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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Is Alberta premiership finishing school for Jim Prentice?

The former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice is, apparently, leaving Bay Street and a seven figure salary as vice-chair of CIBC to make a run at becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives and premier of Alberta, replacing Alison Redford.

Mr. Prentice spent his last couple of years in federal politics as Minister of Environment in a cabinet that was not known for its enthusiasm for climate change science. His ability to influence national policy was, therefore, limited and not nearly as high-profile as others who would be likely contenders for the leadership of the party once Prime Minister Stephen Harper retires.

As premier of Alberta, though, Mr. Prentice would gain experience in actually running a government second in strategic importance only—many would argue—to the federal government. A term or two in Edmonton could very well be just what Mr. Prentice needs to prepare him for the top job in Ottawa.

As such, Alberta’s premiership could be considered a sort of political finishing school for Jim Prentice.

A formal announcement of his plans has yet to be made, but is expected in a week or so. The vote will be held September 6, 2014 in a Two-round system of voting. If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent on the first ballot, the top two candidates (only) will move on to a second ballot on September 20, 2014.

Consequently, there should be no chance of a third candidate with little first-ballot support slipping up the middle to win on a later ballot as has occurred too often in the past.

Mr. Prentice is heavily favoured to win in September and, if he does, he’ll effectively be out for the short- or mid-term of any run to lead the federal Conservative Party. The prime minister, however, does not seem to be leaving any time soon, which means Mr. Prentice needs not give up hope of returning to federal politics in the longer term.

Mr. Prentice was MP for Calgary Centre North from 2004-2010 and owns a house in northwest Calgary. It is not known, though, where he’ll choose for his provincial riding.

Once he gets his team together, I think we’ll be hearing a lot from Jim prentice over the summer and probably well beyond that.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Farmers markets to sell Ontario wines May 1

Last December, Premier Kathleen Wynne promised that Ontario would be joining British Columbia in relaxing provincial liquor laws to allow certain Ontario made wines to be sold at the province’s farmers’ markets as of May 1. 

There are approximately 200 farmers’ markets in Ontario and the wines will have to qualify as Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes.

As far as I can tell, VQA applies only to grape wines. But isn’t Ms. Wynne the minister of agriculture and food? How does she get away with such blatant favouritism?

Fruit Wines of Ontario, an association of wineries using fruit other than grapes, offers this description on its website:

Made from 100% Ontario fruit, these fruit wines bring the best of the harvest to you. From the orchards and berry patches come wines crafted with apples, pears, peaches, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and more. Next time you’re looking for an alternative to a dry table wine, a sparkling refresher, or a dessert iced wine—surprise yourself with a delicious fruit wine from Ontario.”

While I welcome any relaxation of the province’s draconian liquor laws or the watering down of its duopoly on the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, I find it curious that this new policy is not extended to Ontario fruit wines.

This policy also begs the question, If farmers’ markets can be counted on to sell alcoholic beverages responsibly, why cannot grocery and other retail outlets do so as well? But Kathleen Wynne has repeatedly rejected calls to allow corner stores, etc., to sell beer and wine.

The Wynne government is, apparently, not guided by any set of basic principles. It makes policy based on political expediency. Yes, it sometimes cloaks policies with moral justifications such as Social Responsibility. This it says is part of what leads them to keep alive the duopoly on alcoholic beverages. One needs only gently prod this argument a bit, however, and the phony veil of social responsibility pulls away to reveal political expediency as its core purpose.

It’s not that Wynne makes policies willy-nilly. No indeed. Her policies seem carefully calibrated against how much tax can be gouged out of the Ontario economy or how many votes a policy can garner.

You’ve heard of voter suppression, how about news suppression?

Even after Elections Canada and former Supreme Court Justice made definitive, unambiguous statements pretty much putting the so-called “robocall scandal” to bed, The Huffington Post, and especially Althia Raj, are still banging on about that faux scandal.

Here’s the opening paragraph of a recent Althia Raj story on the subject:

Michael Sona, the only person charged in the robocall scandal, says the federal government’s Fair Elections Act does not go far enough to stop fraudulent calls or to empower investigators.”

“[T]he only person charged in the robocall scandal….” Really? The only one? So was the CBC telling us a porky—as the English like to say—when it wrote on August 24, 2012 the following?

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has found the Liberal riding association in Guelph, Ont. guilty of violating the Telecommunications Act for its use of an automated robocall in the last federal election.

“The phone message from a fictitious woman told voters that Conservative candidate Marty Burke opposed abortion but failed to inform people that the call was from the local campaign of Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote.”

I’ll accept the CBC’s Aug. 2012 story as factual, leaving Raj’s story as, at best, misleading. If you are insisting on banging on about a story that’s past its best-before date then, at least, give an accurate background, which means sometimes having to include inconvenient facts.

Mind you, that would involve, in this case at least, the intimation that the Liberal party is not perfect—and Raj couldn’t allow that, could she?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

To be valid, must science fit the worldview of the Left?

The opposition and other leftists are quick to accuse the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of ignoring science and experts inside and outside of government in pursuit Conservative political objectives. They are such hypocrites.

It is many of these same leftists who refuse to accept science and expert findings when it suits them. Take the following recent examples:

First, this past week, the federal government downgraded North Pacific humpback whales protection from “threatened” to “species of special concern.” This announcement was met with a broadside of accusations and objections.

Karen Wristen, executive director of the environmental group Living Oceans Society, suggested the decision to downgrade the whale’s protection at this time “has absolutely no basis in science and is simply a political move to clear the way to approve the pipeline.”

Really? “[H]as absolutely no basis in science?” Why then are humpback whale conservationists applauding Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for its reclassification?

Marine biologist Jane Watson has devoted her career to the ecology and conservation of marine mammals and was a member in 2012 “…of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the independent group of experts that assesses species at risk of extinction and recommends action to the federal government. Three years ago, the group recommended downlisting [sic] the North Pacific humpback whale’s status from ‘threatened’ to ‘special concern,’ reflecting positive strides in population numbers.” (Source: www.thestar.com)

Secondly, we have the recent announcement by Elections Canada regarding so-called “robocalls.” According to Elections Canada’s website,

The Commissioner [Yves Cote] has concluded that, following a thorough investigation by his Office, the evidence is not sufficient to provide reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed.”

Yves Cote’s findings were formally reviewed by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Charron, who wrote:

I will start with the ultimate conclusion reached by the investigative team that there are no grounds to believe that an offence under the Canada Elections Act or the Criminal Code has been committed in relation to the complaints outside the electoral district of Guelph. In my view, this conclusion is amply supported by the evidence.”

After such definitive, unambiguous statements by these experts, the leftists are still banging on about how Elections Canada couldn’t do its job properly and that it needs more powers—in fact some are insisting they be given more power than any police force in Canada.

Thirdly, there are the cases of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline and the U.S. portion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. These projects are opposed by environmentalists and other leftists because they believe it will advance development of Canada’s strategic Alberta oil sands, a prospect they loathe. Coal-fired electricity production in the United States emits 33 times more than all the oil sands put together, yet Americans are spending tens of millions on both sides of the border to prevent additional pipeline capacity and, thereby, embargoing further oil sands production.

A Canadian federal panel held hearings for more than a year throughout Alberta and B.C., listening to issues raised and information submitted by a number of people, including business leaders, environmental and aboriginal groups and members of the public. That panel determined the Northern Gateway pipeline should be approved if the company meets 209 technical, environmental and social conditions.

On the U.S. side of the border, the Keystone XL pipeline has been the most intensely scrutinized pipeline proposal in American history. Stopping the pipeline would not stop Canada from developing the oil sands because, as the State Department found, the oil would be sent to the east, west and even to the north to get it to market. Therefore, Keystone XL could not “significantly exacerbate” greenhouse gas emissions, which was President Barack Obama’s previously stated requirement for approval. Pretty much, this pipeline has been green-lighted at every turn except final approval by President Obama.

But the environmentalists and other leftists ignore the scientists and experts who have given an OK to the pipeline. Somehow the Alberta oil sands has become a target of the left and has no place in their worldview. Irrational? Yes, but they believe they have a monopoly on what is right and that’s an end to that. 

To be valid, it seems science must fit the worldview of the Left.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Robocalls: the massive election fraud that never was—except in Althia Raj’s view

The Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Cote said in a report released on Thursday, “The evidence [from his investigation into voting irregularities] does not establish that calls were made with the intention of preventing or attempting to prevent an elector from voting.”

One might expect this would be enough for fair minded people who have followed the file to conclude that nothing like the massive fraud reported on by many media outlets and screamed from proverbial rooftops by opposition members has occurred.

Perhaps something more occurred in the riding of Guelph, but elsewhere, no.

According to Elections Canada’s website, “The Commissioner has concluded that, following a thorough investigation by his Office, the evidence is not sufficient to provide reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed.”

And remember the 40,000 complaints about Robocalls received by Elections Canada? Turns out that 39,350 came from an online form sponsored by the left-wing activist group, Leadnow. You guessed it, a leftist attempt to slander the Conservative party after it won a majority in the 2011 general election.

Yves Cote’s findings were formally reviewed by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Charron, who wrote:

I will start with the ultimate conclusion reached by the investigative team that there are no grounds to believe that an offence under the Canada Elections Act or the Criminal Code has been committed in relation to the complaints outside the electoral district of Guelph. In my view, this conclusion is amply supported by the evidence.”

Sounds conclusive to me, but it is not good enough for the opposition and some of the “progressives” who make up their media cheering section.

I watched CBC’s At Issue broadcast and noticed two regulars, Bruce Anderson and Chantal Hébert, were quite prepared to accept the report at face value and seemed to agree that the media did perhaps go overboard on the story.

Huffington Post’s Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj, though, was something else. She was filling in for Andrew Coyne, and nothing about Yves Cote’s report seemed to dissuade her that the election was anything but a scandal and a fraud.

Neither Chantal Hébert nor Bruce Anderson can be considered apologists for the Conservative party. So I can’t help but question Raj’s motives for being so offside with her co-panellists. Time and again she seemed to disagree with their more reasonable assessments.

I’ve sensed bias—to the point of partisanship at times—in Ms. Raj’s commentary on political shows, but this was even more so than usual. While watching one show she was on, I wondered out loud if she had a schoolgirl crush on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau—her enthusiasm for the man was so conspicuous. I would have thought impartiality would be more evident in a bureau chief of a major media source.

See the At Issue episode here and judge Raj’s performance for yourselves.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Has US foreign policy record ever been weaker?

When President Barack Obama replaced Hillary Clinton on February 1, 2013 with John Kerry as his Secretary of State, he effectively removed the last vestige of effective U.S. foreign policy.

This is not to say that Hillary Clinton was so great at foreign policy, but that John Kerry is so ineffectual at it. Add to this the possibility that Obama might finish his second term as one of the presidents with the worst foreign policy record.

Kerry committed a diplomatic blunder that allowed the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to avoid a military strike against him as a consequence of the Syrian forces’ August 2013 chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. In so doing, Kerry made Obama seem weak for drawing a line and not following through as he had threatened. Kerry was played like the neophyte he is by Russia’s President Putin.

In what could have been President Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement, he and Kerry couldn’t get the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians off the ground. And, today, Israel has suspended the talks in response to a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah. America led by Barack Obama clearly lacks the moral suasion needed to bring such fractious parties together and to “make” them keep talking to one another.

The rapprochement between Iran and the U.S., which began in the second half of 2013, will be proved to have been a mistake and will do nothing to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran, Russia, Syria and North Korea all use multi-lateral talks as delaying tactics. They agree to certain things while simultaneously carrying on as before, ignoring any agreements reached in the talks. That is to say, Iran is gaming the U.S.

Despite lines being drawn and threats being made by them, neither President Obama nor John Kerry has had the slightest influence on Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine. Under the current administration, America has become a paper tiger, notwithstanding the fact it owns by far the most powerful armed forces in the world.

Ukraine has been pretty much left to face alone the super-power-sized military of Russia, despite the U.S. being a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, a political agreement signed in Hungary in 1994, which provided security assurances to Ukraine in return for it giving up its Nuclear Weapons.

Here too, Russia has used multi-lateral talks to delay and obfuscate. It has ignored an accord to disarm pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, which was signed only last week in Geneva by Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the U.S.

National borders in Eastern Europe and the Baltic are under threat by Russia, which has already illegally ceased Crimea, and the U.S. foreign affairs team fulminates and blusters, but shows little leadership.

On the home front, President Obama is trying to score domestic political points with environmentalists by refusing cross-border passage of Canadian goods—bitumen from the Alberta oil sands—even though the most recent U.S. State Department report found the Keystone XL pipeline wouldn’t increase greenhouse gas emissions, because the oil will eventually find a market whether or not Keystone XL pipeline is built.

The supposed reason for the delay is to wait for a Nebraska court challenge. I think we all know, however, that the administration simply does not want to make the controversial decision before the midterm elections.

The process has gone on well past five years with multiple applications, numerous federal reviews and comment periods and many opportunities for consultation along the way.

The latest edition of Rasmussen Reports found 61 per cent of likely U.S. voters support building Keystone XL. Obama’s own State Department has given the project the green-light and, moreover, Canada needs that pipeline to get its product to market.

Nonetheless, Obama puts political gain ahead of friendly relations with a long-time ally, for he won’t do anything to cross billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, who reportedly plans to provide millions for the 2014 congressional elections, and who is a staunch opponent of constructing the pipeline.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called the Keystone XL decision’s delay “a stunning act of political cowardice.”

I don’t know whether or not Obama is a coward, but he sure isn’t acting like the leader of Canada’s staunchest ally. Really, with friends like Barak Obama, Canada doesn’t need enemies.

Barack Obama: statesman and leader of the free world or just another Chicago-style political boss?

Trudeau running away from his own words about plight of middle class

The Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau raised the economic plight of Canada’s middle class to national attention without being prodded to do so.

Now—after struggling to define who it is he’s worried about—Trudeau refuses to explain himself in light of an international study that contradicts his claims.

Let’s face it: Sun News treats Trudeau pretty shabbily at times. But he’s supposed to be a big boy—after all, he is leader of a national political party and should be able to take as good as he gives.

Wasn’t it Trudeau who called a Conservative minister a “piece of shit?” Politics doesn’t get much dirtier than that.

Yet here we have the head Grit snubbing a member of the media, Sun News, who’s asking a pretty straight forward question, presumably because he doesn’t like how her organization treats him. I haven’t seen him treat media people from CBC or CTV or Global as rudely.

Trudeau has made it clear that he believes members of the Canadian middle class are in poor economic shape and need him to champion them. A recent New York Times study, however, found that Canada has the richest middle class in the world, even surpassing those in the United States, the richest country in the world. So why would the middle class need Trudeau’s help, when they seem to be doing quite well under a Conservative administration?

Is it not reasonable, therefore, that members of the media should ask Trudeau to explain what he makes of the difference between his perception of the middle class and the findings of the study? Moreover, is it not reasonable for Trudeau to stop acting like a spoiled brat and to answer the question?

The video is courtesy of Sun News Network. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elizabeth May, Green Party’s single-issue zealot, calls PMO staff “ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths”

Speaking at a town hall in Nanaimo, B.C. on April 13, the Green Party leader called the PMO “a $10-million-a-year partisan operation filled with ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths.” Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, later claimed she made the comments “in jest,” according to a Metro article.

I can scarcely believe that this single-issue zealot would so malign the hardworking young people who staff the Prime Minister’s Office. Even Senator Mike Duffy, in his somewhat spiteful 2013 speech in the Senate, was much more restrained when he talked about the “unaccountable power of the PMO” and implied it’s staffed by “kids in short pants.” (A great line, by the way.)

Elizabeth May, as many of you readers know only too well, has a penchant for hyperbolic comments, which she later disavows or for which she makes excuses.

In the early days of Stephen Harper’s government, May made a nasty reference to history judging the prime minister “more culpable than Neville Chamberlain.” She later tried to justify her words by claiming she was quoting someone else.

Imagine, Stephen Harper more culpable than the man best known for his appeasement policy, and his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the German-populated Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany and pretty much assuring World War II would soon follow with the Holocaust and all that came with it.

Then there was the 2007 interview on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin during which Elizabeth May called Canadians “stupid.” Later she blamed her tendency to talk too fast and a faulty microphone for her words.

But when May responded on her blog to accusations that she had called Canadians stupid, she wrote: “I reviewed all this on TVO with Steve Paikan [sic] more recently and he confirmed that no one in the room thought I had said Canadians are stupid;” TVO’s director of corporate communications wrote a letter to the Green Party setting the record straight by saying “that at no point … did Steve Paikin express such a personal opinion,” and asking that May’s “blog posting be corrected.”

Aside from an, apparent, inability to control her tongue, Elizabeth May is a hypocrite. She has spoken out about breaches of decorum in the House of Commons, even small ones, yet she calls PMO staff “ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths.” I doubt she knows many members of the PMO personally, but she can describe them with these horribly insulting words.

Moreover, she’s a coward because, having made the intemperate remarks, she obfuscates, claiming her comments were “in jest.” I find no humour at all in her name-calling. It was inexcusable.

This outburst is not at all worthy of someone who has been named 2012 Parliamentarian of the Year. Let’s hope those responsible for the award take note.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

David Cameron says Britain is a Christian country—he is correct

Much is being written about the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent assertion that Britain is “a Christian country.”

While some religious groups like the Hindu Council UK and the Muslim Council of Britain seem comfortable with the characterization, another group warned—in an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph and signed by more than 50 public figures—that such a claim “fosters alienation and division in our [British] society.”

Britain is, of course, a Christian country and not just in “the narrow constitutional sense” claimed in the letter.

According to the 2011 census, 59.5 per cent of U.K. residents self-identify as Christian. The Anglican Church (Church of England), the official religion in the country, is led—though only ceremonially—by the U.K.’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

But Christian roots go even deeper than the statistics suggest.

As an example, the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom, is a combination of symbols of three Christian saints: the Cross of Saint Andrew, the Cross of Saint Patrick and the Cross of Saint George.

Moreover, Christian values permeate the society from its laws to its marriages. The U.K.’s culture is steeped in Christian tradition. Christian holidays and saint days punctuate the calendar and God—the Christian God—is mentioned several times in the British national anthem. As noted in a BBC News Magazine piece in 2012, trying to take Christianity out of British culture “would be not so much like taking the raisins out of a fruitcake as like taking the chocolate out of a chocolate cake.”

Although many in Britain have embraced a policy of multiculturalism: encouraging immigrant communities to celebrate their individual cultures rather than assimilating, to others multiculturalism has failed to provide a moral equivalent to Christianity—even Prime Minister Cameron has said that “state multiculturalism” has failed in Britain.

Christianity remains—as it has for some 1,500 years—the basis of the average Brit's moral compass and the cultural backbone of one of the world’s leading democracies. Moral relativism which has become so popular in recent years—especially as regards to Muslim culture and religion—has not served Britain well and is certainly not providing a proper substitute for Christian values.

In conclusion, I heartily endorse Prime Minister Cameron’s

desire to infuse British politics with Christian ideals and values.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act seems now on solid ground

Now that a Senate committee  has recommended nine changes to Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act, the legislation seems pretty solid. And, since Pierre Poilievre has, apparently, indicated privately that he’s open to changes, an amended version of the bill will likely become law by this summer.

We would probably have gotten to this point earlier had not the minister responsible for the bill been MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton), Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

Opposition to Bill C-23—according to an April 14-15 poll by Angus Reid Global—is growing. Apparently, 59 per cent of Canadians who claimed to be very or fairly familiar with the bill were opposed to it. This represents a three-point increase since Angus Reid’s similar survey in February.

More disturbing are these findings: 65 per cent of those polled say they don’t trust the Conservative government to ensure the best possible elections oversight. Moreover, among those aware of the issue, 72 per cent claim “government’s changes are motivated by politics and a dislike of Elections Canada,” with a mere 28 per cent of all respondents saying “the Conservatives are making a genuine attempt to improve … Canada’s elections.”

Isolating the controversial issue of “vouching” at a polling station, nearly 75 per cent of all respondents support elimination of the option.

In my view, the trust issue is largely a reflection of the style Minister Poilievre has brought to this debate. The minister comes across as hyperpartisan, combative and rigid, and he’s the last member of parliament I’d expect to be charged with responsibility for something as sensitive as reforms to election legislation.

Recoil from Minister Poilievre’s style has been intensified by unseemly ad hominem attacks he’s led against Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer and Sheila Fraser, the popular and much respected former auditor general.

In fairness, I do have doubts about Mayrand’s impartiality. For example, the chief electoral officer does seem to have been rather generous to the Liberal party’s leadership contenders by grossly extending the time period for their campaign loan repayments, while being overly rigid when dealing with issues relating to members of the Conservative party.

Payback of this kind, though—if this is indeed what we’re seeing—seems petty and unbecoming of Canada’s preeminent political party.

But Sheila Fraser? How many times in the past have the Tories praised this woman and acknowledged her credibility? And, in her many years of public service, when was she ever found to be self-serving or partisan? It was Ms. Fraser’s report, after all, which revealed details of the multi-million-dollar Liberal sponsorship scandal, while the Liberals were still in office.

It must be said, however, that despite the way the bill has been mishandled in the House and broadly in the public sphere, the strategy—intended or not—of having Conservative Senators come to its rescue has been inspired.

In closing, let me say that the amended legislation deserves a better response than it has so far received from the opposition. Before the amendments, they may have had a legitimate case to make; post-amendments, their objections are mainly partisan and not substantive.

The way I see it, we’re set to go for 2015.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fiscal conservatism seems alive and well in Ottawa: 8,900 public service jobs to be cut

When Conservatives under Stephen Harper took office in 2006, I was disappointed at how much they resembled their predecessors when it came to their penchant for increasing the size of government.

In the first five years of Harper’s Conservatives, federal spending increased an appalling 22 per cent. Much of that was, of course, due to stimulus spending to counteract effects of the 2008-09 global financial crisis—$24.9-billion in 2009-10 and $20-billion in 2010-11. According to a government performance report tabled in the House of Commons in late November 2011, federal expenditures in 2010-11 totalled $270.5-billion, compared with $222.2-billion in 2006-07.

Far more worrying, though, was the fact that during those years the Conservatives grew the public service more than any government in the prior 20 years. They added about 45,000 jobs from 2006 to 2011.

Fortunately for overburdened taxpayers, the Harper team launched a program in 2012 to reverse the trend and reduce the public service. The plan—currently on track—includes eliminating 30,000 federal jobs by 2016-17, returning the public service to the size it was in 2006 when the Conservative party came to power. To meet that objective, the public service will be reduced by another 8,900 jobs.

There’s a lot more to be done, of course. Performance management is a huge issue. As Treasury Board President Tony Clement recently remarked, “…there are more public servants dying at their desks than being dismissed for underperforming.” He said the dismissal rate in the public service was only 0.06 per-cent compared to a five to 10 per cent rate in the private sector.

Moreover, government employees move up one step on a five-step pay grid every year and automatically receive an increase in pay until they hit the maximum rate, regardless of performance on the job. There’re also issues with sick pay.

Public sector wages and benefits outpace that of the private sector by a wide margin and are the government’s largest annual cost. Fiscal responsibility, therefore, demands close financial control in this area. Apparently, our federal government is trying to do just that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Canada sending six CF-18s to assist NATO operations in Eastern Europe

The situation in eastern Ukraine is grave and deteriorating, causing concern in NATO capitals in Europe and North America. Not since the end of the Cold War has there been a comparable crisis in Europe.

In reaction to Russian aggression there, NATO has requested Canadian military assets be deployed in Europe, and today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada is sending six CF-18s and military personnel in response.

CBC News reports that the PM said earlier today:

I believe this to be a long-term serious threat to global peace and security and we’re always prepared to work with our allies in NATO and elsewhere to try and bring whatever stability we can to the situation.”

Along with the fighter aircraft, there will be a small number of support staff to fly and maintain them.  Canada will also provide up to 20 officers to NATO headquarters in Brussels where they are expected to take part in that body’s security planning. The planes and ground crew will be based in Poland.

According to Canadian Press:

The fighter jets will join warplanes from the United States, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Germany, which will be deploying in waves between now and the fall.

“Canada is also slated to take part in July in a long-planned, U.S.-led military exercise in Ukraine, known as Rapid Trident 2014, but the government has been not forthcoming about the size and scope of the country’s involvement.”

Meanwhile, several government buildings in eastern Ukraine have been attacked and seized by what have been described as armed pro-Russian protesters in much the same manner as that which preceded Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.

As well, there is a report that three of the pro-Russian militants have been killed and 13 others injured when Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on their National Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol. Reportedly, around 300 armed men attacked the base in the south-east part of the country with stun grenades and Molotov cocktails before being driven off.

Many of the pro-Russian “protesters” wear masks and are, apparently, disciplined, battle-ready militia who carry sophisticated firearms and many in Ukraine suspect they are, in fact, Russian special forces. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted, “It’s all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special forces or instructors in the east of Ukraine.”

Paradoxically, while still trying to maintain that fiction, Vladimir Putin has finally admitted that Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms had invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Russia.

Moreover, the Russian leader continues to build his case, repeating—in a televised question-and-answer show—his rationale for claiming a national interest in eastern Ukraine. He said regions there have historically been part of the Russian empire and were what he called “Novorossiya” or “New Russia” before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. Putin said that Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times.

It is unclear whether Putin wants to annex this section of “New Russia” outright or to merely intimidate Ukraine officials into transforming their country into a loose federation that would remain weak and easily influenced by Russia. But there has to be a reason Russia still has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has described the Russian government as “clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic,” and “a significant threat to peace and stability in the world.” Strong words indeed.

On a more positive note, diplomats from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia met today and  have agreed on a series of steps aimed at de-escalating violence in Ukraine.

It will, however, take more than strong words and diplomatic meetings to deter Vladimir Putin from his goal of reclaiming regions of Eastern Europe that were historically part of the old Russian empire—his “New Russia.” We know what his end game is.

Wasn’t Alaska once part of Russia?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Will the Liberals target Burlington in the next general election?

I recently spoke with some Burlington political types who told me they are assuming Burlington will be targeted by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in the next Ontario general election. In other words, the Liberals plan to run a strong candidate against MPP Jane McKenna, with all the union support they can muster.

I was not surprised as this was the impression I got during the 2011 general election campaign. Back then, Liberal Party candidate Karmel Sakran, between taking cheap shots at the Progressive Conservatives, took credit for funding that was clearly election “goodies” that opposition parties, by definition, could not match.

One of the 2011 election “goodies” was a Liberal promise to halt consideration of an unpopular highway, which was being contemplated to run through Burlington’s portion of the Niagara Escarpment—an ecologically sensitive area.

Another came a month before the general election. It was a government promise to increase its funding by an additional $320,000 for Carpenter Hospice’s nursing and personal support services.

The biggest 2011 commitment, by far, came in the form of a perfectly timed decision to approve a $312-million expansion plan for Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, a plan that the hospital first unveiled in 2009.

Sakran also unveiled a laundry list of other Liberal campaign promises. I won’t bore you with them, though, since the Liberals had a sorry record of not keeping pre-election promises, and I doubt Kathleen Wynne is any better at that. To start with, Premier Dalton McGuinty bolted about a year after that election, leaving behind over $1.1-billion in expected costs for the infamous cancellation of two gas plants. He left Ontario’s finances in a terrible mess and, yes, he cancelled the plants to save a couple of seats in the 2011 election.

But I digress.

It feels nice for our community to be liked and for its votes to be courted by a ruling party. It is hard to forget, however, that the Liberals were no where in sight in 2007 when Burlington’s hospital had an overall rate of C. difficile of 2 infections per 200 patients, twice the rate of other Canadian hospitals. And the Liberals were conspicuous by their absence in 2006–2008 while the bacteria was killing 30 patients and contributing to the deaths of 46 others.

Additionally, during a decade-plus of Liberal and NDP governments—before Mike Harris’s PC governments—we saw the highest spending in Ontario’s history up until that time, but we didn’t see Liberals funding Burlington’s hospital that had a “demonstrated need,” to use Sakran’s own words. So much for empty Liberal boasts like, “We build hospitals—not close them like the PCs.”

Ontario Liberals may not have closed Burlington’s hospital, but they did neglect it until they decided they had a chance to win the riding and targeted it for campaign promises.

Burlington has not had a Liberal MPP since about 1943 and not much in the way of specific Liberal government support, yet somehow we have managed to become the best damn community of our size in Ontario. For all but the most recent general election, successive Liberal provincial governments have ignored us, presumably because we vote conservative. Moreover, during the C. difficile crisis of 2006–2008, the Liberal government abandoned us.

Liberals were not there for us then, why should we be there for them now? I plan to stick with our current MPP, Jane McKenna.

Will Trudeau’s party pay for his ill-chosen words?

[UPDATE Apr. 17, 2014: Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland has been acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in the new riding of University-Rosedale for the 2015 election.]

Justin Trudeau has talked himself into a defamation lawsuit that is likely to leave his party quite a bit lighter in the wallet. The shoot-from-the-lip Liberal leader and his Ontario campaign co-chair David MacNaughton are named in a $1.5-million libel suit filed on behalf of Christine Innes, a candidate who was barred from running for the Liberal party.

Innes had wanted to contest the Liberal nomination for the pending by-election in Trinity-Spadina, the seat vacated when New Democrat MP Olivia Chow resigned to run for mayor of Toronto. Trinity-Spadina and Toronto Centre ridings will cease to exist in 2015 when redistribution comes into effect. As a result,  three new Toronto ridings will be created from the two current ones.

As far as I can make out, Trudeau was quite prepared to let Innes seek the Liberal nomination for the Trinity-Spadina by-election, but only if she agreed not to contest the 2015 nomination of the newly created University-Rosedale riding. Apparently, Trudeau—who had promised “open” nominations in all ridings—wants to reserve that riding for his star candidate, MP Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland, a former business journalist and co-chair of the Grits’ Council of Economic Advisors, won the Toronto Centre by-election in November. But she will have to run in another riding in 2015 after Toronto Centre is carved up.

Evidently, when Innes refused a deal that would have seen her contest Spadina-Fort York, another of the new downtown ridings, the Grit bosses attacked her personally and publicly. According to media reports, Innes’s libel action claims:

They accused her [Christine Innes] and her campaign team in the national media of ‘bullying,’ ‘intimidation,’ and other unethical conduct … The defendants deliberately sacrificed Innes’ reputation in order to create a smokescreen to shield Trudeau from public outcry for breaching his public vow of non-interference in local riding nominations.”

Pretty heavy stuff. And, perhaps, most curious and to many onlookers most distasteful is that Innes was allegedly blocked from running—at least in part—for something her husband did. Really. In this day and age are wives to be held to account for the actions or words of their husbands? Apparently, in Trudeau’s world they are.

By the way, Innes’s husband is Tony Ianno, Liberal MP for Trinity-Spadina for 13 years and former Minister of Families and Caregivers. Innes herself is a long-time Liberal and an aide to Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan. She’s been a Liberal candidate twice before, running unsuccessfully against Olivia Chow. Innes also served as co-chair of the committee that oversaw the Liberal leadership race that Trudeau won.

So these are Liberal party insiders, not loose cannons like those who are, unfortunately, present in all political parties. Ianno did, however, seem to lose favour with some of his Liberal colleagues, apparently, because of an accusation of stock manipulation from the Ontario Securities Commission that resulted in a $100,000 fine and a five-year trading ban. He was, I might add, absolved of all other allegations.

Trudeau and David MacNaughton will not, in all probability, have to pay personally for any of this—unless one counts hurt pride—because the Liberal party will presumably pay whatever dollar damages they settle for and the related legal fees that could be substantial. The party shouldn’t have to pay for this sordid bit of poor personal judgement, of course, but it almost certainly will. Moreover, it’ll pay damages and costs out of hard-earned donations from party members.

So what does this say about Justin Trudeau’s pledge of being open and democratic? This is repeated so often it’s almost reached the status of a mantra. But now his words have a hollow ring to them. As I see it—other than some grandstanding when he unceremoniously dumped his Senate caucus—Trudeau’s way is the same old way of a long line of Liberal leaders.

Moreover, slander can now be added to Trudeau’s accumulating gaffes and indiscretions. There’ll be more to come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Military threat is essential to effective diplomacy

President Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” His idea was to negotiate peacefully, but with the ever-present threat of the “big stick,” military action. Perhaps in this proverb lies is a valuable lesson for leaders of the Western democracies, and especially for President Obama.

On the weekend, well coordinated and armed militants attacked government buildings in six cities in eastern Ukraine.  Echoing the Russian takeover of Crimea last month, many attackers reportedly carried Russian-origin weapons and were outfitted in bulletproof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed.

Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times,

The United States ambassador, Samantha Power, said: ‘You don’t have to take my word for it, or even those of the Ukrainian government. You need only witness yourself the videos of professional military shepherding thugs into a building in Kramatorsk, the photographs showing the so-called concerned citizens taking over Slovyansk equipped exactly like the elite troops that took Crimea, or the video of a military operation in Krasny Liman by armed men with the same equipment’.”

Russia’s intensions, while not totally clear, do seem to be bad news for Ukraine. For a start, I believe Russia intends to use their Crimea-like tactics to create a land corridor through Ukraine to the Crimean peninsular, which Russia can then supply by land—Crimea is currently dependent on the Ukrainian mainland for basics such as food.

Next, depending on the level of resistance it receives, Russia will either back away from further direct military action or it will continue its aggression. We could see, for example, Vladimir Putin creating a further corridor through Ukraine that would create a link between Crimea and the Moldovan enclave of Transnistria, which is already under Russian control.

Putin could then turn his attention to the annexation of the entire eastern region of Ukraine—he seems to have some 40,000 troops massed on the border ready for his order to cross over into Ukrainian territory.

As Russia practices its brinkmanship, Ukraine must prepare for its May 25 elections, a crucial step in legitimizing its national government—an interim administration is currently in place, led by acting President Olexander Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The interim government faces a dilemma: It is hard to imagine Ukraine holding elections during a declared state of emergency so their actions in eastern Ukraine seem limited. Should they not act quickly and decisively, however, eastern Ukraine could slip from Kiev’s control and into Putin’s hands.

Of course, there’s the wider threat to world peace. How likely is it that Putin, emboldened by success in Ukraine, will not explore other opportunities to snatch back more former Russian controlled territories—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for example, or even parts of Poland?

So my question is: Shouldn’t NATO countries draw a line now and respond militarily to the real and present danger of a Russian invitation of Ukraine? If there is going to be a fight, why not in Ukraine rather than in the Baltic where those countries are members of NATO and would surely invoke Article Five, which commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one state to be an armed attack against all states.

Let’s be clear. Diplomacy should absolutely be the West’s first choice, but not its only choice. Perhaps if Putin could be convinced that NATO would act to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, he would call off his attack. And, if he won’t, then military action will likely be inevitable within the next year or so. Will NATO be any readier to act then?

I don’t want to see war any more than anyone else, but a year from now I don’t want to hear our leaders lamenting: I wish we’d acted earlier.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Out of ideas, Wynne government turns to outsiders for help

The Ontario government, morally bankrupt and intellectually impoverished, are asking an advisory council to “optimize the full value” of the provincially owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the utilities, Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said, “We are looking to maximize the value of our Crown corporations owned by the people of Ontario. … Continuing public ownership, however, remains a key priority.”

Sousa announced that Ed Clark, president and CEO of TD Bank Group, will lead the new advisory council and will be joined by former PC finance minister, Janet Ecker, former NDP minister, Frances Lankin, former president and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, David Denison and president and CEO of Cineplex Entertainment, Ellis Jacob.

What special knowledge or expertise would two former politicians and the head of a pension fund have to offer, I wonder, that is not available within the civil service or among the elected officials at Queen’s Park?

And Frances Lankin, really?

In 2010, Ms. Lankin was part of an “expert” panel to do a social assistance review—Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario. The government, however, chose not to accept the panel’s main recommendation—to merge Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. This recommendation was generally considered central to the Commission’s final 2012 report’s 108 recommendations. So much for Ms. Lankin’s advice.

I guess, she’s back to try again

This latest “advisory council” seems to be pretty much a waste of time for all concerned—the sort of wheel-spinning we’ve seen throughout the McGuinty-Wynne administrations. This government has become notorious for seeking advice but ignoring key elements so that the exercise is made fruitless.

The right thing to do is end the province’s monopoly and privatize the LCBO, opening up the sale and distribution of beer and spirits to convenience stores, grocery stores, etc. Why? Because the LCBO is a consumer rip-off and a bloated rest-home for overpaid, underworked union members and government patronage appointees.

The easiest way for the Ontario government to squeeze more money out of the LCBO is to raise its prices. We don’t need ex-politicians to tell us how to do that. The LCBO is a monopoly so how hard would that be? The right thing, though, is to sell it off and start treating the residents of Ontario as adults, and stop treating us like dimwits who aren’t socially responsible enough to be trusted around alcohol.

Proof that alcohol can be sold successfully in privately-owned stores is provided abundantly by the existence of privately-owned The Beer Store’s hundreds of outlets and the more than 200 LCBO “agency stores” operated under an agreement with retailers in smaller communities. LCBO staff are not used in agency stores. There are also dozens of wine stores throughout the province, which are owned by Ontario wineries. My neighbourhood grocery store here in Burlington, in fact, has one such non-LCBO wine boutique within its store. Unfortunately, this small outlet only sells its own brands of wine.

Most arguments the Liberal government uses to support its monopoly on alcoholic beverages are weak and sometimes outright bogus. Now, though, with trade unions pretty much controlling Kathleen Wynne’s agenda—privatization, for example, is anathema to unions—they’d never give Wynne the OK to end this egregious policy.

Frankly, given the need for trade union approval, it’s highly unlikely anything worthwhile will come of this latest advisory council.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time to sell-off the CBC?

The CBC announced it will cut $130-million from its budget this year because of “funding shortfalls and revenue losses.” Consequently, CBC/Radio-Canada plans to cut 657 jobs and no longer bid for the rights to broadcast professional sports. The announcement came yesterday from CBC’s president and CEO Hubert Lacroix at a town hall meeting with the public broadcaster’s staff.

The shortfall in revenues comes largely from loss of revenue from Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, but the corporation also has been dealing with a loss of $115-million in federal government subsidies over the past three years.

My immediate reaction to the announcement was to wonder why we even needed a publicly-funded broadcaster in this day and age. Is there really a place for publicly funded broadcasting in Canada when our free-market economy provides choice enough, what with private networks like CTV and Global and a slew of independent and corporate-owned radio stations and cable channels? For me, government funding of the likes of the CBC is anathema to a free enterprise economy and a waste of taxpayers’ hard earned money.

In his 2012 budget, then finance minister Jim Flaherty reduced CBC funding by $115-million over three years, over which there were howls of disapproval from those who seem used to CBC’s high capacity for overspending, including Liberal heritage critic MP Scott Simms (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor) who said how concerned he was about the impact of the cuts on the CBC's ability to create programming and to reach far-flung rural areas.

“The wolves are at the door and circling when it comes to the CBC,” Mr. Simms reportedly said at that time. Was he unaware, I wonder, that following their victory in 1993, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals cut CBC funding by more than $400-million—about 33 per cent—over four years? Those cuts exceeded the Reform Party’s 1993 pledge to cut $365-million, and they far exceed Jim Flaherty/Stephen Harper’s current reductions in the CBC subsidy. The CBC coped back in the 1990s and it can cope now.

It is astonishing that the CBC receives over $1.1-billion a year in government funding in addition to revenues from commercials, etc., and still can’t make ends meet. How do the private networks do it? And, by the way, according to last Thursday’s Toronto Star, the CBC currently has 6,994 permanent employees, 859 contract employees and 329 temporary workers.

To start with, private networks don’t waste nearly as much. And they do much the same jobs with fewer staff than does the CBC. Over the years I’ve heard ex-employees of the CBC give examples of mismanagement, over-staffing and waste.

One report I saw claimed  22 CBC staff covered a professional sports event when other networks used an average of three. And there’s the criticism of the number of CBC delegates to journalism conventions, sometimes several times that of competing news organizations.

Moreover, the waste is everywhere. For example, QMI Agency obtained through Access to Information a report prepared for CBC’s board of directors, which shows that CBC workers were absent almost twice as often as private sector workers in fiscal year 2010-2011. This alone cost the broadcaster $17.7-million for that year.

Nonetheless, Liberals and New Democrats and their media cheering section like to cast the Conservatives as a boogeyman and the CBC as a hapless victim.

If the Conservative government is a boogeyman, what does that make the Jean Chrétien’s Liberals? And, if the CBC is a victim, it’s a bloated, over privileged one—one that will still have over 6,000 full-time employees and about $1.5-billion in revenues. Wouldn’t you think that with that in hand one could stop the whining and hand-wringing and get on with the job.

Or is the answer to close down the whole operation and sell off its assets?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jim Flaherty

This is the second time in less than a month I’ve written about The Honourable Jim Flaherty. Back on March 19, I wrote about his then recent resignation as Canada’s finance minister, a post he had held since he was elected to the federal riding of Whitby-Oshawa in 2006. It is so hard to believe that, less than a month later, I would be writing about his death.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I was not always a fan of Jim Flaherty’s policies. I have never doubted, however, his dedicated service, his devotion and his commitment to Canada, or that he was doing what he believed was best for our country.

When I first learned the sad news of his death yesterday, I thought I was having a “senior’s moment” and could not believe what I was reading—it took several moments for me to absorb the news. It just did not seem possible. But, yes, we have lost him, though not his legacy.

As finance minister, Mr. Flaherty piloted Canada through what PM Harper once characterized as our “most challenging economic times since the Great Depression.” His legacy—at least, one of his legacies—will surely be that he gained Canada a global reputation for strong economic management and a second-to-none banking infrastructure.

Here’s a quote from Bloomberg BusinessWeek when Mr. Flaherty retired:

World leaders have noticed Canada’s economic record in recent years. President Barack Obama once said the U.S. should take note of Canada’s banking system, and Britain’s Treasury chief said Britain looked to emulate the Ottawa way on cutting deficits.”

He was a great man.

I wish to offer my sincerest condolences to his family and friends and especially to his wife Christine Elliott and their boys, John, Galen and Quinn.

The Honourable Jim Flaherty, a great Canadian, may he rest in peace.

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