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!