Friday, September 23, 2016

Climate change fact or myth and does it even matter anymore?

Ontario PC leader  Patrick Brown surprised many members of his party when he announced last March he was in favour of putting a price on carbon. At that time he said, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made.”

This apparent turnabout for the PC leader has not been met with much enthusiasm among conservatives who continue to have doubts about all sorts of things related to anthropogenic climate change, or “global warming” as we used to call it. Ontario PC membership—much like other conservatives across the country—span the full gamut of this issue.

In 2013, environmentalist Dana Nuccitelli, in an article he wrote for The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., used the term “climate contrarians” to describe sceptics who questioned the various aspects of climate change. He said the opinions of climate contrarians “spanned … 5 stages of global warming denial.” And from what I’ve read and heard over the past decade or so, I’d say most conservatives I know, or whose works I read or to whom I listen regularly are pretty much at one of those five stages.

In my opinion, only a minority of Ontario conservatives have made it through all five stages and is now fully accepting of the science, agrees it is caused by human activity and presents an impending threat, and is committed to mitigate the effects at virtually any cost, including carbon taxes or other greenhouse gas reduction mechanisms.

If Mr. Brown was being frank with us, his statements, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made,” coupled with his support for “putting a price on carbon” places him firmly among this minority and at odds with the rest of us. But, while he may be among the minority of conservatives on this issue, he is among the majority of people in Canada, America and the European Union who have gone all-in on climate change.

The five stages, by the way, are as follows:

  1. Deny its existence
  2. Deny we’re the cause
  3. Deny it’s a problem
  4. Deny we can solve it
  5. It’s too Late

Sound familiar? I’d say it fits pretty well with the knowledge I’ve gained from following this subject closely over the past couple of decades.

I’d say I’m probably stuck somewhere in or between stages four and five. Yes, the issue seems real and does seem to be a problem, especially with the effect rising sea levels are having on many inhabited parts of the world. I’m still not convinced, however, that it’s all to do with human activity and would not have occurred anyway as a natural cycle of the planet’s cooling and warming. But I suppose human activity could be accelerating the process.

My main areas of contention though are: (a) can we really stop it or even slow it down or should we spend our limited recourses on mitigating its effects; and (b) this should not be used as a cash grab by governments to raise money for more social programs with which to bribe the electorate. In other words, any tax raised should be offset by tax reductions elsewhere.

At the end of the day, though, does any of our skepticism really matter? Regardless of what any conservative might think about the veracity of the science surrounding anthropogenic climate change, the science on this issue is, for all practical purposes, settled.

And while it may be considered heroic by some to continue to challenge the overwhelmingly large worldwide majority opinion, I believe it is a waste of our time.

Better we concentrate our efforts on making sure governments choose the least damaging and costly mitigation strategies, and also that every cent of carbon tax is returned to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes elsewhere and not as some social service or other offset that does not go back proportionately to those who paid the tax in the first place.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is there no room for reasonable accommodation on Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum?

Yesterday I wrote about Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown losing the support of some of his party’s social conservatives over his position on a couple of defining issues. The examples I used were his flip-flop-double-cross on Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and his decision to support putting a price on carbon.

These issues, at least in part, define who is and who is not a conservative. Not that all conservatives disagree with the new sex-ed curriculum or with some sort of price on carbon whether through a cap-and-trade mechanism or via direct taxation. After all, conservatives like progressives have a wide range of opinions on these subjects, some of which are quite nuanced. I believe it’s safe to say, however, that most conservatives have strong reservations about both issues.

Today, I’ll say a few words about Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and tomorrow I’ll give my views on pricing carbon.

Regarding the sex-ed curriculum, most small “c” conservatives believe parents are the ones with primary responsibility for deciding the appropriateness of sex and gender identity-related material  taught to their children, and especially to young children. Their greatest concern seems to be centred around the age-appropriateness of the topics covered in the curriculum. And what’s so objectionable about that, especially when the curriculum itself seems to recognize this fact? The Health and Physical Education curriculum states:

Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models.”

Given that statement, why is this controversial curriculum being forced on so many families who fundamentally object to their children being exposed to it? Why not provide the sex-ed portion of the Health and Physical Education curriculum on a volunteer basis to children of parents who feel they need help in communicating this information to their children?

I’ve read the 244-page curriculum—or, at least, scanned the Grade 1–8 document with some care—and neither find it so egregious as many of its opponents do, nor as innocent and appropriate as its proponents.

There are sections that I question, however. Like the insistence of formally introducing six-year-olds to the correct, clinical names for human genitalia. This from a society that routinely refers to one another online as “assholes,” and peppers social media communications with four-letter references to human feces and to the act of sexual intercourse?

Are we so intellectually arrogant and self-righteous we cannot see how this could be considered age-inappropriate by many of our fellow citizens? Six year old girls are still playing with dolls, for God’s sake. Dolls, by the way, that we—mainstream  society—can’t even bring ourselves to produce with intact genitalia.

What about the concept of gender identity being introduced to eight-year-olds. At that age this is as likely, isn’t it, to be gender confusion or gender dysphoria that should be handled by a medical professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist, and not an elementary school teacher.

If a parent were to inform his or her family doctor of an eight-year-old child who seemed to be confused about their gender, to whom is the doctor most likely to recommend the child be referred, a specialist like a psychologist or psychiatrist or the child’s elementary school teacher? I’ll put my money on the former.

I must say also that I can quite see why some of my neighbours would be concerned with the fact teachers are introducing, discussing—at times almost seeming to be encouraging—the concept of romantic dating with nine-year-old children, masturbation with eleven-year-olds, and anal and oral sex with twelve-year-olds. This, along with normalizing homosexual lifestyles, is extremely difficult for many people of faith who adhere to a religious tradition or doctrine that teaches that certain of these practices are immoral.

The curriculum was pushed out to schools on a like-it-or-lump-it basis with minimum consultation, even after being withdrawn in 2010 (?) because it was so controversial.

I find it very hard to reconcile this blatant insensitivity towards what so many consider to be Christian values, practices and beliefs with today’s mainstream society’s sensitivity towards the religious practices of those non-Christians among us.

Christians, it seems, are expected to change in step with the times. Non-Christians, though, are encouraged to cling to old religious traditions and cultural practices—even when they contradict directly the Charter Rights of, for example, equality for women because, apparently, we are so enriched by the diversity of multiculturalism.

Now, I am not religious—not even slightly or nominally so—but I am a conservative and I believe in slow-as-we-go social change and respect for the values and traditions that got Canada to where she is today: a first-rate nation and a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Surly we owe to those who hold fast to our traditional values and beliefs—even those some of us may find outdated—as much sensitivity and reasonable religious accommodation as we extend to newcomers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Patrick Brown given thumbs down by former supporters

Back on May 9, 2015, I wrote that Patrick Brown’s election as leader of the Ontario PCs reminded me of an old adage: Voters get the leader they deserve, which is my variation on Joseph de Maistre’s 1811 quote: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.

At that time I wrote that “I believe [Mr. Brown] is in well over his head…,” referring to Mr. Brown’s then recent emergence from relative obscurity as an Ottawa Tory backbencher who had accomplished little or nothing of substance after nearly a decade in Ottawa. Prior to that I wrote:

In contrast, I don’t see how Patrick Brown improves the Ontario PCs’ prospects beyond those we had under Tim Hudak. Neither do I find anything about him inspiring, nor do I see enough difference between the tone of his politics and that of the past two PC election platforms to give rise to my hope of another Ontario PC government in my lifetime.”

In May 2015, I also expressed my hope the Mr. Brown would “grow into his new job,” while, at the same time, predicting, “Unfortunately, though, I believe that is unlikely.”

Alas, I seem to have been accurate in my assessment, something that gives me little comfort as it will almost certainly lead to a ruinous extension of the term of office of the scandal-prone Liberals and more of their irresponsible fiscal management.

It seems clear that it was Patrick Brown’s successful pandering to the social conservative wing of the Ontario PCs that won the day for him. He promised, for example, to “repeal” the Liberals’ then proposed sex-ed curriculum. Former Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott pretty much owned the progressive vote, such as it was.

It is somewhat ironic that increasing opposition to his leadership is coming mainly from that segment of his party. And his flip-flop-double-cross on the sex-ed curriculum is not his only challenge from that quarter. Brown’s decision to support putting a price on carbon has not resonated well with many of his former supporters.

Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun also reports:

Brown has other issues as well. The party has major debt that sources say is not shrinking, and riding association people tell me they want more decisiveness and consistency from Brown, who has been saying in radio interviews he is attempting to ‘build a modern PC party’.”

So, about 18 months in and already there is considerable dissatisfaction with Mr. Brown’s leadership, which is sad news since there seems little prospect of an alternative showing up, getting elected as PC leader and winning the next general election.

For example, Mr. Warmington tells us Doug Ford, Frank Klees and Lisa MacLeod are names being floated as potential replacements, and that’s sad news indeed for all Ontarians. Lisa MacLeod, perhaps, but as for the other two, let’s hope Mr. Warmington is testing our sense of humour.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Can Canada trust China or will bilateral talks end in asymmetrical agreements?

Canadian Kevin Garratt has been released from Chinese detention and allowed to return home in Vancouver. According to the CBC, Garratt was found guilty on two counts of espionage, and the judge ordered him deported.

Garratt and his wife, Julia, operated a café called Peter’s Coffee Shop in Dandong, China where they had lived since 1984. Apparently the couple also carried out Christian aid work in the area—the city of Dandong is near China’s border with North Korea.

The Canadians were detained in August 2014 and accused of stealing Chinese military secrets. We have heard two other explanations for their detention, however, that seem more believable to this writer.

Firstly, the timing of their arrests was interesting coming as it did so shortly after Canadian officials accused a “Chinese state-sponsored actor” of a “highly sophisticated” hacking attack on the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council. Many believe the spying charges against the Garratts were a tit-for-tat response to the Canada’s allegations.

Secondly, it is said that North Korea demanded the Chinese government shut down the Garratts’ religious activities. North Korea’s anti-religion position is well known and while the couple apparently did not spread Bibles or actively proselytize in that country, North Koreans reportedly attended training secessions in Dandong and returned to North Korea to preach the gospel.

Unfortunately for the Garratts, when the national interests of those two communists regimes intersected, they paid the price with their freedom.

Julia Garratt returned to Canada in February 2015 after being released on bail. Then, in early 2016, Chinese authorities said they had found evidence that Garratt had accepted assignments from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China, accusations denied by the couple and by the Canadian government. According to CBC News, CSIS Director Michel Coulombe even travelled to China and told officials there that Garratt did not work for his spy agency.

Both former prime minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Trudeau have raised the Garratts’ case during visits to China in late 2014 and recently in 2016. And, of course, Julia Garratt’s release occurred during Harper’s term in office. The political advantage will, however, go overwhelmingly to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, under whose watch this case has been concluded with the best possible outcome: both Garratts at home in Canada safe and sound.

While we can only speculate that political calculation alone got Kevin Garratt tossed into a Chinese jail for two years, we can be very sure political calculation alone has set him free.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be in Canada next week for an official visit, and is scheduled to meet with Trudeau in Ottawa, apparently, “to continue to deepen a strong, more stable relationship between Canada and China.”

The the two leaders are expected to discuss a wide range of common interests, including trade, investment rules surrounding state-owned enterprises and environmental, legal and cultural issues. Releasing Kevin Garratt just before Li’s visit was a nice gesture calculated to kick off the meetings on a positive note.

While I certainly join the widely held belief this is a good news story that could have had a far more sinister ending, I can’t help seeing this as further proof of how “flexible” the law is in China. Due process and the rule of law, it seems, means little to those who rule the country. The law, such as it is, seems to be there only to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China.

If for selfish political reasons an innocent man needs to be arrested and imprisoned, so be it. Should political calculation later dictate the man be freed, that too can be made to happen. Fortunately, this time it worked in our favour, but how about next time?

Can we put any trust in China?

Ask the people of Tibet that question. Ask any of the countries with which China shares the hotly disputed South China Sea.

China is one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Under the UN Charter, all member states are obligated to comply with Council decisions. Even from this important leadership position, China will not acknowledge one of the UN’s arbitral tribunals nor abide by its ruling. The tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled against China’s maritime claims in its South China Sea dispute with the Philippines—China is ignoring the ruling.

China likes one-on-one negotiations since, because of its size and rapidly expanding military power and reach, such negotiations will almost always be asymmetrical, and it can bully its way to a win-win position. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied with eight weeks to go



In a recent New York Times/CBS News public opinion survey, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are virtually tied with less than eight weeks to go. And both presidential candidates seem to be struggling to win the confidence of their bases.

Among likely voters, the Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton has the support of 46 per cent of likely voters, compared to 44 per cent for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. As such, neither shows signs of jumping into a commanding lead. Among the broader electorate of registered voters, however, Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Trump by five points, 48 per cent to 43 per cent respectively.

According to the New York Times:

Discontent with the major party candidates is widespread. Among those who say they intend to vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, slightly more than half express strong support. The rest say that they harbor reservations about their candidate, or that they are simply voting to thwart the other nominee.

Mr. Trump reorganized his campaign team last month, and since then has been more disciplined. For this, he has been rewarded with improving poll numbers. Mrs. Clinton, for her part, has been under attack recently for saying “half” of Mr. Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables”—she did say later that she regretted using the word “half” to describe the Trump supporters to which she was referring.

Further controversy ensued after an incident on Sunday when Mrs. Clinton was leaving a 9/11 anniversary ceremony and video caught her nearly collapsing and being helped into a van as she left the event early. Initially, her campaign attempted to conceal what eventually was explained as pneumonia.

Since Sunday, there has been a lot of buzz about Mrs. Clinton’s health and her “basket of deplorables” slur, and that obviously is not helping her in the polls.

I wonder whether questions about Mrs. Clinton’s health has prompted many voters to take a more serious look at both candidates’ running mates, putting greater emphasis on them when deciding between the Democratic and the Republican tickets? It certainly had me re-doing my Google searches on both men. Donald Trump, of course, has chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate, while Hillary Clinton’s running mate is Sen. Tim Kaine.

Gov. Mike Pence is a social conservative who is well known among Republicans and, seemingly, is appealing to followers of the Tea Party movement. He spent six terms in Congress and in 2008 rose to the No. 3 spot in the party, Republican Conference chairman, a job dedicated to shaping the GOP’s messaging. Among Republicans, at least, Gov. Pence would be considered a pretty save back-up to Donald Trump’s precedency—in fact, I dare say that some in the GOP would prefer him over Trump for the top job. If I had a vote, I would.

Tim Kaine is a senator from Virginia. He’s a lawyer by training and served as mayor of Richmond, Va., and as lieutenant governor and governor of Virginia before winning election to the Senate in 2012. Apparently he has good foreign policy chops—that’s his strength. He’s not well-known nationally, however. In a recent CNN/ORC poll, 19 per cent of those surveyed said they had never heard of him, and 21 per cent said they had not formed an opinion of him.

Sen. Kaine himself seems to be still in a pinch-me moment several weeks after being nominated to be Mrs. Clinton’s running mate. “I felt like I was Pinocchio turning into a real boy,” the senator told a Virginia audience. “I mean, like, ‘Wow, what? You want me? Are you kidding?’”

My advice to the senator: Turn into a real vice-presidential candidate fast or your GOP rival will eat you alive in the Oct. 4 vice-presidential debate.

If both these men were running directly for the top job, I’d choose the GOP’s Mike Pence.

If the electorate does not soon perceive Sen. Kaine as having the experience, skill, character and views sought after in a president-in-waiting, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign will be in real trouble. With The Donald already nipping at her heels, a slip or two more and her hopes of being America’s first female president could be toast.

[Photo credits: United States Department of State (Official Photo at Department of State page) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trudeau talks a good game, but doesn’t walk it like he talks it

During the last general election and since, the Trudeau Liberals promised us “evidence-based decision making.” They also promised to “restore a sense of trust in our democracy” through “openness and transparency.” I believe it is time for Canadians to ask how well they have delivered on that promise.

Perhaps not too surprising to some readers, my view is that the Grits have not done very well at all. I’ll concede that the “atmosphere” in Ottawa these days seems to be a marked improvement over the days of the secretive, uncommunicative Conservative government. But has much of “substance” really changed? And are decisions really any more informed by evidence and data than they were under former governments? There seems little evidence that they are.

Trudeau promised to “amend the Access to Information Act so that all government data and information is made open by default in machine-readable, digital formats.” A year later and no such action has been taken. Moreover, I read that, according to Treasury Board President Scott Brison, a “review” will not be done until 2018—and no date seems forthcoming for when the promised changes will go into effect.

Ministers seem eager enough to speak to the media and Prime Minister Trudeau is out and about taking selfies and holding news conferences, but do we really learn anything from them that would support their claim during the last election that, “We will release to the public key information that informs the decisions we make.” I haven’t seen evidence of this, have you?

Trudeau told us he would end the secrecy surrounding the Board of Internal Economy and that, except in rare cases requiring confidentiality, meetings of this group will be open to the public. So far, no such action has been taken and all we have is promises and good intentions. And, while we’re at it, exactly when will the promised advertising commissioner be appointed—you know, the one who was going to help the auditor general oversee government advertising?

The Liberals promised to be honest about the government’s fiscal position, yet earlier this year Finance Canada’s officials disclosed to the Parliamentary Budget Office their numbers behind the budget’s five-year cost estimates, but later claimed the data were confidential and couldn’t be used in the PBO’s report. Consequently, Canadians were left in the dark regarding the true composition of a critical forecast on which important budget policies and proposed expenditures were based.

For the several months the Liberals took to decide when they would pull Canadian fighter jets out of the fight against Daesh in Iraq, there was a dearth of information surrounding the decision. And certainly the Grits produced no hard evidence to show that the Canadian bombing mission was ineffective or unnecessary. For the record, our CF-18s conducted 251 airstrikes during which they dropped 606 bombs. Those bombs destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment, and 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities.

There is a similar lack of knowledge as to the how, where and when regarding government plans to deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers as UN peacekeepers. Weeks slip by and all we ever hear is that after final decisions are made we’ll be updated. How is that any different from the modus operandi of the Harper government—or that of the Martin and Chrétien Liberal governments before that? Where is the transparency in this decision making?

And where was the evidence that informed the Liberals decision that Canada could resettle 25,000 Syrian government-assisted refugees by the end of 2015, a figure that was clearly intended to exclude privately-sponsored refugees. That total is not expected to be met much before the end of 2016, if then. It is obvious to me that the promise was made for political advantage, period. Evidence-based indeed!

And I suppose the government’s stand (or lack of one) on building pipelines to get Canada’s valuable energy exports to tidewater is based on hard evidence? Does anyone believe this?

PM Trudeau said recently that “we must continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy.” Apparently, therefore, the prime minister is not against oil and gas exports per se, and does not propose we just leave those valuable resources in the ground. And, since pipelines are generally considered the safest way of moving them, one could reasonably conclude he’d be backing one or all of the proposed pipelines, subject, of course, to all regulatory approvals.

Canada could have a pipeline approval system whereby the government sets rules and regulations in place, including public hearings. And, so long as an organization can convince a regulatory agency it qualifies under the rules, construction should be allowed to start without political interference on either side of the approval process.

But that will never be allowed. Even if the pipelines receive regulatory approval based or data and science, the Trudeau Cabinet has already reserved the right to make the final decision. A highly politicized decision, you can be sure, for what new evidence or data would Cabinet have that the regulator was denied? Crass politics, you may be sure, will always trump rational, evidence-based decisions.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if it turned out we had some politicians in Ottawa who were prepared to practice what they preach? It would be, but don’t count on it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My party, right or wrong, unless they are wrong for Ontario

One of the dangers with hyper-partisan political punditry is the ever present danger that one’s party will switch policies without warning. I was reminded of this recently when a Liberal apologist wrote an op-ed for a local news website  with a left-of-centre editorial slant.

The op-ed ripped into Ontario auditor-general Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report that concluded the province’s ratepayers paid $37-billion more than necessary from 2006 to 2014. Moreover, according to her report, ratepayers will ante up another $133-billion by 2032 on hydro bills due to the so-called “global adjustment,” a little understood charge that—according to the Toronto Star “soared to 7.9 cents a kilowatt hour in November 2015.” (The prior year, it had averaged less than 5 cents a kwh, the Star pointed out.)

Our pundit described Ms. Lysyk’s report as “a mischievous red herring” and questions “that she even understands Ontario’s energy system.”

Now I don’t know the auditor-general personally, but I do know she has a sterling reputation supported by a rather enviable résumé. Furthermore, I’ve not seen any criticism of her annual report or of her suitability to perform her office in any of the mainstream news services. The following is an unofficial summary of her business/government background:

Ms. Lysyk is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and has earned a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). She has over 25 years experience gained from working in audit, finance, risk management, and governance in both the public and private sectors. She served as the Deputy Auditor General & Chief Operating Officer for the Office of the Auditor General of Manitoba for nearly seven years. Furthermore, for over ten years she worked for Manitoba Hydro in various roles including Assistant to CEO, and also served as the Chief Audit Executive with the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

Seems to me she’s just the sort of person I’d hire for her demanding office and to oversee the value-for-money audits she performs on behalf of the Ontario Legislative Assembly.

Until this op-ed appeared a few days ago, almost everything I’d read or heard about Ontario’s electricity costs were negative, with blame placed squarely on the shoulders of the McGuinty/Wynne Liberals.

Yes, some try to blame the Harris PCs and others try to rationalize Ontario’s sky-high energy rates by comparing the average  dollars Ontarians spend on household energy bills compared to that in other provinces. Also, I’ve seen comparisons of the share of after-tax income spent by Ontarians on home energy costs to shares in other provinces. And, apparently, there are some provinces in which average bills and share of after-tax income are higher.

This is cold comfort, however, to those who have seen the price of electricity almost triple over the past decade and a half—a 15-year period over which the rate of inflation has been modest. And, frankly, it does little to ease the pain of knowing that 77 per cent of a residential hydro bill is made up of the infamous (and hidden) “global adjustments.” In short, hydro rates are beggaring those on fixed incomes.

Earlier this summer, Global News reported that according to data it obtained from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO)—the agency responsible for managing Ontario’s energy system—residential customers paid an average of 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour in Global Adjustment fees last year. (Note that this is the same figure reported by the Toronto Star.) And that:

…for every $100 in usage that appears on your electricity bill, $77 of that is the Global Adjustment fee. Meaning the cost of electricity use is only $23.

That’s 77 per cent of your electricity bill, folks, and that’s awfully hard for anyone to justify. Global News put it this way:

And while the argument can be made that the Global Adjustment fee simply reflects the true cost of producing reliable, green electricity in the province, this ignores the fact that, in 2015 alone, Ontario sold more than 22.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity—enough to power 2.5 million homes—to places like New York and Michigan at the fair market price of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour—generating a loss of more than $1.7 billion for Ontario hydro customers.

We live in an Alice in Wonderland world, don’t we?

But back to our local Liberal pundit. His apologia was not even a week old when our intrepid premier pulled the proverbial rug from under him.

All his justifications and rationalizations notwithstanding, Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered the Wynne government’s throne speech on Monday, and outlined its intention to reduce residential electricity bills by 8 per cent—the equivalent to removing the province’s portion of HST. And according to Finance Minister Charles Sousa, “We’ve been planning this for a number of months….” Premier Wynne couldn’t have been clearer: electricity rates/bills are too high, period.

There is nothing too wrong with “partisanship” per se,   but the my-party-right-or-wrong sort can be corrosive in a democracy. Governments need to be held to account, and this Ontario government is no exception. Yes, it bought some labour peace—at enormous expense, by the way—in the education sector and have made headway there, but in virtually every other sector it has bungled the job.

Far too often they have created expensive problems only to later rush to the rescue with costly fixes and much fanfare. I love how our energy minister takes great pride and credit for renegotiating the Samsung renewable energy agreement, which he claims will save $3.7-billion. How disingenuous when his government negotiated the original deal and gave away the farm, so to speak.

And this: half a decade ago, the Liberals ignored weeks of opposition calls to exempt electricity bills from the then proposed HST, but now are promising a tax break with about as much self-righteousness as any politician could muster.

The Queen’s Park Grits have such an appalling record that even their most ardent media supporters are taking potshots at them—Toronto Star is a case in point.

It has to be said, I wish the opposition were a more attractive option. But they are all we have and it really is time for change, just as it was last year in Ottawa when the Conservatives were voted out. Frankly, the Queens Park opposition looks no worse as an option than the federal Liberals did in 2014.

According to a recent public opinion survey by the Forum Poll, just more than one quarter of Ontario voters (28%) would vote Liberal. Now only the hard core Grits and the propagandists who some refer to in political jargon as “useful idiots” remain in complete solidarity with them. That’s repudiation.

[I owe credit for the title of this essay to Carl Christian Schurz (1829–1906) who said in 1872, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”]

Friday, September 9, 2016

Whether peacekeeping or peacemaking, let’s just get it right

The Canadian Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa. | DND Photo IS2002-2010a by Master Corporal Frank Hudec, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

For all the furor  and outrage over federal MP for Simcoe–Grey Kellie Leitch’s proposal to screen immigrants for anti-Canadian values, I notice there is no shortage of rhetoric on the subject when debating Canada’s return to a leadership role in UN peacekeeping.

A Department of National Defence Website, for example, states in its introduction, ‘‘Peacekeeping represents a defining aspect of Canadian identity, reflecting fundamental values, beliefs and interests.”

This is a fairly typical comment as Canada’s traditions and values are often pointed to as being characteristics that make our nation ideally suited for the role of peacekeeper. So there must be identifiable traditions and values of which we are proud, even if it offends our sensibilities to insist newcomers adopt them.

But I digress.

At a recent peacekeeping conference in England, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced his government plans to deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers as UN peacekeepers. Also, the Liberal government will allocate $450-million to support peace projects.

Combined with our prime minister’s musings on the subject, this suggests Canada is back in the peacekeeping business and plans to take a leadership role in future UN projects. As if to emphasize this, Canada will host a peacekeeping summit next year.

Supporting and encouraging peace is certainly part of what it means to be Canada,” Sajjan reportedly told an international audience at the London summit. Hmm, there’s that values thing again…

The Conservative opposition attacked the plan immediately, preferring it seems that Canada chooses peacemaking missions over peacekeeping ones. Defence critic James Bezan pointed to participation in the war against Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) as an example of a peacemaking mission.

So again Canadians are being asked to make a binary choice: either we support peacekeeping, the Liberal choice, or we support peacemaking, the choice of the Tories.

Clearly, though, there is a third option: engage in both types of military missions simultaneously. We have the finest small army in the world and a effective air force capable of small missions of either sort. And our facility in both are proven with an excellent track record.

Many progressives would like Canadians to believe our tradition is really in peacekeeping, and that the peacemaking stuff came only since Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006. That, of course, isn’t the case.

Canada was at war in Afghanistan in 2002. Before that, Canadian forces faced combat in the Balkans, where 23 Canadians lost their lives in the various missions and more were injured. Some of these were peacekeeping, but others involved Canadians in firefights. In 1990 Canada joined several others countries in the Gulf War, in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait. And, of course, there was Canada’s significant contribution to Korean War in 1950, in which 516 Canadians died, 312 of which were from combat. So in the half-century preceding Harper’s first term, Canada had already been involved in a fair amount of combat.

Moreover, even before Stephen Harper took office in 2006, Canada had ceased to be a leader among peacekeeping nations, although the Grits would like us to believe otherwise. By 2006—after ten years of Liberal rule—based on its commitment of personnel to UN peacekeeping, Canada ranked only 55 out of a total of 108 countries.

In other words, Canada’s well-earned reputation for peacekeeping in the Lester B. Pearson tradition was already a bit tarnished, and a fading memory at that.

Canada’s peacekeeping mission to Somalia became a national scandal—the Somalia Affair—when eight Canadian soldiers faced court martial for torture, assault and murder of Somali civilians, four of whom were convicted. We’ll all remember too that during the Canadian-led peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1993/94, a massacre lasting for 100 days led to the murder of 800,000 people. This is well chronicled in the book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.

In any event, Defence Minister Sajjan himself acknowledges the lines between the two types of military missions has become blurred. This is what he told CTV’s Power Play host Don Martin:

This is not the peacekeeping of the past. There is no peace to keep in some cases and where there is peace, it is extremely fragile.”

So perhaps we need a different name for these missions. And we certainly need to toss out the silly political rhetoric with which we embellish the virtues of each option. In our modern world, keeping warring sides apart is sometimes necessary and always dangerous. And as an important member of the international community, we have an obligation to contribute human and other resources to make the world a safer place.

The Liberals in Ottawa have been disingenuous in stressing the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking so that they could differentiate themselves from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, even going to the extent of pulling back on our combat role in the bombing mission against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Our CF-18s conducted 251 airstrikes during which they dropped 606 bombs. Those bombs destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment, and 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities.

Our fighter jets could still be flying there and adding to their contribution to a mission that virtually every democratic country believes is a necessary, righteous and just war. PM Trudeau could simply have simultaneously tripled the number of Canadian special forces in the north of Iraq and provided humanitarian aid and training to Kurdish forces fighting Daesh without withdrawing from bombing mission.

Trudeau’s mission and the Harper’s mission were never mutually exclusive. Trudeau was just too petty to continue any mission that had started under Harper. Had the Tories sent only non-combatants and trainers to Iraq, Trudeau would have added the six CF-18s once he took office. And, even now that PM Trudeau stands unopposed—in any practical sense—he insists on doubling down on perpetuating the myth that Canada is first and foremost peacekeepers and non-combatants.

Crass politics, folks… crass politics as only Grits can practice it.

When Jean Chrétien—the last Liberal politician to do so—sent our army into Afghanistan, the Canadian troops wore bright green camouflage, which poorly suited Kandahar’s brown landscape. Moreover, our soldiers were forced to drive around in jeeps unsuited for a modern war zone. They lacked helicopters for rapid deployment or evacuation of troops and were without strategic airlift capability. They didn’t even have heavily armored personnel carriers or tanks to provide some protection from deadly IEDs.

Those missing necessities were, for the most part, added under the Harper government. But, of course, Harper is gone now. So let’s pray that, unlike the Chrétien crew, these Liberals will have greater respect for the military women and men they deploy abroad, and that they’ll equip them appropriately.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

CRTC to big four telecoms: subscribers are turned off by $25 basic TV packages

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) brought major TV service providers to a two-day hearing in Gatineau, Quebec, on their mandated $25 basic TV packages—the so-called “Skinny basic” packages.

The hearings reviewed how TV service providers—and especially the big four: Videotron, Rogers, Shaw and Bell—implemented the CRTC-mandated lower-cost service earlier this year. Apparently, many subscribers are not happy with how these telecoms implemented the new package or with the choices they offered. (To save me going into the details of the complaints, here is an article which seems to cover them.)

Bell also had to answer to a CBC News story about a training document that a Bell employee leaked, which instructed staff members to downplay Bell’s basic TV package by stating:

Do not promote the Starter TV package. There will be no advertising, and this package should only be discussed if the customer initiates the conversation.”

Just the sort of responsible corporate citizenship one should expect from one of Canada’s iconic organizations, and one that benefited enormously from government-mandated semi-monopoly status for much of its corporate history. I am, of course, being ironic.

As a Cogeco cable subscriber who intended to, but didn’t, downgrade my TV package to the new basic offering, I agree with the complaints. I do believe, however, it’s a bit rich that the CRTC seems to be ignoring its part in the problem. Its insistence on micro-managing the distribution of TV service in this country is as much to blame as is the hubris and lack of good corporate citizenship of the big four service providers.

To begin with, Cogeco’s basic package has too many channels that I never watch, some of which are “mandatory distribution” channels mandated by the CRTC. As a Canadian with ability in English only, services in other languages are a waste of my limited financial resources. Channels intended for those who are visually or hearing impaired are also of no benefit to me. Nor, frankly, are the aboriginal channel, the two multicultural channels or the religious channel that features mainly re-runs of old TV series and shows that are religious in nature.

If these channels are really of broad social value—as I believe some are—subsidize them directly out of general government revenues rather than have cable/satellite customers pay the freight. This is a case of good intentions, but poor implementation.

My biggest issue with Cogeco’s basic package, though, was the absence of either of the two main all-day news channels, CBC /CTV News, or the two main all-sports networks: Sportsnet and TSN.

The above were not available when I checked just after the Cogeco’s new package became available. They were not included in the basic $25 package or in the list of standalone channels offered at extra cost. To get these—must-haves for me—channels I had to upgrade to a much pricier package. In total, what is for me a pretty basic package with about 15 “watchable” networks, I pay about $50 a month.

When I checked today, by the way, I noticed that the two afore mentioned all-news channels are now available as $12 a month add-ons to the basic package.

That’s pretty expensive, don’t you think? TSN and Sportsnet together costs only $6 a month, and we can get the entire basic package of 24 channels for only $25. That is to say, $25 a month gets you 24 channels in the basic package, but to add only two more news channels the cost increases by a whopping 48%. Wow!

But that’s life, eh? Who said fairness would ever influence or inform the quest for profit.

The solution, of course, is not more CRTC involvement—they’ve made enough of a mess already. Subscribers have to do what all dissatisfied customers aught to do: take their business elsewhere. And that’s just what I intend to do.

I have learned to face the fact that I’m a TV addict. I watch some TV virtually every day. It’s mainly sports for me, some news/political shows and a select few drama series. I’m especially fond of movies, British TV’s costume dramas, baseball, tennis and open-wheel racing. I never watch shows that are described as “reality” shows.

Yup, I’m a junkie. But I’m sick and tired of paying for a majority of channels I never watch, and paying for other channels that have commercials every ten minutes or so.

Did you know that:

One-hour TV shows in the US market run about 41-48 minutes … Criminal Minds has a runtime of 41-42 minutes, Bones, Blue Bloods, Once Upon a Time and The Blacklist run 42-43 minutes; Breaking Bad had a runtime of 48 minutes and Walking Dead runs about 42 minutes.

The commercial breaks can come about every 8-10 minutes, some even more frequently, but that's about average. It used to be breaks at the quarter and half hour but that isn't the case anymore….” [source]

I’m spending far too much time watching commercials and annoying self-promotion when I’m already paying for the channels—either give me a channel for free and include commercial messages, or charge me for commercial-free TV, but not both.

So I’m planning to cut the cord—the cable that is. But I’ll bide my time awhile more to see if the à la carte offerings that are mandated to begin by the end of 2016 offer enough benefit to stay on cable. What I need is basic TV plus all-news and all-sports channels for about $35 a month—that’s about the most value I get from cable TV.

Currently, I supplement my cable service with the commercial-free, Internet-based TV services, Netflix and CraveTV. I am happy to pay for these to avoid all those ads and promotions of shows I’m never going to watch. Often, channels run promotions for the very show I’m watching. Smart programming, eh?

I’m also tech-savvy enough to take advantage of other Internet TV offerings using a small, inexpensive computer dedicated to my TV, so there’s not much I miss without the dozens (hundreds?) of channels cable offers—except, of course, live sports. And I’m working on that.

Come January 1, 2017, I’ll make my decision. Based on today’s cable TV landscape, I’ll probably cut the cord then.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Is intolerance stifling debate in mainstream Canadian life?

For some years now, there have been topics that are verboten in many Canadian social circles. The censure pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage groups often face are a couple of examples of what I mean.

More recently, we have heard that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) faction makes life on our university campuses unpleasant for anyone who says something that implies sympathy or support for Israel.

Giving voice to virtually any political ideology that focuses on preserving traditional beliefs, attitudes and philosophy, is likely to be quickly shouted down or otherwise greeted with derision in the media. That is to say, Canada is becoming an unhealthy environment for social conservatives.

There was a time when this sort of mainstream intolerance extended to religious fundamentalism. Those believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible were considered outsiders to be distained. And as to those who wanted prayers in the classrooms of public schools? They were hicks, of course, who were not in step with the times. As to crosses or crucifixes anywhere on school premises, forget it. After all, Canadians had declared a separation between church and state, had they not?

Then there came a seismic shift in social progressivism. Suddenly, anything to do with religious fundamentalism was to be carefully protected, if not outright promoted. Anything, that is, so long as it is related to the Muslim faith and not to Christianity. Diversity was “in,” so long as it had nothing to do with white, Christian-European culture or practices. The term “old white men” became a slur.

Prayer in public school classrooms were good to go, only now we call them “prayer rooms.” As a matter of fact, any outward display of Islamic culture is commended. We are even seeing women who otherwise are ardent feminists, praising Muslim women who claim happiness and fulfillment in a cultural milieu that treats women as second class citizens from how they dress, to how they are segregated during religious services, to their testimony being worth only half that of a man’s, etc.

Moreover, don’t get me started on the mistreatment of the LGBT communities in countries that are predominantly Muslim. It seems intolerance among Muslins is okay (that’s multiculturalism and diversity), but is condemned when practiced by Christians, especially white ones. Go figure.

During the last general election, the Liberals benefitted greatly from the Conservative stance on the wearing of full face coverings during citizenship ceremonies and their proposal to establish “tip lines” to combat so-called “barbaric cultural practices.”

I can understand the latter proposal back-firing on the Tories, as Canadians, understandably, have a thing about neighbours spying on each other. That in itself is taken as being somewhat un-Canadian and puts many people off. But covering ones face at a citizenship ceremony that is central to our Canadian-ness? How is that so horrible an idea?

  Diversity, you see, is king and trumps all. That is the progressive way and—just as political correctness is king on the campus—so too is the moral certainty of progressives in mainstream Canada. And the moral certainty of progressives is absolute. They know what’s right—for all of us—and none dare question their “truths.” To question multiculturalism or diversity, for example, is secret code (dog whistle) for wanting to exclude people of colour, or at least that’s what the progressives want us to believe.

Which brings me to MP and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s proposal to screen immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.”

Ms. Leitch’s proposal is new to Canada, but not new to Western democracies. Since 2010, the Danes have had a knowledge test that:

…contains questions about Danish norms, values and fundamental rights, e.g. the principles of democracy, an individual's personal freedom and integrity, gender equality and freedom of expression and religion. There are also questions about practical, concrete issues such as the ban on circumcision, ban on forced marriages, parents' responsibility for their children, education, health, work, tax etc.” [source]

The Netherlands has its Wet inburgering law, which requires many of its immigrants to learn Dutch and pass an exam within a few years of their arrival.

It seems to me that both Denmark and Holland have democratic records most nations would be proud to have. So why is it such a terrible, intolerant thing for Kellie Leitch to propose we screen immigrants for “anti-Canadian values?”

One blogger over at The Huffington Post said of Ms. Leitch, “She is nothing more than a closet hatemonger….” Mind you, after reading his piece I think you’ll conclude that he is a master of the overstatement. How about this dose of hyperbole he feeds us:

This kind of intolerance was what gave birth to leaders like Hitler, Stalin and Mao. It was what led to dark chapters in our history from slavery in the U.S. to injustices done to Japanese and others during the Second World War.

Apparently, we shouldn’t ever worry about the values newcomers bring with them. Why? Well, it seems that since we’ve never done it before, it is intolerant of us to do it now. And, apparently, doing so will lead to death camps in which millions die, famines in which millions starve, and systematic human rights abuses that will lead to 40 to 70 million deaths through starvation, forced labour and executions. After all, are those not the legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

Other Conservatives find fault with Ms. Leitch’s proposal, which is fine—free expression, and all that. I find it somewhat impractical. How, for example, will we know what is really in an immigrant’s heart? Newcomers could claim Canadian values without really believing in them. So would we be any further ahead in weeding out those who would be better off elsewhere?

Yes, many disagree with her proposal, but that of itself says nothing about her character, other than that she cares about Canadian values and wants to see them protected.

Of course, she’s not a progressive so, I suppose, that alone makes her suspect to certain left-of-centre types who self-style themselves as the owners of the truth—that is, their truth and only their truth. To these people, diversity allows only small variations on progressive themes, and they’ll not tolerate real opposition or debate.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Free trade with China? Perhaps, but never fair trade

There is an old adage, “be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.” In this case I’m thinking about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparent wish for a free-trade deal with China.

Back in 2013, Trudeau confessed “a level of admiration … for China.” He also seemed to see some benefit from what he called China’s “basic dictatorship,” and mused that then prime minister Stephenson Harper “must dream about having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted…”. He also talked about China going green and investing in solar.

Trudeau handlers, apologists and admirers have since downplayed his words, but I can’t help but wonder why with so many successful Western democratic governments to choose from, the prime minister chose China’s despots.

By the way, Trudeau’s response came in answer to a question about which nation’s administration he most admired.

It was not a surprise, therefore, that after becoming prime minister Trudeau would seek closer ties with China, including an agreement to hold annual meetings with the Chinese premier on a range of issues, including national security and the rule of law.

My father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, played an important role in establishing a partnership between our two countries when he was prime minister. So, I’m very happy to be extending that effort now.”

Canada is, of course, a trading nation and much of our future prosperity depends on our success in selling goods and services to other countries. Understanding this, I could hardly disagree with the notion that we need to have good trading relationships with the third largest market for our goods, behind only the U.S. and the EU.

But would there ever be a free-trade agreement between our two countries that was not asymmetric in China’s favour? I’m not inclined to believe there could be.

Canadians certainly don’t need any more Chinese products. Canada already has a huge trade imbalance with China. Bilateral trade totaled about $63-billion in the first nine months of last year, and of that nearly $49-billion came from Chinese imports. Visit any store for virtually any category of goods and one’ll quickly see what I mean.

They would like to buy Canadian oil and gas, of course, but can’t because we don’t have the pipelines necessary to serve their market. Furthermore, they’d like us to relax our strict investment rules governing their state-owned enterprises so they can invest more in our oil and gas sector.

Then there is the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba who wants to bring “Alipay” to Canada. That’s a service run by its affiliate Ant Financial, which handles payments on Alibaba websites and for shoppers at restaurants and shops—sort of a PayPal+Interac on steroids.

So there is business we can do with them. But will China ever be willing to sign a deal that’s fair to both sides? Western nations have for years demanded China open its markets, in return for the easy access Chinese goods have to theirs. This is a constant irritant in U.S.-China relations, for example. The U.S. imports four times more goods from China than it exports, and if the powerful U.S. can’t get reciprocal deals, will we?

China claims it’s lowering barriers to foreign investment, but business groups say they don’t see it. At the same time Chinese companies continue to acquire international assets.

We also have very different economic structures so “fairness” may never be achieved. China’s industrial wage structure is a fraction of ours. They care little about their environment and tolerate levels of industrial pollution we could never accept. Last year alone, China approved 155 new coal-fired plants, and China admitted that it had underreported its annual coal consumption since 2000. China’s coal-fired plant capacity increased by 55 per cent in just the first six months of 2015. This is not a nation that gives a hoot about Green energy or greenhouse gas emissions.

All this allows China to make products more cheaply than any Western democracy.

Furthermore, China has lower standards and a high level of corruption, which makes breaking any rules they have rather easier that in Canada. As a result, our costs are inherently higher. As an example, there are the sorts of ingredients the Chinese were using in pet food—Google “Chinese pet food” and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

Moreover, China’s claim to be governed by the rule of law is just silly. Ask Kevin Garratt about the fairness or objectivity of China’s laws.

How likely is it that Canada will, on its own, succeed where other larger countries with more leverage have failed to wring a fair, balanced deal from China? None, in my estimation. But perhaps Canada could team up with other like-minded countries and jointly strike a broader deal with China.