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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pay packets: federal public servants leaving rest of us behind

The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, has published a report showing that our 375,000 federal public servants have left the rest of us behind over the past decade or so when it comes to total compensation.

Most of us, I believe, will not be surprised to hear this. For, while many have struggled financially during the past decade, we have been aware that public servants, at all levels, have been receiving regular upgrades to their wages and enjoy some of the most generous sick-leave and pension benefits in North America. For the most part, sick-leave and pension benefits in the private sector pale by comparison.

Page’s report, though, puts some figures against what our guts were telling us: namely that the average federal public servant costs us $114,100 a year, a figure that Page expects to balloon to a whopping $129,800 in the next three years.

From 1999 and 2012, salary and benefit costs per public servant rose by a stunning 5.1 per cent annually—this is more than twice the 2.1 per cent average annual inflation rate over the same period. This is a growth rate well above the 3.3 per cent increase enjoyed by workers in the private sector, and even exceeds the 3.8 per cent gain for employees of provincial and territorial governments.

As an aside: last evening I watched Evan Solomon, host of CBC’s Power & Politics TV show try to deal with this report. Whether he deliberately wanted to play down the Budget Officer’s comparison between the public sector’s compensation increase and that in the business sector, I could not tell. But Solomon went off on a weird sort of tangent, suggesting the public servant’s compensation figure could somehow be compared to what it costs to keep a convict in federal penitentiary for a year.

Solomon lost me entirely. I would have liked to see him compare the figure to the pay a private in our army receives to put his life on the line for Canada in far off places, though.

But I digress.

Kevin Page’s report also helps explain why public servants’ compensation continues to grow even during periods of restraint, such as we had in the mid-1990s and in which we are now supposed to be. Apparently, many federal government employees receive pay adjustments over and above their annual pay increases by moving up to a higher pay scale from year to year.

I suppose this is similar to the “grid” system Ontario’s teachers enjoy and which has allowed them to receive salary increases well above those stated in most media reports—and well above the rate of inflation. A sort of built-in annual windfall most in the private sector can only dream about.

A really depressing take-away from the report is a projection that the average annual compensation will rise from the reported $114,100 to $129,800 by 2014-15. This despite the Tory government’s promises of restraint.

Yup! Every year we borrow billions of dollars just so fat-cat public sector unions and their members can be kept in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed—and, apparently, to heck with the rest of us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

UN set stage for war in Palestine Territories

The united Nations, with its ill-conceived Nov. 29 decision to grant the Palestinians the status of non-member observer state, has probably set the stage for all-out war between the Hamas/Fatah-led Palestinians and Israel.

It certainly seems—based on celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank—that the Palestinian leadership believes it has earned the UN’s approval as an independent entity with the right to access the International Criminal Court.

Moreover, Palestinian expectations seem high enough to encourage the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, to visit Gaza for the first time ever to preach his hatred and contempt for Israel, telling university students on Sunday:

God willing, we shall liberate Palestine together, inch by inch. We started this path and we are going to continue until we achieve what God has promised.”

At an earlier rally, the Hamas leader promised to liberate the entire land of Palestine, and said, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation.”

Strong words indeed from a man who, less than a month ago, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Cairo  he was “ready to resort to a peaceful way, truly peaceful way, without blood and weapon.” He also said Hamas had accepted a two-state solution based on the borders of 1967.

Flushed with self-declared victory in their recent conflict with Israel, Khaled Meshaal’s Gaza-based terrorist organization seems to be positioning itself to capitalize on its popularity with the Palestinian public and become the senior partner in a renewed working relationship with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah political party that governs the West Bank.

Should reconciliation occur between Hamas and Fatah, it would end the uneasy alliance between Abbas and Israel, which exists only because both sides are united in their opposition to Hamas. And, should Hamas gain the upper hand in any new partnership with Fatah and become the central player in Palestinian politics, forget about a peace agreement with Israel any time soon.

I just don’t see a current Israeli leader negotiating with Hamas, an organization whose leaders time and again kill Israeli civilians while repeatedly stating their refusal to recognize the Jewish state.

With no prospect for a peaceful solution and with Hamas calling the shots for the Palestinians, the situation on the ground will likely deteriorate, leading inevitably to a Third Intifada, this one almost certainly more terrible than the last.

As one of Israel’s staunchest allies, Canada’s resolve to stand by the Jewish state will be severely tested should my prediction prove accurate. Hopefully, PM Stephen Harper will be up to the test.

Monday, December 10, 2012

United Nations vote to recognize Palestinian state premature

Back on Nov. 29, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted by a huge majority to recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member state with observer status. That vote occurred exactly 65 years after the UN passed the Partition Plan for Palestine, which provided the legal basis for the formation of the State of Israel.

Nine countries voted against the resolution: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, U.S., Panama, The Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, and Micronesia, while 138 countries voted for it and 41 abstained.

That’s a sad reflection of how few friends Israel has in the international community. And what’s with 41 abstentions? Does this mean that 41 countries don’t care which way the vote turned out, or didn’t have the guts to go on record with an opinion? Probably the latter.

I’m pleased to see that PM Stephen Harper’s government stood by Israel and cast Canada’s vote against what can best be described as a premature resolution. I say premature because Palestinians have not shown they are capable of governing anything.

Once ever few (very few in fact) years Palestinians hold an election, and between times they live in a state of turmoil and undemocratic rule, depending on the international community for handouts. Gaza, a part of the proposed state of Palestine, even has a terrorist organization as its government!

Have Palestinians ever ruled themselves? The geographic regions typically called Palestine have been for centuries under the rule of other countries including the Ottoman Empire and, following the First World War, the British who ruled under Mandate from the League of Nations.

The U.K. terminated their Mandate in 1947, and the UN adopted a resolution to partition Palestine between an Arab state, a Jewish state and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. The Jews of the Mandate area accepted the proposal, but the Arabs rejected it. A civil war followed and the establishment of the State of Israel was declared in 1948.

The part of Palestine designated for the Arabs was taken over by Egypt (Gaza), Jordon (West Bank and East Jerusalem) and the remainder (26% of the Mandate territory) by the new Jewish state. Israel did no seek or start this war—the Arab states surrounding it did!

After enduring the stress of living surrounded by belligerent neighbouring Arab states, and being constantly under threat of invasion and annihilation, Israel initiated the 1967 Six-Day War and captured neighbouring territories, some of which are part of what the Palestinians now claim as their state—the so-called Israeli-occupied territories.

Since the Arab Palestinians refused to accept their portion of the partitioned British Mandate and stood by while Egypt and Jordon gobbled it up, there never was a Palestine state.

Following the end of the 1967 war, the Israelis offered to return the Golan Heights to Syria, the Sinai to Egypt and most of the West Bank to Jordan in exchange for peace. Unfortunately, Arab participants refused the generous offer, declaring “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.”

As far as I’m concerned, Arab refusal to take back the West Bank makes that territory Israel’s to do with as it pleases. Because Israel—unlike its Arab neighbours—is a democracy, it has been trying to negotiate a way to provide the Palestinians with a state of their own.

For the most part, those Palestinians have repaid Israel with years of savage attacks on its civilian population and have been doing everything they can to isolate Israel from the international community. Hatred of Jews seems to be a defining characteristic of most of the Arab world and especially of most of the Palestinians.

Palestinians gave up their lands to Jordon and Egypt and could not win them back through military means, including, for a time, international terrorism. Jordon and Egypt relinquished those lands to Israel, not to some Palestinian state which did not exist. Only peaceful negotiation with Israel will see those lands returned to an Arab state.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Privatize liquor sales and gambling a Tory bait and switch?

Tim Hudak, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, suggests we take a look at privatizing liquor sales and gambling in Ontario. So, is this just another political bait and switch scheme or does he really intend to follow through and incorporate this into a future Tory election platform?

Readers, if you’re waiting for privatization, don’t hold your breath.

The last time a PC government sold off a key government asset was the sale of Highway 407, which was sold in 1999 in what I’d categorize as more of a give-away—I bet my 15-year-old granddaughter could have cut a better deal.

Furthermore, we’ve had other politicians promise privatisation of our “sin” industries, but never carried through with the measure. It seems to me, also, that Tim Hudak has been opposed to privatizing the LCBO in the past. And remember that the Dalton McGuinty Liberals ran against privatization in the 2003 and 2007 elections, yet reversed themselves and were ready to do just that in 2010, before changing their minds once more.

The way I see it, offering to privatize liquor sales and gambling is one of those bright shiny objects politicians hold up to catch the attention of the media and grab some space in the day’s headlines. It’s one of those cynical games politicians never seem to tire of playing.

Mind you, I believe it would be a good thing to privatize liquor sales and gambling. For one thing, governments should never be engaged in commerce, especially in mature industries where there is every expectation that private operators could do as good or better job. Moreover, the so-called “sin industries” are the very last ones in which I want my government involved, let alone monopolizing.

The LCBO and our “gaming” corporation exist primarily as feather beds for public-sector and other union workers and little more. Just another way to help keep the labour unions on-side for the next election campaign.

Income received from these government agencies could just as well be approximated from taxes on privately operated, government regulated enterprises.

The fact that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) is government owned did not stop corrupt practices, nor should we have expected that it would.

Both the OLG and the current Grit government understand the private sector can do a better job. Recently Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was quoted as saying that the Liberal government is “already privatizing the OLG”. And OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti said recently:

OLG is expanding the engagement of the private sector to build and run day-to-day operations of existing and new sites, as well as develop new technology and games for lottery terminals.”

I say get out of gambling and booze altogether. And not because of ideology or money but because of principle—it is, after all, the right thing to do. Remember, monopolies are the enemies of private enterprise and consumers, no matter who owns them.

By the way, Alberta successfully privatized liquor retailing, warehousing and distribution in 1993. Here’s a current quote from an Alberta government Web site:

…private liquor retailing has been remarkably well received by consumers and everyone involved in the liquor industry and continues to meet the original objectives set out by the government.”

Those who claim the LCBO being in government hands, of itself, helps prevent alcohol abuse or use by minors are misguided or are being disingenuous. Spend a Friday or Saturday evening in any urban centre in Ontario without wilful blindness, and that myth will soon be dispelled.

Privatize, regulate and tax, that’s the ticket.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

KPMG report on F-35 costs expected next week

An awful lot of fuss is being made over the soon to be released KPMG report commissioned by the Harper government on the projected life cycle cost of the F-35 program. Apparently, the National Post has seen sections of the report and has a piece by John Ivison in today’s paper giving some of the details.

One of the main takeaways for me is that, according to Ivison:

The report validates much of the costing done by National Defence. The acquisition costs are identical at $8.9-billion. DND calculates sustainment costs will be $7.3-billion, while KPMG says $15.2-billion. On operating costs, DND estimates $9-billion, whereas the accountancy firm calculates $19.9-billion.”

The biggest difference in cost estimates is in the length of time over which the costs are estimated: Department of National Defence used a 20-year period; KPMG used a 42-year lifespan. So—surprise!—the new study shows an enormously higher total cost—nearly $46-billion, in fact.

This is indeed a staggering amount for taxpayers to fund, but, in isolation, it is almost meaningless. In the absence of an alternative to which it can be compared, how can anyone make a valid value judgement? Is there really an option to not buy a replacement for our aging fleet of CF18s? I don’t believe there is.

Not that the Harper government should not be in for a full share of criticism over this file. From the beginning, this procurement issue has been handled in an unnecessarily ham-handed manner. And I’d say Defence Minister Peter MacKay could, justifiably, be shuffled out of his important portfolio over bungling his attempt to manage the process.

It seems pretty clear to me that our government has already made a “moral” commitment to the Americans that we’ll purchase F-35s, making it all the harder to pull out of the program. Moreover, DND, according to Ivison, “remains a staunch advocate of the F-35.” Consequently, the government will need all its persuasive powers to convince taxpayers that this hugely expense fighter is the “right” one for us.

The Conservative government is apparently asking other manufacturers for estimates and information on availability and capabilities of other planes. I’m happy to hear this. With this information in hand, we’ll all be able to better judge whether to side with the government or with the opposition on this issue.

Our politicians too often treat these things as political footballs and Canada loses out as a result. Ivison reminds us of the financial and military disaster former Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien made of the Mulroney government’s plan to replace the Canadian Forces’ aging fleet of Sea King maritime helicopters.

Jean Chrétien cancelled the AgustaWestland EH101 helicopters purchase made by Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives, paid a $500-million termination fee and rigged the subsequent contest to prevent AgustaWestland from winning.”

That was back in the early 1990s, but the Sea King fiasco was still playing out in late November of this year when DND reported that one of those old Sea King helicopters was forced to make an emergency landing in a vacant lot in Halifax after experiencing mechanical problems.

So let’s hope the Harper government can get back on track with the CF18s’ replacement and make a decision that’s right for Canada and to heck with the politics.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Elizabeth May: does she understand the difference between winning and being close?

Tasha Kheiriddin’s piece in today’s National Post does a good job highlighting MP Elizabeth May’s hubris regarding the results of the three recent federal by-elections. Ms. May sees three losses in three by-elections—one a solid trouncing in the Ontario riding of Durham, in which her Greens got only 4 per cent of the vote—as warranting her assessment that her party did “remarkably well.”

Kheiriddin quotes the leader of the Greens as crowing, “…Green party surge was a key factor in both [Victoria and Calgary Centre] elections and that’s something that’s a take-home. We’ve arrived.”

I suppose one claims victories where one can, when you’re the leader of a party caucus comprised of one member—the Greens aren’t even an official party in the House of Commons. All Ms. May has been able to offer her party is misses, both near and far, though she did win a British Columbia seat for herself in the 2011 general election—the only seat the Greens have ever won in an election.

Ordinarily one might admire the pluck of Ms. May, but when she crows over these poor results, I just loose patience with her hyperbole. After all, it’s not like the Greens are a new, or even newish, party—the environment-first party has been around since 1983.

The Green Party ran a full or near-full set of candidates in several past general elections, and in the last one it managed to garner less than four per cent of the national vote and elect only one member. Since their founding in the early 1980s, they have set Canadian records for futility at the polls.

Consider that during the Green Party’s almost 30 years of existence, the Alberta-based Reform Party was founded from scratch; gained status as the official opposition; out-grew the entrenched Progressive Conservatives before later absorbing them; and formed the government of Canada after each of the last three general elections.

In contrast, Elizabeth May finally won a seat in the House on her third try, and hers was but one seat of 304 her party contested. Doesn’t this lack of accomplishment tell us something about the Green Party, its leader and its message? Would it suffice to say ineffectual or perhaps irrelevant?

As Kheiriddin observed:

Elizabeth May has been the leader of the Green Party since 2006. During that period, we constantly have been assured that the Green moment is just around the corner. But it never seems to come. And there is little evidence that it will be coming any time soon.”

Really, do we even need a Green party? Over almost three decades, they have collected millions of dollars in taxpayer money and elected exactly one member. What a dismal return on our investment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rob Ford: right ideas, wrong man

The mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, came to office in late 2010, and at that time many, including this writer, were surprised that he had been chosen to lead arguable the most left-of-centre city in the nation—a city that had elected Barbara Hall and David Miller, for goodness sake. So who’d have thought a hard-right fiscal conservative like Ford had one chance in a million to be elected as mayor.

Rob Ford, though, had the right message, namely, “Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Remember his campaign, “Stop the Gravy Train!”? Large numbers of voters agreed with Ford that Toronto politicians had lost respect for the city’s taxpayers and that there was far too much wasteful spending at City Hall. And, in Ford’s view of the world, labour unions—who were pretty much calling the shots for decades in Toronto’s municipal politics—would take a backseat to taxpayers and their families.

Refreshing to hear, eh?

Ford’s campaign provided the right messages at the right time—a powerful combination in any election. And it didn’t hurt that his chief competitor for mayor came in the form of a former member of Ontario’s spendthrift Liberal government.

Notwithstanding his election win, however, the influential left-wing media, never really accepted Rob Ford as mayor. Apparently, he was not as sympathetic to the Gay and Lesbian community as they believed was appropriate. He was not as “smooth” socially as their would have liked, or, apparently, as sophisticated. So their anti-Ford media campaign continued unabated throughout his term as mayor—even to spying on the mayor when he was at home in his backyard.

Unfortunately for conservatives across the land—who welcomed the example that Ford’s fiscal responsibility set for all municipalities—as mayor he provided too much fodder to feed the voracious appetites of the Left’s media machines.

There was one silly, mainly avoidable, controversy after another: reading while driving on the highway; illegally chatting on his cell phone while driving; passing the rear door of a streetcar, while its front door was open; to name the most avoidable. I say “avoidable”, because, as mayor, Rob Ford is entitled to a driver and car, but Ford turned down the city-provided benefit.

Now Rob Ford has, apparently, broken the law. Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles T. Hackland, having found that Ford violated provincial conflict of interest rules for municipal politicians, has given him two weeks before he must vacate his office as mayor.

This is serious stuff and, at the very best, a rookie mistake. But Ford’s no rookie, he’s been a member of Toronto City Council since 2000. In other words, he should know better.

Rob Ford will appeal the decision of the court, as expected. But, really, with his political capital running low—not to mention the ebbing away of personal goodwill felt by local taxpayers and other resident voters—what sort of an impact will he have even if he is allowed to serve out his term? Not much of one, in my estimation.

I will say, however, that Rob Ford has already done a great job of tempering the fiscal appetite of Toronto City Hall and has slowed down its tendency towards waste and an attitude that public service unions know best and should be catered to. For that he’s a winner and Torontonians should feel grateful for his efforts.

Mayor Ford, though, just does not seem to know how to be a mayor. He’s got the right ideas to be one, and he’ll walk the talk. He’s already demonstrated that. But he seems to suffer from some sort of mental block when it comes to implementing his ideas and, well, just acting mayoral.

In other wards, he’s the wrong man, perhaps, but with the right ideas, and The City of Toronto could do well not to toss out his ideas as it shows him the door.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Et tu Justine Trudeau?

Update – Nov 23, 2012 1:02 pm: Justine Trudeau says he’s sorry about comments he made—as related below—according to The Canadian Press. He says, however, that he was using “shorthand” to criticize PM Stephen Harper, not to criticize the people of Alberta. Some apology, some leader.

By their own words will you know them. Another prominent Liberal party caucus member let the veil slip momentarily to show his real nature and belief system—in particular, his anti-Alberta bias.

On Wednesday, I wrote about David McGuinty’s message to Canadians that Alberta MPs who favoured the energy sector should not serve in Ottawa.

This time around, it is a video from a 2010 French-language TV interview that shows front-running Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau saying Canada is struggling because Albertans control the social agenda, and that the country would be better served with more Quebecers in power.

The Dauphin of Quebec told his interviewer, “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”

And here’s the best part, as reported by the National Post:

Asked if Canada is better served when there are more Quebecers in power than when there are more Albertans in power, Mr. Trudeau replied: ‘I’m a Liberal so of course I believe that.’

“He went on to add: ‘certainly when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century, those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec. … This country— Canada—it belongs to us’.”

It’s quite incredible that a person who seems likely to lead the Liberal party within the next six months should hold such a bigoted view of Canada outside Quebec. Canada belongs to us, he said, meaning Liberals from Quebec. And that is not taken out of context or from some old tapes of a college debate. His words come from an interview with Tele-Quebec that was shot in the last couple of years.

The initial statement issued by Trudeau’s campaign team tried shifting blame to guess who: the Conservatives, of course. It read in part:

[The Conservatives] are clearly concerned that they are losing the byelection in Calgary Centre and are resorting to smear campaigns to stop their slide.

“Justin knows that Calgary, Alberta and all of western Canada are at the very heart of Canada’s future. That’s a message he has taken to every part of the country, from the beginning of the campaign. We need to get beyond the divisive politics of the Conservatives and include all Canadians.”

Readers can judge for themselves who is being divisive: Trudeau or the Conservative party.

A by-product of this recent disclosure will be a test of how serious the other Liberal leadership candidates are: are they really in the race to win, or are they there to higher their profiles and gain plumb roles in the Dauphin’s future shadow cabinet—once he’s been coronated, of course? My guess is most are there for the latter reason. And, in any event, they probably share Trudeau’s view of the Liberals’ superiority and aren’t likely to use their leader-in-waiting’s words against him.

Those who are serious about winning the leadership will use Trudeau’s “gift” to slow him down, at least, in his race for the crown.

So how much Trudeau’s words will hurt his candidacy for leadership of his party is an open question. It’ll hurt, I believe, if others in the Liberal party step up and refute his stated opinions. The Grits have officially backed off from David McGuinty’s words and made him apologize for saying them—McGuinty has also (probably under pressure) resigned his critic’s role in the party’s caucus.

If Liberal leaders don’t publicly rebuke Trudeau as well, then chances are, although not as far ahead as before, he’ll still be in the front of the pack—at least, until his next self-inflicted shot in the foot.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Federal Liberals overtaking New Democrats in poll

The federal Liberals have moved into second place with 29.0 per cent of committed voters behind the first place Conservatives who have 33.8 per cent support. This according to a Nanos Research Survey conducted between November 9th and 15th, 2012.

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP trail the frontrunners with only 27.2 per cent, a decline of 0.7 percent in the past month, while the Greens and the BQ have 3.7 and 4.9 per cent of support respectively.

The poll is a Nanos national random telephone survey of 1,004 Canadians of voting age. The results are said by Nanos to be accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. For 776 committed voters, it is accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

Interesting—for some heartening—to see support for the Dippers on the wane. It wasn’t too long ago that we were hearing a lot about a “government in waiting” and similar optimistic assessments of Mulcair’s NDP. Perhaps even more worrying for the Dippers is the apparent resurgence of support for the Grits in Quebec (31.6%)—perhaps it’s in anticipation of another native son, Justin Trudeau, taking the helm of the Liberal party.

Outside of Quebec, PM Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are ahead across the country and especially in Ontario (39.7%), Prairies (48.4%), and British Columbia (39.4%). In Quebec, the news is more sobering with a paltry 11.5 per cent support. In Atlantic Canada, the Conservatives are in the barest of leads (0.2%) over the Grits.

When it comes to voters’ assessments of the individual leaders, however, there is no contest: PM Stephen Harper has a comfortable lead in the categories of “trust,” “competence” and “vision of Canada.” And the “Total Leadership Index Score” for the leaders are: Harper – 104.2,  Mulcair – 43.6, Rae – 37.7.

Like many readers, I don’t set too much store by opinion polls, but they do indicate trends and, for Conservatives, the trend is positive and good news is always welcome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Former federal Liberal cabinet minister Joe Fontana charged with fraud

The mayor of London, Ontario and former federal Liberal cabinet minister, Joe Fontana, has been charged with fraud by the RCMP. The CBC reports that, following a two-month investigation, the mayor faces three criminal charges of fraud, breach of trust by a public official and uttering forged documents.

Serious stuff indeed.

The allegations go back to when Fontana was a Liberal MP, and  relate to a $1,700 cheque issued by Public Works Canada that was used to make the deposit on the 2005 wedding reception for his son Michael. And, according to reports by The London Free Press:

A former Marconi Club manager told The Free Press Fontana later produced a similar cheque for the $18,900 balance owing. He said he remembered the payment clearly because he had to chase Fontana six months to get it.”

I’m distressed to think that this man—innocent ’till proven guilty, I know—once held the office of federal minister of labour and housing. Moreover, he was a member of the government during the time covered by the allegations.

Remember when Bruce Carson, one of PM Harper’s former aides, was charged with influence peddling? Remember the outrage expressed by the Grits when that news hit the street? How outraged will they be about one of their former cabinet ministers now facing potential jail-time, I wonder?

I am disgusted when I think about the sort of government those guys were running for all those years. Fontana sat at the cabinet table, for goodness sake—no pun intended.

Apparently being Alberta-first disqualifies MPs from being in Ottawa

The Liberal MP from Ottawa, David McGuinty, seems to believe that being Alberta-first disqualifies MPs from being in Ottawa. In his world, apparently, MPs cannot support their constituents’ interests and their local industries, because, in McGuinty’s words, “They are national legislators with a national responsibility…”.

What silly nonsense.

According to David McGuinty—Premier Dalton McGuinty’s brother, by the way—those MPs who strongly support Alberta’s energy industry are “shills” who “who lack national vision.” He added:

They really should go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature."

Are all Liberal MPs that bigoted against Albertans and their energy sector? Let’s hope not. I certainly would like to hear a clarification from those Grits who plan to contest the Liberal Party leadership as to how they feel about McGuinty’s statements. What a toxic environment they’d be in Ottawa if the Liberals formed a government the members of which shared this MP’s narrow views.

Same old Grits, eh? Anyone who doesn’t share their view should just shut up and go home. Funny, though, you don’t hear the Grits talking the same way about Quebec-first MPs, of whom so many have populated the Liberal party’s seats in the House of Commons for decades.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Second time lucky? Hall Findlay enters Liberal leadership race

Former MP Martha Hall Findlay has formally announced in Calgary she’s entering the federal Liberal leadership campaign. This is the second time since entering politics as a candidate in the 2004 federal election for the Ontario riding of Newmarket-Aurora, that Ms. Hall Finlay, 53, has sought to lead the federal Grits.

Here’s the text of her launch speech.

Interestingly, the former high-profile Liberal MP chose to make her announcement in the heart of true-blue Tory country and not in her old riding that she lost in 2011 to Conservative MP Chungsen Leung. She’s also chosen Stephen Carter to run her campaign. He’s credited with leading the successful leadership and provincial election campaigns of Alberta Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford.

Hall Finlay has had an up-and-down political career: she lost the Newmarket-Aurora riding in the 2004 election to Conservative Belinda Stronach; she was eliminated after the first ballot of the 2006 leadership race and threw her support behind the ineffective Stéphane Dion; she won the riding of Willowdale in a federal by-election in 2008 and was re-elected in the general election later that year, but lost her seat in the 2011 vote.

She joins MP Justin Trudeau, lawyer Deborah Coyne, Vancouver Crown prosecutor Alex Burton, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi and former B.C. Liberal party president David Merner in a contest that will conclude in April 2013.

Frankly, I don’t think Hall Finlay has much of a chance. To begin with, she has not demonstrated a solid record of winning elections. Moreover, she’s tied closely to Dion’s losing campaign platform in the 2008 general election—Hall Finlay was the party’s platform outreach chair. And, finally, she lacks gravitas.

Oh, she’s well educated and seems like a very nice person, but I don’t see her taking hold of the Liberal caucus. Nor do I see her chairing a G8 meeting or representing Canada at other international conferences.

I must say, though, I was more than a little impressed with Hall Findlay’s research paper calling for the dismantling of Canada’s supply management, something I’d call a rare bit of Canada-first positioning by a politician. Here’s the National Post’s John Ivison’s take on Hall Finlay’s paper:

As Martha Hall Findlay reeled off the reasons why Canada’s supply management system should be dismantled, you could almost hear time’s winged chariot changing gears in the background. The former Liberal MP’s research paper, which landed in the week the Harper government joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, has the potential to change everything.

“Written for Jack Mintz’s School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, it is the latest to lay out the irrefutable case for consigning the supply management of dairy, poultry and eggs to history.”

It has to be said too that others—to their regret—have underestimated this former ski racer. She’s got pluck enough, though I fear that may not be enough to win.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Liberals’ latest “renewal” set to start Wednesday

Iheard this morning that the federal Grits are faring better in at least one poll, and at the expense of the New Democrats. The survey by Abacus Data is interesting in that the NDP has a relatively new leader while the Liberals’ long-term leadership is very much in question. (Dr. David Coletto explains the poll results here.) And, by the way, Stephen Harper’s Tories were relatively safely ahead (+ 7%) in that poll.

The survey comes a day before the Liberals officially launch their latest leadership race and desperately attempt to regain relevancy on the national political scene.

On Wednesday, candidates for the Grits’ top job can file paperwork with the party and Elections Canada, as well as ponying up a $25,000 cheque for their first of three instalments covering the $75,000 leadership race fee. This will set in motion—officially at least—a five-month campaign that some insist is crucial to the long-term health of the national version of the Liberal party, and yet one more attempt at “renewal”, whatever that means this time around.

Since September 2003, the federal Grits have renewed under Paul Martin, then in 2006 they renewed under Stéphane Dion, only to renew once more under Michael Ignatieff in 2009. Now after 17 months or so under interim leader Bob Rae, the Grits are again talking renewal.

Folks, that’s sure a hell of a lot of renewal.

Here are the likely candidates, based on what I have gathered from media speculation:

Several candidates have already indicated their intention to run. We have, of course, Justin Trudeau and Deborah Coyne, who were joined recently by Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi—they have officially announced their intentions.

Then there is Martha Hall Findlay who is also expected to enter the contest with her announcement scheduled for Wednesday in Calgary. Earlier this year, the former MP finally paid off debt from her 2006 leadership bid, so has removed that impediment to another try at the top job.

To that group we might be able to add Montreal MP Marc Garneau and Vancouver MP Joyce Murray who have, apparently, said they’re still making up their minds. And, according to a Toronto Sun report, other candidates are Alex Burton, David Merner and Jonathan Mousley. How serious they are is anybody’s guess at this point.

This race is important to all Canadians and especially to conservatives. For, at some point in the future, the Stephen Harper government will falter and Canadians will seek a change in Ottawa. When that time comes, the Grits will be all that stands to block a full-blown socialist government that’ll set our country back socially and fiscally a decade or more, and cost us our hard-earned place on the world stage.

Unfortunately we need a strong Liberal party—just not too strong.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rough ride ahead as America approaches fiscal cliff

As America stumbles and lurches towards the so-called “fiscal cliff”, seemingly oblivious to the world around it, the rest of us are left to watch fearfully, apprehensive that this time America will make a miscalculation and set off the mother of all financial crises.

The economies of Canada and the United States are joined at the hip, though a much mismatched hip as the U.S. economy is about 15 times the size of ours. If America is stubborn—some may say reckless—enough to leap off the fiscal precipice, Canada will be in for a rough ride indeed. We can only hope we still have enough fiscal room to counteract the results of $600-billion of cuts to U.S. government programs and the ending of tax deductions that will have the effect of raising taxes significantly starting in the new year.

Such a gigantic reduction in spending and increase in taxes will suck so much stimulus from its fragile economy, America is likely to sink back into recession and drag Canada along with it. Canada would not be able to avert the downturn, but may be able to cushion it somewhat as we did in the 2008 recession—though Canadian jobs and our slowly recovering prosperity are bound to suffer.

One does wonder, though, whether a U.S. Congress in gridlock, with the majority Republicans’ record of thwarting each fiscal initiative of the President, can pull back from the economic abyss in time to avert a 2008-like crash.

So here we go again, another year of being whiplashed by a Republican-controlled House opposing tax increases and a Democrat-controlled Senate that refuses to make reductions to social programs.

Oh, brother, hang on to your hat!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ontario leadership: Pupatello and Sousa take on Wynne and Murray

The Ontario Liberal leadership race is already more interesting than the federal one. Former cabinet minister and Windsor, Ont. MPP, Sandra Pupatello, formally launched her bid for the Ontario Liberal leadership today.

Premier Dalton McGuinty set off the race on Oct. 15 when he announced his retirement and prorogued the legislature. He has pledged to remain in office until a new leader is chosen. The rule is that candidates have to resign cabinet positions, if any, before entering the race.

Ms. Pupatello joins Toronto MPPs Kathleen Wynne and Glen Murray, who resigned from cabinet and have officially declared their candidacies. Other candidates have until Nov. 23 to launch bids that, if successful, will win them the premiership of the province.

I’ve also read reports that Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa is expected to announce that he’ll run, and apparently intends to do so when he makes an “important announcement” at Mississauga on Saturday.

The London Free Press reported yesterday that local MPP, Health Minister Deb Matthews, will not run. And earlier we heard that Energy Minister Chris Bentley, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Education Minister Laurel Broten and Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid will sit this one out.

The Grits will choose McGuinty’s successor the weekend of Jan. 25, 2013, in Toronto. So, less than a month since the premier’s decision to resign, we have three cabinet ministers and one former minister about to face off in what should be a spirited game of pick-me!

Notwithstanding the fact that I’m a PC supporter and so have no chance to vote for the new premier, I do have skin in this game (or race or whatever). After all, the next premier will have the power to make policies and enact laws that could potentially have an impact on my wellbeing. Moreover, as a resident of Ontario, I don’t want to see some dolt leading the government.

At this point, I like the plain-speaking Sandra Pupatello for the job, and I’m guessing she’s entering the race as the favourite. Should she win, she would, of course, make history as Ontario’s first female premier. I am somewhat perplexed, however, that Ms. Pupatello decided not to run for re-election last year, saying it was time for a change. Yet here she is competing for more of the same. Let’s hope this is not more of the usual Liberal duplicity or mendacity we’ve come to expect from this edition of the Ontario Grits.

Since Ms. Pupatello did not run in the last general election, she can probably distance herself from the recent gas plant scandal. That all seems to stem from an election campaign decision. I don’t see how any of the other former cabinet members can escape fallout from that wrong-headed and expensive decision, however.

The next premier will be facing something of a mess and will be expected to head a government in disarray and currently holding the opposition at bay with the controversial use of prorogation. It’ll take political skill and sound judgement to avoid being the shortest serving premier in the province’s history.

Three strikes and you’re out?

In baseball, the rule is, three strikes and you’re out. If that rule held in politics, the Republican party would now be permanently consigned to the role of minority party. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Strike one on team GOP came with their selection of George W. Bush as their leader. Bush the younger turned out to be no better than the fifth-worst president of the United States, and represented a wasted opportunity to build a conservative dynasty.

It was Bush’s cowboy style, reckless actions and intellectually bankrupt policies—both domestic and foreign—that set America on its downward spiral, and which now threaten its once unassailable pre-eminence in virtually all categories of human achievement. 

Strike two: picking Senator John McCain as its candidate to replace the failed presidency of George W. Bush. Sen. McCain, a wile veteran politician, was well past his best years and on the down slope of his career when he was nominated by the GOP—the party that never compromises—as a compromise candidate.

Sen. McCain compounded the error of his party by insulting the American voters when he selected, as his running mate, then governor Sarah Palin—a neophyte politician, who was otherwise unsuitable to be a heartbeat of a 72-year-old away from the office of president and commander in chief. Result: Barak Obama defeated Sen. McCain in the 2008 presidential election, winning with a 365–173 electoral college vote margin and a 53 per cent to 46 per cent popular vote edge. Even McCain’s campaign strategist John Weaver later denounced Gov. Palin for being “petty and pathetic” for sections of her post-campaign book, Going Rogue: An American Life.

Strike three: the GOP allowing the Tea Party to gain such influence over its candidate selection process, spoiling Republican chances of taking control of the Senate. Richard Cowan, in a Nov. 8 piece for Reuters, writes:

The ground is strewn with the bodies of failed Tea Party candidates in states where Democrats otherwise would have been sent to their own political graves: Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012; Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, to name a few.

“Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the head of the Tea Party Caucus—Michelle Bachmann—appears to have just barely dodged defeat on Tuesday, while colleagues including Allen West and Joe Walsh were not as fortunate.”

While the Tea Party may have the high ground on issues like smaller government, budget deficits and federal debt, it’s out of step with the majority of American voters when it comes to social issues like abortion and immigration. It’s a mystery to me how any adult politician could co-join terms like “legitimate” and “rape” as Republican senate hopeful Todd Akin did last summer, or give voice in public to silliness like that of another Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s nonsense about pregnancy from rape being “something that God intended.”

One wonders how many chances a political party deserves before being seen as irrelevant. Canadians never did give the now defunct federal Progressive Conservative party a second chance after it was reduced to just two seats in 1993. That party limped through a couple more elections before being absorbed by the Reform/Canadian Alliance and is now—except by a few diehards—largely forgotten.

There really is no parallel in the U.S. to our federal PCs, of course, but there is more than one route to political irrelevance.

The GOP, thankfully, is not in need of much more than a tweaking of social policies and a reorientation towards the new reality of American demographics. That and some common-sense flexibility on fiscal/tax issues and they could very well rise again to take the White House in 2016.

Here’s one conservative hoping the Grand Old Party is up to the challenge.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Peggy Nash wants to micro-manage PM Harper’s security?

Apparently, given her druthers, New Democrat MP Peggy Nash would like to look over the shoulders of our nation’s security experts at the RCMP and micro-manage the personal security of our prime minister. Surely the Official Opposition is better than that. (See here for details.)

Does NDP leader Thomas Mulcair really believe the PM’s personal safety and security is the subject of parliamentary oversight where it will be politicized by partisans like Ms. Nash? If so, he should be ashamed of himself.

As most readers know by now, the PM is touring India on the serious business of international trade and investment, and the RCMP has decided he needs two specific vehicles to maintain his safety. Consequently these had to be airlifted to India at quite some expense.

But I say, so what?

Does not the PM of a G8 nation need a high degree of security when travelling abroad, especially to a country with a relatively recent track record of terrorist attacks on domestic and foreign targets? One need only to peruse this Wikipedia page to understand that India can be a very dangerous place, with dozens of terrorist incidents in the past dozen years.

And who would best protect a prime minister on a tour of such a country? Certainly not Peggy Nash or anyone in the NDP!

Certainly there are no shortage of files with which the opposition and Canadian mainstream media can play political games and wring out something about which the Tory government can be made to feel uncomfortable. So why choose this one?

Yet, BC Blue points out that the Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press and CTV seem intent on politicizing the RCMP’s decision to ship the armoured vehicles to the PM in India. They and the CBC have tagged-teamed sufficiently to give Dippers like Ms. Nash every opportunity to make political hay of the issue.

And don’t believe for a moment that costs are the NDP’s concern. That party’s leaders—the late MP Jack Layton and his wife MP Olivia Chow—ran up well over a million dollars in taxpayer-refundable expenses for a single year in office. Where were Ms. Nash’s calls for detailed explanations, transparency and accountability then? Readers should take a look at a Toronto Star article on MP expenses here, and check out the free trips the Dippers dream-team took listed here, and you’ll soon see that they do not hold any part of the moral high ground.

I say the RCMP should be free of political interference while carrying out its threat assessments and be free also to implement security measures it deems appropriate to protect our PM, and it’s a shame Peggy Nash, apparently, cannot see the merit of this position.


America faces four more years under Obama’s care

The people of America have spoken and have done so loud and clear. The message to politicians—at least as I heard it—was, enough with hyper-partisanship! We don’t need a new set of politicians, so back to Washington you go and get things done, fix things, do your jobs.

I thought it was telling that folks looked so favourably on the image of New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie and President Barak Obama getting along and trading praise last week as they toured some of the hardest-hit areas of New Jersey soon after super-storm Sandy passed through that state.

No weasel words from Gov. Christie. None from the President. No partisan talking points or bafflegab. Just words from the hearts of two statesmen—America-first statesmen.

I believe the broad majority of Americans want to see the bipartisan spirit from the example set be these two leaders taken to the nation’s capital and used to solve very real problems facing America: the fiscal cliff, the budget deficit, the mounting national debt, not to mention unemployment, energy strategy and the increasing threat of Chinese hegemony.

Yes, Americans have spoken, but were the politicians listening? We’ll see soon enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Obama will win tomorrow’s too-close-to-call election

Tomorrow, Americans head to the polls for a presidential election most pundits agree is too close to call. The more reliable polls show the lead, if any, within their margin of error, and some pundits believe the winner of the most Electoral College votes may not win the popular vote.

That’s close, folks.

Despite the closeness of the polls, though, I have a growing belief that incumbent President Obama will prevail and win a second term in the White House. And, not only will he win, but he’ll do so convincingly, taking up to 300 or more electoral votes.

Most polls show the President in a slim lead or tie, and a tie, I believe, will go to the status quo—to the devil American voters know, i.e., Obama. Furthermore, Romney’s comeback since the first debate, in which he outperformed the President, was softened and been somewhat blunted by the President’s solid performance in the two later debates and his excellent, presidential, performance relating to the storm-ravaged East Coast. And enthusiastic praise from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not hurt in that regard.

Moreover, recent economic news seems to have broken in the President’s favour. America’s economy is recovering and with it are the rising hopes of a second term for Obama. The President is seen in a more favourable light now by voters in general than at almost any time in the past couple of years—except, of course, when the news broke about Osama Bin Laden’s capture and execution by American special forces.

It’s too bad for Americans—and for me—that the “real” Mitt Romney took so long to emerge and show his stuff to America at large. Gone now is the hard-right conservative we saw at the height of the GOP nomination race from late winter through most of this past summer to be replaced by a moderate, who exudes confidence and comes across as, well, presidential.

America sorely needs a conservative at the helm. And a conservative with a strong track record as a businessman would be a glove-fit.

But America does not need a hard-right, my-way-or-the-highway conservative beholden to the extreme elements of the Republican Party, who wants to take the nation back to the George Bush era of American hegemony at the expense of rational foreign and domestic policy—and fiscal responsibility.

To win over those extreme elements and secure the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney had to turn himself inside out—become someone he was not and never was—and, in the process, ruin his chances of winning over enough of the general population to win the White House.

Romney’s come damn close though. The New York Times observes, the:

…political prize that eluded him in 2008 … is suddenly within agonizingly close reach, despite it all: an ugly and seemingly endless primary, wall-to-wall attacks by Democrats on the private equity firm he founded, a botched foreign trip and, not infrequently, gaffes.”

Yes, thanks to a mediocre first term, President Obama has put his continued presidency in jeopardy. And only extreme elements in a recalcitrant Republican Party has saved his presidency from history’s dustbin—and that fate may yet overtake this President.

It’ll be a long night on Tuesday—I can hardly wait for the outcome.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Will the real Romney please stand up?

While, in general, I favour the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, in the upcoming election, I got to thinking after watching last night’s presidential debate: which Mitt Romney are we likely to see after the election—assuming, of course, he’s elected president?


Over the past three years or so, I’ve seen, at least, four versions of Mitt Romney.

Firstly, we saw the reasonable, middle-of-the-road former governor who was proud of his moderate—dare I say, liberal-like—agenda as governor of Massachusetts, including a government healthcare program that seemed to become the model for so-called Obama-care.

Secondly, when the nomination process got underway formally, we saw a middle-of-the-road presidential nomination candidate, still proud of his liberal-like agenda as governor, though insisting his healthcare program was not at all the same as President Obama’s.

Thirdly, as the nomination process progressed, we saw in Romney a Regan-wannabe battling to secure the Republican nomination—he had shifted to the hard right to appease Tea Party and social conservative supporters. This was the social and economic conservative Romney—nothing middle-of-the-road about this Romney—battling the likes of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, et al to see who would wear the mantel of “real conservative,” in the Ronald Reagan mould, of course.

Fourthly, having secured the nomination, we saw Romney gear back down and revert to more of a moderate politician, but with the baggage of all that had transpired and been said and claimed during the heated nomination race.

So which Romney did we see last night? He certainly was restrained, but was he moderate? Does his non-confrontational approach last night signal he is again the moderate who governed Massachusetts or was that demeanour just a sham to cover the hard-right Romney we followed last summer.

And that’s a problem for Romney supporters on Nov. 6. Will they be able to tell which Romney they’ll actually be getting, should he win the vote?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

What goes around comes around

The one thing most politicians and political pundits seem to have in common is a penchant for hypocrisy. Take as an example the reaction to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s proroguing of the Ontario legislature.

Since McGuinty’s announcement that he is closing down the legislature, I’ve read and heard all sorts of high sounding reasons why this is such a bad thing—mainly from conservatives.

These are many of the same voices who staunchly defended PM Stephen Harper’s proroguing of parliament in 2008—to avoid a confidence vote and almost certain defeat in the House of Commons—and again in 2009 amid the parliamentary dust up over the Afghan detainees issue.

But, of course, liberals never have to take a backseat to anyone when it comes to hypocrisy. Readers may remember the outrage—much of which, I believe, was feigned—expressed by Liberal politicians and their media supporters over PM Harper’s federal prorogations and note the general support they are now giving to Premier McGuinty’s recent suspension of the Ontario legislature.

To me, prorogation is a tool to be used by a prime minister or premier as he or she sees fit.

While prorogation is especially useful to end a secession of parliament so the government in power can begin afresh with a throne speech and new agenda, there are the less seemly cases in which prorogation is used for strictly partisan political purposes.

It all depends on the particulars of the situation facing the government at the time. And the leader of the day must make the call and face whatever consequences accrue to that decision.

If a government were to prorogue to shield itself from criminal activity, we do have our police and regulatory agencies which are free to carry on their own investigations even if parliament/legislature is not in session.

As for scandals—the real, not the politically manufactured kind—they’ll sit and fester and be there to stink up the offending party’s next election campaign, for, ultimately, it is left to voters to decide whether or not they believe the government that prorogued acted responsibly, ethically, lawfully and so forth.

PM Harper, apparently, “got away” with his prorogations—having won a significant majority in the last general election he faced. Time will tell how well the Ontario Grits will fare as a result of Mr. McGuinty’s attempt to dodge the political fall-out on the floor of the legislature and in the committee rooms, not to mention the resulting adverse media coverage.