Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas


To all good cheer and good health.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Xmas tree

Pot calling the kettle black

The opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent Senate appointments seems strongest from those whoOttawa readily accept government hand outs to fund their own  political activity. Curious isn’t it: they can happily accept government subsidies, but the PM is criticized for exercising his legal right to recommend appointees to the Governor General. Critics decry such appointments as “patronage.”

Canadian-style patronage is something that the Grits made into somewhat of an art-form after decades of practice. Even while in opposition they block every attempt to reform the Senate, which, by the way, they dominated with 58 0f the 87 seats. Before the PM’s latest round of appointments, the Conservatives had only 20 seats.

Then there is the parsimonious Green Party whose very existence as a national movement would be in doubt were it not for government subsidies. And their leader, Elizabeth May, was only recently boasting that she had been offered a seat in the Red Chamber—and she seemed quite ready to accept the offer.

As for the Liberals: having lost the ability to tap the pockets of their big-business friends to keep their party afloat financially, they now rely on government subsidies for the majority of their funding.

Here is a useful definition of political patronage, I found it here:

quote-left-red-beige-bgPolitical patronage is the dispensation of favours or rewards such as public office, jobs, contracts, subsidies, prestige or other valued benefits by a patron (who controls their dispensation) to a client. In return, the client supplies the patron with some valued service, such as voting for the patron's party or providing money or labour for electoral campaigning. The relationship between patron and client is typically unequal, selective and discretionary; the patron does not generally grant favours to all potential clients but picks and chooses among them.quote-right-red-beige-bg

There is nothing illegal or even shady about this when Canadian tradition has for decades dictated that the PM should select Senate candidates of his own choice.

Merry Christmas!smleaf

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Worst provincial politician for 2008

John Tory takes the booby prize for 2008, edging out Premier Dalton McGuinty whose nose grew several inches during the Tory2003 election. Tory famously took his Progressive Conservative Party from projected victory to devastating defeat in 2007—loosing his own seat in the bargain—by inexplicably pressing an unpopular campaign promise to publicly fund faith-based schools in Ontario and having the hubris to leave his “safe” seat to run against a popular Grit cabinet minister, Kathleen Wynne.

Since his disastrous, muddle-headed 2007 campaign, Tory has insisted on hanging on as the PC Party leader despite only lukewarm support at the last leader’s review—about 67 per cent.

More recently, Tory has demonstrated his tendency to dither by his admission that he won’t be able to meet his self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31 for explaining how he planned to get a seat in the legislature. Almost 15 months after losing his seat, and he still can’t make up his mind. Incredible. Apparently, we won’t know any more until sometime in January.

Tory won the leadership in Sep. 2004, entered the legislature via a by-election in Mar. 2005 and lost his seat in the Oct. 2007 general election. He has not been a member of the House since.

In his 51 months or so as party leader, Tory has had a seat for about 30 months (less than 60 per cent of his term as leader).

It is true that many Canadian party leaders—René Lévesque and Preston Manning among them—took years to join their colleagues in an elected assembly. Manning at the time was, of course, the leader of a new federal party with a single member in the House. Also, I would submit to Mr. Tory: Sir, you are no Preston Manning.

In simple terms, John Tory is a political looser, and a stubborn one at that, who is desperately hanging on to redeem himself for his inept campaign in 2007. Good luck with that.

Tory headed up the federal PC campaign in 1993, in which Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservatives suffered the most lopsided defeat for a governing party at the federal level, losing half their vote from 1988 and all but two of their 151 seats.

Tory supported Dianne Cunningham’s 1990 bid to lead the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party—she lost to Mike Harris.

Tory then ran in the 2003 election for Mayor of Toronto and finished in second place, behind David Miller.

In 2007, Tory’s PC party lost the general election and he lost his own seat to the Grits—the PCs won only 26 of 107 seats and garnered less than 32 per cent of the popular vote. Most observers placed the blame for this massive failure squarely on leader John Tory.

After the 2008 leadership review vote—Tory received only 66.9 per cent support—he dithered for three hours before he announced to the delegates that he would be staying on as leader of the Party. What sort of leader goes into a leadership review without a crystal clear target of the amount of support he would need to stay on as leader? An inept one like John Tory does.

The man is an embarrassment as a politician—he should return to the work at which he is competent and leave political leadership in other more capable hands.smleaf

May vents

Still stinging from loosing her chance at a Senate seat promised by the Liberal-NDP coalition, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May mayvents  her bitterness by attacking Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee and recently appointed Senator, Mike Duffy.

Most will remember how, throughout her last federal election campaign, Ms. May frequently blamed the press for misquoting her. Recently she has been quoted by Maclean’s Magazine as saying:

quote-left-red-beige-bgThe media tends to spin and distort what I said.quote-right-red-beige-bg

Boo hoo, how pathetic.

Among a lot of other things, May should learn that it is not enough to want to spite PM Stephen Harper; to be an effective political leader, May needs to have something of substance to offer Canada.

Sounds to me like Elizabeth May has a serious persecution complex, which might explain a lot about the ineffective performance of the Green Party during their last federal election campaign.smleaf

Hypocrisy in all the wrong places

Few things get the MSM more riled up than Senate appointments. They seem to bring out excessive self-righteousness in even the most fair-minded journalists andOttawa columnists. I often wonder, though, where these same voices are when Senate Reform is being blocked by the Liberal Party.

Liberal prime ministers for decades have appointed everyone from professional hockey players to party bagmen, and all we hear from the MSM is how shameful patronage is. But how many of these have launched personal crusades to promote reform of the institution that is the root cause of the problem.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried to implement reforms that would have senators elected to an eight-year term. But how much support does he receive from the fifth estate? Not very much.

I think the MSM really likes the Senate just the way it is for it gives them opportunities to puff themselves up to the peak of their moral superiority. And that seems to sell newspapers and attract TV viewers.

As PM Stephen Harper said when he announced the latest appointments:

quote-left-red-beige-bgIf the opposition parties do not approve of these Senate appointments they should stop obstructing our attempts to introduce meaningful Senate reform. For our part, we will continue working with the provinces and reform-minded parliamentarians to build a more accountable and democratic Senate.quote-right-red-beige-bg

I think the MSM should also take a good look at themselves in the mirror—many will see a hypocrite staring back at them.smleaf

Garth Turner is at it again

That master of political spin, former Halton MP Garth Turner, in an effort to discredit Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claims the recent Senate and Supreme Court appointments are “borderline illegal” and “illegitimate.” These defamatory comments go well beyond fair comment and are unworthy of a former member of the parliament of Canada.

Turner writes in his blog yesterday,

quote-left-red-beige-bgLet’s remember that Stephen Harper is the prime minister today for only one reason: he shut down Parliament.quote-right-red-beige-bg

This, of course, is nonsense born of the sort of muddled logic we have come to expert of Turner. Stephen Harper is prime minister for one reason only: he is the duly elected leader of the Conservative Party which won the most seats in the October general election. Period.

Then Turner compounds his silly falsehoods by seeming to confuse the terms prorogation and dissolution of parliament. Prorogation is, of course, a period of parliamentary recess, during which the Speaker, the prime minister, ministers and parliamentary secretaries remain in office and, along with all other members of the House of Commons, retain their full rights and privileges.

Since appointments to the Senate and to the Supreme Court are within the “rights and privileges” of the prime minister, how can they be either “borderline illegal” or “illegitimate?”

This is more of the sort of hyperbole and muddled double-talk we heard from Turner during the last election. Turner despises PM Harper because the PM never appointed him, Turner, to Cabinet and later kicked him, Turner, out of the Conservative Caucus. Too bad he, Turner, cannot rise above his pettiness.smleaf

Monday, December 22, 2008

Garth Turner sets new standard for mean mindedness

Former Grit MP Garth Turner has set a new standard for mean mindedness. After being tossed out of the mike3Conservative Party and then rejected by voters when he ran as a Grit, Mr. Turner shows his true colours in a post he made on his blog today wherein he denigrates Mike Duffy’s Senate appointment.

Would that Turner had an ounce of the intelligence, decency and integrity—journalistic and personal—that Mike Duffy has demonstrated in his long career as one of Canada’s premier journalists.

In 1994, Mike Duffy was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame—how’s Garth’s journalistic career going?

Christian Conservative Blog has the story of Turner’s sour-grapes here.smleaf

Some get their reward right here on earth

As expected, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given 18 Canadians an early Christmas gift—a seat in the Senate.harper Four will fill vacancies from Quebec, three each in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and two each for Ontario and New Brunswick. One vacancy is being filled in each of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Yukon.

Among the best known names are: CTV host Mike Duffy, former broadcaster Pamela Wallin, Olympian Nancy Greene and Conservative fundraiser Irving Gerstein.

PM Harper said in a news release,

quote-left-red-beige-bgOur government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate. If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for.quote-right-red-beige-bg

The appointees have apparently pledged to support eight-year term limits and future Senate reform legislation. And according to the news release, each incoming Senator has also declared “his or her unwavering commitment to support Canadian unity and oppose the coalition.”

quote-left-red-grey-bgIf the opposition parties do not approve of these Senate appointments they should stop obstructing our attempts to introduce meaningful Senate reform. For our part, we will continue working with the provinces and reform-minded parliamentarians to build a more accountable and democratic Senate.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– PM Stephen Harper

Undoubtedly, the opposition will huff and puff with pretended outrage. And, in the case of the Grits, any such outrage is, of course, pure hypocrisy.

The reality is that Senate Reform is not possible in the present political environment, and that body has to be able to properly carry out its constitutional responsibility—currently the Senate is so undermanned that it is barely able to do so. That leaves the PM with little choice but to make appointments.

Looking at the list of new Senators, the PM could have done a lot worse. Many if not all on the list have earned the honour as much as any Canadian has.

For a full list of the appointments, see here.smleaf

McGuinty’s Christmas present to his buddies

The Two Bald Men (Michael Coren and Stephen LeDrew) radio program on Toronto’s CFRB this afternoon mentioned that Dalton McGuinty’s government has just McGuintysnuck a price increase through ($2 a case, I think) on the cheaper beers sold in the province.

Apparently, when Liberal government officials were asked about the increase, they claimed it had to do with the Cabinet wanting to promote socially responsible drinking. What tripe!

According to Dean Beeby of The Canadian Press, documents obtained under Ontario’s freedom-of-information law show that the Ministry of Finance, not the LCBO, pressed for higher beer prices—raising serious questions about the arm’s-length relationship between the two bodies.

quote-left-red-grey-bgThe Ministry of Finance recommends an increase to the minimum retail price for beer effective November 24, 2008.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– a memo distributed to LCBO board members for their Oct. 15 meeting in Toronto.

That gang of bandits at Queen’s Park should be the last politicians in the country to try to teach us anything of a moral nature. Two elections ago, those scoundrels broke the world record for telling lies in an election campaign. Now they have moral lessens to teach us? What cheek!

The best these do-nothings have accomplished in one and a quarter terms in office is to ban pit bull dogs and to blame Ottawa for everything they can think of.

This price increase has everything to do with rewarding Liberal government friends at the major beer companies who want the price difference minimized between their expensive swill and the more honestly priced $1-a-bottle brands.

When is the average Joe ever going to get a break in this province?

This is dirty old fashion politics at its ugliest. smleaf

Saturday, December 20, 2008

PM and McGuinty promise $4 billion to automakers

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty have promised today to lend General Motors and Chrysler $4 billion to help bail them out and save Canadian jobs. The money is emergency support to keep the companies out of bankruptcy and is tied to the US$17 billion CANADA-POLITICS/HARPER bailout announced yesterday by U.S. President George W. Bush.

The Canadian bailout, which represents 20 per cent of the U.S. package, will loan GM $3 billion and Chrysler $1 billion. Ford, which has been seeking a standby line of credit if necessary, is not part of today’s announcement.

As expected, there will be “strings” attached. One key condition is that 20 per cent of the auto production of these companies must stay in Canada. Other conditions include a request that the parts suppliers get the money they are owed, that the automakers accept limits on executive compensation, and that they provide the government with warrants for non-voting stock.

Mr. McGuinty warned the money will only be delivered after auto companies agree to meet the conditions set by the governments.

quote-left-red-beige-bgThose conditions include limits on executive compensations. The loans will only stay in place beyond March 31, 2009 if our governments are satisfied there are solid restructuring plans in place and underway.quote-right-red-beige-bg

It is not known, however, how many jobs are guaranteed under this deal.

Liberal MP Scott Brison accused PM Harper of sitting on his hands while elected officials in the U.S. carried out crucial negotiations to ensure the best return on their public investment.

Sun Media has Brison saying,

quote-left-red-beige-bgI want to see strong commitments to jobs and product mandate for Canada. We’re coming in very late in the game, and the chances are that Harper’s failure to have a seat at the table during the negotiations in the U.S. will mean we will be less able to protect Canadian autoworker jobs.quote-right-red-beige-bg

One day perhaps Mr. Brison will actually say something that is helpful to Canadians and not just those who hang on every word Grit leaders utter.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, of course, has doubts PM Harper’s promised cash will even see the light of day. He said,

quote-left-red-beige-bgHe’ll [Harper] make announcements from time to time, but he won’t deliver. I don’t have confidence that he will deliver this time. He didn’t deliver on the infrastructure money he keeps saying he provided. I have real worries about this, because he doesn’t really believe in this kind of thing.quote-right-red-beige-bg

What tripe. Poor Jack, he’s trying so very hard to sound relevant. He’s the forth string player standing on the bench desperately hoping that one day he too will get to play with the big boys.

Brison and Layton conveniently ignore the reality that our automakers are relatively small subsidiaries of much larger foreign corporations that are cutting their own deals with the U.S. government. The U.S. parent companies and their national government will determine the nature of any deal, not their Canadian subsidiaries.

quote-left-red-grey-bgIf the United States does all the restructuring themselves, the industry will move to the United States. That's not acceptable to the government of Canada,.

So we will work with the Americans, make sure that we get our share of a restructured industry.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– PM Stephen Harper

That eventual deal—assuming there will be one in the new year—will be whatever it is, and, sadly, there is precious little our politicians and diplomats can do to influence it. If the Americans play fair, we should come out of this with 10 to 20 per cent of North American auto production—apparently we currently have about 20 per cent.

What is not clear to me is how Mexico fits in all this. Mexico produces slightly more cars than we do. What will its share of the bail out be? Will future production continue there? If so, how will that affect the level of Canadian production?

Time will tell just how well this taxpayer give-away will be protected. My guess: not very well, and we’re not likely to see any of this loan repaid. This is a Christmas gift to the important auto sector of Ontario’s, indeed Canada’s, economy.

Merry Christmas.smleaf

Up the GST

The new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, said during an interview with CityTV News on Thursday that if he took power he would consider hiking the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST has been cut to 5 per cent from 7 per cent by Stephen Harper, when he was first elected prime minister.

Ignatieff said he would not hike the GST now because of the tough economic times, but that it might be necessary after a couple of ignatieffyears of budget deficits.

The Grits—while they were the Official Opposition—denounced the GST vociferously before its introduction in 1991. In fact, the Liberal-dominated Senate at that time refused to pass the tax into law, until then prime minister, Brian Mulroney, used a little-known constitutional provision to increase the number of senators by eight temporarily, thus giving the Progressive Conservatives a majority in the upper chamber.

quote-left-red-grey-bgLet me be clear here. If we are in a deep deficit in year three or four, you can't exclude tax increases to get us out.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– Michael Ignatieff

In response, the Liberal opposition launched a filibuster and further delayed the legislation.

Moreover, during the 1993 federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien promised to repeal the GST.

As so often happens with the Grits, however, they kept the tax in place during the Chrétien and Martin terms in office and, in a complete about turn, just as vociferously denounced the reductions (two per cent) made by Prime Minister Harper’s government. Yes, Grits like having things both ways.

Now the hypocritical Grits have come full circle. The very tax that in 1990 they were prepared to trigger a constitutional crisis to defeat, they now say they plan to increase.

How can we believe anything these people tell us? Have they no shame at all?smleaf

Auto bail-out: can we afford not to?

The recently announced bail-out package for the Big-three auto makers in the United States amounts to a $17.4 billion Christmas present to an industry that has very little chance of surviving the next 12 months intact. The general  consensus uscongressdoes seem to be, however, that this is the price U.S.  taxpayers must pay to have any chance of an orderly restructuring of their domestic auto industry.

Actually, this deal is a temporary rescue package for the Big-two U.S.-owned automakers: General Motors and Chrysler, along with their supply chain of parts manufacturers, etc. Ford seems to be in OK condition for the present and only needs to know there will be funds available if needed in the uncertain economic future of the next year or so.

On our side of the border, we will be shelling out some $4.2 billion of taxpayers’s money for our U.S.-owned auto makers. Details are expected later today.

quote-left-red-grey-bgI would estimate that by the time this is all over, they [U.S. government] could end up spending $150 billion, even more, $200 billion over the next several years.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland

Have no doubt, taxpayers will not see a cent of this money back. This is simply bridge financing to allow the automakers to survive until U.S. president-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, after which a more comprehensive bail-out package is expected. We probably will not know for several months just how much the rescue of the Detroit automakers will end up costing Americans and Canadians.

Peter Morici—a business professor at the University of Maryland and an outspoken critic of the Big-three—suggests the federal and Ontario governments could eventually contribute CAN$48 billion.

Another industry analyst, Bill Pochiluk of AutomotiveCompass LLC, said he thinks the bailout will cost the U.S. government “at least” US$60 billion, suggesting the Canadian figure will be closer to CAN$15 billion.

The way I see it, the Big-three are not viable in the long term, but this bailout should buy enough time for an orderly restructuring plan to be developed that, according to experts, will see Canadian workers giving up in the range of $15 to $25 an hour, and job losses in our vehicle assembly and parts sector of between 15,000 and 20,000. The three companies currently operate seven assembly plants, from Oshawa to Windsor, as well as parts factories, in southern Ontario, and have a combined workforce of about 35,000 people, with tens of thousands more working for their suppliers, etc.

In the United States, hourly wages for GM’s unionized factory workers are $29.78 per hour, while Toyota says it pays about $30 per hour. When benefit costs are added, however, GM’s total hourly labor costs balloon to what is said to be $69 an hour, including wages, pensions and health care for active employees and retired workers and spouses. Toyota, which has far fewer retirees and its pension and health care benefits are not as rich as those paid to GM workers, says its total costs are around $48 an hour. This $21 an hour difference can add up to an astounding $42,000 annually per employee.

With the Canadian dollar at par with the U.S. dollar, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) hourly wage and benefit costs are in the $75 an hour range. That’s $150,000 a year folks.

A disorderly collapse of the Big-three would have a catastrophic cascading effect throughout all three North American economies. If this can somehow be avoided with a total Canadian government investment of $15 to $40 billion in equity and/or repayable loans, I’m all for it. However, this cannot mean subsidizing wage costs five to six times the average industrial wage. This would be clearly unfair to Canadians who do not work in the auto sector.smleaf

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cooler heads prevailing

Listening to senior Liberal MPs John McCallum and Scott Brison yesterday one certainly gets the impression that their new leader, Michael Ignatieff, has encouraged them to tone down their rhetoric. Out is their mock outrage and hyperbole directed at the Tories; in is their more thoughtful, conciliatory reaction to recent bilateral talks with the Tories that seem to be finding common ground.layton

Socialist leader Jack Layton has apparently sniffed the changing  winds and is preparing an escape route from the bring-down-the-Conservatives chant of the past couple of weeks. Jack seems to get that the Liberal-NDP coalition is a non-starter with Ignatieff and with the majority of Canadian voters. He now sounds more conciliatory himself.

All of which leaves separatist Gilles Duceppe to carry the banner for a coalition of which his party is not even an official member.

Such are the vagaries of Canada’s political scene. A scant few days ago, Jack Layton was all set to take a seat in Stéphane Dion’s Liberal cabinet; today, events have shunted Jack and his puffery to the sidelines, totally irrelevant in this latest Tory-Grit rapprochement. And that is where an overwhelming majority of Canadian voters would like him to stay.smleaf