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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dimming the lights

Dear readers, I’m closing the shutters and turning off the lights for an indefinite period here at Russ Campbell’s Blog. My passion for politics has cooled in light of events both at Ottawa and at Queens Park, where scandal dominates the news and partisan politics and seeking after privilege and insider favour seem to have taken precedence over doing what’s best for our country.

While this hiatus is for an indefinite period, it will not likely be permanent, and I’ll probably be back online in a few months. Until then, thank you, it’s been fun.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A blow for free expression

On Thursday, the Senate gave third and final reading to Conservative MP Brian Storseth’s private member’s Bill C-304 to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, striking a much appreciated blow in favour of freedom of expression.

I believe most Canadians, like myself, understand that in a modern democracy we must all accept limits to rights such as free speech. The example most frequently used here is that one can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. Most, though, would accept as I believe, that any such limits must be reasonable and—as stated in our constitution—“can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

To me, limits imposed on Canadians by Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act were not reasonable—especially as they were being interpreted by some human rights commissions and tribunals—for mere hurt feeling were being used to justify hash penalties. This was made all the more egregious by virtue of the fact that under Section 13.1, “intent” is not a requirement, and “truth” is not a defence. All that is required is that a human rights tribunal finds that one has expressed “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” and that the person be a member of certain specified groups.

It’s worth noting that repeal of Section 13 doesn’t give a free rein to hate mongers haunting the Internet, for as Sun News’ David Akin reminds us:

With elimination of Section 13, producing and disseminating hate speech continues to be a Criminal Code violation but police and the courts will adjudicate rather than human rights tribunals.” [emphasis mine]

Once Bill C-304 receives royal assent, we can only hope provinces with similar legislation will follow suit, spelling the end of the practice of un-democratic, free-speech deniers using such legislation to overreach in their campaigns to enforce political correctness or to advance other agendas.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senate on the job

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The Senate is showing Canadians that it’s on the job and doing that which they are constitutionally mandated to do: providing sober second thought to legislation it considers flawed. In this case its Bill C-377, a Commons private member’s bill that would have forced trade unions to file financial statements and disclosing to the public any expenses over $5,000, along with the salaries of their employees making more than $100,000.

For the record, I like Bill C-377 and would not have so thoroughly gutted it, as the Senate has, by making the legislation apply only to unions with more than 50,000 members and not to locals or branches. Nor would I have made an amendment that raises the threshold at which a union official would have to divulge his/her salary to $444,661.

Consider, however, that the latter amendment imposes the same threshold Conservative MPs used when they amended (gutted) their own—at that time—MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill on the disclosure of federal public salaries. This drips with irony, eh?

I like the idea that senators are standing up for themselves, as much as I lament that so many MPs have abdicated their responsibility to their constituents by acting like a bunch of trained seals, following to the letter all edicts and messaging emanating from the PMO’s unelected boy wonders.

Complaints from members of the lower House that unelected senators should not change or block legislation sent to them by the elected House of Commons have never resonated with me. The Senate has an important role in our system and should take this role seriously and be far more vigorous in pressing its constitutionally protected prerogative.

There is, undoubtedly, fault to find with the Senate. But that fault has far more to do with the lack of care in making selections for Senate appointments than the fact senators are appointed rather than elected. After all, Supreme Court justices are appointed not elected, and they can overturn laws made by parliament—and do so with some regularity. So, if we are capable in making excellent appointments to that august body, why not to the Senate?

For too many decades, successive prime ministers have been too partisan and too inclined to patronage when they have appointed senators. Consequently, the Red Chamber has been stuffed with party hacks, bagmen and failed or retired politicians expected to rubber stamp legislation from the lower house and otherwise stay quietly out of the way.

If we were to put prime ministers in office who are real statesmen who appointed “bulletproof” senators, they wouldn’t be disappointed and embarrassed with or by Senate scandals, and—even more important for Canadians—we’ll be the recipients of better all-round, thoroughly vetted legislation.

Of course, a country-before-party approach may be too much to ask of any career politician—or am I being too cynical?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Supreme Court denies appeal of Rob Ford’s conflict case

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the appeal of Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford’s much-publicized conflict of interest case—and rightly so in my opinion. No reasons for dismissing the appeal were provided by the court. The dismissal, however, did not seem to surprise legal experts who reportedly say the court only accepted 12 per cent of appeal requests made last year.

There seems to be an influential—and, apparently, well heeled—left-of-centre faction in Toronto, including one major newspaper, who seemingly will not accept the democratic election of Rob Ford in late 2010. Since then, their holding of the mayor to account has shown excessive zeal to the point of downright harassment—such as spying on the mayor when he was at home in his backyard.

Of course, Ford’s lot is not been helped—as I have said before—by him providing 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 has chosen to turn down the city-provided benefit.

In my view and despite the controversies, Rob Ford has done a great job of tempering the fiscal appetite of Toronto City Hall, slowing 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.

For his part, though, Mayor Ford needs to learn how to act like a big-city mayor. He’s got the right ideas to be one, and he’ll walk the talk. He’s already demonstrated that. But he needs to loosen what seems like a “mental block” when it comes to implementing his ideas. He needs to smooth out his public demeanour. And it wouldn’t hurt to be seen as being a bit more sophisticated.

Mayor Rob Ford has the right message, namely, “Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Remember his 2010 campaign, “Stop the Gravy Train!”? Large numbers of voters agree with Ford’s contention that Toronto politicians had lost respect for the city’s taxpayers and that there was far too much wasteful spending at City Hall. With Ford in charge, labour unions—who for decades were pretty much calling the shots in Toronto’s municipal politics—would take a backseat to taxpayers and their families.

The news of the Supreme Court’s decision will be welcomed by the mayor and his many supporters, I’m sure, and lets hope it’ll help stop—or, at least, slow—the ebbing away of personal goodwill felt by local taxpayers and other resident voters.

Friday, June 7, 2013

About Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus

The recent resignation of Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber from the Conservative caucus highlights once again the opening of small fissures in the once rock-solid public face of the federal Tory party. From this we are reminded that a prime minister who expects intelligent, educated men and women to offer unquestioning adherence to strict party policy year in and year out is probably setting himself up for a major disappointment—and unnecessarily so.

Surely Conservatives deserve a party that is bigger than one man—i.e., Stephen Harper—and one narrow view of the political landscape and, most certainly, one that is much, much bigger than a PMO whose ineptness has become far too obvious in the years since the Tories gained power in 2006.

Senate misconduct, mindless secrecy, un-ending annual budget deficits, shoddy record keeping in government departments leading to billions of dollars being unaccounted for, sophomoric performances in the House of Commons during Question Period and now “a secretive fund operated out of the PMO to pay for political party costs.”

And all this against a backdrop of a group of hyperpartisan “kids in short pants” running the PMO and telling elected MPs twice their age (and considerably wiser) how to do their jobs. And without the commitment to transparency and accountability we’d all been told to expect. After all, wasn’t that one of the big differentiators between us and the Grits?

Makes one wonder if the federal Tories, who practice political expediency at every turn, or so it seems at times, are anything like the party I thought I was voting for—and I’ve been voting for conservative parties since the 1960s.

As to the churlish suggestion by a PMO representative that Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election: such petulant responses have become all too typical a reaction on the part of the current Tory government. Of course, no such suggestion seems to have been made to David Emerson, who after quitting the Liberals following the 2006 election, joined the new Conservative government as a cabinet minister.

The manner in which the government neutered Mr. Rathgeber’s Bill C-461 (a.k.a. the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act) might suggest the caucus left him, and his resignation only formalized the de facto relationship.

In his I Stand Alone blog entry, Mr Rathgeber lamented, in part, “I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.” I’m sorry to say his fear seems well grounded.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trudeau: another in a line of gaffe-prone Liberal leaders

The new Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau has demonstrated he’s as ineffective and maladroit as were Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff when it comes to making public comments at the wrong time and place.

Mr. Trudeau had hardly been through his coronation when he showed how ill-prepared he is for big-league Canadian politics. CBC’s Peter Mansbridge asked this question on Apr. 21:

Let me try to ask this as fairly as I can, because it’s only a couple of hours after something has happened that clearly was not an accident. In Boston, people have died, many people are injured. You’re the Canadian prime minister, what do you do?”

In answering, Mr. Trudeau rambled on at length about root causes and folks feeling excluded. Here’s a portion of his statements.

We have to look at the root causes…. There is no question that this [terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon] happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents.

“Yes, there’s a need for security and response. But we also need to make sure that as we go forward, that we don’t emphasize a culture of fear and mistrust.

“Because that ends up marginalizing even further those who already are feeling like they are enemies of society.”

At a different time—say days or a couple of weeks—following such a terrorist attack, it would probably be wise to dig for root causes. But at such a time—just hours after terrorists had blown apart dozens of Americans—Mr. Trudeau’s comments were vague, wishy-washy and insensitive and, frankly, seemed just plain dumb to me.

After almost totally ignoring the victims and their suffering families, Mr. Trudeau hastily implied that American society (perhaps ours too), rather than the two terrorists, was the cause of the tragic events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

There is no root cause that justifies attacks such as these. No alienation or feelings of exclusions can be used to excuse or explain the mindless action. This was a blatant, unjustified act of hatred.

At the time Mr. Mansbridge asked the question, I’d expect our prime minister to offer words of condolence to the victims and their families and call on Canadian officials to assist with medical help and the apprehension of the perpetrators and their accomplices, should such help be needed.

The root cause of the terrorist attack in Boston is evil—the very same sort of evil preached and practiced by what seems to be and increasing number of radical Islamists. And let’s not look for moral equivalency here, for no fair-minded person will find any.

American society did not radicalize these men, Islamists did. American society came to the aid of the bombers’ family and gave them a safe place to live and the opportunity to seek a good education and to prosper. Radical Islam offered them hatred and death.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Burlington’s budget increase for 2013 an outrage

The approval of a 4.5 per cent increase in the City of Burlington’s 2013 budget is an outrage and an insult to taxpayers, especially those on fixed incomes, of which there are many residing in the city. By blending the increase—which is several times the current inflation rate—with other portions (regional and education) of the property tax bill, the city’s council is trying to give residents the false impression that the increase was only 2.1 per cent, itself about twice the current inflation rate.

To top it off, the city council kept the increase to a mind-numbing 4.5 per cent by drawing down reserves by $2-million! And one of the more egregious items in the budget is a subsidy for the new Performing Arts Centre amounting to about a half-million dollars. This is outrageous by any measure, especially when the city projects it will spend a bit more than $9-million in total for the 2013 fiscal year.

Ward 2 City Councillor Marianne Meed Ward proposed $2.2-million in cuts, but these were mostly rejected by the spend-happy group we have at City Hall. Thanks to her for trying, though.

The Burlington Arts Centre has the earmarks of a white elephant, not unlike the unfinished, overdue, money-sink-hole Brant Street Pier.

Let’s hope we get some fresh blood running in the next election so we can show these inept politicians the door. With a couple of exceptions, we can safely vote blindly for any non-incumbent, he or she couldn’t be much worse than the gang we have now, and that goes double for the mayor.

Perhaps Meed Ward will run for mayor and introduce some much needed fiscal responsibility.

Federal Grits learning the difference between being involved and being committed

I think we are all familiar with the breakfast dish: bacon and eggs, and with the chicken’s involvement and the pig’s commitment to the popular dish. So too must the federal Liberals be agonizing over the involvement level of their so-called registered supporters versus the commitment of their party members.

Here we have a political party that is struggling to remain relevant to Canadian voters at the national level, and now their leadership campaign seems to be falling flat on its face. The Grits have had to water down their voting requirements to the point that anyone and everyone seems to qualify, yet they are unlikely to garner enough eligible voters to even match the NDP, which restricted its 2012 leadership election to party members only.

According to The Hill Times, “One of the [Liberal leadership] campaigns told The Hill Times that as of Tuesday morning this week a total of 115,090 party members and Liberal [party] supporters … had gone through the registration process.” In last year’s vote for its leader, the federal NDP had about 131,000 eligible voters (party members)—though only 65,108 bothered to vote in the first ballot.

At this rate, the Liberals will be hard-pressed to reach 130,000 eligible voters by tomorrow’s deadline for registration. This despite a one-week extension of the registration deadline and the Grits’ crowing over an announced total of 294,002 members and party supporters signed up as of March 4. Further indication the Grits have indeed fallen to third-party status in more ways than one.

The whole faux leadership race has become somewhat of a joke.

Justin Trudeau’s huge Twitter following apparently chased off, at least, a couple of strong challengers even before the leadership race began officially. Then we had the spectacle of Marc Garneau bailing out to support the Dauphin, who he’d spent months trying to discredit, telling Liberals that Trudeau’s leadership is little more than a pretty face and empty platitudes. So the apparent runner up folds and genuflects to the Dauphin, in hope, I suppose, of securing favour with the eventual winner.

But the former astronaut may have miscalculated. There seems some evidence to suggest Vancouver MP Joyce Murray has been signing up more committed voters with her emphasis on the environment and a scheme (described as “electoral cooperation”) to unite the left in an attempt to defeat Stephen Harper’s Tories. She seems popular with David Suzuki and his crowd and those who would like to see Canada’s first-past-the post electoral system replaced with some kind of proportional representation system.

If Murray can get enough momentum going, more of these supporters might follow through by registering and voting for her than will many of Trudeau’s Twitter followers, and we still could see a real race to the finish.

But, perhaps, I engage too much in wishful thinking. The more likely outcome when voting ends April 14 (it begins on April 6) is a Trudeau coronation as most envisioned at the start of the contest.

I’d never want to underestimate Justin Trudeau, but nothing he has done or said so far in the contest leads me to believe he’s a gifted leader. Still, one never knows. I voted for Michael Harris as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives while believing he’d struggle to do justice to the job, and he grew into the job and became Ontario’s best premier since William Davis. Perhaps Trudeau can also rise to the occasion and reclaim second place from the socialist-Quebec souvernist NDP.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tom Flanagan explains

The National Post newspaper has published a piece in which Dr. Tom Flanagan explains his comments regarding the penalty for “people who are pornography voyeurs, but not child molesters.” (h/t Blue Like You blog.)

I’ve had my say about the professor’s comments, and won’t repeat myself here. I notice, though, there is more push-back now from those who believe the professor has been shabbily treated by those who have not been content with condemning his comments, but who are attacking him personally and even firing him from various jobs.

I believe the motive behind much of the attacks on Dr. Flanagan is to tarnish Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reputation through association with his former chief of staff and political advisor. Too bad some need to stoop so low.

Push-back I’ve seen comes, notably, from academia and from Jonathan Kay, comment pages editor of the National Post, who was quick to write:

At the very least, Mr. Flanagan’s many years as a respected public intellectual have earned him the right to be given the benefit of the doubt about the meaning of his remarks. But no one seems willing to give him that benefit. That is more than just wrong. It is a species of mob cruelty.”

I echo Mr. Kay’s sentiment. Bravo! to him and others who have the intellectual integrity to allow this well-respected political scientist to express an opinion. Please read Dr. Flanagan’s explanation, before reaching any final conclusion.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tom Flanagan and piling on

Tom Flanagan—conservative activist and pundit, newspaper columnist and university professor—has questioned the validity of jailing viewers of child pornography and been roundly rebuked by all and sundry, and rightly so.

Dr. Flanagan seems to have based his opinion on the mistaken belief that viewing child pornography does not directly victimize children. A repugnant opinion, of course, and not one with which I would ever want to associate myself or ever try to defend in any way. Viewing child porn ranks right up there with any of the other areas of this despicable criminal activity.

This is not the first time Dr. Flanagan has courted controversy. Readers may remember that in 2010, he commented—while appearing on the CBC television program Power & Politics with Evan Solomon—that he thought “[Julian] Assange should be assassinated.” Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks which was much in the news at that time. Dr. Flanagan apologized for the remarks soon after making them, acknowledging that his words were “glib and thoughtless.”

But except for the few diehard anti-conservatives like Vancouver attorney Gail Davidson, who filed a police complaint against Flanagan, the matter was over and done with in a matter of days and the professor suffered—at least as far as I know—no permanent damage to his reputation. Most thoughtful persons seemed to understand his ill conceived words were said with a laugh and meant tongue-in-cheek. I saw his exchange with the show’s host, Evan Solomon, and not for a second did I believe Dr. Flanagan was suggesting his words be taken seriously or literally or that he wished anyone’s life be put at risk.

In this latest incident, however, negative reactions to Dr. Flanagan’s comments were swift and he seems to have lost his jobs at the University of Calgary, the CBC and with Alberta’s Wildrose Party. In other words, his career and reputation are pretty much in tatters.

I’ve had a lot of time for Tom Flanagan and looked forward to hearing his views on a wide variety of subjects. I agree with Gerry Caplan—well known for his support of the NDP and one of Flanagan’s co-panellists on Power & Politics—who characterized Tom Flanagan as a “mensch”, notwithstanding his condemnation of his co-panellist’s ill conceived words.

Clearly, child pornography is not a victimless crime, and I find it repugnant to suggest that it is. I do wonder, however, just how much punishment should be meted out to someone merely for offering his opinion on the subject.

Using illegal drugs is far from a victimless crime—demand fuels supply the process of which has many, many victims. Yet many are able to express opinions regarding decriminalising or even legalising some recreational drugs, and they do so with little or no negative consequences to their careers or reputations.

While organizations and associates with which Dr. Flanagan was affiliated obviously have the right to handle the PR consequences any way they see fit, I am inclined to wait to hear what the man really meant by his “badly chosen” (Flanagan’s own description) remarks. Until then I’ll not be piling on.

I want to Dr. Flanagan to know that, though I disagree with what he seems to have been saying in this instance, I continue to value his opinions and hope he will continue to offer them.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is there a more fervent enthusiast than a recent convert?

The recent federal Leadership debate reminded me of how fickle politicians are regarding their values and policies. All nine contenders seemed so anxious to tell us how much each favoured free trade. As someone who watched the Jean Chrétien Liberals in opposition during the Brian Mulroney-era debates over continental free trade, I couldn’t help cringing.

It all seems so cynical. While in opposition in the 1980s, the Liberals, who had traditionally favoured free trade, fought hard to turn Canada away from freer trade with the Americans, vowing not to honour its provisions if the agreement became law. The Progressive Conservatives, meantime, had made their own about-face on the issue and negotiated a deal with the United States.

The same Liberal party who in the 1980s preached doom and gloom if a free trade agreement were made with the Americans, now tells us how important it is that we ink free trade deals with all and sundry.

But, so what? Circumstances change, so why shouldn’t politicians change their minds? No reason at all. Politicians should change with the times and keep up with events.

What’s galling, though, is how they demonize opposition views, and then switch sides without a word of explanation to justify their apostasy.

There’s a lesson here for political bloggers and pundits: go easy on the hyper-partisanship for you never know when you’ll be asked to support the very position you now so ardently demonize.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Liberal leadership hopeful set to implement tax grab?

George Takach a candidate for the leadership of the federal Liberal party, if elected, plans to implement a carbon tax by putting a price on carbon emissions, which many scientists claim are causing, or contributing to, climate change and air pollution. Takach then plans to use the revenue generated to the eliminate Employment Insurance premiums for both employers and employees.

The idea of a carbon tax certainly isn’t new: Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta already have such tax schemes in place. And, apparently, the Government of Ontario has committed to implement a cap-and-trade system as part of the Western Climate Initiative.

One has to be suspicious, however, when such a tax is imposed so that some unrelated social program can be implemented. The danger, of course, is that the carbon tax becomes merely a convenient tax grab—and we do know how Grit governments like to tax. (Think about the unconscionable level of tax Ontarians pay on alcoholic beverages, for example.)

The basis for a carbon tax is, as I understand it, to make sure the social cost of carbon emissions is factored into the price of carbon fuels, thus making them closer in cost to that of renewable fuels, making it easier for consumers to make the change to renewables—or, at least, to switch from high-emission carbon fuels (e.g., coal) to low-emission ones (e.g., natural gas).

Now this makes sense to many Canadians, for they believe human activity is a (or the major) cause of global warming/climate change. And even for some who remain sceptical as to CO2’s contribution to global warming (believing water vapour and sun activity to be more likely culprits), the idea of moving from non-renewable sources of energy to renewable ones is attractive. I’m in this latter category.

I have some bones to pick with Mr. Takach, however.

What’s seldom mentioned when politicians talk about carbon tax is the fact Canadians already pay a very substantial tax on their fuel. In the case of gasoline, for example, we pay a whopping 30+ per cent of the pump price in tax. Add to that the tens of billions of dollars collected by Canadian governments in the form of royalties—a tax by another name. All these taxes are passed on to consumers as part of the prices we pay. But how much of this is used to offset or mitigate the social cost of greenhouse emissions? Not much, apparently, for environmentalists and leftist politicians are always promising to implement carbon taxes—and here I include cap-and-trade schemes.

If there really is a net shortfall in the so-called social cost of using carbon-based fuels, after applying all taxes and royalties directly attributed to carbon-based fuels, I’d sure like to know what it is.

Frankly, I doubt there really is one—a net shortfall that is. My guess is we as a society gain a net surplus from extraction, production/export and use of carbon-based fuels, and new carbon taxes and related schemes are just another tax grab designed to club Canadians into funding a leftist agenda for expanding our government-funded social programs.

Justin Trudeau: great in the ring, not bad on stage too

The winner of last night’s Liberal party leadership debate was MP Justin Trudeau. Anyway, that’s the way I saw it. Trudeau entered the Mississauga debate as the front-runner, took on all eight rivals and emerged as the winner—and gave former MP Martha Hall Finlay a severe verbal mauling in the process.

Hall Finlay seemed to be trying to make some spurious point about Canada not being a class society. This in response to several mentions of Canada’s middle class.

Don’t most of us, however, know what we mean by middle class in the context of these political discussions? Her rivals weren’t referring to “middle class” as it might be meant in a country like the United Kingdom with its privileged aristocracy. Rather, I—and I think most of the audience—took the reference as meaning “middle income,” and Canada certainly has a substantial number of these.

But Hall Finlay was determined to paint Trudeau as out-of-touch with ordinary Canadians, and being too privileged to understand middle-class issues.

Follow this exchange:

You yourself have admitted that you do not belong to the middle class. I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the challenges facing middle Canadians,” Hall Findlay said.

“What is important for me is to put everything that I’ve received—like each of us wants to—in service of my community,” Trudeau retorted to much cheering in the audience.

Hall Finlay, like a rookie, dropped her guard, stock her chin out and Justin Trudeau swung. A knockout? Maybe not quite, but at least a strong, staggering blow. About 20 seconds of her life Martha Hall Finlay would like to have back, I think.

MP Marc Garneau—probably in second place currently—also took on Trudeau directly, challenging him to match résumés. The former astronaut, retired military officer and engineer, former president of the Canadian Space Agency and the former Chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, Garneau asked Trudeau, “What is it in your résumé that qualifies you to be the future prime minister of Canada?” Ouch!

Trudeau’s easy manner and obvious charm got him through the moment, though, and his quick response seemed to resonate well with the audience. He shot back at Garneau, “You can’t lead from a podium and a press conference, you can’t win over Canadians with a five-point plan. You have to connect with them.”

So Garneau really never laid a glove on his younger rival and did little to support himself with what—I thought—was a lack lustre performance and a missed opportunity.

I must add this.

In the middle of the debate, Justin Trudeau made a gratuitous remark about First Nations not being immigrants. No one had said they were, by the way, so the remark was unnecessary and, at least from my point of view, not factual.

I have relatives through marriage whose ancestors arrived in what is now Canada before the ancestors of many of the First Nations living in my part of Ontario. The British government resettled these First Nations people in Canada and provided them with compensation for properties they had lost in the United States following the American revolution. Just saying.

The rest of the debate was inconsequential, but with a few entertaining moments such as George Takach getting booed for taking a shot at Joyce Murray’s tree-planting, and Takach’s questioning of Garneau’s math, at which point Mr. Trudeau spontaneously throws an arm round Garneau’s shoulder as if to suggest he’s protecting him. Best moment of the night, and it belonged to Justin Trudeau.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Apparently, what’s sauce for the Roman Catholic and Muslim goose is not sauce for the Evangelical gander

Given recent statements by the federal New Democrats’ leader, Thomas Mulcair, one might see a Canada led by this man as a grim, gray place in which we all think alike, and in which those with opposing/differing views are shunned and shut-out of public funding.

What more charitable view could one take from the man’s pronouncement that the federal government shouldn’t fund the good works performed in Uganda by the evangelical Christian organization, Crossroads, because that aid organization stated on its website that it believed homosexuality is a “sexual sin” and a “perversion.”

Many Canadians—perhaps even most Canadians seem to believe homosexuality is a normal sexual orientation with lifestyle preferences and practices to be tolerated by all Canadians. This does not mean—at least I sincerely hope it does not—that every last Canadian must not only tolerate homosexuality, but must also accept it as a normal, and even, a healthy, moral lifestyle.

In my view, if one does not accept homosexuality as a normal lifestyle, then one should be free to express ones opinion that the practice is a “perversion,” which is to say it is one of those “types of human behaviour that deviates from that which is understood to be orthodox or normal.” [Quote borrowed from Wikipedia]

This freedom to express oneself does not, of course, confer on anyone the licence to discriminate against homosexuals in any unlawful way. That would be intolerable in a free, democratic society. But it is fair for any Canadian to hold homosexuality—meaning Homosexual acts—to be outside his or her moral code.

Many religions and their charities in Canada, and around the world, hold same-gender sexual activities to be incompatible with their moral code, including Roman Catholics and Muslims. Are they all to be denied government funding?

Moreover, Mulcair reportedly is himself a Roman Catholic, yet he has yet to speak out publicly that Roman Catholics’ views and teachings go “…against Canadian values. … against Canadian law,” as he said about the content of a Crossroads Web page.

Roman Catholics, after all, seem to share much the same attitude towards homosexuality as do evangelical Christians—at least at the organizational level—and should, therefore be treated equally under the law and by government policy or decree. When can we expect to hear the Leader of the Official Opposition’s pronouncement regarding the defunding of Roman Catholic charities?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

… and when will Tories end the dubious practice of dual citizenship?

The government, at least as represented by our citizenship minister, Jason Kenney, wants to rescind Canadian citizenship for those holding dual citizenship, if they engage in an act of terrorism like the recent attacks in Bulgaria and Algeria.

To that end, the minister proposes extending a private member’s bill sponsored by Conservative MP Devinder Shory that would withdraw Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who commit “an act of war against the Canadian Forces” to include an act of terrorism. According to Minister Kenney, these dual citizens would be deemed to have renounced their Canadian citizenship by engaging in such an act.

Makes sense to me.

But what does not make a whole lot of sense to me, is why Canada allows dual citizenship in the first place. To quote from a recent Andrew Coyne column in the National Post, “to be a citizen of two countries at once is the very definition of divided loyalties.”

Like many other Canadians, I am uncomfortable with the idea that some of our fellow citizens hold allegiance to another country and, indeed, actually vote in foreign elections and travel under foreign passports.

While I have retained a great deal of affection towards the two other countries of which I was once a citizen, when I became a Canadian citizen, I went all-in with no divided loyalties.

It’s a bit like marriage, isn’t it? You say “I do,” and forsake all others.

Friday, February 8, 2013

When will Tories put a stake through the heart of supply management?

Regular readers of this blog may remember that, back in 2011, I expressed my view that supply management must go. At that time I quoted a paragraph from the Conservative government’s then recent throne speech, as follows:

Our [Stephen Harper Conservative] Government will aim to complete negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union by 2012. It will also seek to complete negotiations on a free trade agreement with India in 2013. In all international forums and bilateral negotiations, our Government will continue to stand up for Canadian farmers and industries by defending supply management.”

At the same time we were promised freer trade with the EU and later with India, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told us that in those negotiations his Government “will continue to stand up for Canadian farmers and industries by defending supply management,” and, he implied, ordinary Canadians can go suck eggs—very expensive ones at that.

In the ensuing months, the prime minister has given no indication of having changed his mind. To the contrary, all indications from Ottawa are that Canadians will be expected to continue financing our wrong-headed supply management model of agricultural quotas and tariffs covering dairy, eggs and poultry, which was implemented in Canada in the early 1970s and that continue to cost average and low-income Canadian consumers so dearly.

We conservatives pride ourselves as being free-traders, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) members have asked Canada “to consider replacing its supply management system with less market‑distorting alternatives, and to reform the management of its MFN and preferential tariff quota schemes in the interests of greater transparency.”

So why not do it? That I cannot answer—I haven’t a clue.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that Canadian milk prices have been two to three times higher than world prices  since 1986. And the OECD estimates support to Canadian dairy producers at $2.7 billion in 2003, equal to more than 60% of the value of total dairy production that year.

Our supply management system is much the same as us creating a government-mandated cartel for the marketing of poultry, egg and dairy products. Through import tariffs, producer-pricing and quotas, it seeks to protect a relatively few farmers to the financial detriment of Canadian consumers, especially those who are seniors on fixed incomes and parents who struggle to make ends meet.

Three rationales for this terrible policy are usually trotted out in defence of the indefensible: firstly, that the self-serving Conservative party wants to protect some of its rural seats; secondly, that our farmers would not be able to compete in world markets; and thirdly, supply management provides security of supply and protection from low agricultural standards abroad.

As to the first concern, only about 15th of Canadian farmers participate in the system and, according to Martha Hall Findlay’s 2012 paper—published by University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy—“Since 1971, the number of Canadian dairy farms has dropped by a staggering 91 per cent. There are now few, if any, ridings where dairy votes could plausibly swing elections ….”

As to the second concern, other countries with similar social and economic structures have deregulated agricultural markets. In 1984, the New Zealand government, for instance, eliminated most agricultural subsidies, some of which were as high as 40 per cent of farmers’ incomes. This was followed by deregulation of its domestic market. Australia too overhauled its supply management system in 2000, and compensated farmers for losses due to the elimination of quotas and lower prices by installing a “deregulation adjustment package” financed in part by a temporary tax on Australian milk consumption—their resulting fresh milk tax of 11 cents a litre was lifted February 23, 2009.

It is instructive to note that by 2003, New Zealand and Australia were among the OECD countries with the lowest agricultural supports. New Zealand’s agriculture sector adapted quickly, resulting in a significant return to organic farming and to a more diversified product range, with stronger export capability at world prices. Agriculture’s share of New Zealand’s GDP rose from 14.2 per cent in 1986-87 to 16.6 per cent in 1999-2000—a period during which agriculture experienced the greatest productivity gains of any of New Zealand’s economic sectors.

The third concern is as spurious as one can be and is used as a smokescreen. Obviously, Canada’s grain and beef industry has not succumbed to foreign imports, nor has our importation of so much fresh produce produced any extraordinary or unmanageable health risks. But it’s a well-used argument from a few well-heeled dairy and poultry farmers.

It has taken a former Liberal politician, Ms. Martha Hall Findlay, and a columnist, Andrew Coyne, to get this serious policy mistake back on the political agenda in our country, and our Conservative government should be ashamed of itself for continuing to abandon Canadian consumers.

I noticed that in the recent Senate committee report into why U.S. prices are often lower than Canadian prices, supply management—a major cause—was side stepped.

And here’s some of what Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in response to the report:

We’ve been looking at our tariff situation carefully, particularly with respect to consumer goods in Canada, to see what we could do.”

Mr. Flaherty, as did the Senate committee, neatly ignored the unnecessary price-gaps caused directly by the supply management system the Conservative government is trying so hard to protect.

It is time to end these insane price-fixing practices—two and three times world prices—that are supported by customs tariffs that reach exorbitant levels—from 200 to nearly 300 per cent—and egregiously high quotas—$28,000 per cow—that lock would-be Canadian dairy farmers out of the Canadian market.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ontario Grits choose more of the same…

When the Ontario Liberal Party elected former cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne at its leadership convention last weekend, delegates and party insiders chose to stay the course mapped out for them by retiring leader Dalton McGuinty. In other words, the Grits chose more of the same.

As a long-serving minister in McGuinty’s cabinet, Wynne worked closely with the Liberal team that has brought Ontario’s fiscal state to the point it is increasingly compared to that of jurisdictions like Greece. Her own finance minister, Dwight Duncan, recently characterized the province’s debt as a “ticking time bomb.”

Furthermore, by association, Wynne has been tainted by the scandals that have dogged the McGuinty government: think about the still-open sore of the Six Nations’ occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates at Caledonia; Auditor General Jim McCarter’s scathing report on the eHealth Ontario spending scandal where governments wasted about $1-billion in taxpayer money; and the 2011 financial scandal and police investigation at Ornge, formerly Ontario Air Ambulance.

Moreover, Wynne was a Liberal party campaign co-chair in the 2011 general election, and consequently she almost certainly was involved in the politically-motivated decisions to cancel two gas plants to save Liberals seats. The cancellations have, apparently, cost Ontario taxpayers at least $230-million, with some estimates topping $1-billion.

Notwithstanding the above, the Grits spent the weekend chastising Conservatives, Stephen Harper and Tim Hudak, and fêting Dalton McGuinty and his record. Federal leader Bob Rae’s speech at the convention, during which he blamed Harper, Mike Harris and Hudak for all of Ontario’s ills, was as shabby an example of intellectual dishonesty as I’ve heard in years.

Now some Grits are whining that Kathleen Wynne has been the subject of a Tory attack ad and wasn’t given some sort of honeymoon period to get settled in her new role. They—the Grits—can spend a weekend slagging off the Tories with lies and half-truths, but Tories must cut Wynne some slack? Forget that!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fraser Institute ranked No. 1 Canadian think-tank

Isee where the Fraser Institute, for the fifth consecutive year, has been ranked as the top think-tank in Canada and 25th worldwide in the 2012 Global GoTo Think Tank Index published by the University of Pennsylvania and released January 17 at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

I’m a fan of the Fraser Institute, which self-describes as “one of Canada’s oldest independent and non-partisan economic and public policy research organizations,” and I often cite their reports when writing about public policy.

So often when I hear the Fraser Institute quoted on TV panel discussions—usually by a centre-right pundit—adversaries on the left will quickly dismiss the statistic or whatever as coming from an unreliable source. So much for that mischaracterization.

The 2012 Global GoTo Think Tank Index lists Fraser Institute as 5th in the world for Health Policy Research, 8th in the world for Social Policy Research, 20th in the world for Best Use of Internet or Social Media, 21st in the world for Most Significant Impact on Public Policy, and 22nd in the world for International Economic Policy.

Seems pretty authoritative to me. And here’s hoping the Fraser Institute continues their excellent research and publication; Canada is better for it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ontario’s Grits choose McGuinty’s replacement Jan 25

The Ontario Liberal party will select a new leader at a delegated convention this weekend in Toronto. There are six candidates to replace the retiring Dalton McGuinty: former Windsor-West MPP Sandra Pupatello, former education minister Kathleen Wynne, former MPP and MP Gerard Kennedy, former government services minister Harinder Takhar, former labour minister Charles Sousa and former children’s services minister Eric Hoskins. NB: Candidates had to resign cabinet portfolios before registering for the race.

Front-runner Pupatello, who quit politics in 2011, would get my vote, if I had one. She’s has 27.4 percent of the delegates committed to vote for her on the first ballot and, I believe, can count on most of Harinder Takhar’s 13.3 per cent to move to her side when he inevitably pulls out.

Takhar’s campaign has been mortally wounded by a recent news story regarding his family’s business interests, which has reminded delegates of his conflict of interest scandal of 2006. Who needs a new premier already tainted by scandal?

Hard on Pupatello’s heels is Kathleen Wynne, who represents Toronto Don Valley-West. Wynne has 25.2 per cent of delegates committed on the first ballot. She can almost certainly count on Kennedy’s 14 per cent should the former federal MP not make a strong showing in the early ballots.

Kennedy’s only hope for success lies in making a run up the middle, if and when the two front runners stall. I doubt, however, that he has the popular support among party faithful to pull this off.

Gerard Kennedy’s candidature smacks of opportunism and there’s a whiff of political-looser about the man: he lost the 1996 leadership race to McGuinty, lost a 2006 bid for the federal Liberal leadership and, more recently, lost his seat in the last federal election. I assume these guys will be looking for a winner to take on Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath as early as this spring, some believe.

I don’t see either Charles Sousa or Eric Hoskins making it beyond the second ballot, if that far. They are probably only running to increase their profile within the party and to secure a plum spot at the new cabinet table.

Pupatello is the most fiscally conservative of the lot. She’s plain spoken and shows pluck, though, she could turn out to be a pushover when it comes to organized labour’s interests. And that worries me…a lot!

Kathleen Wynne, on the other hand, is so left-of-centre one wonders why she didn’t contest the last NDP leadership. With the province’s finances and economy in such disarray, we can’t afford her. After all, she more than most seemed to stand shoulder to shoulder with McGuinty as they spent the province into have-not territory without a backward glance. Remember readers, she was one of the big guns at the table when the Grits cancelled those two electricity plants—$1-billion or more of wasted tax dollars.

To this conservative, Sandra Pupatello seems the lesser of the evils.

Krista Erickson quits as host of Canada Live

The Sun News Network’s anchor of Canada Live is reported to have left the conservative network’s daytime show. According to The Globe and Mail, “Krista Erickson quit her slot on the news network’s ‘flagship daytime show’ Canada Live late last week and moved to London.”

I’ve not been a fan myself, though it’s interesting that Ms. Erickson seems to have quit just as the network awaits news that might stem their mounting financial losses. Apparently, Sun News has asked that the CRTC grant it “mandatory carriage,” meaning it would be part of the Canada-wide basic cable package. The Globe and Mail reports that the CRTC has said “it will hold a hearing into the matter on April 23.”

The Globe writes, “With traditional pricing mark-ups, that would likely translate to $4 a year per consumer.” This would contribute about $18-million a year towards staunching the haemorrhaging from losses that have already, reportedly, reached $17-million a year at Sun News.

Ms. Erickson—it seemed to me—was always too quick to condemn organisations which depend on government assistance, and joined in the chorus of boos as Sun News’ on-air hosts criticized government-subsidized rival, CBC, when she herself worked at the CBC for years—no bellyaching about government subsidies then. I’m no fan of government subsidies, but nor am I a fan of cynical hypocrisy.

She was also super-strident in her conservatism while at Sun News, yet showed bias towards the Liberals while covering the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings for the CBC in 2008. Readers may remember that Ms. Erickson was accused back then of feeding questions to Liberal Member of Parliament Pablo Rodriguez. She was cleared by the CBC ombudsman of any charge of bias, but the incident left me with a bad taste.

Sun News Network has been a great disappointment to me. The daytime schedule compares poorly to the weak competition from CBC and CTV news networks. And, all too often, instead of reasoned conservative argument and commentary, we are offered one-sided rants hour after hour in the evenings. To be fair, though, Sun Media’s National Bureau Chief, David Akin, has a show that’s well worth watching. As to weekends, day or night the network is barely watchable.

Sun News sorely needs a top-notch Sunday morning political show (a version of US-based The McLaughlin Group would do nicely, or even a Canada-based Meet the Press or Face the Nation). We need competition to go up against CTV’s flagrantly left-biased Question Period. We also need a week-day, late-afternoon entry as direct competition to CBC’s anti-Harper Power & Politics and CTV News Channel’s dreary Power Play. I’d also like to see something with a format like CBC’s weekly At Issue, an excellent panel discussion show.

Currently, I have to look to US-based Fox News when I want to get the conservative slant on current issues.