Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Budget

There's an election coming, so yesterday's budget was aimed at that reality. But, Alan Freeman writes, even though there is a considerable amount of spending, it's not very showy:

What we got today was an unusual pre-election budget, with few shiny baubles and lots of measures that promise a lot more in the future than deliver much in the present.
The Liberals continue to unbothered by their long-forgotten 2015 promise to balance to budget, figuring that the zero-deficit voters are all captured by the Tories and that Liberal and NDP leaners don’t give a fig whether the budget deficit is $20 billion, $10 billion or zero, provided that the economy is still growing and taxes are basically flat.
In fact, the government did better than expected in the current year, because of robust revenues, and now say the 2018-19 deficit will come in at $14.9 billion. And that’s after a year-end spending spree of $4.2 billion. That mad money includes $3.2 billion in cash going to municipalities in a one-time boost of federal gas-tax revenues and money for energy efficiency programs administered by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.
On housing, Morneau expanded the amount of money that first-time buyers can borrow tax-free from their RRSPs to $35,000 from $25,000 — enough to say he’s done something, but hopefully not enough to threaten the future of Canadians’ future pension security, which is what RRSPs are for in the first place.
Then he introduced a First-Time Buyer Incentive, a complex financial instrument that gets the CMHC in the business of providing shared equity mortgages of up to 10 per cent of a home purchase but would not add to buyers’ monthly payments and only be repayable on resale.
Sounds like free money but there will be strict limits on eligibility, including a maximum household income of $120,000 and the requirement to fill all the other rules of insured mortgages, including a $1-million maximum. 

Still nothing for low income housing. But with the average Toronto home selling for $870,000, maybe it will make some difference.

And, as the father of three sons who are still paying off their university debt, I welcome the lower interest rates on student loans.

But, most important of all, there is the beginning  of a pharmacare plan:

On pharmaceuticals, there’s creation of a new Canadian Drug Agency, set up with the goal of cutting drug costs by $3 billion but no commitment to go through with an expensive National Pharmacare plan. That promise will have to wait until the election campaign.

Will that be another broken promise?

We'll see.

Image: FYI Music News

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

You're Kidding

Randy Hillier's ouster underscores the fact that Doug Ford is a phony. Hillier has always been rough around the edges. But, like him of not, he represented his party's roots. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Who is Randy Hillier, exactly? A populist to his boots, and the grassroots.
Not just Tory blue, but blue collar. A rural riding man, plain-spoken and gruff, always dressed in suspenders.
Hillier arrived at Queen’s Park as a disrupter — no less a rabble-rouser than Ford himself. A former head of the Ontario Landowners Association, a Liberal-hating libertarian fighting for farmers’ property rights, he defied at first the legislature’s rules of decorum.
Until he didn’t. Hillier had an epiphany, embracing the legislature’s traditions and parliamentarians’ privileges (not perquisites but rights). Recruited by former PC leader John Tory, Hillier ultimately renounced the landowners and embraced party politics.
Today, a Tibetan flag hangs in his office, a testament to his fight for freedoms. He famously teamed up with ex-NDP MPP Cheri diNovo against what they deemed arbitrary legislation banning pit bulls (a misguided dissent, but Hillier’s bark was worse than his bite).
In recent years he could be outspoken, but not out of line (unless one considers it disloyal to support parliamentary democracy across party lines — as Hillier did by reaching out to New Democrats and Liberals on MPPs’ rights). He privately warned his fellow Tories they were “walking on thin ice” when courting corporate donations while contemplating legislative concessions.

Those activities put him on the wrong side of Mr. Ford:

His undoing probably came last year, when he privately approached Ford’s trusted campaign chair (now chief of staff), Dean French, with criticisms of PC tactics as NDP support rose. Tensions erupted when French was seen blasting Hillier during a campaign stop in front of other candidates, prompting another eastern Ontario MPP, Steve Clark (now in Ford’s cabinet), to break up the shouting match before the media caught wind of it.
Matters came to a head last month, when Hillier made the mistake of heckling New Democrats during an exchange on autism, muttering, “Yada, yada, yada.” While there could be little doubt he was targeting the NDP, French and Ford seized on the opening to claim he must have been mocking the parents of autistic children — an improbable insult, but easily leveraged for the premier’s purposes.
In a heartbeat, Hillier was suspended — ostensibly by caucus, but in reality by French and Ford. A perfect pretext, a flawed context — and unpardonably cynical for the premier to be profiting from the anguish of autism.
“Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the line and that is unacceptable,” Ford mewled, with mock empathy.
That would be the same Ford who in 2014, as a Toronto councillor, publicly opposed an Etobicoke home for teens with autism that had “ruined the community,” later telling an upset father to “go to hell.” The same Ford who was seen chuckling while a New Democrat MPP asked about sexual assault (the premier later claimed he hadn’t heard the question — fair enough, except that he demanded the benefit of the doubt he refused to give Hillier).
Behold our empathy premier, skilled in sensitivity training. Behold his political hardball, where autism is a useful ally in tarring and evicting an annoying dissenter, sending an unmistakable message to all Tories.

Ford, the man of the people? You're kidding, right?

Image: Twitter

Monday, March 18, 2019

Brin's Axiom

Max Boot has been a voice on the political right for a long time. I have seldom agreed with him. But I agree with him on his opinion of the modern Republican Party. He writes in The Washington Post:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Under Trump the party has fallen to its absolute nadir:

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

The Republican Party is now a hollow shell:

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left. The Republican Party as we once knew it — as a party of limited government — officially ended on March 14.
That was the day that 41 of 53 Republican senators voted to ratify President Trump’s blatantly unconstitutional and transparently cynical declaration of a national emergency so that he can spend money for a border wall that Congress refuses to appropriate. This comes 16 days after 182 out of 195 House Republicans voted the same way. Only 13 Republicans in the House and 12 in the Senate dared to block this flagrant assault on the Constitution. So only 10 percent of Republicans in Congress have any — any — principles left. By an interesting coincidence, that’s also the percentage of Republican voters who disapprove of Trump. The party of Lincoln — the party that freed the slaves and helped to win the Cold War — is now devoted exclusively to feeding Trump’s insatiable ego and pandering to his endless lust for power.

The story reads like a Greek Tragedy. And it serves to underscore Lord Acton's old axiom: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Actually, it's David Brin who got it precisely right.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

What Are They?

It has been instructive to watch the flip-flops Ontario's Conservatives have done on the subject of the sex-ed curriculum. Martin Regg Cohen writes:

Behold the politics of pedagogy, where the Tories play footsie with fundamentalists who believe there is a biblical injunction against teaching children age-appropriate sex-ed updated for the modern age:
In 2010, the Tories under Tim Hudak railed against the revisions. By 2014, the PCs reconciled themselves to an update under interim leader Jim Wilson (ejected last year from caucus in a sex scandal). In 2015, Patrick Brown’s PCs rallied with social conservatives against the curriculum, but later renounced so-cons and backed the update (until Brown was rejected by caucus amid allegations of sexual impropriety).
When Ford took over as leader last year, backed by those same so-cons, the Tories repudiated the curriculum once again. Today, a PC government has grudgingly recognized that in the internet era there is no turning back the clock — not when children know more than their parents about the digital world we (they) live in.
In this political byplay, the Tories are masking their about-face by loudly proclaiming a parental right to opt out of sex-ed for their children (though Lord knows children will ultimately litigate against anyone barring them from the right to know about such matters, as they successfully have in other court jurisdictions).
What is most peculiar about this disingenuous PC boast is that such an opt-out was offered by the allegedly godless Wynne Liberals all along, in a vain attempt to satisfy fundamentalists (religious and social) who claimed to know not only what was right for their own children, but what was best for all of us — by depriving all children (theirs and mine) of an updated curriculum. The latest opt-out is not only nothing new, but it was a compromise on offer all along.

Consider, too, the Fordian position on the "carbon tax" -- which Ford railed against last week -- but which Enviroment Minister Catherine McKenna pointed out is exactly that  -- a carbon tax.

Which leads to this question: Is the Ontario Conservative Party guided by any principles? If so, what are they?

Image: Shutterstock

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What's With Scheer?

That's the question Andrew Coyne asks in his most recent column, which comes on the heels of Andrew Scheer's statements on events in New Zealand:

Responding to the horrific massacre of Muslims at prayer in New Zealand, the Conservative leader issued a statement Friday afternoon expressing his “profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community” along with “the type of extreme and vile hatred that motivated this despicable act of evil.” He added: “To the Muslim community around the world and here at home in Canada, we stand with you.”
It was spot on: straightforward, fitting and right. It was also about 15 hours too late, coming as it did only after Scheer had come under intense criticism for the inadequacy of his first response, which spoke vaguely of an attack on “freedom” and unspecified “worshippers.” The appositeness of the second only highlighted the strange, withholding coldness of the first.

Scheer either over reacts -- his call for Justin Trudeau's resignation -- or under reacts -- his first statement on the massacre in Christchurch. And, rather than being an exception, this inability to get his statements right is now a pattern:

The suspicion that this was no accident is not unreasonable, given Scheer’s past statements and actions. Perhaps he truly did not hear the questioner at a recent town hall who invoked “pizzagate,” the lunatic conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex ring supposedly operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.
But nothing required him to speak at last month’s “United We Roll” rally on Parliament Hill, whose stated purpose — to protest federal environmental policies on behalf of unemployed workers in the oil industry — may have been legitimate, but which had clearly been infiltrated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant elements. At the very least, he might have taken the opportunity of his appearance to denounce these views. He did not.

Scheer is like the kid who's always in the wrong place at the wrong time:

Just as disturbing was Scheer’s recent endorsement of conspiracy-minded interpretations of a United Nations document called the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, an unenforceable statement of good intentions with regard to the handling of immigrants and refugees to which most of the world’s nations agreed last year.
This, on top of his party’s unceasing alarmism on the subject of the asylum seekers entering Canada illegally via our southern border — a legitimate issue, to be sure, and one on which the government may deserve criticism, but nothing like the existential “crisis” of so much Conservative rhetoric.

He wasn't ready for prime time when he won the leadership of the Conservative Party. And he's still not ready.

Image: The National Post

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Biker Mob

Donald Trump has warned his opponents that things could get tough for those who try to deny him a second term. Daniel Dale writes in The Toronto Star:

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an extaordinary warning to political opponents on Monday, telling a right-wing website that “it would be very bad, very bad” if his supporters in the military, police and a motorcycle group were provoked into getting “tough.”
Trump uttered the remark in an interview with Breitbart News. It came, according to Breitbart, as Trump was arguing that “the left” plays politics in a more “vicious” manner than the pro-Trump right even though “the tough people” are on Trump’s side.
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,” Trump said.
The quote went largely unnoticed by the U.S. media until the Star tweeted it on Thursday, when it prompted alarm and criticism.

This is not the first time Trump has made this kind of threat:

Trump made another veiled suggestion of retribution from the military, police and Bikers for Trump at a campaign rally in November. After mocking Antifa protesters as weaklings — “you see these little arms,” he joked — he said, “And then you see the clubs in their hands. You know, they’re tough guys, right. Where are the Bikers for Trump? Where are the police? Where are the military? Where are the ICE? Where are the Border Patrol? No. No. We’ve taken a lot. We’ve taken a lot, folks.”

There really is an organization which calls itself Bikers for Trump:

Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, a chainsaw artist described in one 2017 newspaper profile as “exceedingly polite,” offered in advance of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 to form a “wall of meat” between the president and protesters. He said, though, that he expected a peaceful gathering. While group members have had verbal confrontations with anti-Trump protesters, there have not been reports of major violence.
Trump met with some of the Bikers for Trump at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey in August. In November, Cox travelled to Florida and made unfounded allegations of election fraud. In December, Cox and his German shepherd stood outside the courthouse where former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was to be sentenced for lying to the FBI, with Cox telling Mother Jones magazine he was “here to make sure [Flynn’s] family is not assaulted or intimidated.”

Some people take all of this as a joke:

“I think it’s more of a hope than a threat,” liberal MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted about Trump’s comments. “Trump’s supporters aren’t as bad & violent & criminal as he hopes they are. They peacefully watched President Obama inaugurated twice. They’ll do that again for the next Democrat. Let’s not help him fan his imaginary flame.”

Still, it's yet another peek into Donald Trump's fevered brain.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Back To Basics

Doug Ford  announced yesterday that education in Ontario is going back to the basics. Kristin Rushowy reports:

While he wouldn’t commit to keeping class sizes at their current levels, he said “I think the people of this province will be quite thrilled when they see” his government’s education reforms, which are expected to be unveiled Friday.
“I can tell you — we are going back to the basics. We’re going to make sure our students understand math, reading, arithmetic … We need to put more training with our teachers, and focus on our students.”

This from a man who knows nothing about education. It's true that math test scores have been going down over recent years. And the math curriculum needs overhauling. It has been trying to teach large concepts to kids before they can grasp large concepts. So a more student focused curriculum might help. But Ford thinks that the place to begin reforms is with the last generation:

Education Minister Lisa Thompson is set to announce changes to the math curriculum on Friday, which will fully come into effect in September 2021. Boards will hire a “math learning lead,” and the province will support 1,000 schools — roughly one quarter of all elementary and secondary schools — with extra numeracy help.
It will also require all new teachers to pass a math knowledge exam before they can be certified to work in public schools, and require the province’s 16,000 middle-school teachers to earn additional qualifications in math.
The government will also direct teachers to “focus on fundamental concepts and skills” and move away from “discovery math.” It will also boost online resources for students and parents.

Ontario's Conservatives are -- as usual -- looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They were born too late. And they're too stupid to figure that out.

Once again. life is not going to be easy for educators in Ontario.

Image: Trendsmap