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...


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.


(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.

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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)