Monday, April 30, 2012

Global warming: unsettled science

One of the world’s foremost environmentalists has told MSNBC that his past views on global warming were “alarmist,” as, he said, were the views of other environmental commentators such as Al Gore. James Lovelock—who authored the Gaia theory—admitted, “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books—mine included—because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”

Lovelock, a hero to the green movement, also acknowledged that temperatures haven’t increased as expected over the last 12 years. “There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this major story is not receiving much attention in the mainstream media.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell



Saturday, April 28, 2012

PC’s Witmer climbs aboard the Liberals’ gravy train

The longest serving woman MPP in Ontario history, Elizabeth Witmer, resigned her seat just six months after being re-elected as the member for Kitchener-Waterloo, a riding she represented for 22 years. Liberal patronage has delivered her from elected government service and deposited her at a converted spot at the public trough, chairwoman of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

I don’t get it. Just six months ago, Ms. Witmer was campaigning, successfully, for public office. On Friday, though, she resigns from the very office she worked so hard to win. If she was not ready to fulfil her term, why run? Now she has given the Grits a second chance at a majority government.

Moreover, if she wanted out, why not seek employment in the open market like most of us, instead of accepting a patronage appointment that hands her a job without the benefit of open competition?

The 65-year-old Ms. Witmer will earn $188,000 a year in the full-time, five-year appointment, a nice step up from the $119,487 she earned as an MPP. Plus, I’m sure they’ll be many perks—there always are in those high-paid patronage jobs.

Ms. Witmer has proved herself to be a gifted and able woman—former deputy premier, and former environment, education and health minister—she didn’t need a job handed to her. And the job should not have been Dalton McGuinty’s to hand out as patronage. Important posts like that of the chairperson of the WSIB should be filled through open compensation so that every qualified candidate can have an even chance of getting the job.

This is a big loss for the Progressive Conservatives. Tim Hudak’s team isn’t so deep that he can afford a defection like this. Personally, I think Ms. Witmer’s departure speaks volumes about the state of the Tory caucus and Tim Hudak’s leadership.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell





Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ignatieff still doesn’t get it

The former leader of the federal Liberal party, Michael Ignatieff, still doesn’t quite understand the country he was born in and—until he was rejected by voters—wanted to lead. The most recent example of what I mean is his choice of words during a recent BBC interview about the Scottish independence referendum expected in 2014.

During the interview he mused about the inevitability of Quebec sovereignty. Quite shocking really considering the sensitivity of that topic. He now says he regrets the “distress” his remarks may have caused and says they were taken out of context.

During the BBC interview, though, there seemed little room for ambiguity. He said that, domestically, Quebec acts as though it were already sovereign. Curiously, Mr. Ignatieff cited immigration, natural-resources development, education and health care as examples of powers that had been transferred to Quebec in order to keep peace with the nationalists.

How so? Most of his examples are powers that date back to Canada’s 1867 Constitution Act. And all provinces have similar powers, though some choose to share them differently with Ottawa.

Of course Quebec acts, domestically, as though it were sovereign. Canada is, after all, a federation of individual states and as such—like every other province—Quebec is sovereign in virtually all domestic issues, including health and social services, public schooling, highways, local governments (municipalities) and the administration of justice. Even in areas like agriculture and immigration there is concurrent jurisdiction with Ottawa, though, in these two areas the federal government is paramount.

The fact that Quebec exercises its constitutional powers more jealously than some other provinces raises fears in Mr. Ignatieff that that province will “drift apart” from the rest of the country. Apparently, he sees decentralization as isolation.

Michael Ignatieff is not alone in this view. Many Liberals and New Democrats see centralization of government power as the answer to everything. That accounts for the constant attempts by federal MPs to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. Liberals and New Democrats are forever haranguing voters to back their initiatives in health care, social services like child care and education and, more recently, pensions.

In my humble opinion, one best understands Canada by understanding that we are a federation with regional differences. Quebec represents but one set of those differences.

Mr. Ignatieff reportedly said, “we’re almost two separate countries.” Not so. We are more like five different countries, domestically at least. And so what? We still share a common foreign policy and a robust set of criminal laws along with common standards of right and wrong.

We are diverse, not homogeneous, and what’s wrong with that? Who needs a central voice telling how we should live our lives and how much government we should have or how we should educate our children?

I’m surprised that a man who hoped to be our prime minister does not get that.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bev Oda’s what-could-she-have-been-thinking moment

The minister for International Cooperation, Bev Oda, MP for Durham in Ontario rose today in the House of Commons to deliver a mea culpa, but only after enduring a second day of being scorned by opposition imagemembers for transferring from one posh hotel to an even more luxurious one—and sticking taxpayers with the higher bill.

You’ve got to be pretty picky if you attend a conference at the Grange St. Paul’s Hotel in London, England and don’t find it a good enough hotel to stay at overnight.

But, apparently, the five-star Grange hotel was not up to the minister’s standards for she chose to transfer to the Savoy, an ultra-luxurious London hotel that cost more than twice as much as the Grange.

Ms. Oda then tried to stick the taxpayers with the bill for the extra cost for the Savoy and the cancellation fee for leaving the Grange—and a whopping $16 she paid for a single glass of orange juice at the Savoy.

Doesn’t get much tackier than that.

As reported by the Globe and Mail:

Eight hours after the expenses of the London trip were revealed by The Canadian Press, Ms. Oda’s office announced she had reimbursed the fee difference between the two hotels, as well as the cancellation fee at the first one. She also paid back the cost of a $16 glass of orange juice.”

We then got the usual mealy-mouthed words from Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan, who said, “Our government believes very much that all ministers must respect taxpayer dollars. The minister, of course, has repaid the costs in question.”

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair described Ms. Oda’s reimbursement as “more damage control than an honest application of the rules.”

I’m with the Official Opposition Leader on this one.

It seems that hardly a week goes by without some Conservative cabinet minister giving us reason to shake our head. Perhaps it’s time for Prime Minister Harper to shake up cabinet and move some of these dullards out.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell


Brigette DePape travels to Alberta to “Stop Harper’s Gang”


| Picture credit: clip from The Alberta Election Results, In Photos by Huffpost

The former Senate page Brigette DePape, who made headlines by holding up a “stop Harper” sign in parliament last June, travelled all the way from Ottawa to Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s home riding of High River, Alta. to hold up another sign, this one saying “Stop Harper’s Gang.”

Readers will remember that this is the same young activist who stood in protest during the June 2011 throne speech in the Senate, holding a sign that read, “Stop Harper!”

Such a clever girl, eh?

This shameful action earned Ms. DePape a prompt dismissal from the Canadian Senate Page Program—participants are expected to act in a non-partisan manner and not disrupt parliamentary proceedings—and got her international notice: her protest was featured in a front-cover illustration for a book, Contempt of Parliament, which was published in Ireland earlier this year.

In a subsequent interview, Ms. DePape is reported to have said, “Harper’s agenda is disastrous for this country and for my generation.”

Really? Such arrogance and in one so young. While Canada receives international praise—from far and wide—for its high quality of governance and its prudent fiscal management, this young woman condemns the government’s agenda as “disastrous,” and shows the utter contempt with which she, apparently, holds our parliamentary traditions.

And Ms. DePape’s arrogance, apparently, knows no bounds. Not content to allow Alberta voters to make up their own minds, she travels to that province to protest against the Wildrose party, saying Wildrose policies are more extreme than those of the federal Conservatives.

My guess is Albertans are quite capable of making their own voting decisions without gratuitous advice from outsiders, especially from one who recently thumbed her proverbial nose at one of our major democratic institutions, and now stands as a virtual poster-girl for contempt of parliament.

God preserve us from self-righteous leftists.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell

Ontario’s surtax on the rich

The premier of Ontario plans to implement a 2 per cent surtax on incomes over $500,000, even though he promised not to increase taxes to eliminate the deficit. Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to levy the surtax in exchange for support for his budget from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

In return, she says the NDP will not vote against the budget on Tuesday, meaning  the minority Liberal government will not be defeated.

The money raised by the surtax, $440-million to $570-million a year, will be applied to the current deficit and the surtax will be lifted once the budget is balanced in 2017, according to the premier.

We’ve heard that song before, haven’t we? Once the government gets used to receiving this new income, the tax will remain for a long, long time—you can count on it.

Ontario already has two surtaxes: earners of taxable income over $68,325 already pay a surtax and those with taxable income of $79,850 already pay a second surtax. How many more surtaxes can we expect?

In what amounts to blatant and cynical disregard for the province’s economic wellbeing, McGuinty offered:

So we’re asking those that can do most to do a little bit more to help us accelerate our plan to eliminate that deficit, so that ultimately we have a stronger economy and we can protect our schools and health care.”

Ontario’s government already has enough money to take care of all important and necessary programs. Its budgetary deficit has been caused by over-spending due to poor fiscal management and the implementation of unnecessary social programs—all-day kindergarten, unnecessarily small class sizes and the recent post-secondary tuition rebate to name a few.

The civil service has become bloated and is over-paid with ridiculously high pensions and other costly benefits. Under the cozy relationship they enjoy with the governing Liberals, teachers unions have been gaming the system and receiving annual wage increases for its members at three or four times the rate of inflation. They get increases to their salary grids and to their base salaries.

Here’s an excerpt from a Mar. 9 Globe and Mail article by Adam Radwanski, which sums up this boondoggle very nicely:

As it currently stands, that arrangement [salary grids] causes teachers’ pay to go up 5 or 6 per cent annually for their first 10 years of employment, or nearly 60 per cent cumulatively. Throw in automatic pay increases in reward for additional job training, and the salaries can automatically be cumulatively raised by more than 100 per cent, above and beyond the negotiated cost-of-living increases.” [Emphasis mine.]

At the government’s request, economist Don Drummond provided a road map to overhaul Ontario’s public service and get the province back to balanced budgets. For the most part, though, McGuinty has chosen to ignore the recommendations. Instead he choses to add a surtax, providing the government even more money to fund its excesses.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell

Stunning rebuke in Alberta elections

The upstart Wildrose party received a stunning rebuke from Alberta voters last night. Election bells that were supposed to ring a death knell for the Progressive Conservative dynasty in Alberta sounded peals of victory to celebrate the PC’s sweeping majority.

Prior to the vote, pundits seemed pretty sure of a win for the Wildrose—the election would serve only to confirm the actual margin of victory. Few, if any, predicted the reversal of fortune suffered by the new conservative party.

As with the federal Conservatives in 2004, an earlier lead by the Wildrose seemed to have evaporated on the final days of the campaign, and, at least in part, for much the same reason: controversial—some would say intolerant and outrageous—comments made by a couple of candidates.

Despite her pleasant personality and appearance of competence, gaffes by members of her team and a lacklustre platform hampered Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in her attempt to offer the alternative to Alison Redford’s liberal-like Progressive Conservatives that Alberta’s voters were looking for.

In the end, voters decided Wildrose needed more seasoning and gave it a term as official opposition. Hopefully for the conservative movement, that party will use the time to smooth off some of its rough edges. In the meantime, I am certainly looking forward to hearing Ms. Smith debate Ms. Redford in the legislature.

And in four years we’ll see what happens in round two.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell

Friday, April 13, 2012

Poor spending estimates versus spending scandals

The opposition parties would have us believe that the controversial spending estimates for Canada’s eventual purchase of 65 F-35 fighters equates to a real spending scandal, the like of which we saw regularly under the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien.

Remember the Sponsorship Scandal, or Jane Stewart’s billion-dollar Human Resources Development boondoggle, or the billion dollar cost over-run when implementing the Long-gun Registry to name but three? Those involved real money lost or unaccounted for by government departments under the supervision of Liberal ministers.

In the current dust-up in Ottawa, we have opposition MPs and CTV and CBC news hosts and pundits apparently ignoring the fact that no money has yet been spent to purchase a single jet. Yes, the estimates seem questionable. But no money has been wasted or misappropriated.

When the Liberals started the process to replace our aging fleet of jet fighters, they determined there were no better fighters to be had than the F-35s. We and our allies had forecasted our future needs—up to 30 years out, apparently—and come to the conclusion Lockheed Martin could be contracted to develop and build a fighter to meet most of those needs. That plane became the F-35 Lightning II.

We, the public, will not likely be told all the details of what we and our allies considered to be future military needs. For example, it would be embarrassing to our government if it were made public that it saw a military threat from China in future decades, and saw some of the F-35’s capabilities as crucial in any response we and our allies might want to make against China’s aggressive behaviour in, say, the South China Sea. For national security reasons there is a limit to the transparency we can have in military procurement.

So this is almost certainly the jet fighter that is best for us going forward, and the actual cost per plane will not likely be the deciding factor—the total number of planes will be adjusted to keep our budget onside.

But here’s what does bother me about this affair: Auditor General Michael Ferguson, in his recent report, presents evidence that the government knew the costs were $10-billion higher than the figure it gave to the public. In his 2011 report, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page also disagreed with the government’s public estimate.

So we seem to have deliberate obfuscation on the part of one or more senior minister. And that’s unacceptable.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell


Albertans get a clear conservative choice

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, left, debates Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford during the Alberta Election Leaders’ Debate on April 12, 2012. | THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

The voters of Alberta are fortunate to be offered a conservative alternative to the current “liberal” government. True, Alberta’s ruling Progressive Conservative party is home to many of Alberta’s conservatives, but the progressive wing of that party seems to have a firm grip on the reins of power.

From all indications I’ve seen, PC leader Alison Redford is a liberal in all but party name. She talks like a liberal and her government spends like one. Fortunately, in the upcoming election, Albertans can choose the conservative approach to government offered by Danielle Smith, the smart, charming leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta.

Thursday night the two women squared off on a number of occasions during the Alberta Election Leaders’ Debate, and each did well enough to claim a tie as winner, easily outclassing the NDP and Liberal leaders, Brian Mason and Raj Sherman respectively.

For me, Smith came out ahead because her calm, confident performance showed voters she’s a credible candidate for the premier’s office and capable of holding her own in the Alberta legislature.

Polling suggest Wildrose holds a lead over the PC’s, but may not get more than a minority government due to the four parties splitting the seats. But that’s OK, remember how Prime Minister Steven Harper’s Conservatives worked their way into a three-term-and-counting position atop the federal political landscape.

Best of luck to Ms. Smith and her Wildrose Alliance.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TKO for Trudeau over Brazeau

In what turned out to be much ado about nothing, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, the widely acknowledged underdog, soundly trounced Senator Patrick Brazeau, a Conservative, in a much-hyped three-round boxing bout. It was an amateur affair—part of the Fight for the Cure event for cancer research.

Brazeau, who was favoured to win, entered the ring at a muscular five-foot-10 and  weighing 183 pounds. He has a martial arts background and served in the military. While the Montreal MP was three pounds lighter and four inches taller than Brazeau.

Trudeau took up boxing in his early 20s, sparring on and off in a gym over the years. He is  three years older than the 37-year-old senator.

Brazeau more than held his own for the early part of the first round when he landed several stunning blows to the taller man’s head obviously intending to knock Trudeau out. By the end of that round, however, Brazeau was clearly out of breath and looked tired.

From the start of the second round until the referee stopped the fight in third and final round, Trudeau had the upper hand, pounding his foe time and again in an unrelenting attack.

By the beginning of the third, Brazeau was clearly exhausted and offered little resistance to Trudeau’s attacks. When he seemed unable to defend himself, the referee mercifully called the fight.

With unseemly bravado, after the fight and with his nose bleeding, Brazeau said, “He didn’t get me down,” and challenged Trudeau to a rematch. Someone needs to remind the senator that not being knocked down is nothing to brag about when the referee has had to stop a fight to save your skin.

The good news is the bout raised $230,000 for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. The bad news is the television coverage by Sun News Network was the most amateurish I’ve watched in years. It turned a worthwhile event for the benefit of a worthwhile charity into a self-indulgent farce.

© 2012 Russell G. Campbell