Sunday, May 01, 2016

From The Same Folks

We've been told that the "Sharing Economy" is the way of the future. But a new book by Tom Slee questions that proposition. Tom Walkom writes:

But as Tom Slee writes in his authoritative new book What’s Yours is Mine, the original idea, however laudable, has turned into something far darker.
Or as he puts it: “The sharing economy is extending a harsh and deregulated free market into previously protected areas of our lives. The leading companies are now corporate juggernauts themselves.”

Slee holds a PhD in theoretical chemistry and works for a Waterloo software company. He knows something about innovation. But he believes that companies like Uber and Airbnb are innovations which do more harm than good:

Uber enthusiasts, he writes, attribute its success to technology. But the real reason Uber thrives is that it avoids paying many of the costs borne by regulated taxi services, including insurance and mechanical fitness tests.

More important, and again unlike regulated taxi firms, it is not required to provide services to everyone, such as those using wheelchairs.
When Uber enters a city, Slee writes, it usually offers bonuses to its drivers and discounts to its customers.
Over time, as it captures more of the market, these incentives are scaled back. In the end, Uber ends up raking in as much revenue as regulated taxi fleet owners, yet faces lower costs.

Airbnb also thrives because it doesn't have to play by the rules that govern other property owners:

Accommodation sharing, too, is not always what it purports to be. Airbnb claims to connect those needing hotel space with ordinary people willing to rent out an apartment or extra room.

The reality is that in some cities almost half of Airbnb’s hosts have multiple listings — that is, they are in the landlord business.

Yet unlike regular bed-and-breakfast operations, Airbnb landlords are not required to adhere to government health and safety rules.
Nor, to the dismay of some neighbours, are they subject to zoning bylaws.

It's more of the same -- from the same folks who brought you Neo-liberalism.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Very Old Lesson

Alberta isn't the only province caught between a rock and a hard place. Newfoundland is in the same boat -- and for the same reasons. Alan Freeman writes:

We’ve all heard about that special connection between Newfoundland and Alberta — stories of hard-working labourers from the island province flying out to Fort McMurray to make their fortunes in the oilsands.

Unfortunately, the east-west linkages went deeper. When politicians in Newfoundland hit their own gusher in offshore oilfields like Hibernia, they looked to Alberta for guidance. What to do with the billions in windfall royalty revenues that in 2008 turned Newfoundland and Labrador into a “have” province for the first time after decades of equalization payments from Ottawa?
Sock it away for a rainy day like those boring Norwegians? Hell no. We’ll have a big party like our buddies in Alberta.

And now that the price of oil has tanked, there is hell to pay -- literally:

Taxes have been raised across the board; the HST has been hiked to 15 per cent from 13 per cent, the gasoline tax is up 16.5 cents per litre and the province is introducing a highly regressive “deficit reduction” income tax levy that will cost $300 for a taxpayer earning $25,000 a year. Public servants will be laid off. Half the province’s libraries will close. Those $1,000 baby bonuses are long gone.

It's a repeat of the Alberta saga. There were other ways to deal with the boom. But they were paths less -- in fact, they are seldom -- taken. There is a very old lesson here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

In Harperland, Stupidity Rules

Perhaps stupidity is a virus. Despite the verdict in the Duffy trial, Michael Harris writes, stupidity still rules in a lot of roosts:

A significant part of the Canadian Establishment is not only blaming a victim — it’s blaming an exonerated victim. Some want even more punishment for a man the courts decided deserved no punishment at all.

Consider RCMP Assistant Commission Gilles Michaud who

actually wrote congratulatory letters to the investigators who worked on the Duffy case and helped come up with the 31 charges against him.

Never mind the fact that the Mounties never “got their man” on anything, not even jaywalking. In the wake of the court’s verdict, the RCMP decided it was “inappropriate to comment”.
Small wonder. It’s hard to speak with a mouthful of crow, even if you’re the assistant commissioner who held the splashy press conference announcing all those bogus charges. Besides, it gets harder to congratulate the team for a 31-0 blowout when they’re on the doughnut-hole end of the score.

The there was the National Posts's Andrew Coyne:

When a judge issues a stunning rebuttal of a vicious and baseless criminal case that made salacious headlines at Duffy’s expense for years, it’s simply not normal to argue that ‘acquittal does not equal innocence’. That’s what Andrew Coyne wrote in the immediate aftermath of Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s decision. Some people have forgotten that, as an accused person, you answer only the charges as they are brought against you — not every aspersion cast against your character that comes along.

And also in the pages of the Post, there appeared an article by Richard Staley, Harper's lawyer, who claimed that Harper acted honourably:

As soon as the laughter dies down, I’d like to ask each and every reader to judge Staley’s claim based on what came out at Duffy’s trial — especially the part about the PMO’s “ruthless” behaviour.

Staley says he was instructed by Harper to cooperate with the RCMP and that doing so was politically inexpedient — which, he argues, offers some sort of evidence of good faith.

He talks about it as if Harper had a choice. He didn’t. If he hadn’t cooperated, it would have been seen immediately as a cover-up — and rightly so. Is Staley really suggesting that the former PM had the option of suppressing all the emails that put the lie to Harper’s claim that only Duffy and Nigel Wright were in on this deal? That it was somehow selfless of him to hand them over?

Besides, had Harper refused to cooperate, it could have led to him being subpoenaed. Everyone remembers how much he likes answering questions. Imagine the fun he would have had answering them under oath.

Staley also points out (correctly) that there is a constitutional principle that prosecutorial decisions must be free of partisan concerns. He forgets that Harper was the serving PM who congratulated the RCMP when they charged Duffy, through his spokesman Jason MacDonald. Harper was also the PM who directly involved the RCMP in the Helena Guergis affair when he had Ray Novak write on his behalf to the RCMP commissioner to pass on unfounded criminal allegations against her. (I might add that in the wake of her exoneration by the Mounties, she was kicked out of the Conservative caucus anyway. Harper rules.)

In Harperland, stupidity rules.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Stephen Harper has disappeared. And, Andrew Cohen writes, his legacy is disappearing as quickly as he did:

Stephen Harper was a failure in power. He created nothing lasting. Of prime ministers since 1945 who served a full term or more, his is the thinnest record.

Harper took on none of the big social issues – abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment – which animated his loyalists. He championed no constitutional reform and established few innovative programs. He proposed no new national initiatives – museums, pipelines, high-speed rail – or declared a projet de société.

When compared to his predecessors, Harper comes away looking pretty small:

John Diefenbaker passed the Bill of Rights. Lester Pearson created Medicare, the Auto Pact and the flag. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution and entrenched the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney brought free trade and a national sales tax. Jean Chrétien established the Clarity Act and reset national finances.

On criminal justice, the Supreme Court has struck down his laws on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and limited credit for pre-trial detention. His changes to the parole system and prostitution laws may be next. The Court Challenges Program dismantled by Harper has been restored.

The long-form census has been restored. Ministers and diplomats can talk again. The Anti-Terrorism Act and Fair Elections Act will be amended. There is new money for culture and aboriginals.
Abroad, Canada has withdrawn from the bombing campaign against ISIL. We’re seeking the seat on the UN Security Council the Conservatives lost, and we may return to peacekeeping. We’ve taken a leading role in combating climate change in ways Harper disdained.

In the end, he will be remembered as a prime minister who truly didn't understand his country:

Stephen Harper misread the country. His instincts were dark and conservative in a decent, progressive country. When Canadians had a choice, they discarded him. Now they’re discarding his legacy.

He is the incredible shrinking man.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Albatross For A Long Time

The Conservative Party of Canada is in a bad place. Even Conservative cheerleader L. Ian MacDonald admits that -- as a recent EKOS poll suggests that those who call themselves Conservatives wish that Stephen Harper would rise again from the ashes:

There is no chance — none at all — of the Conservative party turning to Harper to lead it again. For that matter, there’s no sense out there that Harper would even accept a draft, in the highly unlikely event that one were to develop.

And none of his potential replacements look like good bets:

Peter MacKay recently accepted a partnership at a major international law firm on Bay Street, and has two young children at home. As much as he — as a favourite son of Atlantic Canada and representative of the party’s progressive wing — might be thinking about a leadership run, he knows it’s not the right time for him. [Kevin] O’Leary might be good entertainment, but a leadership race is much harder than a TV reality show. He also doesn’t speak French, and it’s a measure of how disconnected he is from political reality that he doesn’t see that as a problem.

Lisa Rait also doesn't speak French; and Kellie Leitch will have a hard time living down her snitch line.  Maxime Bernier could probably get a majority of the population of the Beauce to vote for him. But the rest of Canada is a different story. And, after Justice Vaillancourt's verdict, the whole Conservative machine smells dirty.

No, the Harper Years will be an albatross around the party's neck for a long time.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bombardier Gets What It Wants

I used to teach in the Eastern Townships, not too far from where the Bombardiers got their start making snowmobiles. I should be clear at the outset: I acknowledge that snowmobiles are essential in the Far North. But, as recreational vehicles, I find them loud and simply annoying.

Nonetheless, the Bombardier and Beaudoin families have used snowmobiles to leverage their way into the transportation business. And, Alan Freeman writes, they are masters at getting governments to come to their terms.

Consider how the families got into the aircraft business. They bought government owned Canadair back in the 1980's:

It all started in 1986, when Bombardier became the dark horse buyer for Canadair, the federally-owned aircraft manufacturer that already had spent $1.5 billion developing the Challenger business jet. At the time, the Challenger seemed even a lousier bet that the C Series is today, with Canadair having sold only five of the jets in 1984 and 22 in 1985. Bombardier paid a scant $120 million for the whole company. The Mulroney government was relieved to get the thing off its hands.

The sale turned out to be a brilliant move for both Bombardier and the government. Thirty years later, the Challenger is still in production and Bombardier’s decision to stretch the business jet into a passenger aircraft created the whole regional-jet segment of the industry. Bombardier — which started improbably as a maker of snowmobiles — turned into the world’s third-largest maker of civilian
In the 1990's, the families bought Toronto based de Havilland:

Bombardier used similar tactics in 1992 when it bought de Havilland Aircraft of Toronto from Boeing. Once again, Bombardier was the only real bidder for what looked like a doomed asset, and it managed to get grateful Ontario and federal governments to finance much of the deal. 

And they bought Shorts Aircraft from Maggie Thatcher's government in the midst of  "the troubles" in Northern Ireland. And the company has been able to snag long term contracts building rolling stock for Montreal's Metro and the Toronto Transit Commission. Bombardier has always had trouble meeting deadlines. But it has made all of those enterprises profitable:

When it came to Thatcher’s reluctant decision in 1989, the money ended up being well spent. Bombardier may be infuriating for politicians to deal with — making promises on timelines and research and development costs that it can’t seem to meet, refusing to dilute the control of the founding family — but when it comes to jobs and investment in R&D, it generally delivers what it promises.

At de Havilland, Bombardier developed the Q400 turboprop aircraft; it still makes it there. And the C Series, with its new order for 75 planes from Air Canada and the real possibility of an even-bigger order from Delta in the U.S., may be at the point of taking off.

Bombardier may be all sort of things, but it’s not a take-the-money-and-run kind of investor. If it weren’t for Bombardier, chances are Canadair, de Havilland and Shorts all would have closed down long ago and Canada would have an aerospace industry making parts for others and doing maintenance on aircraft built elsewhere.

So, don't be surprised when the Trudeau government gives Bombardier what it wants. It's very good at getting what it wants.


Monday, April 25, 2016

There Was A Reason For the Judge's Scorn

In the wake of the Duffy verdict, Michael Harris writes, we should know what was going on in the minds of the RCMP and the prosecutors. He lists a number of questions. For example:

  • Did the Commissioner of the RCMP or his staff have any communications from the PMO regarding the Duffy case, and if so, will he make them public?
  • Did the Commissioner of the RCMP or his staff communicate with the Minister of Public Safety or his staff about the Duffy case? If so, did he offer or receive any advice and will he release those communications?
  • Will the Commissioner of the RCMP fully describe his role in the Duffy case, including exactly how and by whom investigators were assigned to this case?
  • What are the names of the lawyers who worked on the Duffy file?
  • Who assigned the prosecutors to this case?
  • Did these lawyers meet with RCMP investigators before the 31 criminal charges against Senator Duffy were laid?
  • Did lawyers express any disagreement with the decision to lay those charges or were the Mounties an prosecution lawyers always on the same page?
  • Did prosecution lawyers offer any advice to the lead RCMP investigator on this case? If so, what was it?

Normally, you'd expect the opposition to raise these questions. But the opposition is what's left of Harper and Co. And they have learned nothing:

Every once in a while, a defeated political party reminds everyone of why it was thrown out, and more importantly, how unfit it remains for office. Rona Ambrose showed once more that she is a not a leader but a dead-end partisan just as uninterested in the truth as her former boss.

In the wake of last week’s court verdict, instead of acknowledging that things had gone horribly wrong in the political persecution of Mike Duffy, Ambrose and almost all of her caucus had nothing to say about the disgraceful conduct of Harper and his PMO. Worse, they had nothing to say for themselves – not even that this kind of political scape-goating and abuse of power was dead wrong and would never happen again under Conservative auspices.

Justice Vaillancourt understood exactly who he was dealing with and that's why his final conclusions were so scathing.