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Friday, February 28, 2014

Is Ukraine our “Munich moment”?

The situation in Ukraine—vis–à–vis Russia—bears too close a liking for comfort to the one faced by the French and British when they signed the Munich Pact with Hitler’s Germany.

Signing that infamous agreement in 1938 pretty well sealed Czechoslovakia’s fate as it was virtually handed over to Germany. In return for this shameful appeasement, we were supposed to get what British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared was “peace in our time.”

We know, however, how short a peace that turned out to be, and how horrible a war it was that terminated it. Here’s how it is described by History.com:

Although the agreement was to give into Hitler’s hands only the Sudentenland, that part of Czechoslovakia where 3 million ethnic Germans lived, it also handed over to the Nazi war machine 66 percent of Czechoslovakia’s coal, 70 percent of its iron and steel, and 70 percent of its electrical power. It also left the Czech nation open to complete domination by Germany. In short, the Munich Pact sacrificed the autonomy of Czechoslovakia on the altar of short-term peace-very short term. … By the time of the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the nation called ‘Czechoslovakia’ no longer existed.”

At this time, Ukraine faces an existential threat from neighbouring Russia, much as the Czechs faced from Germany in the late 1930s. And, just as Czechoslovakia’s Sudentenland was home to a large population of ethnic Germans and a large store of strategic minerals, Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula contains more than 1.5-million ethnic Russians and is the base of the Black Sea Fleet, a major strategic unit of the Russian Navy.

So the stakes are high for Ukraine, and not at all unlike those on the table at Munich. Furthermore, those to whom Ukraine looks for its protection show no more resolve to go to war than did the British and French in 1938.

To this potent mix we can add support from the United States, the archrival of the Russians, and the European Union. And, a few years ago, this might have been enough to tip the odds in Ukraine’s favour. After recent “defeats” in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, these nations seem willing to offer only moral and financial support—no little thing I might add, but not the military guarantee of its continued existence in its current form Ukraine so desperately needs.

According to CBC News reports on Friday, Ukraine has accused Russia of a “military invasion and occupation.” Ukraine says Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports in Crimea. The report adds that Russia has not denied the accusations, and has confirmed that armoured Russian vehicles were moving about in Crimea for “security” reasons.

In other words, the barbarians are not just at the gates, they’re inside the walls. I pity the poor Ukraine for it is unable to take on the Russians militarily on their own, and there is nowhere for it to turn for military help to save the Crimea and hold its country together.

There’s no point them looking to Europe for military help. Germany does not really take on combat roles, as we saw in Afghanistan where German troops mainly operated in the comparatively quiet north of the country.

Furthermore, Russia is the largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the European Union—would Chancellor Merkel want to see Germans “freezing in the dark?”

As for the French, they will fight, but only when they have skin in the game, and I doubt they’d shed blood in exchange for guaranteeing Ukraine’s independence.

I believe the British would fight, if only they still had the wherewithal to do so and if the Conservatives weren’t part of a parliament which has little stomach for boots on the ground in Ukraine or anywhere else, as demonstrated by a recent vote against military intervention in Syria, after the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack which killed hundreds of people.

So that leaves Barak Obama to guarantee Ukraine’s security. Well, good luck to the Ukrainians. Think of the bloody nose Georgia received when it was left alone to fend of Russian aggression in 2008. As the Dallas Morning News’ Jim Mitchell wrote recently, “Obama’s ‘line’ in Ukraine seems a lot like his “red line” in Syria.

Moreover, I believe the Russians know Obama will not go to the aid of Ukraine in any meaningful way if American lives are put at risk. At this point in their history, Americans seem to be more talk than walk—at least, in military terms where American army or marine boots are concerned.

So, yes, poor Ukraine for I fear they’ll have to get along without Crimea starting very soon.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Shine rubbing off the brand new Liberal party?

Recent events highlight how quickly a shiny new political party can lose some of its gloss. Last week, at a time the Liberals were celebrating their astonishing comeback under leader Justin Trudeau, we saw some tarnish showing up on the carefully polished exterior of Canada’s third-party.

And, of course, this is a new Liberal party. Gone is the iron fist of Jean Chrétien and the short knives and long memories of Paul Martin. Gone too is the dominance of the Quebec wing and all Liberal senators. This has become a party retrofitted for the new leader—an “as new” version, so to speak.

By now, most readers have heard about Trudeau’s tasteless attempt at a joke that failed miserably and forced him to apologize. Gaffe number one for the week was one that—combined with several others over the past couple of years—reminds everyone that this emperor might, in fact, be naked—at least, naked of the skills needed to lead our nation.

Gaffe number two was Trudeau’s poor media management efforts during and just following the Grits’ biannual convention this past weekend, to wit:

Firstly, on Friday, retired general and star Liberal recruit Andrew Leslie performed poorly at a press conference meant to explain away his $72,000 moving costs.

Leslie had strongly implied in his speech to delegates that the Conservatives had leaked information because he chose not to join them instead of the Grits. Later, though, while facing reporters he was more coy,  refusing to say if he initiated contact with the Conservatives. And, subsequently, e-mails published by the Toronto Star show the former general had several conversations regarding him working with the Conservative Party.

Secondly, there was Justin Trudeau’s own behaviour regarding media representatives.

In a confusing announcement to reporters on Saturday, Liberal officials said that Trudeau would not hold a press conference at the end of the convention as was the custom.

One CBC source reported “growing media crankiness over Trudeau’s refusal to make himself available for post-convention scrums.” There were other reports that the mainstream media's attempts at questioning Trudeau as he sat down in the main hall were shot down.

Moreover, The Huffington Post reported this Tweet from Halifax Chronicle-Herald reporter Paul McLeod: “In a bizarre moment, Trudeau wouldn’t look at or acknowledge media as we tried to ask him questions.”

Yes, bizarre behaviour from the Liberal Leader who, apparently, prides himself on openness and transparency. He’s great at talking the talk but not so much so at walking the walk.

Finally, there is the odd behaviour of the Liberal leader towards another of his party’s stars, MP Marc Garneau. After Trudeau made an ass of himself on TV with his flippant remark, Garneau defended Trudeau and blamed the media fuss on partisan Conservative attacks.

Of course, poor Garneau was left to spin in the wind—or, as some might say, the hapless former astronaut was thrown under the Liberal buss—after Trudeau apologized.

Reading Garneau’s spirited defence of his leader, there seemed no reason for an apology, but I guess Garneau was left out of the loop on this one. But was he ever in the loop—a real insider, I mean. After all, during the leadership campaign he is quoted as having said Trudeau has been ducking the big issues.

“I believe that Canadians want to see substance. They don’t want empty words,” Marc Garneau said, referring to his leader.

Hm, I believe Garneau has Justin Trudeau pegged just right.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Too bad the Liberal party isn’t playing by baseball rules

So, Justin Trudeau has apologized for his gaffe, belated though it was. It's time to move on. Or is it? This most recent incident reminds me this is the third leader in a row the Liberal Party of Canada has selected who is giving every indication he is unprepared to lead the our government.

Stéphane Dion was their great hope of 2006. During his run for the leadership, he promised to focus on social justice, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability. This was supposed to bring Canada into the 21st century, though he did not make clear what century he thought Canada was in at the time.

Canadians sensibly turned down Mr. Dion’s proposal, which he had dubbed,  The Green Shift. The Green Shift, as envisioned by Mr. Dion, would have sucked, via a tax on carbon, $15 billion per year out of the Canadian economy to, in part, finance expensive social programs. The Grits dumped him after they lost the 2008 election—they had won only 77 seats, down from 103 won in the 2006 election.

Mr. Dion’s unsuitability for the post of prime minister can perhaps be summed up by recalling that, during a 2008 campaign interview on CTV, he asked the host three times to restart the interview because Mr. Dion didn’t understand a question about the economy. Here’s the question: “If you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?” Dion had three tries and couldn’t make a coherent reply.

Next the Grits gave us Michael Ignatieff. He, apparently, represented the “new” Liberal party. Mr Ignatieff had been out of the country for decades before returning in 2005 and eventually heading up the Liberal party in 2008.

The Liberals ended their six-year experiment with the former professor when they dumped him following his loss of his own seat, and the humbling defeat of the party as a whole. Ignatieff’s Liberals lost 43 seats, winning only 34.

Before Mr. Ignatieff’s ignominious loss, he virtually walked on water according to Liberal pundits across the country. Once he was defeated, however, we learned those same pundits shared many of the misgivings about the man held by conservative observers.

So now the Liberals have a new saviour in the form of Justin Trudeau. And already Mr. Trudeau is showing signs he’s just another Liberal misfit pretender to the office of prime minister.

Aside from his several gaffes—from calling cabinet minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit” to seeming to admire the Chinese form of government to his anti-Albertan slur when he opined, “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda”—Mr. Trudeau seems to believe in his own version of voodoo economics. Here’s what I mean:

Case one: Mr. Trudeau places what he apparently sees as the dreadful finance plight of Canada’s middle class at the centre of his statements about our economy, but—like I’ve said before on this blog—he’s all wrong. Only this week, Statistics Canada released a study showing the opposite of Mr. Trudeau’s assessment is true. Here’s an excerpt:

The median net worth of Canadian family units was $243,800 in 2012, up 44.5% from 2005 and almost 80% more than the 1999 median of $137,000, adjusted for inflation.”

Is Mr. Trudeau lying or merely misinformed?

Case two: In recent speeches Mr. Trudeau has said that Canada’s government debt-to-GDP ratio is great and that there is room for the federal government to “step up” and spend more. This is far from the real situation.

Canada recorded a Government Debt-to-GDP of 84.6 per cent in 2012. The IMF’s forecast for 2013 puts Canada’s gross combined debt–to-GDP at an eye-popping 87 per cent. That’s 13th highest among the 30 most advanced economies. And, by the way, this does not account for the increasingly high debt levels of most of our 10 provinces. That’s not great folks; that’s only so-so.

Justin Trudeau is probably looking at net debt figures, which includes a reduction in debt for the surpluses we have in, for example, public pension funds. But does any one of us want to see our pension money spent on paying down the debt? On what will we retire?

Really! How is this fellow ready for prime time?

Canada is not—to be fair—in dire straights as far as government debt is concerned, but we need to recognize that another recession or financial crisis could emerge at any time and we need the fiscal room to handle it. Ontario’s Liberal government, for example, is running up debt at an alarming pace. What if the federal government has to step up and rescue Ontario at some future point? No, adding substantially more debt at this time is hardly prudent.

It’s a good thing for Grits that their party doesn’t have to play by baseball rules. You know, three strikes and you’re out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tories need to learn when to let gaffes speak for themselves

Justin Trudeau made a tasteless attempt at a joke in an interview reportedly taped last Thursday and aired Sunday night on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle, a hugely influential French-language interview show in his home province of Quebec. Mr Trudeau’s attempt failed miserable and he’s been busy wiping egg off his face ever since.

Now one might think that would be good enough for his Ottawa opponents. But, no, our Conservative party had to launch a ham-handed ad hominem political attack on the popular Grit pointing out his gaffe. And in the process, they have managed to open themselves to accusations of politicizing the tragedy of the recent uprising in the Ukraine.

Lesson one: don’t make light of a tragic event that resulted in dozens of deaths. Lesson two: let the gaffe speak for itself, and don’t “spoil” it by chiming in with adolescent attempts to pile on.

In other words, let the media at large do the heavy lifting on this one. This, though, does not mean Mr. Trudeau’s ill-chosen words would not be fair game at a later time to show his apparent lack of judgement. It could perhaps be grouped with his statements uttered after the Boston Marathon bombing and his praise for Communist governments in an ad campaign questioning his skills needed for the office of prime minister.

As I see it, put some time between the Ukraine events and one’s criticism so one will not be considered gauche for politicizing a tragedy.

Oh well, another opportunity squandered.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Trudeau promises to slay dragons that leap only from his own imagination

The leader of the Liberal Party likes to go on about his plans as a champion of the middle class. Problem is, the challenges he’s identified are pretty much the challenges of the Jean Chrétien era, not those of the Stephen Harper years. 

In other words, to find the bleak economic outlook Mr. Trudeau paints of today’s Canada, one needs to go back to the 1990s, a period Andrew Coyne once wrote is “generally remembered as a golden age of rising incomes and enlightened, liberal-minded governments.” (I suspect Mr. Coyne had his tongue firmly in his cheek as he penned those words.)

The following is the story StatsCan’s figures tell—the real story, not Mr. Trudeau’s fear mongering and half truths.

The number of low-income earners (i.e., those living in poverty) topped out at about 15 per cent in the mid-1990s, and average family real after-tax income had fallen from a high of about $50,000 in 1980s to about $40,000 by then. Income inequality had also shot up with the share of taxable income going to the top 1 per cent rising from 8 per cent in 1980, to 12 per cent by 1998. (It may be instructional for readers to remember that by 1998 the Liberals had already been in office for five years.)

After the late 1990s, however, Canada’s economic prospects brightened a great deal with the foregoing statistics either turning around or levelling off.

The proportion of those of us living below StatsCan’s Low Income Cut-Off (LICO), has fallen sharply since the 1990s to an all-time record low today of below 9 per cent.

Furthermore, total family income and after-tax income (both adjusted for inflation) of the middle class are currently at all-time highs, despite the recent recession.

Moreover, the charge that income inequality has widened has been greatly exaggerated. According to figures, compiled by McMaster University’s Michael Veall, the share of the top 1 per cent of Canadian earners dropped in the 1930s through to about 1980 then rose sharply to about 2000, after which it’s bounced about a bit. As a consequence, the share of income going to the top 1 per cent in Canada was no higher in 2009 than a decade earlier.

Who would have thought, eh?

Listen to Mr. Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair and you’d think Canada’s economy was going to hell in a hand basket, when all the while things have never been better.

Perhaps Mr. Trudeau is confused by the media coverage in the US, which does have some widening income inequality issues and other serious challenges not faced here in Canada—or, at least, not nearly to the same extent. I guess he’s counting on other Canadians being similarly confused—he’s certainly doing his bit on that score.

A major weak spot in the Canadian economy is government debt, but Mr. Trudeau gets that wrong too. He wants to increase government debt—he says he wants the federal government to “step up” and spend more. In his mind, apparently, budget deficits automatically disappear if only governments spend enough. He famously said recently: focus on growing the economy “and the budget will balance itself.”

Enough said.

___

[Statistics source: StatsCan as reported by the National Post, 2013]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

MPP Naqvi, Ontario’s minister for labour

The Ontario Minister of Labour MPP Yasir Naqvi would be more accurately described if his title was minister for labour. This Liberal MPP is about as pro-labour as they come and displays about as much neutrality in management-labour matters as the infamous Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

Naqvi insisted on a recent episode of TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” that he was the minister “of” labour, not “for” labour.

“Making sure there is balance” in the workplace is a key responsibility of his portfolio, said Naqvi in answer to host Steve Paikin’s question. “As minister of labour your job is to make sure labour is healthy … labour has good paying jobs,” he explained as he talked about the distinction of “for” and “of” in his title.

Listening to Naqvi, it was all about what labour needs and nothing whatsoever about what’s fair to the employer.

I watched the original broadcast and replayed it later on the TVO website, and I really could not believe how pro-labour the minister’s comments invariably were.

The most telling of his comments was his insistence on choosing a pejorative term to describe a system many in Ontario, and elsewhere, consider fair—so called Right-to-Work. Instead of the far more common usage of “Right-to-Work” he always used “Right-to-Work for Less.” Is this the “balance” to which he so often referred?

This pro-union usage of his reminds me of how those who want to curb oil sands development, always refer to the oil sands as tar sands.

Right-to-Work (RTW) and non-RTW states in the US differ on many measures that are related to workplace wages and benefits, making it difficult to determine what, if any, the real impact of RTW has. RTW does, however, give individuals greater choice and lessens the grip unions have on workplaces in the public and private sectors.

The measure of success of RTW is not in higher wages and benefits, for that tells only part of the story, but in higher levels of employment and the general fairness and wellbeing of the societies in which the workforce lives.

Recently, the United Auto Workers’ union was rejected in a vote at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee to organize the plant. This despite the company’s lack of opposition to unions. The union also failed in an attempt to organize Nissan workers in Smyrna, Tennessee, in 2001.

Unions might drive up wages and benefits in the short term, but they also tend to drive away investment and jobs with voracious, insatiable demands for “more”, whether or not “more” is fair or sustainable. A fair wage is better than the highest wage, if the latter leads eventually to unemployment.

Thousands of workers in RTW states in the US have the “good paying jobs” Minister Naqvi seems so concerned with. So much so that, when given the choice of being organized by the UAW, they said no thank you.

Listen to the TVO episode (here) and decide for yourselves.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Entitlements and Ottawa go together like pork and barrel

The recent dustup in the media over retired general Andrew Leslie’s $72,000 expense claim for a move from his Ottawa home to another residence in the same city shortly after he retired reminds me of the apparent sense of entitlement that has been all too common in Ottawa for decades, perhaps centuries.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has defended the general on the grounds he is the target of a “pure partisan” attack.

Well, I suppose he has been a target of a partisan attack. He has, after all, made public the fact that he’s now on Trudeau’s Liberal team as a policy advisor and potential candidate. So, given the tone-deaf nature of his $72,225.86 expense claim, it would have been very strange indeed had he not been singled out for criticism by the Tories.

To be sure, the general, as I understand it, has broken no laws or any DND rules or regulations in making his claim. One would expect, however, that a mature adult would question the probity of charging taxpayers 150 per cent of the $48,250 the average Canadian worker makes in an entire year to move from one house to another within the same city.

In other words, the general deserves to be criticized for, at least, his lack of judgement. Furthermore, we can be sure that, had retired general Leslie decided to be PM Stephen Harper’s policy advisor, we would now be talking about the pure partisan attacks launched by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his team. So, as I see it, criticism of a partisan nature is reasonable to expect under the circumstances.

The overall moving policy for military personnel seems fair enough. And most examples I’ve read about seem substantiated, though, I did note CTV News staff’s comment that:

The defence department was unable to explain why some generals living alone on Afghan bases were able to claim hefty moving expenses.”

None of the other claims shown so far in the media come even close to Andrew Leslie’s—all are tens of thousands of dollars less, even those moving other retired generals halfway round the world.

Many Ottawa bureaucrats and politicians—remember the senate spending scandal—do seem to have an unreasonable/unhealthy sense of entitlement, especially when it comes to taxpayers’ money and their perks. Here’s an extract from a 2011 report in the National Post:

Parliamentary officials revealed this week that it cost $500,000 last year to shuttle MPs an extra few hundred metres, but the full cost of Parliament Hill’s miniature shuttle bus network remains a closely guarded secret.”

How many private sector employers do you think offer door-to-door shuttle service between buildings within easy walking distance? The Post reported:

… [parliamentarians have] a fleet of green buses to shuttle around an area the size of four city blocks. At average adult walking speeds, even the longest shuttle bus commute takes about 20 minutes by foot.”

So it’s not news that, in our nation’s capital, everyone who is connected with the government, whether through employment or election, seems to believe “I’m entitled to my entitlements,” as former Liberal cabinet minister and former CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint,  David Dingwall, so succinctly put it in 2005.

Dingwall was explaining to a parliamentary committee why he felt he should receive a hefty severance package after the voluntary resignation from a six-figure salary as head of the Canadian Mint. His departure came after revelations of questionable expense claims surfaced.

No kidding, eh? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Could Horwath pull plug on Wynne’s Liberals even if she wanted to?

The NDP leader Andrea Horwath seems to have gained confidence after her recent win in the Niagara Falls by-election and is now, as reported by Global News, warning she is prepared to defeat Kathleen Wynne’s minority Liberal government, if there are “any new taxes, tolls or fees [in the spring budget] that hit middle-class families.”

I wonder, though, whether Ms. Horwath actually has the authority to act on her own as leader or will she have to obtain permission from the trade unions who control her party.

And why, I wonder, would union bosses want a general election when they spent millions of dollars to have the Grits elected in the first place? Unions already have the best of both worlds: a minority Liberal government they helped elect, and their own political party in a position to keep that government in power.

As I see it, so long as the Grits continue playing ball, the unions are unlikely to allow the NDP to trigger an election. And, after the results of last week’s two Ontario by-elections that saw the Liberals lose both, the Grits are unlikely to do anything that will upset their cozy relationship with the union movement in the province.

So I wouldn’t read too much into NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s tough talk. Ms. Horwath said recently that voters in the by-elections sent a message that it was “time for a change.” Perhaps voters did send such a message, but an election will only come when union bosses decide it’s time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tory bait and switch…again?

An otherwise positive post-budget experience turned sour yesterday as the impression immerged that the Conservative government—Finance Minister  Jim Flaherty in particular, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper also—is waffling on a promise in the 2011 election campaign to bring in income splitting.

The finance minister seemed less than even lukewarm towards the income splitting idea when questioned by the media following his presentation of the federal budget for 2014. Here’s a quote from the minister as it was reported by the Financial Times:

I think income-splitting needs a long, hard analytical look … by our various think-tanks to see who it affects in society and to what degree.”

What sort of nonsense is this? Income splitting was a central promise in the Conservatives’ 2011 election campaign. Back then we were told how, once the budget was balanced, the Conservative party planned:

to take an historic step forward to achieve greater fairness for families … tax sharing for couples with dependent children under 18 years of age.”

Did the minister not take a “long, hard analytical look ” before making this promise? What’s the minister talking about? Has he decided not “…to achieve greater fairness for families…”?

But, of course, this is would not be the first time the Stephen Harper Conservatives broke faith with its supporters by backtracking on a campaign promise.

Remember Income Trusts, and how seniors across Canada were reassured by the Tories during the 2006 general election that they could count on income trusts for retirement planning?

In 2006 campaign literature, Conservatives pledged that the party would “stop the Liberal attack on retirement savings and preserve income trusts by not imposing any new taxes on them.” The only condition placed on this promise was that the Tories needed to win the election—which, of course, they did.

That was the bait.

In the fall of 2006, however, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that his new government planned to tax income trust distributions.

That, friends, was the switch.

And seniors were left swinging in the wind and several thousand dollars poorer. Oh, the Tories did toss seniors a bone or two, but nothing close to compensating most of them for their financial losses.

Does the term “flimflam” come to mind?

So I ask: Are the Conservatives setting up middle class Canadians for another bait and switch, or is this just the musings of a past-his-best-before-date finance minister?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beer Store blues…

I read this morning that the president of The Beer Store is warning Ontario beer drinkers of higher prices if the province allows convenience stores to sell beer, breaking his company’s long-held monopoly.

Ted Moroz on Monday was apparently responding to the Ontario Tory proposal to allow convenience and grocery stores to sell beer.

Currently, the distribution and retail sales of beer is regulated by the province, giving The Beer Store a de facto monopoly. Curiously, The Beer Store  is owned jointly by foreign-controlled brewers: Molson, Labatt and Sleeman. Moroz claims that, should the province open up beer sales to other retail outlets, beer prices will go up, with a 24-carton costing $10 more.

What a load of rancid hops! This ranks right down there with the head guy over at Canada Post telling us that seniors were in favour of the discontinuance of home delivery because they wanted more exercise. Both men, it seems to me, believe we are idiots, or perhaps just chumps.

I studied economics as a young adult and have read widely on the subject since then, and I cannot remember claims that monopolies keep prices down. When monopolies—or near-monopolies—are busted, prices go down because of the added competition. That’s the norm.

Granted, some government-owned monopolies do offer lower prices, but that’s because of government subsidies. And, as we all know, the Ontario government does not subsidize the price of beer.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the Ontario government persists in giving three beer companies control of the marketplace. These three set the retail price as well as the wholesale/transfer price, and they mark up their products as they will. The mystery only deepens when one considers the three favoured companies are foreign-owned.

Will, I wonder, this province ever grow up when it comes to selling alcohol and allow a free-market? Probably not—at least, not in my lifetime.

Tim Hudak, the leader of the Progressive Conservative party, is reported to be in favour of convenience stores being allowed to sell beer. I’d not count too heavily on this ever happening though, because we’ve heard promises like this before and they’ve come to naught. It’s probably just another election thing.

As to Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government: they have pretty well told us they favour the status quo. There is no way whatsoever the Grits will allow those overpaid-underworked union jobs to be subject to the vagaries of a free-market economy. Trade union support is, after all, a corner stone of the Liberals’ election strategy.

Here are three news stories of Ted Moroz’s rather lame attempt to scare away any thoughts about a free beer market: Star, Financial Post and Sun. And here’s a must-read for those who are wondering what the fuss is all about.

Decide for yourselves.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Flaherty to deliver budget Feb. 11

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will unveil on Tuesday what is likely the final deficit-budget for the next few cycles, setting the stage for balancing the books just ahead of the federal election in 2015.

The Tories, apparently, have been aggressively cutting federal spending and acting, finally, like the fiscal conservatives we thought we had elected back in 2011.

This cost cutting has probably been enough to balance the budget for the upcoming year;  the Conservative government, however, is unlikely to do so as it will only add to the pressure from various sources to increase program spending on all manner of things.

We can expect to see new spending on infrastructure and education reform on Native reserves this year, followed by increased infrastructure spending and fulfillment of promises made earlier—like income splitting—in the election year. I believe in 2015 we might also see some targeted tax reductions.

So, once in surplus, will the government reduce tax even further, or will it make a serious attempt to bring the national debt back to pre-recession levels? For some, the budget is never really in balance or surplus so long as it includes significant debt charges. Every cent paid to service debt is, after all, money not in taxpayers’ pockets or available for other priorities.

Government debt, from all levels of government, including crown corporations and agencies, is nearly 105 percent of GDP, worrisome levels indeed. In Ontario alone, government debt charges (interest) of $10.6-billion a year is now the third-largest line item in the budget, exceeded only by health care and education.

The Tories boast about Canada’s apparently low national debt-to-GDP ratio of 36 per cent. But that’s only part of the story. To allow credit room for the provinces, crown corporations and pensions, a responsible level for Canada’s national debt would be more like 20 to 25 per cent, and even lower in good times.

Here’s an extract from an article in Maclean’s last February by Tamsin McMahon’s :

With in federal debt, Canada’s national debt-to-GDP ratio looks reasonable at 36 per cent, compared to, say, America’s 72 per cent. But add in the estimated $589 billion in provincial debt and we’re suddenly at around 86 per cent, putting us close to the 90 per cent debt burden analysts say begins to harm economic growth. Factor in other debts, such as pension liabilities and the debts of Crown corporations, and Canada’s debt suddenly rises to 104 per cent of GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. (By comparison, Italy stands at 126 per cent.)”

Hmm… . Think maybe a fiscal conservative government may want to give paying down the federal debt a high priority, especially since higher interest rates may soon be upon us?

And what about corporate tax? I don’t see a change here, even though much has been made by opposition parties about the lack of spending by corporations. The New Democrats moan that corporations are not putting back into the economy the money they have received in past tax cuts. This demonstrates the mindset of these people.

Past tax cuts have allowed corporations to keep money they earned. It is their money in the first place, i.e., the government never gave corporations the money.

To hear Tom Mulcair and his guys tell it, one might conclude the Dippers believe all profits made by corporations belong to the government—i.e., 100 per cent corporate tax—which the government then gives back in the form of tax cuts and other incentives. And this is too near the de facto situation for comfort.

So, a few goodies for long-suffering Canadian taxpayers, increased infrastructure spending and debt repayment could pretty much consume any spending room we might have in the next budget or two.

Friday, February 7, 2014

New citizenship rules introduced

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has introduced changes yesterday that he called, “the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation​.”

“Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege,” the minister told reporters at a news conference, and I could not agree more. I won’t go into the details of the proposed law, though, as these are readily available from several sources as a quick Google search would demonstrate.

Suffice to say Minister Alexander is pretty well right on target with the thrust of his proposal, which is to reset expectations of some who seek Canadian citizenship as a convenience, and to encourage more integration of newcomers in Canadian life.

When I arrived in 1955, Canadian Citizenship as a legal status was only about eight years old, it having been enacted in 1947. Prior to that, Canadians were British Subjects as was I at the time.

As a British Subject, I enjoyed pretty much all the rights and privileges of citizenship and could vote, etc., and served as an airman in the RCAF Reserve. When, later, I became a citizen—notwithstanding the fact very little had changed for me, the act of acquiring citizenship made me feel as though I really belonged here.

In those pre-Trudeau days, little was spoken of official multiculturalism. I was Canadian. Yes, there were those who treasured the institutions and traditions inherited from Aboriginal and European Nations—especially France, England and Scotland—but Canadians before me had built something unique on those foundations, adding cultural enrichment and diversity. And, having acquired citizenship, I could legitimately lay claim to all of that.

More than a half-century has passed, yet I believe no less now in my adopted Canadian identity. True, it has evolved somewhat, but it continues to embody core values like belief in democracy, the rule of law, free speech, equal rights, separation of religion and state, tolerance and peaceful coexistence with our neighbours. And, although our national identity may continue to evolve, these are points on our moral compass that will continue guide us.

State-sponsored multiculturalism has done little to help us nurture our identity and evolve as a people. Rather it has emphasized our differences and threatens to divide more than to unite us. Newcomers should be encouraged to maintain foreign cultures only so long as doing so does not interfere with their integration into our society. 

Newcomers need not belong to any specific religion, or be of any particular colour, race or ethnic origin. They ought, though, to share the core values of our society. Furthermore, to understand Canada properly and to participate fully in society, newcomers ought to become functional in one of our two official languages.

For the most part, I have over the years supported our system of building our country through broad-based immigration. There are, however, some elements that have begun to bother me.

It is well known that, in some cultures from which we draw immigrants, religion and state are inexorably bound. This is anathema to most Canadians for whom separation of religion and state matters profoundly. Canadian law is secular law made by representatives to parliament elected democratically under principles of universal suffrage. When there is a conflict between “the law of the land” and someone’s religious law, it is “the law of the land” that must take precedence. Newcomers, it seems to me, ought to be made to officially acknowledge this reality and abide by it.

This brings me to the contradictory concept of dual citizenship, which seems to have become commonplace.

Some holding this status will inevitable side with their non-Canadian homeland if they see it in a confrontation with Canada. We understand this when we hear the rhetoric of those who demonstrate—sometimes in an unlawful manner—in our streets over things happening in foreign lands. This is not desirable.

Furthermore, we know that some immigrants return to live full-time in their original homeland, once they have secured the convenience of Canadian citizenship—a sort of insurance policy to be cashed-in should an emergency arise.

How can such people ever fulfill their obligations as citizens? I would like to see the practice of multiple passports discontinued. Citizenship is not something that can be shared.

Time will tell, of course, but I believe the new citizenship rules will help us to build a safe and prosperous Canada, with immigration fuelling a major proportion of our growth.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Muslim condo complex in Thornhill start of something sinister?

A story in the Toronto Star tells us there is a proposal to build a Muslim complex of two 17-storey residential towers, retail space and 61 townhouses. This is on an 11-hectare property near the Jaffari Centre mosque in a low-density neighbourhood.

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, we have long had religious and cultural groups living nearby who wish to carry on their lives separately from ours.

Take a short trip northwest of Toronto and you’ll be in the midst of a quaint community that dresses differently, spurns motor vehicles for the horse-drawn variety and lives quite apart from their more familiar-to-us neighbours in cities like Waterloo and Kitchener.

Far from being a problem, the Mennonite communities near places like St. Jacobs, Ontario have been net contributors to the culture of the area and would be sorely missed if they were to suddenly disappear.

On the other hand, I’ve heard alarming stories about Muslim communities in the United Kingdom, East London, for example, where:

Muslim extremists are patrolling the streets of East London, publicly targeting gays, drinkers and women who aren’t dressed modestly, in an attempt to enforce Sharia law.” [Daily News, Feb 2, 2013]

Furthermore, in 2011 there was a story on Mail on Line telling of Islamic extremists declaring Britain's first Sharia law zone in Waltham Forest, North London.

And another report, this from Denmark:

In some suburbs in Copenhagen there exist ‘no-go-zones’ which are domains ruled by Muslim gangs and where non-Muslims do not dare to go. Even local police are afraid to enter.” [Source]

Moreover, similar no-go-zones seem to exist throughout northern Europe, where Muslim extremists impose radical laws of dress and other cultural behaviour, and intimidate those they disapprove of from entering their zones, which they treat as if they were separate countries.

To be sure, many moderate Muslims and their leaders speak out against this extreme, anti-social behaviour. Yet these situations seem to be worsening, not improving. There does seem to be some elements of Islam that cannot/will not reconcile with western-style democracy.

Life is difficult enough as it is without the additional stresses of cultural silos growing up in our midst.

Multiculturalism is fine, but with reasonable limits. (If we can impose reasonable limits on as fundamental a human right as free speech—as our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does—certainly we can afford to have limits on multiculturalism.)

I’ll repeat here what I’ve said several time before:

I believe immigrants should assimilate and become Canadians, not remain in economic, religious or social silos. While multiculturalism in diet and generally accepted cultural practices should be tolerated, it should not be officially promoted. Reasonable accommodation of foreign cultural practices should be applied with caution so as not to adulterate Canadian norms, values and practices.”

Worrying too is that this is not the first community of its sort in the Greater Toronto Area. There is another Muslim community in Vaughan, known as the Ahmadiyya “Peace Village,” which has 150 semi-detached and detached houses, apparently, built to accommodate the religious needs of Muslim immigrants.

So my conclusion is we should tread very carefully here and not dismiss opposition to this proposal as bigotry.

For every upside, there is a downside: do Diane Finley & Rob Nicholson know this?

The one thing one learns early in life is there’re few good things that come with no downside. I’m no pessimist, but I was reminded of that lesson when I read that the Tory government is chatting up a change to how we purchase military equipment.

The National Post reports that the federal Conservative government claims to have “the solution to years of troubled projects marked by delays, cost overruns and rigged requirements.”

Tory Public Works Minister Diane Finley and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson seem to believe they have a strategy to leave behind such military procurement embarrassments as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, search-and-rescue planes, Sea King helicopters and armoured vehicles for the army.

The foregoing represent examples of military procurement projects that went terribly wrong for taxpayers, and were/are major headaches for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

So now there is a new defence procurement strategy that like Tylenol 3 will fix the governments’ headaches—let’s hope this new strategy also fixes the cause of the headaches and not just the symptoms.

According to the report I read, Nicholson said in a press release:

Today’s launch of the defence procurement strategy reaffirms the government’s commitment to develop and maintain a first-class, modern military that is well-equipped to take on the challenges of the 21st century.”

Apparently, a major thrust of the strategy is, as the Post puts it, “turning the billions of dollars the government intends to spend on new military equipment in the coming years into jobs for Canadians.”

Not many Canadians will disagree with Minister Finley who reportedly said the new approach:

will also leverage our investments to create high paying, highly skilled jobs right here in Canada.”

Canadians need jobs and our manufacturing sector could certainly do with a boost that defence spending could give it. And I’m all for a well-equipped, modern military and a made-in-Canada strategy, but there’s a rub.

The defence and security lobby is powerful and one that has a habit of exaggerating the economic activity it generates for the country. Furthermore, if Canadian companies know they are certain of landing contracts, are they likely to offer their best prices?

And, if foreign companies are given contracts on condition of launching branches in Canada, will they not tend to load up the contract with start up cost that would not be present if the work was done outside the country?

I’m sure these concerns can be managed. But are our politicians and bureaucrats really up to the task? The best predictor of future performance is past performance, and that’s not good news for Canada’s long-suffering taxpayers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Citizenship Act reforms coming

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has announced that the Tory government plans to renew Canada’s Citizenship Act with reforms to be proposed on Feb. 6.

The minister said the government will spell out some of the rules that will ensure citizenship has more value and that carrying a Canadian passport is respected.

I look forward to the proposals as I have believed for some time that citizenship is too easily obtained; and, for too many, obtaining a Canadian passport is simply a convenience and a “back-up plan” while they continue to live abroad without having made a meaningful contribution  to Canadian society.

One aspect of Canadian citizenship that seems not to receive enough emphasis is that with citizenship comes certain obligations. Citizens all seem to understand their rights. Too many, though, seem to believe they obtain those rights without accompanying obligations.

Here’s an extract from my Being Conservative page:

I believe Canadian citizenship, though a birthright, is also a privilege that confers equal rights and demands obligations—such as the duty to vote—from all recipients. I also believe Canadians who are serving in federal penitentiaries should have their citizenship and right to vote suspended for the duration of their term of incarceration. And those who take up arms against Canada or a Canadian ally (on the battlefield or in an act of terrorism) should forfeit their citizenship, as should any Canadian convicted of treason.

Below is a government supplied video announcing the announcement, but we’ll have to wait until Feb. 6 for the whole story I’m afraid.

 

Brazeau and Harb charged with fraud and breach of trust

The National post is reporting today that the RCMP has formally charged Senator Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb with breach of trust and fraud.

The RCMP reportedly held a news conference this morning at which it announced that criminal code charges had been laid.

There may be other charges to come as the reports says the RCMP is also investigating Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin over their expenses as senators.

It is very sad on several levels to see things come to this, but if you do the crime, you’d better be prepared to do the time, as they say.

It’s important to remember, though, that none of these charges have been proven in court.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Section 13 is like old chewing gum: it sticks to your shoes and you can’t get rid of it

The long campaign to repeal the Internet hate speech law may have been for naught in the long run. On Friday, a Federal Court of Appeal ruling reportedly found Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) does not violate freedom of expression, i.e., it is constitutional. Section 13 governs hate speech/expression on the Internet in Canada (Source).

Capping a determined crusade to repeal Section 13—led by Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant and several other conservatives—a private member’s bill from Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth finally passed, repealing the offensive section effective once it receives royal assent, which is scheduled to take place June 26, 2014.

Under the odious legislation one could be fined thousands of dollars by a human rights tribunal—very nearly a kangaroo court, in my opinion—for being insulting, disrespectful or rude on the telephone or the Internet to a member of certain named groups. The tribunal—not even presided over by a real judge—had merely to find your words were:

…likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

All very subjective, of course, for one person’s expression of “hatred or contempt” is another’s free speech/expression as guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To make the law even more egregious, “Intent is not a requirement, and truth and reasonable belief in the truth is no defence.”

Now it seems this latest ruling by a federal court opens the way for some progressive politician to reinstate Section 13 with all that that implies.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Defending the tribe at BC Blue

There’s a debate over at BC Blue regarding the disclosure by CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that a panellist on his At Issue show, Bruce Anderson, has a daughter who works for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. The debate is whether Anderson is in a conflict of interest by being a panellist on the show.

Reading the comments, I sense tribalism at play—not always a bad thing, by the way. Much is made of the fact that Anderson has worked for the Liberals in a number of capacities. But what of his brother, Rick Anderson, who has been a Liberal early on and then a Reform Party supporter and  a current member of the board of directors of the conservative Manning Centre? Shouldn’t he, at least, be a balance for the Bruce’s daughter?

Tribalism, advocating for your political party or movement, is a good/healthy thing, in my opinion. But, even so, I don’t believe in the principle that my-side-is-right-your-side-is-wrong regardless of the facts or situation. Coherent thought, I believe, requires some degree of balance.

Now, I don’t want readers to think I’m picking on BC Blue as being unnecessarily biased. It’s clearly a conservative blog and makes no claims to be otherwise. I am a fan and regular reader.

But, on this point, I disagree with BC Blue. Anderson, in my view, is not in a conflict of interest—no more than is Warren Kinsella writing for Sun Media, or was Tom Flanagan when he was a regular on CBC and Tim Powers who appears frequently on CBC’s Power and Politics.

Once one starts down the conflict of interest road, there is the danger—not in this case I’m sure—of a public witch hunt. And one can get caught up in all sorts murky contradictions.

A commenter on BC Blue’s Anderson disclosure post writes, in part, “We’ve had some polling flops of late, they’ve been far off the mark which leads us to wonder what exactly is going on.” Taken in the context of Anderson’s Liberal roots, this comment seems to be a jab at Anderson’s connection with Abacus Data, a well known public opinion and marketing research firm. Could the suggestion here be that this firm fudges polls?

Let’s hope not! I often rely on the polls published by Abacus to get a sense of the prevailing winds on the political front in Canada, and it’s preposterous to believe they would fudge their data for some sort of political advantage.

Abacus polls are frequently used by Sun News Network and its CEO Dr. David Coletto appears often on that network. And, as it happens, Bruce Anderson is the chairman of Abacus Data. What then of conflict of interest for Dr. Colette? As I said, preposterous. By the way, the aforementioned Tim Powers is also on the board of Abacus Data. What should we make of that? Powers is a well known conservative; how disloyal is he for consorting with the “enemy?”

Most, if not all, people who are asked to be pundits on television have a political slant. Many live politics and that is one of the main reasons they are selected for these shows. In this case, Peter Mansbridge disclosed on air that Anderson’s daughter worked for the Liberals. (Perhaps Mansbridge was amiss for not also mentioning brother Rick Anderson’s conservative connections.) That’s good enough for me. There may very well be bias in Anderson’s commentary, but no conflict of interest here, at least, that is how I see it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Harper government always on short end of public relations stick

Last Thursday I wrote about the Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino’s behaviour (see Fantino disses veterans) in the recent dust-up between him and veterans who were protesting the closure of eight Veteran Affairs service offices.

My criticism then was of Mr. Fantino’s personal behaviour and not of the job the Conservative government has done regarding veteran affairs in general.

There are some very smart people running our country. That is pretty obvious to any fair-minded person who spends more than a few days in Canada. On the other hand, no Canadian government in recent history—and I’ve been in Canada since 1955—has been as ham-fisted when it comes to selling its agenda to the Canadian people.

Apparently, the form of public communication the Conservatives prefer are expensive (multi-million dollar) media ads that over-sell the pet project of the day, and are little more than cheesy public relations campaigns trying to boost popularity of the government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his team has actually done a terrific job on the veterans affairs’ file. Tory MP Erin O’Toole made and excellent speech on the subject with facts and figures to support what he had to say (see here). Unfortunately, his attempt to set the record straight and educate his fellow MPs was a case of too little, too late.

O’Toole said in his speech to the House of Commons he was “disappointed with the low level of knowledge” on the part of MPs and members of the public on how veterans have been served. And whose fault is that, I ask you? With the hundreds of millions of dollars the Tory government has spent on communications, it’s a disgrace that they have not got this story out earlier.

So, much, perhaps all, of the goodwill that might otherwise have been earned from this good-news story is lost because a haughty Minister Fantino didn’t like a veteran’s finger being pointed his way. And when the minister was shouted down by a veteran who called out “hogwash,” the minister walked away.

Later Fantino apologized. But he seemed to spend more time telling the media how the public service union had “exploited” the veterans than he did mending fences where it counts. Apparently, the minister was more concerned about his media image than with his image with the veterans.

To be sure, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) set up the confrontation. It has been reliable reported that:

Seven veterans and one co-ordinator were flown in and put up in a hotel to rail against the Government of Canada's decision to close eight veterans affairs offices in favour of having the veterans receive help at Service Canada locations.

“‘They did have their expenses paid for,’ confirmed a PSAC spokesman named Carrie, who said she could not provide her last name. ‘But they are all on fixed incomes’.”

The point is, though, a minister of the crown does not arrive “very late” (his words) for a scheduled meeting with already agitated veterans and then get huffy and miffed when there’s some finger pointing and insults thrown his way.

Is it time for the government to give a time-out to some of the communications staff? And perhaps PM Harper could place Erin O’Toole in charge of educating the public and the House, he seems to have a knack for it. At least, the public now knows more than it ever did about the veterans affairs file, complete with facts and figures.

So the Harper Government suffers yet another black-eye, this one self inflicted by a haughty minister who seems to have grown too big for his britches. Time, perhaps, for a time-out on the back benches.

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