buffer made up through a combination of common sense, reason, creativity and so forth.

There is a reason why no economic or political theory has ever truly worked; People and nations do not exist in vacuums. In fact, there is enough evidence to suggest that when the 'governing by not governing' approach is taken, problems generally get worse and people are marginalized in part due the lack of response by the so-called leaders and the invasion of outside influences. This is the complete opposite reason why we typically want to elect our governments, which is to provide a form of stability against these outside influences. For people to prosper and our nation to progress there has to be leadership at the top developing ideas that take many facets and variables into considersation so we can continue in the long term and not just exist in the short. Those are things that leaders do for us and why Stephen Harper is nothing of the sort.

May 05, 2008

What's With the Ontario Pile-On?

It is no secret that there are some serious concerns over the state of Ontario's economy. TD recently gave a report that argued Ontario is heading to a 'have-not' position under Canada's equalization program due to the high Canadian dollar, a turned-down American economy and rising energy costs. To bring the point home, GM announced laying off 900 employees shortly thereafter. And prior to that, one can't forget the battle-of-words between McGuinty and Flaherty that brought Ontario's apparent plight to the forefront.

For a couple weeks, the Globe and Mail has written and analyzed the Ontario situation in many different ways, from many different angles. Some of the positions have been depressing while others very positive. Yet, the most interesting part of G&M's articles, online at least, have been the readers' comments.

From the many comments there seems to be several common themes with the comments.

  1. Is the "The West is booming and Ontario should be more like us" statement.
  2. Is the "Ontario should cut all its taxes and stop spending" argument.
  3. Is the "Ontario doesn't deserve any help from equalization or another government" position.

The reality is is that none of these statements make much sense when facts and common sense are figured into the mix.

Looking at the first theme, it doesn't take a genious to know that natural resources are the real reason for the economic boom out West and in Newfoundland. Since 2003, the cost of oil has increased by almost five times, from $25/barrel to $120/barrel (as of this posting). This is in steep contrast to Ontario's economy that is based on manufacturing and product export. To say that Ontario should suddenly be more like Alberta doesn't make much sense. Ontario doesn't have the good fortune to be sitting on top giant oil reserves or have the vast fertile flatland to support natural resources in the same capacity. Ontario's economy is more market-based and it is through no fault of its own that its economy is much more effected. The same can essentially be said for the West and Newfoundland that it is sheer luck that they are sitting on top of huge amounts of oil.

The second theme is pretty similar to the argument Flaherty has been making - cut spending and taxes. One of the better points of interest is that in terms of spending, Ontario spends about 1/3 less per person on social programs than Alberta does while it offers more within its social programs. So Ontario spends less for more? Despite having a significant provincial debt versus Alberta being debt free, Ontario is still able to be more efficient with its money.

In regards to Ontario cutting business taxes (what Flaherty has been advocating), it should be noted that Ontario's business tax level is actually lower than the federal tax rate and that McGuinty has cut taxes for businesses, through property and capital tax decreases, to the tune of $3 billion. If Ontario were to make business taxes any lower it is likely that Ontario would then have to affect the efficiency level of its spending. Additionally, the other provinces' lower business tax levels are 'affordable' much due to the fact that, historically, they receive quite a bit of money from Ontario and Alberta through equalization.

Since we're on the topic of equalization, let's address the last theme, which is basically that Ontario should get lost. This theme has been expressed by calling Ontario a place of whiners and referring to it as a wasteland. Again, let's get one thing straight, the Ontario government did not cause the economic downturn and therefore cannot be blamed. Just as McGuinty cannot be blamed for wanting a better deal in equalization.

Ontario has faithfully paid out to the other provinces since the inception of equalization and in return it got less than those other provinces from the Federal government (including a reorganization of equalization in 1982 to exclude Ontario when it qualified for payments). For a kicker, even if Ontario qualified for payments it wouldn't even get enough out of the program to cover what they'd still be putting into it, with the current formula. It's justifiable that Ontario is looking for a fairer deal from the federal government at a time when it needs it most. However, the response has been nothing short of nasty brush-offs.

So when Ontario is looking for some short term help, and is justifiably doing so, until the economy turns itself around, why do non-Ontarians, other provinces and the federal government insist on kicking Ontario when it's down? Ontario has never really asked for much from the federal government or other provinces. It has only been a recent phenomenon that Ontario has started to make a point about the lack of federal funding it gets for certain programs versus the amount other provinces receive despite being the only full-time contributor.

This is the one area that seems to be most disturbing when it comes to regional differences in Canada and the comments being made. People are far too happy to be receiving money from Ontario, but as soon as Ontario is in need, those same people act completely... ungrateful. It's like a child that relies on his parents to support him through college and periods of unemployment until he got on his feet only to turn his back on them when they fall upon hard times and blames them in the process. While Ontario has always been there for other provinces, why is too much to ask for the same consideration in return?

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)