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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nanos poll suggests Tory majority if federal election were held

The latest Nanos Canada-wide telephone survey shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives lead Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals by more than 13 points. Of the 1,016 Canadians polled, 39.7 per cent ranked the Conservatives as their first preference (up from 38.1% in December 2010), while the Liberals placed second at 26.6 per cent (down from 31.2%) and the NDP were third choice at 18.9 per cent (up from 17.2%).

These numbers suggest the Tories have moved into majority territory, especially when the poll shows the Tories with a clear lead in every region except Quebec. Support in Ontario has slipped to 39 per cent from 42.3 per cent, but so too did support for Liberals who slipped to 32.8 per cent from 35.4 percent.

Also encouraging to Tories is the finding that PM Harper also gained ground in the eyes of Canadians as a leader, with 34.5 per cent of those polled saying he would make the best prime minister, giving him a 6.1 per cent increase over a November 2010 poll. Since November 2010, Ignatieff has dropped to 13.6% from 15.5% as the leader who would make the best prime minister.

We now have a few recent polls showing the Conservatives at the edge of majority territory so these results are consistent with that trend and are not exceptional.

[NB: a random sample by NAOS of 1,016 Canadians aged 18 and over between Feb. 11 and 14. The margin of error associated with the total sample is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.]

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fraser Institute counsels Tories to use Martin’s 1995 budget as a blueprint for 2011

In a Vancouver, B.C. press release, the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, suggests in a new report[1] that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty use the Chrétien Liberal government’s 1995 budget as a guide for 2011. Sage advice, I would say, though I doubt it would get much support from the current crop of left-leaning Liberals.

Paul Martin
Former prime minister Paul Martin
(CBC 2008)

Say what you will regarding Paul Martin’s ability (or lack thereof) as prime minister, most economists will agree he was one of Canada’s most effective finance ministers in several decades.

“Martin introduced fundamental fiscal reforms in 1995 that led to a decade of prosperity,” according to the report’s authors, and I would add that those fiscal reforms played no small part in helping Canada weather the international financial crisis and resulting world-wide recession from which we are only just recovering.

Promoting its new report—Budget Blueprint: How Lessons from Canada's 1995 Budget Can Be Applied Today— the Fraser Institute reminds us of “the Liberals’ 1995 budget, which reduced program spending from $118.3 billion in 1994/95 to $107.9 billion in 1996/97—a reduction of $10.4 billion or 8.8 per cent over a two-year period.” And “The 1995 budget also announced a reduction of public-sector employment by 45,000 or 14 per cent.”

Wow, think of what this would mean in 2011 terms.

Niels Veldhuis, Fraser Institute vice-president of Canadian policy research and co-author cautions:

“The Conservative government’s current plan calls for slowing the growth in spending for the next five years while hoping strong economic growth brings higher revenues to balance the budget.

“This is precisely what happened from the early 1980s to 1995, as governments tried to constrain the growth in spending while assuming that higher revenues would come. Unfortunately, governments were unable to control spending. And there is nothing in the current government’s track record that suggests it will be able to slow spending growth.”

This is precisely that which I fear will reoccur. During former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s two majorities, spending slowed as a percentage of GDP, but absolute spending remained at untenably high levels, deficits persisted and the national debt ballooned.

There is room to cut federal spending—a lot of room. Coincidentally, Sarah Boesveld points us to a good starting point in today’s National Post where she writes:

“The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, an independent Prairie-based think-tank, analyzed the Statistics Canada reports for all 20 industries the national agency tracks and found that federal public servants’ wages rose by 59%, far outpacing the average worker. Provincial government workers came in at a close second with a 55% rise. Overall, wage growth for federal and public administrators dwarfs the 30% economy-wide weekly-wage growth, and shows the civil servants have seen faster boosts than any other industry.

“Perhaps more striking than the ballooning of federal and provincial salaries are the savings the Frontier Centre estimated taxpayers could have taken advantage of had the growth rate slowed just a bit: $2.6-billion in 2009 alone.”

Government spending in Canada is over the top and out of sight. And we delay bringing it back under control at our fiscal peril and that of generations of taxpayers to come.

And don’t look to the Liberals to bail us out like they did during Paul Martin’s tenure. These are a different breed of Liberals. Paul Martin was a fiscal conservative, this bunch is not. Last February, Michael Ignatieff said that Canada will get a national child-care program under a future Liberal government and that he’d not “allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.”

During Parliament’s break next week, Ignatieff will set off on another of his tours to promise more spending “to hard-pressed families” who he says “are worse off after five years of Stephen Harper.” Speaking to reporters yesterday in Ottawa, Ignatieff said he’ll be highlighting Liberal policies, including pension reform, youth employment initiatives, early learning and child care programs and caregiver support. Hardly what one would expect at a time when we’re running record deficits. This man is no Paul Martin-style fiscal conservative, not are any of the high-profile members of his caucus.

Ignatieff’s are not deficit-cutting words. He and his team like to take credit for the results of the fiscally conservative policies of the Jean Chrétien-Paul Martin era, but they don’t give any indication they’ll re-implement similar policies if they win the next election. Far from it, they are promising to spend billions more on long-term social programs.

A federal budget is expected to be delivered by the end of March. Let’s hope Messrs Flaherty and Harper give us a deficit fighting budget to set this country back on the road to fiscal conservatism and, if necessary, one on which to campaign for a majority government.

[1]Budget Blueprint: How Lessons from Canada’s 1995 Budget Can Be Applied Today
by Niels Veldhuis, Jason Clemens, and Milagros Palacios (The complete report is available
here.)

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tories race ahead in the polls and Oda drops the ball

Just as the federal Conservatives seem to be opening a gap between themselves and Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, another ministerial gaffe sends them into defence mode. Now I hear Conservatives on the Hill are threatening an election if the opposition keeps up its full court press against International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda. Hardly our finest moment as a party.

Hon. Beverley Oda
Minister of International Cooperation

In the final analysis, Bev Oda may have made the “right decision,” but her handling of this file puts a strain on her credibility and has damaged her to the point her colleagues will begin to soften in their support.

This issue won’t quickly fade away. The Grits and Dippers smell blood in the water  and will continue to try to force out this minister—doing so would be a coup for any opposition. PM Stephen Harper and his team can only hope they can survive the next few days with some semblance of their dignity and credibility intact and hope the media will drop the matter over the up-coming recess.

This pattern has become all too familiar: the Tories get into majority territory in the polls then promptly hand a proverbial baseball bat to the opposition and invite them to swing at will. A classic case of self-destructive behaviour and frustrating as hell for conservatives who support this otherwise well-intentioned government.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bev Oda’s Mea culpa

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has treated us to another example of why so many Canadians are tuning out politics and not fully participating in our democracy, especially at election time. The minister apparently decided to reverse her staff’s recommendation that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) fund KAIROS, a religious international justice advocacy group. She had every right to do this, but chose to be disingenuous about it.

A 2009 memo to Oda contained a recommendation from her department’s staff that KAIROS receive funding of about $7 million. Oda apparently disagreed with that advice and had the memo changed to reflect her decision—the word ‘not’ was inserted by hand so that the department recommendation then read:

“Recommendation: That you sign below to indicate you [NOT] approve a contribution….”

By that time Margaret Biggs, CIDA’s president, and Naresh Singh, another CIDA official, had both signed off on the positive recommendation. By inserting ‘not’ Oda certainly gave the impression the CIDA officials had also not approved the funding.

If this was not shameful, it was, at least, an example of the sort of clumsy ineptness one should not expect from a minister of the crown with responsibility for millions of taxpayer dollars.

Opposition MPs claim Oda told the Commons foreign affairs committee in December 2010—when asked who wrote the word “not” on the document—she did not know. Now she has reversed herself.

“The ‘not’ was inserted at my direction,” Oda admitted yesterday in the House of Commons. “Given the way the document was formatted, allowing only for concurrence, this was the only way to reflect my decision.”

Even her mea culpa sounds silly and misleading, for surely that was not the only way to reflect her decision. And to compound Oda’s gaffe, St. Catharines Conservative MP Richard Dykstra attempted to defend her actions on CTV’s Power Play. Bad behaviour is just that, regardless of who’s side one is on. Surely we’re better than this.

Sad really when a truthful explanation from the beginning would have avoided all this fuss.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Conservatives open 12.5 point gap over Liberals: is Ignatieff still bullish on election?

The federal Conservatives are again flirting with majority territory. The latest EKOS survey found 37.3 per cent of respondents would vote for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives if an election were held now, compared with only 24.8 per cent who said they’d support Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals. Gotta love those Tories! Their 12.5-point lead is their largest since October 2009.


PM Stephen Harper

While Conservatives increased their lead by two percentage points over the past two weeks, support for the Liberals fell by more than three points over the same period. And Jack Layton’s New Democrats’ support remained steady at 14.2 per cent of respondents.

Michael Ignatieff and his Liberal Party team have been very vocal about the possibility/probability they might defeat a budget that does not roll back corporate tax cuts. It’ll be interesting to see how bullish they are about an election if other polls confirm these somewhat surprising results.

A 12.5 percentage point lead puts the Tories right at the edge of majority territory and the Grits at the bottom of their support range. According to EKOS chief Frank Graves on CBC TV’s Power & Politics last evening, the Conservatives now also enjoy a 10-11 point lead in Ontario and an 11-12 point lead in the 905/416 GTA area. Conservatives are also ahead with women.

With these numbers and such a low reading for the Liberals (Dion territory), the traditional 40-41-points may not be needed for PM Harper to get a majority in an election.

This also suggests the prime minister could get his majority government regardless of the level of support he receives from Quebec. Loosening the Quebec death-lock on Canadian federal politics will be good for all Canadians. Perhaps then Quebec voters will stop sending to Ottawa MPs with the stated intention of destroying our country.

Spring election, anyone?

The New Democrats must also be concerned: their 14.2 per cent support would yield them less seats after an election than they have now.

Grits are probably praying the NDP will save their bacon by finding something to like in the upcoming Tory budget so a spring election can be avoided.

[NB: a random sample by EKOS of 1,652 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey between Feb. 4-9. The margin of error associated with the total sample is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.]

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Shouldn’t Egyptians save their cheers for when democracy is achieved?

Egyptians cheer and the world’s media cheer with them. While one can’t help but wish them well in their days of triumph, I do hope such wild jubilation and celebration are not premature.

Realistically though, just what has been accomplished?


Gamal Abdel Nasser
(1918 – 1970)
2nd president of Egypt

Yes, a 30-year despot has been ousted and at surprisingly little human cost. No bad news there. But, from my vantage point, I see a country that has had dictatorships in one form or another for pretty well all of its long, storied history, and I see little prospect of that changing any time soon.

A month ago, the army was the power behind the throne in Egypt; today the army is the power behind the throne in Egypt. That’s what gives me reason to pause and reflect on whether the people of that country are really any closer to democracy than they ever were. The Egyptian army may guarantee stability and a level of security, but that’s a far cry from what I’ve heard and read the ordinary Egyptian wants. Do they really see the exchange of a Hosni Mubarak dictatorship for military dictatorship as a road to democracy? Perhaps it is, but that certainly has not been the case elsewhere.

And remember the Free Officers Movement of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952. The Free Officers did not intend to install themselves in the Egyptian government, but to establish a parliamentary democracy. After assuming power, Nasser and the Free Officers expected to become “guardians of the people’s interests” while leaving the day-to-day tasks of government to civilians. Sound ominously familiar? Instead, however, the Free Officers Movement led directly to 60 years of uninterrupted dictatorship in Egypt.

When power is secured by a military junta—even ones helped to power by a popular uprising—that power is seldom relinquish by free elections. And, on the rare occasions when that does happen, the military almost always only allows those who will do their bidding to remain in office after a successful election.

I hope for the best for that hapless land, but fear the worst.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Toronto intelligentsia swoon over Calgary mayor

The Toronto elite—intelligentsia as some would say—are beside themselves with envy over Calgary electing a visible minority, and Muslim to boot, as their mayor. The city’s elite and mainstream media Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi talks at the Canadian Club on Wednesday, February 9, 2011, at the Royal York in Toronto, Ont.filled a posh ballroom last Wednesday for a Canadian Club of Toronto luncheon at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, in the heart of Toronto’s business district to hear a speech by Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Apparently, the new mayor is pitching the idea of adding a “penny” (1%) to the GST to help build social infrastructure facilities such as libraries and arts and recreation centres. It’s what the mayor calls the “muscular urban agenda.”

Sounds like the tired old tax-and-spend mantra we’ve been fed for decades. Nenshi admitted that he expects the “penny tax” proposal will be controversial, but he wanted to open the discussion.

Controversial? Is a proposal to gouge another percentage point of GST out of the economy to add libraries and arts and recreation centres controversial? You bet it is! I might have more sympathy for the proposal if the added tax was to be used exclusively for more roads, bridges and sewers—you know, the sort of stuff that’s been decaying and crumbling around us for the past few decades. But more art centres?

Toronto’s media has been drawing comparisons between Nenshi and Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford, usually not favourable to Ford. Here’s a quote from Nenshi:

“Whereas I firmly believe that the city has to justify every penny it spends—I’m a lot like your [Toronto’s] new mayor [Rob Ford] that way—I also believe that I can justify the city spending taxpayers’ money on investments in the social and urban fabric.”

Like I said, tax and spend.

To politicians, infrastructure always seems to mean “libraries and arts and recreation centres,” seldom “roads, bridges and sewers?” The former is easier to sell to the intelligentsia who in turn give their support in media circles.

Please go home Mr. Nenshi, Ontario municipal and provincial politicians don’t need encouragement to increase our taxes from a charismatic and popular Westerner—they’ve been doing a fine job of that for decades.

I’ll stick with Rob Ford’s philosophy: “stop the gravy train” and “end the waste.” Sooner or later we’ve got to say, enough! We already pay enough tax. More money just fattens the pocket books of those who live off the public purse and adds to their perks.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No Kirpans in Quebec legislature say MLAs

In the latest move in Quebec’s so-called identity or reasonable accommodation debates, a motion passed unanimously in the Quebec legislature to ban the Sikh kirpan from its premises. All 113 MLAs present, including Premier Jean Charest, agreed that the Sikh religious symbol should be banned in the legislature, supporting security personnel who recently blocked visitors from entering the building while wearing their kirpans.

The kirpan is, of course, allowed in the House of Commons, and at least one Liberal MP wears it on a daily basis, but the provincial body sees the issue differently.

The issue is one wherein rights are in conflict: freedom of religion with secular law/regulations.

I’m all for cultural accommodation and include religious accommodation here. When such accommodation conflicts with secular law, however, my position is always to side with the law, recognizing that in a secular state freedom of religion must have its limits.

Where cultural or religious practices conflict, not with the law, but with normal or traditional practice, I believe we can and should be more accommodating. Even then, however, there are limitations to the extent to which I believe we should bend. Certain Canadian practices and norms are so central to our identity, I say that religious and cultural practices must give way to them.

Here I include the wearing burkas or other garments that cover the face and body making identification of the wearer impossible. Cover whatever else you chose, but I want to be able to see peoples’ faces. Some of my neighbours wear headscarves for modesty—they are Muslims from the United Kingdom—and I see that as acceptable, but I draw the line when the face is covered in pubic.

Many defend kirpans claiming they are not weapons, but clearly some of them are. In fact, some Sikhs apparently will not wear the purely ceremonial daggers, insisting that only fully functional ones are true kirpans. It is as disingenuous to claim kirpans are never used as weapons for clearly they sometimes are.

In September 2008, Montreal police charged a 13-year-old student with threatening his schoolmates with a kirpan and the boy was found guilty. And in April 2010, the temple president was stabbed in the abdomen with a kirpan at the Sikh Lehar Centre in Brampton, Ontario.

In cases where small folding knives are banned, then so should the kirpan. If the Houses of Parliament wish to make exceptions of the kirpan, then it is their prerogative to do so. Though I don’t see that my wife—who had her penknife confiscated at the doors of the House—is any more of a danger with her less-than-3-inch penknife than is our kirpan-wearing MP. But such is the unevenness of the application of our laws in Canada: individual who are members of the majority lose rights; members of minority groups gain rights.

In my view, freedom of expression is the most fundamental of all natural rights, and if—as we have already acknowledged in Canada—citizens must accept limitations to their right to free expression, then too must they accept limitations to their right to freedom to practice their religion.

Either we want to have a secular state, or we want to have a multi-religion state here in Canada, and I vote for the former.

It’s nice to see the Quebec legislature providing some clarity on this issue.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Mike Harris’s golden era

Those who defend and justify Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government record like to remind Ontario residents of the Mike Harris era. To hear them tell it, those were dark days indeed, filled with labour strife and cuts to the education and health care sectors.

Revisionist history, folks.

Mike Harris’s terms were from June 26, 1995 to April 15, 2002. He assumed power after 10 years of inept, ruinous Liberal and New Democrat government rule and set about implementing the promises he had made during the election that won him the premiership of the province. A much needed agenda considering that the deficit had reached a record $10-billion under the now-Liberal but then NDP, Bob Rae.

Harris’s promises were outlined in “Common Sense Revolution” platform—no hidden agenda from him. It focused on tax reduction, balancing the budget, reducing the size and role of government, and emphasized individual economic responsibility, putting an end to, or significantly reducing, government hand-outs.

The Tory political ads back then spoke in terms like: working for welfare, scrapping affirmative action and cutting taxes to promote more employment. In other words, just plain common sense and the public loved it, giving Harris and his PC team a solid majority government in 1995, with the PCs taking 82 of 130 seats at the Queen’s Park legislature. Harris followed up on the election by doing pretty much what he had promised—not something of which any thoughtful person could accuse Dalton McGuinty.

What the opponents of conservative government like to dwell on were the cuts they claim were made to health care and education and the downloading of some provincial costs to municipalities, all the while ignoring the roll the progressive government of Jean Chrétien’s was playing in Ottawa.

Chrétien and then finance minister, Paul Martin, had launched a program of deep cuts to provincial transfers after winning the federal election in 1993. These cuts were having a dramatic effect on Ontario’s finances, especially since the province relied on federal transfers for a substantial portion of its health care budget—if memory serves, about 40 per cent.

Yes, there were cuts under Harris’s government, needed cuts. And, yes, nurses were laid off, a mistake that was corrected for the most part later in his term. Harris also increased health spending to record levels to counter transfer cuts from the Liberal federal government.

The Harris government also took on the teachers’ unions by insisting on badly needed reforms. And, yes, the unions balked at anything and everything the government did that were not designed specifically to benefit the teachers or their all-too-powerful and arrogant unions. This came to a head in 1997 when Ontario’s teachers walked out on our kids in an illegal strike that the Harris government roundly condemned and to which it refused to knuckle under—the teachers got little in the way of significant changes to government policies.

The Harris PCs had won a legal election and had received a major mandate from the voters of the province, but the unions weren’t having any of that. They participated in work stoppages and several large protests and near-riots on the grounds of the Ontario Legislature—a shameful and undemocratic period in our province’s political history.

Under Harris’s PCs, economic indicators in Ontario, for the first time in years, improved dramatically. During their first term, Ontario’s economy expanded faster than most North American jurisdictions. That has not happened under any Liberal or New Democrat government in Ontario in the past half century. And Harris was able to manage prudently enough to eliminate the record high deficit run up by the NDP.

Mike Harris so thoroughly proved himself to be an effective economic manager that the voters of Ontario gave him another majority government.

Those were golden years, not dark days, and I yearn for the return of those good old days. Over to you Tim Hudak.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

McGuinty’s endless fog

The premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, tells us that Ontario won’t go back to its buck-a-beer days… pity. Those were better days. He says it’s Ontario won’t go back to its buck-a-beer days, Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.part of the “endless fog” of pre-election musings to even suggest we do so. He scolds us when he says that people have more important issues in mind when it comes to the October 6 election, such as the economy, jobs, education and health care.

So what has happened since the premier and Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan quietly passed a regulation effectively outlawing the popular buck-a-beer, bowing to pressure from the big breweries—his pals—and disguising the measure as being made to promote “social responsibility”? (According to sources, a letter released at the time showed Duncan was acceding to a demand by the brewing industry.)

I take from McGuinty’s remarks that back when we could get 24 beers for $24 a case, people were not worried about the economy, jobs, education and health care. And that’s why his government could concentrate on the welfare of the provinces largest and richest brewers.  Back then, he and Duncan apparently had time to accede to brewers’ demands that beer from smaller breweries like Lakeport Brewing Co.’s Honey Larger receive a price increase, even though they did not ask for one. The popularly priced buck-a-beer was cutting into the sales of powerhouses Labatt and Molson, and we couldn’t have that. According to one Liberal insider, “The brewers are literally the most successful lobby that is out there.”

According to McGuinty, the minimum price of a case of beer was increased for the sake of “social responsibility.” Talk about “endless fog.” An average senior couple on a fixed income who likes to have a beer once in a while has to pay more because the premier says we need more “social responsibility.” Wow!

Is this the same social responsibility that promotes liquor sales with glossy Vintages catalogs and fancy websites? Or perhaps it’s the monopoly our provincial government maintains on legal gambling and the high-profile promotion campaigns for that self-destroying vice? And what about the rampant corruption within its tightly controlled gaming industry? Social responsibility indeed!

“Endless fog?” Well, perhaps October 6 will see and end to it… at least, to McGuinty’s version.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Liberals, NDP politicians don’t, but majority of Canadians favour integrated border

The progressive politicians of our country seem to see nothing wrong with us signing multilateral/international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and other United Nations initiatives that infringe on our sovereignty. They, in fact, insist on such agreements though they fight the Conservatives tooth and nail over bilateral agreements with the United States, our closest friend and ally and the nation on which we have relied for our security for decades.

Liberal-NDP politicians are only too pleased to see us save tens of billions in military spending over the past 60 years because we have been able to rely on the United States to protect us. But they are outraged at the prospect of providing U.S. officials with personal details of passengers on our airplanes that fly over U.S. airspace. Why shouldn’t the United States want to know the details of those flying above their heads? It was less that a decade ago that airplanes were used to murder nearly 3,000 innocent Americans, and so I don’t blame them for being excessively cautious.

Now we have Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals standing with likeminded Jack Layton New Democrats to attack the perimeter security agreement announced last week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Under the agreement, officials from both countries have been assigned to develop an action plan aimed at deterring terrorists and improving border infrastructure, and to find ways to ease obstacles to the free flow of goods and services across the border by cutting red tape and harmonizing rules and regulations.

The deal was only just announced and the process not even started and already Michael Ignatieff was attacking it, trying to frighten Canadians by intimating the big bad Americans will want too much data about us.

“Canadians want to travel freely across the border,” he said, “but the question is, how much information about ourselves are we being asked to surrender to American authorities?” In Calgary, the chief Grit blasted the proposal as a secretive deal that threatens Canadian sovereignty.

Even CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said on last Sunday’s TV program, Question Period, he found nothing secretive about the process and that he was able to find whatever information he needed. And Fife can hardly be considered a Harper apologist.

Virtually ever deal made between nations involves giving up some degree of sovereignty. There is almost always a tradeoff between retaining the option of unilateral action and the restrictions negotiated in a treaty. We made concessions when we signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the U.S. in 1988—the Liberals and New Democrats opposed that deal also, and for much the same reasons.

The FTA, and its replacement NAFTA, has worked out extremely well for Canadians. For, while there is no way to exactly measure the ramifications of the agreements, subsequent to their signing, trade between our two nations increased rapidly. Following several decades when exports averaged about 25 per cent of Canada’s GDP, starting in 1990 exports averaged close to 40 per cent of GDP, reaching about 50 percent by 2000.

In 2008, Canada exported $381-billion in goods and services to the United States and Mexico and imported $245-billion from those NAFTA countries. Hardly anyone in the Canadian mainstream now disputes NAFTA’s advantages, and even the NDP’s Gary Doer of Manitoba has openly praised its benefits.

So important were the free trade deals that the then Liberal leader Jean Chrétien, who campaigned vehemently against them, promising to renegotiate or abrogate them, instead broke his campaign pledge and let them be.

So, before attacking the government for the sake simply of making it look bad, Ignatieff and Layton should give the process a chance. That’s what the majority of Canadians want them to do, according to a new Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey. That poll found:

  • 75 per cent of respondents supported shared intelligence gathering.
  • Eighty-four per cent supported harmonizing food-safety regulations.
  • 70 per cent favoured creation of a bilateral agency to oversee the building of new border infrastructure.

Again the ineffectual Ignatieff finds himself on the opposite side of an issue to the position favoured by most Canadians—the fellow just doesn’t get it, eh?

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is multiculturalism failing?

The United Kingdom’s cultural evolution often leads ours by a few years, or so it seems to me. We can sometimes look across the pond to get a preview of the sort of change we can expect Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a news conference at the end of a EU summit in Brussels February 4, 2011within the next  decade or so.

One trend I’d like to see arrive at our shores is the frank talk I’m hearing from Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron on issues such as prudent/restrained fiscal management and the failure of state multiculturalism.

There are many of us centre-right conservatives who believe that state multiculturalism has provided a safe haven for people with anti-Western political views. As Cameron pointed out in a speech to a security conference in Munich, “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”

Cameron sees elements of multiculturalism in his country as contributors to extremism and terrorism. And he has been bold enough to say so without pandering to the politically correct, or to those who argue earnestly that our tolerant approach is the lifeblood of any open and thriving democracy, and fear that, if we downplay multiculturalism, those who wish to follow different and sometimes separate cultures will have their civil liberties undermined.

Cameron stressed “that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.” He acknowledged, however, “that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.”

Cameron said that in the United Kingdom, there are young Muslim men who “find it hard to identify with Britain … because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.”

Cameron believes that because of what he calls “the doctrine of state multiculturalism,” his country has “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.” And, further, that the United Kingdom has “failed to provide a vision of society to which they [young Muslim men] feel they want to belong.”  Cameron added, “We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

Cameron believes that to counter extremism, “instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.” He believes, “we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home.”  And offers this advice:

“A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them.  Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.  It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things.  Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.”

Cameron added that, as practical things that we can do, we can make sure “that immigrants speak the language of their new home” and ensure “that people are educated in the elements of a common culture and curriculum.”

Hear, hear!

There seem to be several lessons we can learn from the experiences of our European allies. Are you listening, PM Stephen Harper?

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stunning job numbers

In what was the biggest gain in net new jobs since April of last year, Canadian jobs data for January—a net gain of 69,200 jobs—was nothing short of stunning as it surpassed all expectations and was more than 4 times greater than the market’s consensus.

The numbers show that new jobs were spread nicely among self-employed work, 20,100; full-time work, 31,100; and part-time work, 38,000. Looking back to the same month last year, we see excellent job creation gains in which part-time employment grew 91,000, while full-time jobs increased 236,000.

Among these very positive gains, I noticed that manufacturing was able to add 4,000 workers in the month, which comes on the heels of December’s surprising gain of 66,000 jobs.

These numbers testify to the sound management of Prime Minister Harper and his team in steering us through the financial crisis and resulting recession from the latter half of 2008 through early 2010. Recovery through 2010 was slow, but seems to be gaining speed—something to be thankful for.

One sour note was sounded, however. Over the past 12 months, 118,700 jobs were added to the already bloated public sector. For how much longer can our governments sustain this level of growth? They’ve got to start paring back and farming services out to the private sector where wages and benefits are at a more realistic level.

[source]

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Liberals waffling on national child-care

The senior Liberal MP Ken Dryden says the country cannot afford the Liberal’s national child-care program that Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrapped five years ago after he first took office. Dryden, the former Ken Dryden earned a massive roar of applause when he took the stage. Liberal cabinet minister who put that child-care program in place, now tells Canadians:

“It is our [Liberal Party of Canada] intention to proceed as we did before in terms of the creation of a national, early-learning and child-care program. We have to be respectful of the existing circumstances. The state of the economy is not what it was five years ago, or seven years ago when we started in on this.”

I take from this that the Liberals are waffling on another of their major initiatives. How does one reconcile Dryden’s statement with the one his leader made only a year ago?

Last February, Michael Ignatieff said that Canada will get a national child-care program under a future Liberal government, no matter how big the federal deficit has grown. Back then, Ignatieff gave no indication the program—which he implied was a major priority of his party—would be scaled back. In fact, he told reporters in Ottawa:

“We will find the money, because it seems to me an excellent investment. I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.”

What a difference a year makes. Canada’s fiscal prospects have not deteriorated in the past 12 months—many, in fact, will argue it has actually improved. So what is Dryden really trying to say?

Perhaps the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt is correct when she writes:

“There’s been some speculation that the Liberals have shifted their policy emphasis away from child care and toward care of the sick and elderly because of voting demographics. Put simply, the people who need child care are less likely to vote than the seniors or aging Baby Boomers who would take advantage of the Liberals’ family-care plan—and maybe even shift their vote because of it.”

With Liberals it’s seldom about what’s best for Canadians, and always about what’ll get them the most votes.

Only a couple of days ago, during a break in a discussion on poverty and the homeless in Canada, the chief Grit is reported to have said that child-care is a key part of that discussion, which is “the number one social priority of an incoming Liberal government.”

It’s as if Grit politicians are running about the country waving their little hands trying to get the attention of Canadians. They are like lost sheep in a foggy meadow. They say this, they say that, desperate to get some traction with an issue that resonates with voters. It’s become obvious that they’re so desperate, they’ll say anything they believe might help secure victory in the next election.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Ignatieff’s descent into socialism?

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has recently been elbowing the New Democrats out of the way so he can attack the Harper government’s pro-business agenda. A bit rich coming from the leader of a party which, untilLiberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says his party will not be the 'guarantors' of the future of the Conservative government. recently, championed the need for corporate tax cuts.

Yesterday, Ignatieff used Question Period in the House of Commons to imply to Canadians that any government that cuts corporate taxes is somehow “lining up behind banks and insurance companies” and is thereby precluded from being on the side of “middle class Canadian families”—as if the two things are mutually exclusive. His question in the House was:

“When will the Prime Minister stop lining up behind banks and insurance companies and start lining up behind middle class Canadian families who need security in retirement?”

Even more unseemly is the eagerness with which the chief Grit is embracing NDP policy positions. Jack Layton has barely enough time to articulate a social position before Ignatieff snatches it away and calls it his own. Has the former professor moved so far to the left since he was a teacher at Harvard, or has the influential socialist wing of his party taken full control of policy? I’m inclined to believe the latter.

I cannot think of a single pro-business policy position to come from the Liberals in several months. All they ever seem to want to tell us about is their plan to increase corporate taxes so they can enrich pensions, implement national daycare and increase funding for homecare. Almost all of which, by the way, are provincial, not federal, responsibilities.

Ignatieff has even borrowed Jack Layton’s euphemism for the term “spending.” Like Layton and other socialists, Ignatieff uses the term “investment” when he’s talking about government “spending” on social programs. With “investments,” one expects direct returns and the original expenditure remains intact as some form of asset that will produce returns on into the future. While one might expect good things to come from prudent government “spending” on social programs, the expenditures, once made, are gone and have to be re-spent year after year.

Perhaps as a prelude to a coalition with the New Democrats, the federal Liberals are synchronizing their policies. [smile]

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Politics: nothing personal, just business

The recent news that former Grit insider, Rocco Rossi, has defected to the Conservative side has prompted several partisan comments. Those Tories—federal and provincial—who formerly disliked the man and his politics now Rocco Rossi, left, is congratulated by Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak outside the Ontario Provincial Legislature on Tuesday after Hudak announced that Rossi will seek the nomination for the Ontario PC Party in the riding of Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence. find both quite acceptable. And those Grits who were his political and personal buddies now call him names like “Benedict Baldy.”

I remember how I felt when senior Progressive Conservative and leadership hopeful, Scott Brison, crossed the floor of the federal House to join the governing Liberals. I saw the man as a traitor to his cause. I can hardly, therefore, be too condemning of those who harbour similar sentiments towards Rossi, who was a very senior insider in the Liberal Party. It does make me question, however, the hyper-partisanship of modern politics, where the polar extremes seem to be the preferred vantage points of so many political pundits.

Should we not try harder to separate the man from his politics? Would Canada not be better served if we elected the best candidates rather than the “right” candidate, the one representing political ideology we support? I worry when partisanship subsumes our hopes and aspirations for a better Canada, not just a Canada governed under our preferred political ideology.

Then there is the personal nature of the venting of former friends. “Benedict Baldy,” Really! Aren’t friends ever allowed to change their minds? Not when it comes to politics, apparently.

My party right or wrong is a dumb idea—anti-intellectual, in my humble opinion. And basing friendship on political affiliation is silly—some of my best friends are Liberals [smile], not many NDP friends, though.

No one shouldn’t be expected to stick to a single political party indefinitely. Once a party or political movement ceases to meet one’s personal goals and objectives, one owes it to oneself to move on. Blind loyalty to God, family and country is one thing—I heartily support this, but to a political cause?

I welcome Rocco Rossi to the right side, may he live long and get elected [sorry, Star Wars].

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Egyptians clash in Cairo: a sign of what’s to come?

The situation in Egypt might be worsening as we hear today of violent clashes between protesters and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak. The situation there may yet turn into a bloodbath. It does not seem inEgyptian protesters clash in Tahrir Square the nature of Arab countries to weather important changes and transitions in a non-violent manner.

Say all you want about American involvement in Iraq—assign all the blame to them for every negative thing that has happened there—and you’re still left with the seeming inability of Arabs to settle major political disputes without resorting to violence. The level of Arab-on-Arab violence in Iraq has been tragic, but seemingly inevitable.

Listening to Egyptian expatriates on the Michael Coren Show Tuesday evening (video not yet available), I couldn’t help wondering if panelists’ Pollyanna-like view of recent developments is widely shared on the streets of Cairo. Democracy is breaking out and individual freedoms are about to become the norm seemed to be their common sentiment, which Coren didn’t seem share; he was far more pessimistic of a democratic outcome.

I’m with Coren on this. I’ll be very surprised if the situation in Egypt ends well for the ordinary Egyptian. Democracy had to be forced on Iraq and there it’s tentative at best, even though it’s been guaranteed by the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. and British troops in that country.

I hope for the best, but fear the worst.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Has Rocco Rossi defected to the Tories?

Now Magazine and InsideToronto.com report that Rocco Rossi has become a Tory. Apparently, the former national director of the Liberal Party of Canada and Liberal fundraiser, who recently bowed out of a bid to be Toronto’s mayor, has agreed to run as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Toronto’s Eglinton-Lawrence riding in the next provincial general election October 6.

Rocco Rossi was former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory’s campaign manager when he failed in an attempt to become Toronto’s mayor in 2003.

Ontario PCs desperately need to break through in Toronto and Rossi might be someone who can appeal to those voters who have accepted Rob Ford as their mayor.

The Eglinton-Lawrence seat has been held by Liberal Mike Colle since 1995.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

CRTC siding with mega ISPs to limit competition

Some time ago, the country’s largest ISPs changed their Internet usage policy so that they could charge heavy users more. To do so, they capped their base usage allowance and set a high price on usage above the cap. Ordinarily no problem, right? Just the free market at work.

Well, not really. There’s nothing free about the Internet Service Provider (ISP) market in Canada.

To begin with, the mega-ISPs are large telecom corporations and television cable companies, all of whom are protected from open, unfettered competition by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Additionally, the CRTC has agreed with arguments from large ISPs such as Bell and Rogers Communications that usage-based billing is a way to encourage heavy users to reduce their usage. Nonsense, folks, more Internet is a good thing for consumers and is not nearly as costly to ISPs as their charges imply.

For a while, independent wholesalers could buy large blocks of usage from Bell, etc., and retail to customers in competition to the mega companies by providing unlimited (or practically so) services to their customers. This fall, however, the CRTC sided with the large ISPs and put a stop to that—wholesalers themselves are now pretty well forced to move to usage-based billing—severely limiting competition and artificially driving up the cost to consumers.

Now we have the prospect of usage-based billing as our only option with charges above the cap set at anywhere from $1 to $4 for each gigabyte when the cost per gigabyte to the ISPs is about one penny—some mark-up, eh?

You can get more information here and below are a couple of videos explaining what is going on.

 

 

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell, except videos,
All rights reserved.

Poll: Canadians like Tory minority

If findings from a new Ipsos Reid poll can be relied upon, Canadians seem to prefer the idea of a Conservative Party of Canada minority in power rather than a Liberal-led coalition government, if the Tories can’t win a majority in the next election. This is just the sort of news we need to help focus the minds of those Grits who are agitating for a federal election.

Apparently, 55 per cent of respondents would rather see a Conservative minority running the country, and only 45 per cent said they would support a government run by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton. And, with only 16 per cent of respondents saying they believe Michael Ignatieff would be the best fit as prime minister (48% favoured PM Harper; 35% favoured Jack Layton), this cannot be good news for Liberals.

Adding the Bloc Québécois support to any Liberal-NDP coalition drives support for that prospect to 39 per cent—a figure too low, I believe, to be a real option.

While the Tories can’t seem to garner enough support for a majority government, Canadians still seem to prefer to see them running the country. The Liberals seem to be so busy playing to the press gallery and news networks they haven’t noticed that ordinary Canadians are not buying their spin—or their leader. So why do they seem so anxious for an election?

Perhaps senior Grits like Bob Rae feel they need to go through an election, even if it means losing, so they can then replace the ineffectual Michael Ignatieff. Or perhaps it’s Michael Ignatieff who wants to put his campaign skills to the test and if—as it seems likely—he loses, he can return to academia, a place to which he’s far better suited. Perhaps Ignatieff is fed up playing second fiddle to PM Harper and wants out if he can’t be the prime minister.

 

(Between Jan. 24 and Jan. 27, 1,006 Canadian adults were interviewed online for the Ipsos Reid survey, which has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

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