Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coming Down The Pike



Canada Post and CUPW have reached an agreement. But that's not the end of the story. The real drama, Tom Walkom writes, is just beginning:

The main event – what to do with the Crown corporation – is set to begin next month.

That’s when a four-person task force set up by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is due to report. Chaired by the head of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, the task force has been told to “identify viable options” for Canada Post.

In announcing the move this May, Public Services Minister Judy Foote said that everything except privatization is on the table.

The volume of mail has steadily declined. But the delivery of parcels has become a booming business. And, to take advantage of that fact, Canada Post bought Purolator Courier several years ago. But new circumstances mean that employment for mail carriers is on the line. And it leaves the corporation with two broad choices:

First, it can cut costs and raise stamp prices. This is the strategy that Canada Post management is vigorously following through its cuts to home delivery and its take-no-prisoners approach to collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

The problem it faces is that this strategy is ultimately self-defeating. As service becomes even more inconvenient and expensive, fewer people will use the post office.

This can lead only to a death spiral.

Second, the post office can cover part of the cost of those operations that lose money by investing in activities that make money.

Canada Post already engages in cross-subsidization. The money it earns by delivering junk-mail helps cover the cost of standard mail. Its policy of delivering letters anywhere in the country for the same price acts, in effect, as a subsidy to those who correspond over long distances. Its Purolator parcel delivery segment cross-subsidizes its less profitable post office segment.

The corporation is now considering getting back into the banking business -- something which would benefit small communities. Whatever model the post office adopts, changes are coming down the pike. 

Image: sheldonkirshner.com

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Praise For Philpott



Jane Philpott has been getting a lot of blow back for a ride she recently took in a supporter's limousine. It cost, admittedly, much more than public transportation. But Gerry Caplan has come to her defence:

Jane Philpott is exactly the kind of citizen we should want in Parliament: a doctor of medicine, with a masters degree in public health; doctored in Niger, one of the world’s very poorest countries, for a full decade; chief of the department of family medicine at her hospital; central to a Canada-Ethiopia collaboration to develop a training program for family medicine in Ethiopia.

Beyond any formal credentials, she is known among all who work or deal with her for her decency, integrity and deep devotion to her community. She is what the “honourable” in “The Honourable Member” should mean.

And, unlike the former medical minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet, Philpott is trying to do something on the asbestos file:

This month something quite wonderful changed, as Kathleen Ruff has now enthusiastically reported on her website RightOnCanada. She was “extremely encouraged” to learn that Jane Philpott is actively involved with her cabinet colleagues in setting a new policy on asbestos for Canada.

“I was glad to receive a phone call from a policy adviser for Minister Philpott and had a constructive and positive dialogue. I am extremely hopeful that in the next session of Parliament the government will announce its plans to ban asbestos, take measures to protect Canadians from asbestos harm and play a leadership role at the UN in support of the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention.”

This is a very big deal after a decade of irresponsibility by the Harper government (including its well-known doctor, Kellie Leitch), and I, too, happily congratulate Dr. Philpott for living up to expectations.

So, yes, the ride in the limo was a mistake. But, Caplan writes, let's keep things in perspective:

With all the contrived indignation they could muster, opposition critics were swift to leap down her throat, automatic media attention being guaranteed. Canadian Press now immortalizes the entire issue as an “expensive mistake,” referring to “the thousands” Philpott spent “to be chauffeured around in a luxury vehicle owned by a Liberal volunteer.” The actual figure seems to be about $6,500. This says more about Ottawa’s obnoxious political culture than it does about our Minister of Health.

These days, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. 

Image: thechronicleherald.ca

 

Monday, August 29, 2016

But For Fortune


A little more than a year ago, the lifeless body of little Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. His image went viral and struck a cord around the world. Last week, the image of another battered child -- Omran Daqnesshes, also a victim of the war in Syria -- went viral. It reminded us of the depravity of which we are capable. But it should also remind us, Crawford Killian writes, of our duty to refugees and the benefits they bring with them:

If we treat them as unavoidable nuisances and a drain on our resources, they will become a drain indeed: underschooled, underemployed, alienated, linked to the rest of the country only through the police and social services bureaucracy.

But if we treat the thousands of Alan Kurdis and Omran Daqneeshes as an incredible stroke of luck, an opportunity to energize and sustain the country as a prosperous democracy, we will do very well indeed. They will enliven our classrooms, break our sports records, start new industries and do business around the world in English, French and Arabic.

Yes, they will bring unique problems that our schools and universities will have to deal with. But we’ve dealt with the traumatized and uprooted for at least 60 years, ever since we absorbed almost 40,000 Hungarians in a few months after the 1956 uprising. The University of British Columbia even took in a whole Hungarian school of forestry. We’re a lot better at it than we realize.

The argument against accepting refugees is always the same -- they're not like us. But, if our memories are long enough, we'll remember that we're all refugees. And, but for fortune, we'd be refugees today.

Image: thetyee.ca

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Chip Off The Old Blockhead



The New York Times has been looking into how the Trumps -- father and son -- have done business. Consider the following anecdote:

She seemed like the model tenant. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a “beautiful application.” She did not even want to look at the unit.

There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black.

Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump.
“I asked him what to do and he says, ‘Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,’” Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview.

It was late 1963 — just months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act — and the tall, mustachioed Fred Trump was approaching the apex of his building career. He was about to complete the jewel in the crown of his middle-class housing empire: seven 23-story towers, called Trump Village, spread across nearly 40 acres in Coney Island.

He was also grooming his heir. His son Donald, 17, would soon enroll at Fordham University in the Bronx, living at his parents’ home in Queens and spending much of his free time touring construction sites in his father’s Cadillac, driven by a black chauffeur.

“His father was his idol,” Mr. Leibowitz recalled. “Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side.”

Over the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company’s practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle.

And, when the Trumps were accused of discrimination in housing -- under the new Civil Rights Act -- young Mr. Trump reacted with what has now become a familiar routine:

“Absolutely ridiculous,” he was quoted as saying of the government’s allegations.

 Looking back, Mr. Trump’s response to the lawsuit can be seen as presaging his handling of subsequent challenges, in business and in politics. Rather than quietly trying to settle — as another New York developer had done a couple of years earlier — he turned the lawsuit into a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to “welfare recipients” and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation.

Mr. Trump is obviously a boar. And he's a chip off the old blockhead.

Image: nytimes.com

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Not With A Bang


When he was defeated by his arch nemeses -- the Liberals -- and by the young upstart he claimed simply "wasn't ready," Stephen Harper went dark. Michael Harris writes:

He gave not a single interview after getting waxed in the 2015 election by Justin Trudeau. Las Vegas proved more attractive to the MP from Calgary Heritage than the House of Commons, where, post-defeat, he lurked rather than sat. And while he was doing little for his constituents other than cashing his paycheck, he did find time to set up his political consulting company in Calgary after a few visits to U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the man who has promised, but not yet delivered, $100 million to support Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Even Harper’s resignation was an in-house Harper job, controlling — and distorting — the message until the very end. Steve writing his own report card, as he did while in office. (Did Ray Novak shoot that cheesy video?)

Perhaps he thought that, after a good night's sleep, it would all go away. But it won't. His record will remain:

Here’s the real story. This ersatz economist delivered seven consecutive fiscal deficits and ran through the $13.8 billion surplus handed to him by the outgoing Liberal government of Paul Martin in a single year. The country’s economy grew at a snail’s pace, wages stagnated — and then the Great Navigator denied that the Great Recession of 2008 was happening during the federal election of the same year.

Throughout most of that time — while he was smothering critics, stifling information flow, practising vigilante justice on people like Mike Duffy and Helena Guergis without facts, attacking the Supreme Court, promoting unconstitutional legislation and surrounding himself with people even Trump might not feel comfortable with — nobody called him out for what he was. They were too afraid, because this guy took down numbers.

Neo-liberalism predated Harper's rise. And it lives on after it. But yesterday Stephen Harper's political career ended -- not with a bang but a whimper.


Friday, August 26, 2016

It's Not Easy Being Orange



It would be a lot easier if social democratic governments were elected during flush times. But voters turn to social democrats when times are tough. Consider the case of Rachel Notley's government in Alberta. Tom Walkom writes:

Notley was elected last May on a wave of discontent. The ruling Progressive Conservatives were seen as out of touch. Their fiscal solutions — spending cuts plus tax increases for the middle class — were thought unfair.

Some voters moved to the even more right-of-centre Wildrose Party. Others gravitated to the NDP, with its call for higher taxes on corporations and the rich, action on climate change and more spending on infrastructure, health and education.

On winning power, Notley moved quickly to implement part of her platform. She raised taxes for corporations and the well-to-do. She also announced a new carbon tax set to take effect next year.
She did all of this without antagonizing the main corporate players in Alberta’s oilsands.

If oil were still bringing in $100 a barrel, Notley would be doing swimmingly. But such is not the case:

The collapse in world oil prices and the consequent recession in Alberta have changed everything.

A fiscal update this week from the provincial finance department predicts that Alberta’s economy will shrink by 2.7 per cent this year, while the unemployment rate will hover at about 8 per cent.
Government stimulus is expected to create 10,000 new jobs this year. But that number will be swamped by the 50,000 jobs already lost to the oil-price induced recession.

Thanks in part to the Fort McMurray fire, Alberta will face a $10.9 billion deficit this year. The government’s books are not expected to reach balance until 2024.

Still, Notley is sticking to her guns:

The NDP government insists it will stay the course — that it will not slash government spending and that it will continue to fight the recession with fiscal stimulus.

Logic is on Notley’s side. Her government may be running deficits. But net debt as a percentage of the province’s gross domestic product is still below 4 per cent, a remarkably low measure. By comparison, Ontario’s debt to GDP ratio is about 40 per cent.

Her promise to wean Alberta’s economy away from its reliance on the vagaries of world oil prices should, in today’s context, have even more urgency.

And her job-creation measures, while not enough to make up completely for the collapse in the oil economy, are better than nothing. Still, the pressure on her government to change course promises to be intense.

Will she? Bob Rae did. And those of us who live in Ontario remember how that turned out. 

Image: Codie McLachlan / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The TFW Program


The Liberals have vowed to reform the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. John McCallum is making noises about developing a pathway to citizenship for them. But the program is a minefield because it was developed as a sop to business. Its raison d'etre was to keep labour costs low across the country. Tom Walkom writes:

The problem the Trudeau government faces is that the temporary foreign workers program in any guise is a low-wage strategy.

When businesses say they can’t find qualified labour what they usually mean is that they can’t find anyone at the wage they are willing — or able — to pay.

Appearing before the Commons human resources committee this spring, representatives of the meat packing industry said they must bring in foreign workers because native-born Canadians just aren’t interested in such tough jobs.

What they didn’t dwell on was the fact that native-born Canadians are quite willing to work in other tough manual jobs — such as the oil rigs — that pay more.

Christopher Smillie of the Canadian Building Trades Unions put the problem succinctly. “If employers can’t entice Canadians to take certain jobs (they should) raise wages,” he told the committee.

After all, that is supposed to be how the free market operates. But the Conservatives -- who proclaimed their faith in free markets -- never really believed in them. What the Liberals believe is not entirely clear. And it's not entirely clear what they will do:

At one level, their problem is a practical one. Even if they are opposed to using temporary migration as a wage suppressant, they live in a world where this is the norm. That’s why, in an attempt to pander to East Coast fish plants, they lifted the ceiling this year on the number of temporary foreign workers seasonal employers may bring in.

Stay tuned. 

Image: ccweb.ca