December 30, 2009

Is This What 'Good Government' Looks Like to Conservative Supporters?

The talk of the day seems to be the renewed rumours about Harper and Co. proroguing parliament until March 3rd. Proroguing is something the Cons dismissed earlier this month after rumours arose once before. If anything, the Cons probably only delayed taking this action because the public were still somewhat paying attention and there was some considerable negative reaction. Doing it now, if true, is to take advantage of the holiday time and the fact opposition MPs aren't in Ottawa to swiftly react.

It'll be interesting to see what the excuse is this time. My guess is they will use the Olympics as their shield to deflect criticism. Something about presence at the games and patriotism will likely be spewed out of their mouths. But considering their dishonourable and disgusting use of our troops as a deflection of criticisms, I have little doubt their excuses are hollow. If the Cons were a government that cared one iota about this country and the people they would continue to do what they were elected to and be in parliament, along with the opposition parties, doing their jobs.

Last year when Harper asked for parliament to be prorogued, there was the slightest space for justification. We just had an election and the opposition parties were threatening a coalition, which they hadn't at all campaigned on. While I didn't think it was reason enough to prorogue considering there is nothing unconstitutional about the action, I understand the issue. This time however, there's no threat of a coalition or the country falling apart or some other constitutional crisis arising. The only crises are ones the Conservatives have created for themselves.

The Cons have treated parliament with utter contempt. They act as though being kept in check by the opposition and other parliamentary measures, that are there for a reason, are a nuisance and something to ignore or attempt to alter to suit their agenda. Whether it's the Cons obfuscating, interfering with or personally attacking people such as PBO Kevin Page and Richard Colvin, disrupting or refusing to take part in special House committees, this is a government that doesn't feel as though they should be accountable or responsible or democratic. Their actions and words clearly speak to that.

And so, here we are. For the second time in a year Harper is apparently going to ask to prorogue parliament. All bills will be lost, all committees will be shutdown and the work of the government will be halted because they all supposedly want to watch the Olympic games. Without giving some pure garbage response such as the Olympics or political witch hunt crap, I'd like to know what the supporters of the Conservatives think of this? Really, what real reason is there for Harper to shutdown parliament? How do you feel about your party, the Conservatives, shirking their responsibilities and all the previous work done in parliament without justification?

h/t: BigCityLib, Scott, and Impolitical.

November 18, 2009

In Search of Harmony (the HST-Simply Put Edition)

So Ontario has set course towards adopting the HST. While the HST itself seems to be this ominous change in the province's tax system that will screw over everyone by increasing prices across the board and force Ontarians into the poor house. At least, that is the portrayal that a couple media places would have you believe, such as Global. The truth is that we don't know what's going to happen. The theory behind this plan says the opposite but then again, theory doesn't always work out the way we expect.

The problem with their reporting on the issue is that the HST is one part, albeit a large part, of a bigger plan. However, talking about the entire plan and explaining the details doesn't make for nicely packaged sound bites. And apparently neither does explaining that this whole thing is a partnership with our federal government.

I had the opportunity to hear an MPP explain other parts of the plan as plain as possible. I will attempt to do the same here. First, let me say that I'm still taking a wait-and-see approach towards this entire plan (not that I have a choice since it's going ahead whether I agree with it or not). It can be explained simply without big numbers and jargon only a chartered accountant would understand but even then it's still long-winded.

One of the most common arguments being thrown out in favour of the HST plan is that corporations will save time and money by only having to do one set of taxes. That is true, but the real value doesn't exist there. The real savings for businesses is that much of the taxes that are paid through the supply chain will be neutralized.

What do I mean by 'neutralized'?

Let's consider a simple supply chain:

raw materials --> manufacturer --> wholesaler --> retailer

Currently, there is a tax paid between each sale. So when the manufacturer purchases the raw materials they pay tax on that purchase. When the wholesaler purchases the goods from the manufacturer they pay tax on that transaction. And so on. This tax often ranges somewhere 2% and 5%. And since each player wants to recoup the tax they pass this cost along to the next person by embedding it into the cost of the item. Using the above chain and 2% tax at each step, by the time the item gets into the hands of the consumer, 6% of the item's price is embedded tax passed upward along the chain by each player.

Given that the above supply chain is over-simplified the reality is by the time the consumer purchases an item and pays GST and PST, generally anywhere between 21% and 38% of the final cost is made up tax. Whether this is sales tax or tax already paid and being recouped by those in the chain, any given commodity is much higher than its true retail value.

In part, by moving to the HST, along with other changes, these embedded taxes should disappear. This is due to the HST being considered a value-added tax and therefore businesses along the supply chain not being subject to it or them being able to claim those costs back in taxes. So where we currently see about 21% to 38% of an item being tax, this will be scaled back to just %13 - the HST being paid by consumers. The theory behind this is that since businesses will no longer be paying those taxes, they will pass the savings along with their products effectively lowering the price of consumer goods.

This is where skepticism prevails as many just don't believe the savings will reach consumers. While it may take some time for those savings to be seen, there is much optimism within the Ontario Liberals that it will come. This optimism comes from that fact that there is serious competition for consumers' money in Ontario. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Zellers, Loblaws, and Canadian Tire are currently in a huge fight to bring costs and prices as low as possible to attract more customers. Once one of these companies take advantage of being able to advertise even lower prices, they will all follow suit. And once the discount retailers go, eventually the mid-level retailers will too. And so on. That's the theory, anyway. Considering the fight between Wal-Mart, Zellers and Loblaws especially, it's highly plausible it will work out.

Now services are another thing. And as far as I can tell, there is some nervousness amongst the Ontario Liberals over whether or not savings will be passed here. Since most service providers are less obvious about how they are affected by the supply chain, any savings they experience can be much easier pocketed. Even though their businesses taxes will be lower, the items they purchase will be cheaper, they don't have to do anything. Even though the theory is that any savings they experience will be passed along to customers to offset the newly applied 8% HST increase, they likely won't because there is much less pressure to do so. Instead customers just pay the extra 8% and claim they're paying more for the service due to taxes.

However, that is what the tax rebate and credits are for. Each of us will be getting $620 tax credit on our income and those that make under $80000/year will get a rebate for up to $1000. Between these two measures, any cost increase we see when paying for a service should be more than offset. In fact, unless we're spending more $12500 on services in a given year, we'll actually come out ahead. Or so goes the thinking on the part of the Liberals.

The biggest justification for the HST plan is that it brings our tax system in line with most European nations that are looking to Canada for trade and growth. Apparently our current tax structure is seen as a deterrent, either due to its complexity or the costs that are placed on businesses, goods and therefore consumers. By going to the simplified HST program along with the elimination of embedded taxes it makes Ontario a much more attractive place to invest which will in turn create jobs, competition, etc.

Long explanation but simply put. Even in simple terms - an explanation without big numbers, accountant-speak, etc. - it takes some time to talk about. The talk I heard took an easy 45 minutes and there was still more to discuss. Even here, I haven't touched upon everything. That makes it hard for the media to discuss as well. And even though I'm taking a cautious approach to judgment on this, I still find media like Global frustrating when they premise every HST news clip with 'the price on everything is going to increase' or 'prepare to pay more tax' when the reality has yet to play out.

November 05, 2009

Isn't it Enough that the Registry is Useful to Police, Crowns?

Recalling how police use the gun registry, and how very, very often - John Geddes

Over at Macleans, John Geddes has put some perspective on the gun registry or CFRO. He points out that police used the CFRO over 9400 times per day last year, that police forces do find it useful and that it costs roughly $3 million per year to maintain. While it may not be the number one crime fighting tool to use, it is still another tool for police to take advantage of. He then asks, is that not enough for maintaining it?

When I showed Geddes' write up to a close acquaintance, who is an assistant crown attorney, they confirmed that the CFRO is used within the courts regularly as well. They said that before considering to grant bail to someone, such as an accused in a domestic assault, the CFRO is checked by the police. If the accused happens to have a registered gun in the house, then part of their bail conditions could require them to turn it in to the authorities. The crown may also ask to have an accused's surety checked through the CFRO to make sure the crown isn't turning a domestic assault accused over to someone else with a readily available weapon.

Why is this relevant? Because not all (many in fact) accused in domestic assault cases don't have prior records. Their actions are based on some sudden change in their situation or relationship. The argument that 'criminals don't register their guns' doesn't necessarily apply. Many law-abiding citizens, and possibly gun owners, who presumably would register, may have a sudden breakdown. Knowing if they have weapons readily available would be useful information for both the police and the crown when making decisions regarding such a person.

Depending on the scenario, the police do not necessarily have to enter into every scenario or deal with every accused with the full might of the police force. That's impractical, wasteful and unrealistic. But to have the knowledge that a gun is present can change the outlook and the planning of the police involved.

Do I think the gun registry is useful? Well if Canada's largest police forces, such as Toronto, Montreal and the RCMP are saying it's useful, then who am I to argue with them. And then throw in others from within the justice system such as crown attorneys, who also can find the information useful, then I'm left without any doubt.

That doesn't mean the system is perfect and that there isn't room for improvement or change. There surely must be a compromise that would make 'hunters and farmers' feel less like criminals - though I've always wondered how registering their guns did that - and still allow those who use such information for safety and preparedness to do so effectively and fully. Scrapping the system seems to be counterproductive and someone needs to step up and use their intelligence going forward in finding a solution.

What others are saying:
Soft on Crime - View From the Left
The Long Gun Registry & Violence Against Women - Devin Johnston
Gun Registry Gone: Good Lesson in Lack of political Imagination - Relentlessly Progressive Political Economy
About Representing Those Constituents - Peterborough Politics
Conservative "law and order" bizarro world - Impolitical
Gun Registry or Coffee Maker Registry? - Abandoned Stuff by Saskboy
Adult conversation on the gun registry? - BCer in TO
A note on the gun registry - Dawg's Blawg

November 02, 2009

You Can't Control Every Aspect; Plan Accordingly

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has blamed GlaxoSmithKline, the provinces and the public for the current issues surrounding the H1N1 roll out. Reality is, she doesn't have anyone to blame but herself and those involved in developing the plan.

We know that this plan has been in the works for months. Even as early as April Aglukkaq has been claiming the plan will be comprehensive and be as effective as possible in protecting Canadians. In August she restated this by claiming everything was ready and they were fully prepared for the virus. Presently, we know this not to be the case.

So what's wrong with the plan? It was based on assumptions, some based in reality though. But it didn't seem to consider common sense.

With traditional high risk groups, very young and elderly with underlying conditions, no one in the larger perspective bats an eye when a death occurs. However, it's well known that H1N1 targets groups that are not traditionally associated with the high risk and the flu. Groups such as healthy youth, young adults and pregnant women are vulnerable this time. Common sense would then tell us that if someone in one these groups were to die from the virus people are going to notice.

Common sense also would have told them that it was likely someone in the non-traditional groups would die. As it happens, several have died. And people noticed.

This is where we are at. While planning seemed to be based around polling, expected number of illnesses, production capacities etc., it didn't seem to plan for specific scenarios. This includes one that common sense should have alerted them to.

It doesn't matter how much (or in this case how little) you attempt to inform the public about giving certain groups will receive the first vaccine shots. And it especially doesn't matter that some polls said that as few as 30% of Canadians were even considering getting the vaccine. When someone like a 13-year old boy passes away even prior to the big roll out, people are going to panic and ignore whatever you told them. These people are going to flood clinics, worried that their child or themselves may be the next victim.

This whole issue also brings into question the judgment of Aglukkaq and et al to go with a single provider of the vaccine. It also brings into question their judgment to allow GSK to stop producing the adjuvanted vaccine for the non-adjuvanted version or to not have the non-adjuvanted version be produced elsewhere. Common sense would have would have should have told them otherwise, on all accounts.

If this government had only used their heads rather than seemingly relying solely on technocratic processes. Technocrats tend to live in a bubble, common sense exists and is grounded in reality. The H1N1 virus also operates in the real world and therefore the response needed to as well.

Liberals and NDP Tag Team - A Reboot of Canadian Politics and Government

Liberals and New Democrats together could unseat Harper - thestar.com

Not everyone is going to like this idea. There will be some in both the Liberals and NDP camps that will balk almost instantly at the notion. Conservatives most of all will sneer at it, mock it and say some outlandish things about it. Deep down inside, they'll likely fear it.

Political scientist, Michael Byers, isn't calling for a coalition but calls it a 'ceasefire'. This would mean the two parties will continue to be opponents during the election, offering their own platforms and they'll have no post-election power-sharing agreement. However, the parties, only once, will not run candidates against each other. The party that showed the most weakness in each riding will drop that candidate in favour of the other.

The rest of Byers' piece in the Toronto Star looks at the election reform issue, using this ceasefire as a way to draw attention to the issue.

I actually like the idea. I don't necessarily like it because it could potentially return the Liberals to power and defeat the Conservatives but that it may reboot Canadian politics in general.

Politics in Canada is riding a downward spiral into disrespect and disrepair. It's less about ideas then it is character assassination. It's less about governing for the people then it is about preservation of power. And due to its current condition the public is tuning out in droves.

I'm not going to lay the blame solely on the Conservatives for this situation. While I'm fond of Chretien's Liberal government they weren't saints by any mean as they didn't necessarily follow through on every promise or they promised too much. And Martin went the road of personality over substance. Both of these examples have been used and taken to the extreme by Harper who has also gone on to include much more brinkmanship, partisanship and cronyism. The proof of where all of this has led us is in the dwindling turnout of voters.

To reboot the system, beginning with an apparent gentleman's agreement, might reignite the interest and faith of the public in their government. It could be the return of optimism that your vote does matter and therefore honesty getting rewarded. This ceasefire would also likely put ideas, real ideas and policies, back in the spotlight rather than having debates about personalities or watching massive negative campaigns forced upon us.

All three major parties would have to focus on these aspects because the dynamics would change significantly. Mainly, they would need to truly earn a vote from the people. Many supporters will be skeptical (especially Grit and Dipper supporters) about voting for one another. Both of those parties will have to give people a reason to support them rather then jumping to the Greens, Conservatives or just staying home. The Conservatives in turn will need to give skeptical Liberals a reason to support them as well, as there will be an opportunity for right-of-centre Grits to seriously feel wary about this arrangement. Ideas, integrity, true leadership (not the drivel espoused by the likes of Martin and Harper) and honesty will be have to be at the forefront, both during and after the election.

The dynamics also change in the sense that, in theory, this could expose how real democracy should be played out in this country. What I mean is that voters actually choose winners and the ending seat allocation on the Hill reflects the will of the people and could raise the question of election reform in a serious way. This is something that Byers seems to imply and is seemingly part of his m.o. for writing this piece. Democratic reform puts a lot at stake for all parties in Canada. Liberals, Bloc, and Conservatives, traditionally, have wanted to avoid it, while NDP and Greens would ultimately benefit. Again, whatever the outcome someone would have to prove it's unnecessary or they will show that it's required.

Too long have Canadians dealt with rhetoric, deception, shell games, brinkmanship and never-ending election periods. It's time to refocus on governing, ideas and making this country as strong as possible for all Canadians. A reboot of politics and government is exactly what Canada needs.

October 30, 2009

When the Ship is Sinking is it Best to Put Hope in Dead Weight?

The National Post is this close to closing up shop. I'm amazed it's made it this far. As a business, the National Post is a failure. It has yet to turn a profit and losses are in the tens of millions each year on average. With some years way beyond that number.

The current owner, Canwest, is itself losing cash while being smothered by $4 billion of debt. Recently Canwest has sought bankruptcy protection as it tries to reorganize the company and attempt to crawl out from underneath the thumbs of its creditors.

So why does a bankrupt company try so desperately to hang on to a fledgling money-losing newspaper? I can only assume, it's a strategy for promotion and information control. Much like companies such as Rogers, which uses assets such as the Toronto Blue Jays, radio and TV stations, mobile phone and internet service to assist in promoting each other and control content.

This raises a huge question though? If you're ship is sinking and you have a load of dead weight aboard, do you hold hope that the load will suddenly become buoyant or do you relieve the pressure by dumping it over board?

I'm not an economist or business grad but I'm guessing the capitalist's response wouldn't have involved putting faith in a stack of un-sold newspaper. And if I'm wrong, then I'm of the mind basic reason is a thing of the past.

I've written before why I think the National Post is a lost cause. Whether it's due to it trying to occupy space that is already claimed by the Globe and Mail on one side and papers such as the Toronto Sun on the other. It portrays itself as this sophisticated, well-informed right-wing rag but in reality it is written like it's amateur, agenda-driven, tabloid-ish, blog-like rambling.

'Sophistication' is an area already claimed by the G&M and tabloid-ish, agenda-driven are areas claimed by the Sun group of papers. Additionally, these papers also have other benefits. The G&M is well established, fairly balanced if not slightly right-of-centre. The Sun group offers a very in-depth sports section, each paper is local and offers some TnA to boot.

Against these the National Post is lost in territory that is already claimed and has nothing unique or original to offer to make its mark. That isn't to say there aren't redeeming qualities or skilled writers. Unfortunately, they are too few to make a difference, they themselves being weighed down by the rest.

It seems to me that the best thing someone could do is just pull the plug after selling off any IP rights. While I don't like the idea of so many losing work. Many may and will likely find work elsewhere, especially those that have proven to be apart of the minority at the NP. They will join other media groups that currently exist, new ones that will pop up or go with those that survive the fall.

As for the right losing a voice and democracy retracting: It will all be okay. With the Sun-media chain and groups such as Metroland and the NP's sibling papers, the right will still have a voice. And I'm sure eventually someone will study the mistakes of the NP and properly insert themselves into the right-of-centre national information/news market and be a real contender rather than a never-was.



Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

September 30, 2009

It's Time for Conservatives to Show Respect and Honour

Accountability and transparency are probably two of the most important facets of democracy. Without either of these democracy really isn't a system that is 'for the people, by the people'. Voting for and selecting our representatives that sit in parliament is only one part of the equation. It has to be a reciprocal relationship.

The people give its representatives power to make decisions on our behalf and in return the representative needs to this job honestly and openly so that the people know they are doing the job they were put in power to do. To not respect what this role means, to not be honourable enough to allow for accountability and transparency in your decision is to not respect democracy nor the people. And if that's the case then the elected official should lose any claim or ability to be in power.

To continue on, without being fully open and without respect for those you govern over, is to do so with out ethics. In such an event, the only option is to return to the people and seek re-election but not before giving full disclosure of what has transpired within the government during your tenure.

Personally, I have little issue with going into an election. My only concern is that full disclosure has not been and will not be given prior to that call. There are many questions beginning to arise from the opposition Liberals, from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, from independent economists, the banks, their own members, etc. dealing with both the running of and the numbers within the infrastructure/stimulus program and with how advertising is being run and tendered for government programs. With so many black holes being exposed, accountability and transparency has become more necessary than ever with the current government. And yet, all those questions refuse to be addressed by the Conservatives.

Is this a surprise? Not likely. Many members of the CPC were also members of the past Ontario PC government that also did not respect our democracy and were exposed as having applied 'creative' accounting to the provincial finances. Not only that but the current government has obfuscated and interfered with PBO Page when he has attempted to shed light in the darkened areas, which only goes to raising suspicions further.

What else is concerning is that in spite of the Conservatives' claims that an election is unnecessary, there does seem to be some effort on their part to force one anyway. Why the need to go into an election now? The simple answer is likely that the Conservatives feel they can achieve a majority. But if your dead set against it, as you claim, why would you want one? To achieve a majority so that accountability and transparency can be further restricted.

Like with all serious problems and possible scandals, the truth eventually gets out. If you're in a minority it almost definitely spells doom for your party. However, if you're in a majority you can continue to tighten your grip around information and almost impede any exposure with impunity. Chretien was guilty of this when it came to Adscam when he shut down parliament right before the report was to be released, delaying it. Calling an election may have the same effect but having a majority government will allow the Conservatives to continue governing even in the event all the concerns about 'Shovelgate' or the advertising programs turn out to be true.

It's a cowardly action to take. It also flies in the face of democracy and would expose this government as having little respect for the people or the institutions it governs for. If there are no problems with the Infrastructure program or the way advertising is being run, etc. then there should be no problems with responding, honestly, to the concerns of so many and allow full disclosure. To avoid being accountable gives credence to the criticisms and gives further warrant to the call for review.

The only option at this point is to allow, without interference, PBO Page and our Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, to conduct full inquiries prior to any election. Let Canadians go into an election armed with facts and make a decision based on those facts. Otherwise, to deny Canadians this is to show little respect for democracy and the Canadian public.

September 23, 2009

Stephen Harper; A Colonial Mind

"At the core of the colonial mindset is its self-destructive logic. It is unconscious nihilism. Insecurity often drives an elite to believe itself incapable of taking the lead in its country's own affairs. For reassurance it seeks out and clings to some outside force, thus hoping for special consideration. Consideration for what purpose? To provide a direction and, as if by association, a certain importance. Typically this is called a 'special relationship' by the insecure party. As for the outside force, it rarely bothers to call such a relationship anything at all, except when poked by the weaker party seeking more reassurance.

And when the much-hoped-for special consideration does not materialize, the insecure party is confirmed in its fears. The false hope for security becomes the mechanism for turning these fears into a reality."

~ John Ralston Saul, A Fair Country (pg.250)

Stephen Harper's entire tenure has been about appeasing someone or something else. Whether it has been the U.S., the West, his past professors and mentors, etc. Harper has done little for the good of Canada and even less to make Canada a leader in any area. Rather, it could be argued he has negotiated away and intentionally withdrawn Canada's capacity to be a player on a world stage.

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Much of his work prior to being a legit politician was about how Canada shouldn't do certain things or that Canada was doing to much and as such he viewed Canada as weak, a "welfare state" and "second-tier socialist country". Never was his work about how strong Canada had become in any area or recognizing that Canada was succeeding in many areas, both social and fiscal. That the very programs and ideals that he viewed negatively were actually contributing to the strength of Canada, both within and outside of the borders.

Even after joining the House of Commons, Harper has continued to look down on Canada. When the government of the day refused to enter the Iraq war, Harper ran to the US media to proclaim his support. And during his tenure as Prime Minister he sold-out our industries to foreign interests, whether it was softwood or high-tech, etc. and undermined many contemporary policies that deal with the environment, women, minorities and so forth. At any point if there was leadership to be found or had for Canada, Harper has allowed it to simply slip away and let others take over.

What is it that has Harper so fearful of being a leader within Canada and allowing Canada to be a leader within the world? What is so wrong with Canada standing up for its citizens and values that both have gotten Canada where it is and made it significant and unique in the world?

It seems Harper is stuck in a colonial mindset. He seems to beleive Canada can't be a leader. That it can't stand up for itself. To him it's just Canada, a provincial country that is meek in comparison to the great powers. And as such it should behave accordingly.

As a conservative Prime Minister he has also shown these tendencies when it comes to running the government. He's constantly playing politics rather than governing. Willing to cater directly to his core supporters, saying one thing in public only to contradict himself in private. He'll even as going as far as fashioning policies to favour his base (environment, employment insurance).

It's easy to say that he's just power hungry, which there seems to be little doubt anyway, but it has to be more than just power. With power comes real responsibility and certain privileges. Both of these Harper has shied from. Really, he's afraid; Afraid of having to put himself or Canada in the spotlight. He's afraid of taking risks both personally and as a country. He's afraid of possibly having to truly lead.

If he wasn't afraid then the Harper in private would also be the Harper in public. He would show confidence in his ideas, the policies he believes in and in the strength of this nation. He would stand up for Canada and therefore have Canada stand up for itself. But being afraid at home means Canada has become afraid outside. So instead he plays politics, rather than govern, because he fears what might be and what is. He would rather sell himself and Canada out to others in hopes that they will do something for him and us.

US not following the rules when it comes to softwood lumber? Sell out the industry. Maybe they'll return the favour later and make him look good... Oops, that didn't work.

Climate change a global issue? Well, release several plans that take more effort to print and publicize than it does to understand how little they do. But don't forget to make sure the tar sands get more favourable terms. And internationally, let's disrupt any possible progress and shake hands with other hold outs. They'll thank us later...Well, that didn't work out for us either, since all the other deniers are now from power.

How much longer can this 'please notice me' attitude continue? As long as Harper and the Conservatives are in power is the simplest answer. Canada has lost face internationally in almost every area since Harper has become Prime Minister. Our global economic prowess has decreased significantly, it is now common policy to abandon our citizens in times of need, and so on. All just so Harper can tread lightly and buddy up to those with ideas and with the courage to lead and hope that they take us along with them.

Canada wasn't built on the attitude of being subservient or new but shy student in the class. Canada has a long history of stepping out of the box, building consensus, taking risks. Generally speaking, that is how we got to where are today. Those leaders in the past that also played into a colonial frame of mind, didn't last very long and are even easily forgotten by students of Canadian history. Our founding fathers were all strong, proud Canadians who had a very clear idea of what they wanted and believed Canada could be. It didn't involve hiding in the corner, afraid of others. It meant standing up for your convictions and what's right. That's what Canada needs from its leaders and the effects are obvious when it's absent.

September 02, 2009

An Open Letter to All Residents of Nunavut: Regarding the Illegal Nomination of Dennis Patterson as Senator for Nunavut

The following is an open letter from a family member of mine who resides in Nunavut. At issue is the concern that Dennis Patterson, who Harper recently nominated to the Senate, isn't in full compliance with the conditions of being a senator. While Patterson may allegedly own property in Nunavut, he himself considers himself a resident of Vancouver, which we all know is quite a distance from any town or city in Nunavut.

If Ontario were only represented by two people within the government - one Member of Parliament and one Senator - I'd definitely want to make sure they were there to represent my interests. Unfortunately, this is another case where one man's personal politics have interfered with sound judgement and the operational purpose of the government and with that in mind has nominated what seems to amount to another 'yes' man, much like the majority of his Senate and public service appointments.

Read the letter below and leave some comments or pass it along to those that need to read this.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

With the retirement of the Hon. Willy Adams, Senator for Nunavut, the Prime Minister had an option to nominate a new individual to represent Nunavut in the Senate. According to the Government's own website, http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/Senate/Senatetoday/sens-e.html, there are a few requirements to be eligible for this nomination. The most important of these requirements is that the nominee must reside in the province or territory that they are nominated to represent. How, then, is it possible that Dennis Patterson, a self described resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, has been nominated to represent Nunavummiut, and receive the $130,000/year salary and all associated benefits that go along with this appointment?

Mr. Patterson has had a long and storied history of political service in the north, but this is not the issue here, nor is his race, which has been brought up on many news website's comment boards. Quite simply, he is not a resident of Nunavut, and therefor is not eligible to be nominated for this position.

The facts at the heart of this problem are simple. Nunavut is a vast territory, with many challenges and issues. Our entire territory has only 2 representatives at the Federal level, one MP, and one Senator. We have the right to elect our MP, and the right to be represented by a resident of Nunavut in the Senate, which is guaranteed by the rules governing Senate appointments. Who better to represent us, than someone who lives here? Prime Minister Harper seems to have completely ignored his legal obligation to nominate a Nunavummiut for this Senate appointment, and feels that no one in Nunavut is capable of representing us. How would the residents of Ontario feel if 50% of their representatives in the Federal Government were from Vancouver? Imagine the uproar in Vancouver if half of B.C.'s representatives were from Toronto? This would be front page news around the world.

During the last Territorial election, several candidates were disqualified as they could not prove their residency in the territory. The most widely publicized case was that of Jack Anawak, who fought the decision in court, only to have his name withheld from the ballot. If someone such as Mr. Anawak is unable to run for a seat in the Territorial Legislature, why are we forced to accept an outsider as our Senator?

Unfortunately, many people don't follow these issues that can so drastically affect them, allowing this Prime Minister to effectively sneak a fast one by us. This cannot be allowed to happen. The Nunavut Government has expressed no opinion whatsoever, and there is no way NTI will speak out against this appointment, as Mr. Patterson is currently one of their chief negotiators working with the Federal Government to implement the Land Claim Agreement. There was a short, cursory response from NTI's James Eetoolook a few days ago, but nothing coming close to the position that should be taken up by all residents of Nunavut. Seeing as how Mr. Patterson had such a large role in the election of the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, and the fact that her boss is the one who made this appointment, I believe that any complaints to her will effectively fall on deaf ears.

We need to speak out, and have our voices heard on this issue. I implore you, Mr. Prime Minister, rethink your nomination, and appoint a resident of Nunavut to represent us in the Upper House.

For further info: The Canadian Constitution Act states the following:

Part V 42: (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1): (a) the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada; (b) the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators; (c) the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented in the Senate and the residence qualifications of Senators; (d) subject to paragraph 41(d), the Supreme Court of Canada; (e) the extension of existing provinces into the territories; and (f) notwithstanding any other law or practice, the establishment of new provinces.

38.1 states:(1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by (a) resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons; and (b) resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces.

The current criteria stipulate that Senators must reside in the province or territory that they represent, therefor, for the Prime Minister's nomination to stand, there must be a resolution passed by the Senate and the House of Commons, PLUS, resolutions from two thirds of the provinces or territories of Canada, and their total populations must represent at least half the population of the country.

July 30, 2009

Nortel Situation is a Symptom of a Much Larger Problem

While the Nortel situation continues, I have just finished reading a section from John Ralston Saul's latest 'A Fair Country' that touches upon the problems that are being discussed and the (so-far) inaction of our federal government.

Saul argues that Canada is plagued by inept managers and economists who are afraid to be real owners and leaders in business. At the same time he also points out there is a lack of vision and strategy coming from our government that fights for strategic and important research and technologies within the country. Together these two major problems allow for the dismantling of important businesses by foreign owners.

In his book, Saul uses the example of Robert Milton being proud of being able to circumvent Canadian ownership rules by structuring Air Canada so that it could be sold off in pieces to American airline owners. Rather than team up with someone like Bombardier and become a regional airline leader and giant, such as Air France and Airbus has. And while Air France isn't the most successful company, the partnership has resulted in France holding a significant role in the European Union and the Air France/Airbus partnership plays a large role in France's foreign policy and economic strategy.

Because there is a lack of direction in contemporary Canada's foreign policy and economic strategy we've already seen the loss of or the diminishing of several strategic companies and sectors including Alcan, Molson, Stelco, softwood and mining and the close losses of Air Canada and Bell Canada. These have lasting effects as Canada and provinces lose control, jobs, investments, etc. All of these are important for long term sustainability, employment, growth and economic strategy. Most of all we lose research and development investments that in turns means we lose creativity, knowledge and technology as those in position to make those gains go elsewhere but more importantly, they leave for foreign lands. These problems have manifested themselves already as US Steel, the new owners of Stelco, and our federal government is fighting over employment commitments. And earlier this year Canada lost one of the world's leading AID researchers to an American university.

Now Canada is poised to lose another major company along with its advanced wireless technology, despite RIM, a Canadian and global-leading company, looking to keep this strategic technology within the country. RIM seems to be one of the few Canadian companies that enjoys being a leader and being an employer rather than being an employee and playing a subservient role in the world.

If our federal government doesn't step in and recognize that losing Nortel and its technology would be a net-detriment to Canada, then it essentially would be admitting to its own lack of leadership within and vision for the country. They would be continuing to show that they are playing the role of the powerless and too afraid to stand up for Canada and our national interest against all comers. And too, the loss of Nortel without ever giving serious consideration to RIM's or other national companies' interest shows that there are too many managers within Canada that thrive in mediocrity and lack any real skill set to make smart and strong decisions.

There is an obvious need for change when it comes how we see ourselves and our nation. It begins with a change in - or establishing - foreign policy and economic strategy. This must also include changing the culture that our corporations exist in and providing support and leadership for Canadian companies to thrive and provide a net-benefit for Canadians.

July 10, 2009

Latest Harper Gaffe Wreaks of Desperation

You can smell the stench all the way across the Atlantic.

In an attempt to once again smear Ignatieff and legitimize their attack-ad campaign, Harper came charging out, during an international address, and wrongfully attributed a quote to Ignatieff. Apparently in a late night email received by Harper's Press Secretary, Dimitri Soudas, a quote appeared that may or may not have been from Ignatieff, that minimized Canada's importance in the global economy. Soudas immediately wet himself and with his brain about to explode and forgetting he was only in his underwear, went running to Harper with the news. Soudas briefed the PM the next morning without verifying the source of the quote, and Harper couldn't resist the opportunity of making the attack. And then being forced to apologize shortly thereafter.

Two parts of this expose how desperate Harper and the Cons are to attack Ignatieff. The first is that they got this random quote in a late-night email and without doing a simple check they instantly attribute it to Ignatieff. One small, simple step from Soudas to verify the source would have saved them a world of embarrassment. One small question from Harper about if it had been sourced properly or double-checked would have saved them a world of embarrassment. But given that the Harper and the Cons are more interested in politics then governing and will jump at any opportunity to attack their opponents, especially Ignatieff, they thought they had a gem of a quote and couldn't resist 'running to the press'. Which is essentially what they did and is the second part that exposes their desperation.

Harper is at a G8 conference, in front of international consortium, global media, various world leaders. He's there to address issues such as the global economy, world trade, climate change, financial aid to impoverished nations. And when all the other leaders are talking ideas, programs and commitments with a sense of optimism, Harper (once again) takes the low-road and attacks the Leader of the Opposition back home. It wasn't relevant to what was going on and it was an inappropriate venue to make such statements. Who does that type of thing? A person with only one focus and who is desperate, that's who. Harper essentially went running to the press. And it's obvious he had to change what he originally intended to say at this engagement to include his shots at Ignatieff.

What this tells me is that really, Harper has nothing on Ignatieff to use against him. I laughed at the ad campaign when it emerged because the quotes being used were dated and/or way out of context. And ever since, Harper hasn't had anything to hold over Ignatieff and this episode, in the continuing drama of Harper/Con missteps, shows that they are looking for absolutely anything at anytime to go after the Liberal leader. Harper is desperate and not at all focused on what's really important. I wonder who is going to take the fall this time and become the next scapegoat? Likely person is Soudas but I'm sure they'll find another low-level staffer they can fire.

The best quote Harper gave was,

"I think it's an irresponsible suggestion. … I would suggest he look carefully at this comments and withdraw those. Frankly, they'd be irresponsible coming from anybody, but they're particularly irresponsible coming from a senior Canadian parliamentarian."

I wonder if the comments are as irresponsible as Harper and his staff failing to do their jobs both within and outside of the PMO bubble? When is Canada going to get a real Prime Minister and leader?

Further reading (to further state the point):

May 14, 2009

Because the Conservatives Have Nothing Better to do During this Recession?

I'm stoked that the federal Conservatives have found both the time and money to spend on attack ads rather than aid our economy or assist those that are losing jobs and so forth. I get that the money spent doesn't come from the government and taxpayers - directly - but it's good to see that the website domain fees are going out of country (Montenegro or US).

I can't imagine that going on the offensive against your opponent, using extremely aged and out-of-context quotes during a time of low public opinion and an ailing economy is going to fix your public image. You know what might help your public image? Doing the job you were mandated to do and accepting the will of the majority (oh, and stopping with the little political gamesmanship crap in the House and with each Bill might help too).

There's a point when you'd think common sense might kick in. You're losing public support by being inactive, conniving, overly partisan and ideological and so forth. The obvious answer to correcting this problem isn't to do more of it, it is likely to do less and to act like a government that actually cares and is just as concerned as the average Joe or Joanne.

But then again common sense seems to be out of reach for the Conservatives. Hell, a contingent of them are leftovers from the Harris Common Sense Revolution days. A program that had very little to do with common sense and more to do with reason and ideology, which are often signs of a specific agenda rather than something generally useful or concerning for the public at large.

Do I think the attack ads will work? Not really. Like Kinsella has pointed out there is an entire army of Canadians who have made their careers outside of their country. Canadians generally show respect and admiration for them.

Furthermore, the whole 'Ignatieff arrogance' angle has already played out. It made its appearance during his return home phase, his running for a seat, his running for Liberal leader part 1, his running for Liberal leader part 2 and so on. The time to push that would have been a couple years ago, not now. Ignatieff is now too established in the conscience of Canadians as something else - a viable alternative to Harper.

And isn't there a hint of some type of reverse arrogance or elitism in chiding Ignatieff for working overseas? Just because you didn't get a worldly education, or international experience, or decided to live under a rock your entire life doesn't make you more Canadian or better fit for public office.

This whole episode is just a follow up attempt to the Dion breakdown. And as such you're facing an opponent that has likely learned from the past and a public that won't buy the same crap twice. Skepticism towards the ads will be higher and Ignatieff won't likely make the same missteps as Dion. Therefore, what Canadians will likely remember in the end, is that while the Conservatives put out inane attack ads, the economy burned.

Holy Hyberbole, Batman!

Is it just me or is the testimony from both sides of Nannygate just way over the top. I'm making no judgments here as to who is telling the truth. I am judging the actual statements. If either side is being honest than either Dhalla is a reincarnation of a 18th century southern plantation owner or I'm quitting my career and taking a job as caretaker at Dhalla's family home.

Seriously, the testimony in this case is just over the top. These nannies have essentially placed Dhalla at the centre of every decision and order. Miss Ruby made them shine shoes, hand over passports, made them pick spinach out of her teeth, deprived them of sleep and made them sleep on rocks when they were finally finished with their 10000 brush strokes through Ruby's mom's hair and plucking of her nose hair and removing corns with their teeth.

Then there's Ruby's claims of providing a millionaire's life inside the Dhalla house. This apparently included big screen televisions, champagne bubble baths, free run of the private family jet, massages from Ruby herself and having the Dhallas as their personal assistants.

Hyperbole, anyone? Both sides have put effort in painting the best or worst scenario possible and the truth is somewhere buried deep in the middle. And I do mean deep because both sides are so far out in their claims the middle is far, far away. But like I said, if either side is telling the truth then we either have someone getting slapped with some sort of anti-slavery charge or these nannies need to get their heads checked for leaving that type of luxury.

Beyond the testimony there does seem to be some funny things at play. The timing of these complaints coincides with what was expected to be the worst of the Mulroney investigation and growing awareness on the Conservatives' recession inaction. Couple these with the loose ties between the complainants and Kenney's acquaintances, something does seem quite odd here. I'm not trying to imply the claims are false but rather the timing seems a little 'funny'.

This case has all the makings of a made-for-tv movie. Something that would satisfy the soap opera crowd with its wild accusations and hints of bigger yet shady undertones. My gut feeling is that this whole 'show' shouldn't be getting played out in the format it is or in these particular arenas. At this rate, reputations and lives are going to be affected, no matter the outcome.

May 13, 2009

Random Noise Presents: Random Noise (GO Train Edition)

Ugh.

Not sure how else to explain how I feel sitting here on the GO Train, going home, after having to deal with my second delayed GO Train trip back to Oshawa. Last night I took the 23:13 train (that's 11:13pm for you lame people) and it was delayed about 20 minutes after there was a door problem around Guildwood and then a switch issue shortly after.

Tonight it was late arriving to Union from Exhibition by about 25 minutes. My guess it had something to do with the Toronto FC fans. They're everywhere in the train. Damn soccer hooligans!

I hear about GO Train delays all the time but have rarely experienced them. It's not for a lack of trying. I commuted on the GO for almost a year while I attended teachers college. I can only recall two delays in that entire period. But here I am, two nights in a row experiencing delays both nights. How's that for luck?

I wonder if any of these TFC or Blue Jay fans will run to their car when they depart. I still find the after-work sprinters humourous. I found them funny in Mississauga and I find them funny in Oshawa. They depart from the train and bolt for their cars. Because life is so hectic that waiting an extra 10 minutes is going to kill them.

Even funnier is that you just know that for some of those people, that's the most exercise they get in a day. The only reason they own running shoes is to make the 150 metre sprint to their car from the train. Few things are funnier than someone in an expensive suit or fancy dress, sprinting for their car, in their hardly-worn-but-several-years-old-running-shoes.

I didn't ever sprint from the train when I used to do the daily trip. Screw that! After a long day of school and/or work and the commute while squashed between hundreds of people the last thing I want to do is to be sprinting and scrambling in the parking lot.

I was all about taking my time, slowing myself down and relaxing before I got home. I'm sure there were other things to be concerned with when I got there so why rush?

Besides, it's not as though I didn't do a daily sprint. Mine just usually came in the morning to catch the train...

April 29, 2009

How do we Slow the Spread of Swine Flu? Twitter.

I can't help but feel skeptical about the swine flu (almost) pandemic. I have heard or read so many different expert opinions that I can't decide if I should take advantage of the cheap flight rates and immediately fly to Mexico or purchase a hyperbolic bubble and move to an uninhabited island in Nunavut.

This morning I listened to a medical expert on CBC talk about how the current strain of swine flu is 'mild' and there is little to fear. He gave a comparison to SARS. With SARS, according to this guy, there was 1 in 10 chance of death but that the swine flu had, at worst, a 1 in 500 chance. Considering that outside of Mexico there may not even be 500 infected people, that's not a bad number. And in a given year, according to the all-knowing and infallible wikipedia, the usual epidemic has a worldwide death rate of 1 in 100.

But then on the other hand there are the experts who are advising countries to load up on Tamiflu and the like. And big-pharmas are standing on the sidelines wringing their hands hoping that's exactly what countries do. Some of the biggest boom times for them was when the Avian flu was going to supposedly ravage the world population. We watched while people like Donald Rumsfeld pushed the concerns of the pending Avian flu pandemic and profited from owning shares connected the anti-viral. Is that what we're facing again? Another false alarm that will only cause some big company to make more money?

Well, not so according to an expert from Mount Sinai in Toronto. This woman was all about us being vigilant and taking all precautions to prevent the spread of swine flu. And maybe she has a point, especially where I am concerned. After all, of the four reported cases in Ontario three are in the Durham region and the nature of my job puts me in close contact with hundreds of people each day. And given the environment of my job, it wouldn't take long for my 'office' to resemble one of the hard hit Mexican villages. Also, seeing that Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag have isolated themselves in Mexico to avoid infection then we should definitely all be concerned. Anyway, the doc from Mount Sinai said the best response to the pending pandemic is social distancing. Avoiding social gatherings and recreational outings will slow the spread and limit the number of infections.

Between Avian flu, West Nile virus, Swine flu, seasonal influenza, common colds, random bacteria, mad cow, psycho squirrel and the like, if we were to significantly react to every warning our society wouldn't function, we wouldn't live our lives, we wouldn't breed and we would all starve to death.

My point is that panicking should be saved for times of panic. Unless you're in a small Mexican village or the crowded downtown of Mexico City where the quality of medical service isn't of the highest degree and the general level of environmental cleanliness isn't exactly excellent, then sure, I get being quite worried. But when the mortality rate is five times better than the yearly, general epidemics, are thousands of kilometres away from ground zero, little correlation to Mexico or people visiting there and have access to world-class medical services, panicking at this point seems somewhat far-fetched.

I'm not attempting to minimize how this outbreak has affected those who have lost loved ones or are suffering from this. And this is not to say that this virus won't be the next real pandemic. What I am saying is that at this point in time we should probably go on with our lives and not add to our stresses and focus on the things we can control and we enjoy. Let's react when it's absolutely necessary and not make big-pharmas anymore wealthy for no reason. If we over react to this episode, like with Avian flu, and it turns out to be nothing, like Avian flu, well... Well, we all know the fable of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'.

Or we can begin our social distancing now. In other words, we all should find our inner tween and take to Twitter immediately.

April 15, 2009

Harper Cheats and Encourages Others to do the Same OR We in Durham Aren't Suprised

When I read that Elizabeth May accused Harper of 'cheating' during the leader debates, all I could do was chuckle to myself. It came as little surprise to hear that Harper couldn't actually debate without some sort of assistance. The same is true of many Conservative candidates in the last election.

Out here in little old Durham (the region, not the riding), just east of Toronto, there were lots of stories floating around of Conservative candidates repeating, verbatim, things that the big-wigs were already saying in public and having talking points, speeches and local media pieces drafted by the central campaign workers. This is likely the same all over the nation as the Conservative party was very careful about controlling their message at all costs.

However, cheating in or breaking of rules - or at least the ethics - is another thing all together. And it comes as little surprise to some of us here in Durham (the riding, not the region). Leading up to the Rogers televised debate there were whispers that Bev Oda and her campaign were making demands that Rogers had to meet if they wanted her to appear on the program. The specifics of her demands were unclear to us leading up to the debate. Following the debate it became apparent what her demands likely were - she had wanted the questions to review beforehand.

From a couple firsthand accounts and some other people several members of our campaign talked to afterward, the binder she was using during the debate contained ordered responses for all the questions, including those from the guest panelists. Now I'm sure someone, somewhere will say she may have just had well-prepared notes and had the topics nicely ordered. But in perfect order of the questions asked, including the guest panelist questions? Seems a little funky from where I'm sitting. And like May questioned 'tattling' on Harper, some of us felt it to be somewhat useless to go on a tirade about the incident because it would likely just come across as 'childish', it wouldn't necessarily aid our cause and it would take our focus off of our task at hand - attempting to defeat the incumbent.

I truly question if May or our campaign had ran to the hills with this type of information if the outcomes would have changed. I don't think it would have made any difference. For us in Durham riding we always knew we had a steep climb to the top. We were against an incumbent cabinet minister, with greater resources, within a considerably conservative riding, running a generally unknown candidate, backstopped by a poor national campaign. We had hope and conviction but sometimes those just aren't enough. Crying foul over a cheat-book would have seem desperate at best and petty at worst considering the tasks that laid ahead.

What effect May's disclosure might have is to further compound the feeling that Harper can't be trusted and has little leadership quality by those that already lean that way and nudge those who are undecided in that direction as well. This isn't a positive thing for a man that has been and continues to suffer from a poor public opinion. He didn't win the last election because he's well-liked or because he was seen as some magnificent leader. He won because he was essentially considered the lesser evil. Canwest/Global ran several polls that consistently showed that Harper polled better when directly compared to the other leaders but when addressed individually he polled unfavourably just like the others. As well, hopefully this means that come the next election, Harper and his cronies won't try to pull the same fast-one and will be forced to actually know their platform (if they actually have one next time) and think of responses on their feet. Something that will likely play very well for Ignatieff and Layton.

March 26, 2009

In Search of Harmony (2009 edition): Quick Glance at Ontario's Budget

The Ontario budget gets dropped today, and without any type of fanfare or surprise McGuinty does the proverbial 'good policy, bad politics' thing, for the second time.

We can say whatever we want about the provincial budget. It couldn't have been any worse than what the federal government put out - lot's of money for a whole lot of nothing, so far. With the Ontario budget there seems to be some serious targeted spending in the areas of social housing, hospitals and schools. These are all good things. Cutting taxes for 93% of all Ontarians is also a good thing. As is the acceleration of the Ontario Child Benefit.

Once again, I'm extremely disappointed in the lack of true forward thinking, as I was with the federal budget. The Ontario budget doesn't seem to do anything for the environment, greening of public or private infrastructure, or research and development. Where is the direct assistance targeted at companies such as ZENN? That's where the future truly lies and that's where the money should be aimed at; companies that are thinking ahead.

The big ticket item was the harmonization of the Ontario sales tax and the federal GST. To be honest, I'm still not sold on this being necessary. Sure it will save the private sector some paperwork and some money. But at what cost?

About 18 months ago, I wrote about this very issue when Derek DeCloet wrote in favour of the idea. At the time I expressed skepticism based on how it would affect consumers. Granted, McGuinty and Duncan were able to swing a deal to get many items exempted still such as children's clothing, books, etc. Though as far as I can tell many things are still going to receive a tax increase including some medical and educational services such as chiropractic services and tutoring (which for many struggling students is necessary).

Harmonizing the taxes will also eliminate the exemption of food purchases under $4. It may not seem like much but many food service businesses (from the ma-and-pa shops to the McDonald's and Tim Hortons) take advantage of that to feed the masses in fast and affordable ways. It will have an impact, especially on the ma-and-pa shops, as they are all looking for ways to cover their growing staffing costs due to the incremental increases in the minimum wage at a time when sales and profits are down.

In 2007 I questioned if the overall benefit to businesses outweighed the costs to the public. I'm still questioning whether or not the benefits are enough.

I'll give credit where it's due and that's to Ontario and the feds for compromising on some exemptions. That was one of my biggest criticism back then and it has been partially dealt with here. I don't like the lack of overall control the province has given up considering Ottawa, under the federal Conservatives, has been less than fair or kind to Ontario when it comes to economic issues. But given McGuinty and crew knows those battles the best, if they are willing to do this, some understanding must have been reached.

The deficits that Ontario predicts to incur are forgivable as they pale in comparison to what the federal government is going to rack up by the end of it. And with giant companies drastically cutting workforces and with others closing outright government revenues are obviously going to be much less. As long as the deficit spending is done with accountability and effectively, without the gimmicks or partisanship (see the federal Conservatives), the Ontario Liberals may survive another episode of 'good but bad'.

March 19, 2009

Canwest/National Post Conveniently Changing Tune?

Warren's raised a very interesting point over at his blog about Canwest and the National Post.

Warren: "The National Post, that is, which has railed against government "interference" in the marketplace for a decade, now about to get bailed out by the taxpayer."

Warren also refers to this as a 'game'. I think that accurately describes the situation. Isn't it convenient that they are suddenly okay with taking taxpayer money? Though I'm sure they'll never say as much.

What I find even more disturbing is that approximately two weeks ago I received a call from the National Post offering a 60 day subscription for free. They explained that there were no obligations on my part and that after 60 days the subscription would just end without notice or any required action. Furthermore, this was a wide-scale promotion.

I was beside myself, knowing just how much money the NP costs Canwest and how tight things were over at Canwest in general. To be offering free daily subscriptions on a wide-scale seems counter-productive given the circumstances.

While there are several theories that could be considered here, I'm leaning in one particular direction. My feeling is that the NP is trying to artificially build up their subscription numbers and expanse across demographics. If they can (temporarily and falsely) display they have a wide appeal, and a decent and growing subscription rate but are still bleeding money. And if they can successfully put the blame on the downturned economy, they can build a case that they are recoverable and relevant and ultimately, (in the long-run) profitable. All reasons why they deserve a taxpayer funded-government bailout (aside of the wink-nudge, Conservative pandering they'll continue).

February 20, 2009

Which of these doesn't belong?

After watching all the footage of Obama's visit yesterday, it's hard not to think that:

1) There are a lot of expectations on him and in turn he must be feeling a lot of pressure; and

2) He comes across as someone able to handle all that pressure with ease and a dash of coolness.

However for me, every time I saw Obama standing next to Harper, the two of them waving at the crowds, something or more specifically, someone, looked out of place. And it definitely wasn't Obama. Unfortunately, Harper looked like just some dork that was hanging out with the new president.

It's like one of those moments where a sports team has just won a championship, on the last play, made by the star of the team. The crowd is cheering the heroics and everyone wants a piece of the hero. Then, the just-arrived from the minors, who can't be named by a single fan, who didn't once see any action, jumps off the bench and waves and cries at the crowd like he made the big play to win it all or is the closest friend of the star.

Standing next to Obama, that was Harper yesterday. He was the 'nobody' trying to bask in some of the glory and steal a moment of spotlight without ever contributing to the moment. The reality is at best he was just 'that Canadian Prime Minister guy' and at worst, which is likely closer to the truth, he was just another guy waving back at a crowd that didn't even notice him there and were waving at the star next to him.

________

February 16, 2009

Fate at Her Best

In today's Toronto Star there's a great opinion piece on Naomi Klein. The main premise is about how she's withholding judgment on Obama. Klein may be optimistic about the new president but a couple early decisions have concerned her; the appointments of former Clinton crewmen that are at the heart of Clinton's less-than-finer moments.

The piece is definitely an interesting read.

The part that got me grinning though was the comment on Milton Friedman. It shouldn't be a surprise from many of my writings here that I have little love for Friedman. Between my undergrad and more recent research and current reading of books such as Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine' and John Ralston Saul's 'The End of Globalization', I see little use for the simplistic, self-serving, hole-wridden garbage that Friedman championed.

Anyway, what got me smiling is that the $200-million Milton Friedman Institute being built by the University of Chicago has been put on hold because funding has disappeared due to the current economic crisis. The very same crisis that has been caused by the type of policies that Friedman influenced and encouraged, caused millions of lost jobs and has as many families into precarious positions and has now put a stop on a tribute in his honour. Though I'm not sure what they're trying to honour here.

I don't think making the poor poorer, or devastating the stability and prosperity of Latin American nations, or allowing corporations to bankrupt families and nation is something that deserves tribute.

Friedman, at best, had some interesting ideas that differed from the mainstream. Ideas worth some inflection and curiousity. However, there are holes in his theories. Some of those are massive and doesn't take a learned scholar to point most of them out.

Unfortunately Friedman was a man that refused to admit his ideas were flawed and were unworkable in reality even while they were obviously causing more harm than good for those that adopted them or worse, were forced to use them. Worst of all he preached these ideas to generations of impressionable students and to the ears of the political leaders he conferenced with. Friedman deserves a tribute as much as Osama Bin Laden deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

There's nothing better than the cruel humour of fate. She's got a warped mind at the best of times and saves her best for those most deserving. And in this turn of events, she's showing-off just a little. Hopefully, with the time off we can all reflect on her latest offering and realize that Friedman only deserves our abhoration.

January 31, 2009

Just Another Take on the Budget

First off, in terms of numbers and allocations the Conservative budget isn't too bad but it isn't terribly good, either. The tax cuts should have been focused more on the lower- and middle- classes. If the goal is to increase disposable income and/ or encourage spending then the two largest groups of Canadians, who have also been the hardest hit by the downturn, should have been the focus. The bulk of the need lies with them and any extra spending will come from these groups and therefore providing them with more would go further to achieving those goals. However, an across-the-board tax cut could be considered the most fair for all Canadians. After all, we're all in this together as no one has been left untouched by the economic downturn. It's just that the broad tax cut, ultimately, isn't as effective.

There is also the issue of some of the policy matters that are contained within the budget. While it's nice that EI has been expanded by five weeks there are still lingering issues that weren't addressed. Something such as timely and easier access to people's own money should have been included. As well a balancing of the EI payments should have been included. Ontarians should have gotten a slight increase in the payments to match the other provinces. Since Ontario has taken the brunt of the downturn and cost of living is slightly higher than most provinces, these changes should have been a no-brainer. And let's not forget, contrary to what Harper or Finlay might say, the money in the EI program belongs to Canadians.

The EI program is essentially a government mandated 'savings' program for those rainy days, like when you lose your job and need money to get you by until you find other employment. To refuse easier access on the basis that the Conservatives don't want to make it "lucrative" to be unemployed or that they don't want people relying on the government is to distort and betray the purpose of EI and denying people access to their own money could be seen as theft since Canadians do not have a choice about paying into EI.

There is also the concern over women losing the ability to take pay equity issues to court. I'm not sure what the Conservative's problem is with women's equality but it has reached a sickening level over the course of their tenure. However, this being left over from the Fall Update shouldn't have been a surprise because of the Conservative's track record. What is a surprise is the Liberals' poor response to this issue.

The Liberals' amendment, while necessary (if you're attempting to make parliament work), isn't as strong as it could have been. Sure they're putting this Conservative government on 'probation' but the how is ill defined. It's great to have the Cons check-in every few months with updates but there is confusion over what this really means. Are they just giving government numbers, are the books being opened to the opposition or is an independent auditor doing a review? The amendment should have laid out all of this in greater detail. It should have also been much more demanding of accountability given the past record of budget deception and lack of transparency, especially on the part of Flaherty.

Furthermore, at the very least the Ignatieff and the Liberals should have demanded that the women's pay equity issue be dropped from the budget. I actually think that the Conservatives included it with the expectation it would be amended out. If an amendment were to ask for its removal and subsequently passed, the Cons could have saved face with their SoCon supporters because they proposed the idea but also saved face with critics and opposition because they would have been viewed as conciliatory.

The Liberals could have also explored changes to the proposals regarding EI, tax cuts, and areas that could have had an infusion of 'green' and next-generation technology and manufacturing. However, I believe the Conservatives would have fought to the end to not have these pass. We would then likely be heading into an election rather than a coalition government.

I don't have enough faith in our GG, Ms. Jean, to make the right decision between a coalition and election. She showed last Fall that she neither had the leadership or the fortitude to do what she should have. She made her last decision in secrecy and without full consultation. The same would have likely occurred here. And this budget is centrist or 'Liberal'-ish enough, at least on the surface, that inciting an unwanted and costly election over it would have put the Liberals in a tough position to defend their actions. Putting out a strong amendment, stronger than what was proposed, would have been the best maneuver.

The biggest loser out of all of this - besides women, the most vulnerable and the environment - is the Conservatives. With this budget they showed that they are more interested in power than conviction. However, even in the off chance they are being honest about their feelings on the necessity of this budget they still come out on the losing end. On one hand they would be admitting that Canadians don't believe in or won't accept conservatism (which I have been arguing for quite some time) or they are admitting that conservatism doesn't work. Either way, conservative Canadians aren't happy with Harper and his crew and the Conservatives are showing their cracks in large part because of this budget. Either side of this is a positive in my books.

Ultimately, Canada didn't even have to be in this position. If it weren't for the lack of judgement, common sense and leadership of the Conservatives, Canada's financial situation could have been much stronger prior to being hit by the economic downturn. If income taxes were cut rather than consumer taxes, if the surplus hadn't been completely wiped out, if social programs were strengthened rather than weakened, and if there had been greater attention paid to environmental technologies and next generation manufacturing, Canada would have dealt with this crisis much better. The stimulus package would have still been necessary but maybe there would have been fewer lost, more resilience on the part of our industries and a smaller deficit would be incurred. However, we've been governed by conservative ideologues who are more interested in their personal situations and beliefs, and trying to destroy the opposition. So much for leadership...

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January 26, 2009

What Wasn't Announced?

Everyone seems to be talking about what has been announced to be in the budget. Experience with this Conservative government has me wondering more about what they haven't announced.

So far we have heard about all these wonderful spending initiatives for infrastructure, job training, etc. All the things we the public would - should - be expecting when a government talls about stimulus spending. What we haven't heard announced is anything to do with contentious tax cuts (GST?), policy changes (relaxing environmental-based rules?), cuts to social programs (women's equality?), vicious partisanship (cuts to political funding?), or even self-sacrifice (scaling back the size of the Cabinet).

Since Harper and his team are generally less than forthcoming with what they plan to do it after making promises, it is reasonable for us to expect a lot more from tomorrow's budget than what has already been announced (in an election style). Harper has shown he can't help himself when it comes to trying to be 'clever' and poking the opposition and others with sticks. Tomorrow isn't likely to be any different. There is no way that he would cave and offer all sorts of measures that he doesn't believe in or want without exacting some small token for himself.

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(Update) Check out this entry over at Archiblog. (h/t CuriousityCat)

January 16, 2009

Let's Have a Good Ol' Fashioned Book Burnin'

I just came across this article from the Toronto Star's Parent Central website. When I originally heard about some guy wanting to get Margaret Atwood's novel, A Handmaid's Tale banned I laughed right out loud.

The father complained that the book is "rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women (and men at times), sexual scenes, and bleak depression" and "anti-Christian".

And the problem is...? Seriously.

Nowhere in Atwood's novel are the former issues promoted or deemed a positive. They are in the novel to make the reader think and feel scared or sick by what they are reading. It's about forcing a reader to understand a problem. It makes me think about people who get worked up about Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mockingbird, over racism and slurs, when the major theme in the novel is anti-racism or inequality and the problems associated with these. The father's latter complaint touches upon a similar theme of what I talked about prior when I examined the issue of the Philip Pullman's, His Dark Materials trilogy.

There is nothing wrong with challenging religion. If anything religion, especially organized religion, needs to be challenged or it faces irrelevancy by becoming dogma. To hide children away from such an inquiry only reinforces their curiousity. It's the nature of children, especially teenagers. Rather than taking the novel away and hiding from the question, have an answer to it. Provide alternative information, show examples of where the criticism is wrong. To lock it away is to essentially give it the criticism validation. This father has ultimately done more harm than good.

Anyway, I find it funny that someone is just now getting all worked up about Atwood's novel because it was written in 1985. It has also been apart of the high school curriculum, in Ontario at least, for most of that time - it was the first Atwood novel I read and that was because I was required to read it for an English assignment. And there is so much already written about A Handmaid's Tale and the controversy surrounding its themes, that a quick internet search may have alleviated this father's concerns.

I have looked at the issue of banning books within public education before. And my feelings haven't changed. Unless the novel is written by someone that intentionally tries to mislead, obfuscate or commit harm through their writings, then no book should be banned from a public school. However, I think more or less this has come down to ignorance on the father's part. If he was really that concerned about what was being assigned in his kid's class he would have known about the novel prior to it being picked up by his son. Furthermore, he himself should maybe take the opportunity to peruse more books that are considered 'must-reads'.

January 10, 2009

The Failure of the Media and Such

In today's Toronto Star, Travers came out with an insightful and honest piece (link to come). The gist is that the during last year's federal election the media failed to do their job and ask real questions of our politicians. Rather the media was obsessed with things such as personality and issues that had little substance. In otherwords, the inane.

The election ultimately turned out to be a circus of sorts. And this likely played a large role as to why we had the worse voter turnout in history. And many of those that voted likely had did so without ever being fully informed.

Travers' piece made think about something that my Poli-Sci 101 professor stressed once. He argued that political parties in general, though more likely conservative parties, would rather fight elections on the unsubstantial topics. The thinking is that if you can bog down the electorate on issues that seem trivial and partisan, rather than addressing real issues, voters will become jaded and are less likely to vote. And one of the strategies is to use the media to achieve this objective.

My professor expressed this back in 1999, which puts him ahead of GWB or Harper. Cheney and GWB used this strategy almost perfectly and one can argue that Harper was partially successful with his attacks on Dion and such. That's not to say they were the only parties or leaders to try this as Paul Martin and John Tory also attempted campaigns on anything but the issues.

The strategy holds sway with the right in particular because their ideology doesn't generally have a broad appeal in developed societies. Being honest with the electorate is more likely to be detrimental to their cause. However, where right wing parties lack in broad appeal they partially make up with deep appeal. That is, conservative leaning citizens are easier to motivate to vote than non-conservative citizens, even though they are much larger in numbers. And fewer voters means a government feels that they owe less or are accountable to fewer people.

Travers' column will hopefully be taken to heart by those in the media. While we all need to do a better job in holding our politicians accountable, our media definitely need to turn it around. The media have access to our politicians - good or bad they are on the front lines, especially during elections. They are the first in line to ask questions and point out the issues. If they aren't doing their jobs then they are no better than those politicians that would look to be elected without ever being accountable to the public.

Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

The Vicious Side of Politics

It's only a few weeks until Canadians finally get to see the Conservatives latest bastard-proposal of a budget. With the economy in the midst of death throws and our minority government doing, well, nothing of note, there are more than a few people worried about what's to come. Flaherty has done little to calm nerves as he continues to speak in some type of personal code and mentioning ambiguous and cliché terms. However, one thing that might be certain is that whatever is thrown around on January 27th is likely to be not far from what Canadians have already seen - more vicious partisan and ideological maneuvering.

There isn't necessarily anything inherently wrong with either partisanship or ideology except for one glaring exception. Both of these, if too strongly adhered to, indicates a person is close-minded and thinks in extremely marginal ways. Even this can be benign in many circumstances unless that person is in a position where they hold influence or power. In this manner, subsequent actions can become, and are often, unintentionally destructive because the lack of various perspectives that are given consideration. In other ways, these are consciously relied upon or are the driving force in decision-making and therefore are intentionally destructive and still will cause some unintentional collateral.

In politics especially there are many examples that give cause for concern about those that would rely too much on their partisanship or ideology. The most obvious and easiest one is Iraq. By now there is little doubt that Iraq has gone horribly wrong. For whatever reason GWB went into Iraq, it is clear that his intentions were less than honourable and the outcome has been pure disaster. Whether its the war crimes that have been committed, the bungling of the rebuilding, the ensuing civil war, etc. Iraq hasn't turned out at all like it could/should have.

Another recent example is the fall 'financial update' from the Conservatives. Harper and Flaherty attempted to use the economic crisis to push an agenda that would crippled the opposition parties, attempt to further erode women's equity and break workers' rights. In the end Canada saw an unprecedented unification of the opposition and the fall of a six-week old government. Or we can also look at the Conservatives decision to cut the GST by 2% which has all but crippled Canada's ability to truly be effective in dealing with the economic crisis.

The problem that truly underlies vicious politics is intention. When making decision or taking a course of action, intention plays a massive role. Intention affects how a policy is carried out, how hard a person or team works, the effort put into the completion of the task. Everything from the leadership down to grassroots is affected by the intent.

If Iraq was a truly honourable conflict, there may not have been companies such as Blackwater or Haliburton taking advantage of the crisis because oversights and management would have been better regulated and monitored. It's likely fewer troops would have been caught committing war crimes because there would have been less pressure from the media, Americans back home, Iraqi's, etc. and pride in their mission would have been greater.

Closer to home, if Harper and Flaherty's concerns were truly about the economy when attempting to cut political subsidies or attacking workers' rights, then we would have seen greater consultation. Whether this was with the opposition parties, public employees, Canadians or whomever, if the Conservatives had spent any effort actually trying to be fiscally prudent rather than playing political games then we might have seen unprecedented cooperation between all of parliament in dealing with the economic crisis. Or Canada may have been without any real concern of assisting industries, paying for infrastructure or making any other considerable decision if the GST hadn't been cut for reasons of power.

It doesn't matter that sometimes through these politically motivated actions that positives do emerge. Saddam Hussein being removed from power is especially positive for Iraq but that is overshadowed and pales in comparison to what Iraq is now facing and how the situation has been and continues to be handled. If removing Hussein from power was the purpose in the first place - for Iraqis' sake not GWB wanting to do what his father didn't - then maybe American and allied troops wouldn't be seen as invaders or occupiers and Iraq . Maybe the conflict wouldn't be as severe or wouldn't be still ongoing. And while Andrew Coyne has argued that it doesn't matter why the Conservatives were looking to axe political subsidies, that it only matters it's a positive within itself (which it is) and that is reason alone to do it, he missed that the intent that it is based on is also the reason why the proposal failed and is still around. The underlying intent is a major reason why the opposition stood up and fought hard together, why our government prorogued and is now seemingly incapable of doing anything, and why much is falling down around average Canadians and Canadian industries.

Intent is almost everything when it comes to making decisions and taking action. That is why when intent is based on deeply rooted ideology or partisanship it almost surely becomes destructive. It becomes vicious. There will be negative outcomes. There will be uncertainty and instability. That potentional, positive outcomes are never explored or given a chance. But worst of all; there will be victims. And therein lies the real problem. In most cases, people get left behind. Or worse.

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)

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