Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Some Resurrections Shouldn't Be Celebrated

David Brooks is a disillusioned conservative. In his book, The Second Mountain,  he writes:

“I have become radicalized … I now think the rampant individualism of our current culture is a catastrophe.  The whole cultural paradigm has to shift from the mindset of hyper-individualism to the relational mindset.” 

For fifty years, we have been living with the hyper individualism preached by Ayn Rand and Neo-liberals. That Randian Dream has crept into all our political parties. Glen Pearson writes, that it has left in its wake a lunar landscape of cynicism:

The disillusionment of the politically inclined roughly reflects what the average citizen with little party loyalty has felt for years.  The pervasive affiliation between capitalism and democracy, between privilege and power, partisanship and pandering, has, Brooks believes, removed political power from responsibility and, ultimately, effectiveness: “We have become too cognitive when we should be more emotional; too utilitarian when we should be using a moral lens; too individualistic when we should be more communal.”
In so easily abandoning our institutions, we forgot that through them we learned and practiced our responsibilities towards one another.  They were how we discovered one another and drew strength in a world that could easily be alienating.  For all their flaws, they reminded us of our accountability to things beyond merely our own persuasions.  South of the border, in the world where Brooks is attempting to navigate his doubts, we are witnessing what happens when raw power defies law, the public good, the institutions of democracy, global responsibility, and ultimately the welfare of the people themselves.  It’s an abandonment that manifested itself in both parties through recent decades of power but has now reached its ultimate betrayal of collective responsibility to each other.   It’s what comes about with the privatization of public accountability.

We yearn for public accountability. But that disappeared in the fog of 19th Century economics -- which were reborn fifty years ago. Some resurrections shouldn't be celebrated.

Image: Slide Serve

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

They're Still With Us

It's one thing to have a low corporate tax structure. It's something else again when corporations simply don't pay taxes. The Toronto Star reports that:

Canadian corporations failed to pay between $9.4 billion and $11.4 billion in taxes in 2014, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the country’s corporate “tax gap” — the difference between taxes legally owed and those collected — being released today by the Canada Revenue Agency.
That means 24 to 29 per cent of all the corporate income tax legally due in Canada didn't get paid that year.
The country’s tax hit was reduced significantly by CRA audits that found $6.1 billion of the unpaid bills — reducing the tax gap by 55 to 65 per cent — the report says.

Politicians on the right will continue to howl that we can't afford new government programs -- like pharmacare -- and we can't afford the programs we have. But, clearly, the government is not getting all the revenue it is owed. And corporations have teams of accountants and lawyers to make sure they keep their money:

In two cases last year involving large corporations BMO and Cameco, the CRA said their offshore tax structures were not legitimate and deprived Canada’s tax coffers of more than $3 billion. The companies appealed and a tax judge ruled them onside.
Much of the “aggressive tax planning” corporations use to lower their tax bills involves complex offshore structures that exist in a legal grey area. While the corporate accountants may believe they’re above-board, the CRA doesn’t always agree.

Fifty years ago, David Lewis made an issue of "Corporate Welfare Bums." He was speaking of subsidies to corporations. But, given their record on paying taxes, it would appear that the bums are still with us.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, June 17, 2019

Scheer's Problems

Justin Trudeau faces several issues which could doom his prime ministership. But so does Andrew Scheer. Penny Collenette writes that, with friends like Doug Ford and Jason Kenny, Scheer's quest for the brass ring could be doomed:

The Ontario premier has baggage already. He has unsurprisingly proven to be a political disaster. Voter’s remorse has set in. His polls are plummeting. Anonymous Conservatives are leaking their concerns to reporters and his caucus seems to be in a meltdown.
He and his team clearly did not learn a lesson from the Mike Harris government. When cuts hurt too deeply, people will scream in pain, especially when those cuts are aimed at the most vulnerable.
Scheer must find a way to distance himself from Ford while simultaneously retaining Ford Nation support. 

And then there is Jason Kenney:

Meanwhile, Jason Kenney is a strategic lightning rod. Formerly a federal Conservative minister under Stephen Harper, the premier of Alberta is also causing trouble. Unlike Ford, Kenney and Scheer seemed joined at the hip on policies. However, speculation is mounting that Kenney is the federal “leader in waiting” which has to be slightly awkward for the two of them.
Scheer will also have to carefully monitor the Alberta premier’s actions. Kenney, Ford and four other premiers recently joined forces in an “urgent” letter to challenge Trudeau on two recent pieces of environmental legislation. They warned of a “unity crisis” if they did not get their way.
If there is any threat that makes Liberal hearts beat faster, it is a threat to “national unity.” The prime minister realized quickly the political gift. He immediately countered with an allegation that the premiers were being irresponsible to suggest a national unity crisis.

It's early days. And campaigns do make a difference. But, at this point, I wouldn't make any predictions about who will win the next election.

Image: The Toronto Star

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Mike Harris' Legacy Lives On

Ontario often is the keystone in federal elections. Paul Barber suggests that, in the next election, that may well be the case:

Trying to establish Ontario's place in the Canadian federation's politics presents a paradox.
Critically important, Ontario cast 37 per cent of all votes in 2015, contributing 80 of the Liberals' 184 constituencies. However, having elected a small "l" liberal prime minister that year, the same province proceeded, less than three years later, to select the conservative Doug Ford as premier.

During the governments of Trudeau the Elder, Ontario was governed by Progressive Conservatives:

Ontario was governed by a progressive version of conservatism in the '60s and '70s, when premiers such as John Robarts and Bill Davis, quite compatible with the era of Trudeau the elder, held office.
Take education as an example.
The PCs of that era invested prodigious resources in all levels of education, particularly post-secondary. It would pay off economically. Toronto's current prosperity is directly connected to those investments. As a producer with CBC's The Journal in 1985, I made a short documentary profile of a small high-tech firm in Toronto that had just sold its new design system for cars to GM. Why in Toronto? CEO Stephen Bingham said that the staff's advanced technical skills were attributable to investments by Bill Davis in places like the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo and Sheridan College.

The party retains the name. But it is no longer progressive:

 A new hard-edged conservatism took over in Progressive Conservative Mike Harris' years of the '90s, enthusiastic about cutting education spending, prioritizing tax cuts. Deep cuts to postsecondary were offset to some degree by tuition increases and private sector support, particularly for elite universities such as Toronto and Waterloo.
Those years featured strong economic growth imported from a boom south of the border (dubbed by economist Joseph Stiglitz the "roaring nineties") and aided by a continuously declining Canadian dollar that fell from the moment the PCs took office -- from about 72 cents U.S. to 62.5 cents in January 2002. Conservatives liked to think the growth was about them and Harris' "Common Sense Revolution." It was not.

Doug Ford's government has returned to the Harris template.  But times have changed. And so have the Trudeaus. Many in Ontario's media blame Kathleen Wynne's previous government for Ontario's deficit. But the economy was good during the Wynne years:

Canada's largely conservative print media has misleadingly portrayed Ontario as a high spending, debt-ridden basket case. The truth is that spending and taxes remain low, the latter being a key contributor to debt, itself primarily a product of the financial downturn following the last recession. While, per capita, Ontario's debt is higher than that of most other provinces, it is not the largest in Canada and there is no crisis.  

When it came to taxes, Wynne was not willing to rock the Harris boat. His legacy lives on. And so we are where we are.  All of this history will play into October's election.

Image: Tom O'Connor/twitter

Saturday, June 15, 2019

He's Been There Before

Conservative premiers are lining up to fight two federal pieces of legislation -- Bill C-69 and Bill C-48. They say that both bills will trigger a national unity crisis. And they have worked very hard to get Quebec premier Francois Legault on their side. But Legault has refused to sign a joint communique with the other premiers. Chantal Hebert writes:

The official reason for declining the invitation to sign was that the amendments the Conservative premiers were adamant Trudeau accept in the final version of bill C-69 did not reflect Quebec’s concerns.
But Legault was also wary of the partisan undertones of the letter.
The end game of the Conservative premiers is not to have a pair of environment-related federal bills dismissed or rewritten.
Their latest offensive is part of a battle to the finish to help Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer oust the Liberals from power in the Oct. 21 federal election.

That strategy has been tried before, when Legault was a member of Lucien Bouchard's government, and the battle was over the Clarity Act:

At the time of the 2000 federal election PQ strategists were convinced then-prime minister Jean Chrétien would pay a hefty electoral price in Quebec for having given Ottawa the legal capacity to set the terms of engagements of future referendums.
They believed voters would rally to the premier’s contention — one shared by the bulk of the province’s chattering class — that the federal law was an attack on Quebecers’ collective right to self-determination. They hoped it would rekindle sovereigntist passions.
They were wrong. Chrétien won the popular vote and almost tied the Bloc Québécois for seats. A short time later, Bouchard resigned. He said the federal result was a major factor in his decision. The latter did suggest that in his role as Quebec gatekeeper vis-à-vis Ottawa, he was all bark and no bite.

The Conservative premiers are playing the same game. Perhaps it will work in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But Ontario and New Brunswick are different places:

Whether Doug Ford — an unpopular Ontario premier whose vocal backing of Scheer the Liberals hope will drive more votes their way — or Higgs, whose New Brunswick government was elected with a smaller share of the popular vote than the official opposition, will be similarly vindicated by their respective electorates is much less certain.
Trudeau could yet replenish his moral authority at their expense, leaving them with a weaker hand in their dealings with a re-elected Liberal federal government and some egg on their faces on the provincial front.

Jason Kenney and Doug Ford would love to make the next election about national unity. Not Francois Legault. As Huck Finn said, "I been there before."

Image: City News Toronto

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Coming Of Bo Jo

Tony Burman writes that it is now virtually certain that British Conservatives will choose Boris Johnson as their country's Prime Minister. Think of that for a moment. The next British prime minister will be "Bo Jo the Clown:"

Yes, during this next stage of Britain’s painful slow-motion national suicide, we can at least be consoled that the country’s blond-haired class clown will leave ’em laughing as Britain fades resolutely into obscurity.
How about the time at the London Olympics when, as the city’s mayor, he ended up dangling on a zipwire waving two plastic flags in a silly helmet, pleading “Can you get me a rope?” Or when he tried to convince the Chinese at the Beijing Olympics that the British invented ping pong “on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and called it ‘wiff waff’ ”?

If there ever was a man who says the wrong thing at the wrong time, it's Boris Johnson:

Last year, Johnson described Muslim women who wore burqas and niqabs as “looking like letter boxes (and) bank robbers.” He once wrote that the Queen loves the Commonwealth because “it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-wearing picaninnies.” And, as foreign secretary, he wrote an insulting poem about the president of Turkey suggesting he had sex with a goat.

Why has Britain been given such a "gift?" Consider the party which he will lead:

For a large, diverse country such as the U.K., the Conservatives have come up with a narrow process to choose a new prime minister. Eligible voters will only include the 160,000 grassroots members of their party — in a country of 67 million people.
Even worse is the demographic breakdown of those people. They are largely older voters (56 per cent over the age of 55), overwhelmingly white (97 per cent), mainly male (70 per cent), very well-off and far more right-wing than the country at large.

Another Donald Trump will tread upon the world stage. Shakespeare was right. Oh, what fools these mortals be.

Image: Daily Mail

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trudeau's New Big Idea

Yesterday, Eric Hoskins introduced the results of his panel's research into a national pharmacare program. Ontario's former Minister of Health is thinking big. And so is Justin Trudeau. Susan Delacourt writes:

It’s been a while since Canadian politics delved into national universal social programs — daycare was the last big one on the political agenda, and that died in the 2006 election that brought Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to power.
Hoskins, who has been heading up a federal advisory council on pharmacare for the past year, even supplied some of the script for lofty speeches on the Liberal campaign trail this fall.
“This is our generation’s national project,” Hoskins said when he unveiled the council’s recommendations. “Let’s complete the unfinished business of universal health care.”

Trudeau has made some other big promises which didn't work out as planned:

Electoral reform didn’t quite work out as planned, neither did the vow on modest deficits, carbon taxation or harmony with the provinces. 

But he wants to present himself as the progressive alternative. And the NDP also advocates establishing a national phramacare program. You can be sure the Conservatives will rain on the idea. They've already done that in Ontario:

[Kathleen] Wynne rolled out universal, OHIP+ coverage for the under-25 group in Ontario in 2017, we might recall, but Ford’s new Conservative government announced a rollback almost immediately after being sworn in a year ago. As of April this year, free prescription drugs are only provided to young people who don’t have private insurance coverage.

So how will it all work out? Stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

We Need A Better One

This morning, as Britain searches for a new prime minister, George Monbiot reflects on the toxic politicians who now bestride the globe:

A few years ago, the psychologist Michelle Roya Rad listed the characteristics of good leadership. Among them were fairness and objectivity; a desire to serve society rather than just yourself; a lack of interest in fame and attention; and resistance to the temptation to hide the truth or make impossible promises. Conversely, a paper in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy has listed the characteristics of leaders with psychopathic, narcissistic or Machiavellian personalities. These include: a tendency to manipulate others; a preparedness to lie and deceive to achieve your ends; a lack of remorse and sensitivity; and a desire for admiration, attention, prestige and status. Which of these lists, do you think, best describes the people vying to lead the Conservative party?
In politics, almost everywhere we see what looks like the externalisation of psychic wounds or deficits. Sigmund Freud claimed that “groups take on the personality of the leader”. I think it would be more accurate to say that the private tragedies of powerful people become the public tragedies of those they dominate. For some people, it is easier to command a nation, to send thousands to their deaths in unnecessary wars, to separate children from their families and inflict terrible suffering, than to process their own trauma and pain. What we appear to see in national politics around the world is a playing out in public of deep private distress.

We are all imperfect. But we seem to prefer leaders whose imperfections are writ large. What should we do?

The underlying problem is the system through which such people jostle. Toxic personalities thrive in toxic environments. Those who should be least trusted with power are most likely to win it. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the group of psychopathic traits known as “fearless dominance” is associated with behaviours that are widely valued in leaders, such as making bold decisions and bestriding the world stage. If so, we surely value the wrong characteristics. If success within the system requires psychopathic traits, there is something wrong with the system.
In designing an effective politics, it could be useful to work backwards: to decide what kind of people we would like to see representing us, then create a system that would bring them to the fore. I want to be represented by people who are thoughtful, self-aware and collaborative. What would a system that elevated such people look like?
It would not be a purely representative democracy. This works on the principle of presumed consent: “You elected me three years ago, therefore you are presumed to have consented to the policy I’m about to implement, whether or not I mentioned it at the time.” It rewards the “strong, decisive” leaders who so often lead their nations to catastrophe. A system that tempers representative democracy with participative democracy – citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, the co-creation of public policy – is more likely to reward responsive and considerate politicians. Proportional representation, which prevents governments with minority support from dominating the nation, is another potential safeguard – though no guarantee.

Surely, we can design a better system. Given the problems the globe faces, we need a better one.

Image: Celebration Of Mind

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Emperor Of Toronto

Doug Ford was elected premier of Ontario. But, Tom Walkom writes, he really wants to be Emperor of Toronto:

Ford’s fascination with Toronto is not new. It revealed itself immediately after the election last year that saw his Progressive Conservatives take power at Queen’s Park. That’s when, out of the blue, he decided to dramatically cut back the size of Toronto’s city council.
Was he settling scores? Was he fulfilling a downsizing dream that had eluded him when he and his brother Rob were members of that council? Who knows his motive?
The point is that the new premier of Ontario saw this bit of Toronto-centric localism as a top priority. He was even prepared to override the constitution’s charter of rights and freedoms in order to ensure the cuts were made.
Since then, Ford’s focus on Toronto has continued unabated.
He has trashed the city’s latest public transit plan, reached after years of agonizing to and fro. In its stead is a brand new Ford plan.
Did the city want one midway stop on its proposed Scarborough subway line? Phooey. Ford would have three.
Did the city have plans for a so-called relief line to ease the pressure on existing subway routes? Forget that. Ford would replace it with a so-called Ontario Line, running from Ontario Place on the lakeshore to the Ontario Science Centre in the city’s northeast.

Ford has just declared that he will decide how Toronto will develop in the future:

He routinely overturns decisions reached by the city’s elected mayor and councillors.
No detail of city business is too insignificant to dissuade his involvement.
His government’s decision to override the city’s development plans for two discrete areas of Toronto is perhaps the most extreme example. In effect, the provincial government is involving itself in the nitty-gritty of zoning.

He's a big man with many petty scores to settle. And he's doing his home town no favours.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Rules? What Rules?

Ever since Donald Trump became president, he has been breaking universally accepted norms for presidential behaviour. His recent trip to Europe merely added to the rules he takes pride in breaking. Max Boot writes:

Just look at how Trump behaved in his trip to Europe to commemorate D-Day — which he seems to think stood for “Donald’s day.” Trump managed to shatter one norm of presidential decorum after another.
Don’t engage in domestic politics overseas — and don’t engage in name-calling. During a Fox News interview at the American war cemetery in Normandy — can there be a bigger sacrilege? — Trump called special counsel Robert S. Mueller III a “fool” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a “disaster” and “Nervous Nancy.” Earlier on the trip, he called Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D.-N.Y.) a “creep” and singer Bette Midler “a washed-up psycho.”
Don’t lie. Trump made one false claim after another. The United States doesn’t have the “cleanest air in the world,” and it hasn’t “gotten better” since he became president. Trump doesn’t have the highest level of support ever among Republicans. Climate change doesn’t go “both ways.” Trump has attacked John McCain, and he did call Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, “nasty” — it’s on tape. Oh, and it wasn’t “fake news” that massive crowds demonstrated against Trump in London. The actual “fake news” was Trump’s claim that “thousands of people” were cheering him in London.
Don’t intrude into other democracies’ politics. Trump all but endorsed Boris Johnson’s quest to become prime minister of the United Kingdom, suggested that populist rabble-rouser Nigel Farage should be appointed to negotiate with the European Union, and said that Britain should pursue a “hard Brexit.” He even proposed including the National Health Service in trade talks. In his meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a Brexit opponent, Trump recommended a “wall” along the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland — the last thing that either side wants. In his defense, Trump was probably not trying to micromanage Brexit negotiations; he simply didn’t know what he was talking about, as usual.
Don’t mix government business with personal business. Trump made two separate trips, at considerable taxpayer expense, to spend the night at Doonbeg, his money-losing Irish golf resort. He even tried to get Varadkar to meet him there — a request the Irish prime minister refused. Trump’s visit provided a publicity windfall for the golf course and de facto put the weight of the American presidency behind the Trump Organization’s requests, still pending with the local authorities, to build a sea wall, more than 50 guest cottages and a ballroom. Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who run the Trump Organization, even used the occasion to go on a pub crawl to win over the locals.

Trump offers his middle finger to the world. He's not an Ugly American. He's the Ugliest American.

Image: Vanity Fair

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The New Dr. Goebbels

These days, we are awash in falsehoods. Social media have been a blessing. But they have also been a curse. Robin Sears writes:

Someone leaked an email allegedly from a People’s Party of Canada organizer suggesting that non-white Canadians who join their nascent organization should be put on display in front of the camera, but never consulted about policy, “…as they are all liberals anyway.” It strains credulity, however, that any racialized Canadian would find the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic message of the Bernier blowhards attractive.
So the message may have been fake, as the party instantly declared, but it got a lot of attention and probably did some damage, whether fake or real.
More troubling was the reaction of YouTube and Facebook to a doctored video, now viewed millions of times, that showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as drunk. Facebook refused for days to take it down. No matter how improbable the source or the claim, some of smear will stick with some people – even after it has been amply disproven. Islamaphobes and Pelosi haters will continue to believe and circulate nonsense.

Recently, governments --particularly in Europe -- have been trying to regulate the new media giants. But, ultimately, the ability to exercise critical thinking  will determine  what kind of legs these stories have. It's become much easier for the new Dr Goebbels -- and there are several -- to exercise their dark arts.

Something to think about as we enter our federal election.

Image: The University Times

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Our D Day?

In the wake of the 75th anniversary of D Day,  some are drawing analogies between the climate crisis and the Second World War. Certainly, Elizabeth May sees a connection. Susan Delacourt writes:

Here in Canada, Elizabeth May and the Green party have put this comparison at the heart of the plan recently unveiled as “Mission Possible.”
One of the more intriguing components of the plan is to form a “survival cabinet” made up of members from all parties, a suggestion inspired by the wartime cabinets of Winston Churchill and William Lyon Mackenzie King.
May has been making the link between climate change and war for some time now, going back at least to last fall, when she spoke in the House during the emergency debate on the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change — that’s the panel that warned the world it just had 12 years to get its act together to avoid global catastrophe. 
It was Dunkirk, not D-Day, that May was talking about during that speech. She said she had been thinking about that mass evacuation of more than 300,000 trapped soldiers during the Second World War — an audacious act of leadership by Churchill that called upon civilians to help rescue troops trapped by the German forces at Dunkirk.
“Churchill of course, surrounded by naysayers, thought up a miracle, one that is clearly undoable. He asked, ‘How many civilian boats are there in Dover? We could get those civilians to cross the English channel and rescue over 300,000 men.’ Really? It was hardly plausible,” May said. “In this time and age we need to face the facts just as squarely. We need to tell Canadians that we have hope, to not despair or think it is too late.”

In many ways, these are dark days. But it's worth remembering that we're not the first generation to face dark days. What matters is how we respond to the darkness.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Chaos Premier

In the run up to the American election, Jeb Bush called Donald Trump "the chaos candidate;" and he predicted that Trump would be "a chaos president." Doug Ford has proved to be a chaos premier. But he's not the first. Tom Walkom writes:

As former PC premier Mike Harris discovered, what Ontarians really dislike is chaos.
Like Ford, Harris was elected on a promise to disrupt — in his words, to bring a common-sense revolution to Ontario.
For a while after he took power in 1995, that disruption was popular — popular enough to get him re-elected four years later.
But eventually, Harris’ version of permanent revolution wore the province down. There were simply too many teachers’ strikes, too many spending cuts, too much commotion.
Harris saw the writing on the wall and bailed out before his term in office ended.

Ford's decision to cap public sector wages at 1% will trigger labour chaos in the province:

To a labour movement already soured on the Ford government, it is a direct provocation.
In effect, the bill would eliminate the right of unions to bargain the most important part of any collective agreement — wages and compensation.
In any new contracts with public sector unions, the bill would limit increases in “compensation entitlements,” including but not limited to wage and salaries, to one per cent a year for three years.
Those covered by the bill include direct employees of the provincial government and its crown corporations, teachers and other education workers as well as those working in universities, colleges, hospitals and long-term care homes.

Ontarians have seen this movie before and they kicked the producers out as soon as they had the chance. Obviously, Mr. Ford was not paying attention during the film's first run.

Image: Quote

Thursday, June 06, 2019

He's Running True To Form

Doug Ford has announced that public sector wages in Ontario will be capped at one percent -- because the province is in a fiscal emergency. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Doug Ford’s 1 per cent solution doesn’t add up. Not now, not even close.
No surprise that his Progressive Conservatives want to legislate a 1-per-cent wage cap on most public sector workers on the grounds that tough times require tough choices. There’s just one problem facing the Ontario government — the best kind of problem:
What if these aren’t tough times by any reasonable definition? What if the province isn’t facing an economic downturn, nor a fiscal crisis, not even a surging salary emergency to justify suspending collective bargaining rights?

But Ford is quite happy to suspend those bargaining rights, just as he is quite willing to tear up existing contracts:

A more savvy Tory government would have kept its powder dry for now. Instead, Ford’s PCs have ripped up contracts with green energy companies and introduced legislation to tear up an enforceable contract with the big brewers, relying on their majority muscle to outlaw the compensation to which they are entitled by law.
The legislature is supreme, insists Ford and his cabinet minions. The Tory majority can do as it pleases.

Of course, all of this will wind up in court and, ultimately, it will cost Ontarians lots of money. But, even more alarmingly, Ford is turning Ontario into a pariah:

In his zeal for beer, Ford’s confrontation with foreign brewers — blasted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wednesday — is not only undermining his contrived “Open for Business” slogan, it may ultimately cost us in the courts. Imagine draining the treasury to pay damages to foreign brewers, while forcing public servants to make up the difference in their salaries, and ultimately sticking taxpayers with the legal bill.
By declaring war on everyone everywhere — brewers, investors, municipalities and public servants — Ontario’s embattled government is devaluing the currency of its credibility and becoming an international laughing stock. But the Tories are not as dumb as they look, merely desperate.
The premier is not declaring war on public servants because Ontario needs the money. He merely needs a scapegoat.

And that's really what this is all about. Ford has been a thug and a bully all his life. He's running true to form.

Image: Can Stock Photo

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

He Smells After Three Days

The Brits have endured Donald Trump for the last four days. The upper echelons of British society have shown remarkable restraint. The Guardian reports that Prince Charles tried to engage Trump on the subject of climate change:

Prince Charles spent 75 minutes longer than scheduled trying to convince Donald Trump of the dangers of global heating, but the president still insisted the US was “clean” and blamed other nations for the crisis.
Trump told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday he had been due to meet the Prince of Wales for 15 minutes during his state visit, but the discussion went on for 90 minutes – during which the prince did “most of the talking”.
Trump said: “He is really into climate change and I think that’s great. What he really wants and what he really feels warmly about is the future. He wants to make sure future generations have climate that is good climate, as opposed to a disaster, and I agree.”
But Trump said he pushed back at the suggestion the US should do more.
He said: “I did say, ‘Well, the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics.’ And it’s even getting better because I agree with that we want the best water, the cleanest water. It’s crystal clean, has to be crystal clean clear.”
Trump added: “China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities … you can’t even breathe, and now that air is going up … They don’t do the responsibility.”

Donald didn't see Charles' point -- just as he didn't see the protesters in the streets.

Theresa May has endured multiple humiliations over the last two years. Her final humiliation was standing beside Trump at their joint press conference. Benjamin Franklin said, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."

Trump has proved Franklin right. I suspect the Brits can't wait until he leaves.

Image: BrainyQuote

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Bad Business

So called free trade deals with the United States are worthless. Consider, Tom Walkom writes, the recently re-negotiated USMCA:

It has been under renegotiation since Trump became president in 2017. For Canada, these negotiations were seen as vital. Thirty years of free trade with the U.S. had served to restructure virtually the entire Canadian economy.
To Canadian business and government, a world without NAFTA seemed unthinkable.
And so we negotiated. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland negotiated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau negotiated. Even former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was brought into help.

The good news was that not much changed. For the better, The Investor Dispute Mechanism was nixed. However,

the fatal flaw in the renegotiated pact was that, with one key exception involving the auto industry, it did nothing to prevent Trump or any other U.S. president from overriding NAFTA on spurious grounds.
Which is what Trump did last week. Citing the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that gives the president extraordinary authority during a crisis, Trump announced plans to levy tariffs on all Mexican goods entering the U.S.
The tariffs, which are to start at 5 per cent in June and rise each month until they reach 25 per cent in October, will continue until Mexico satisfies the White House that it is doing all it can to alleviate the “emergency” caused by the flow of migrants into the U.S. from Central and South America.
The implications of Trump’s latest move are far-reaching. What happens if this president, or a successor, decides that Canada isn’t doing enough to further some other bizarre element of U.S. policy?

New Yorkers have known for years that it's bad business to deal with Trump. Now, the rest of the world knows that it's bad business to deal with the United States.

Image: You Tube

Monday, June 03, 2019

It's Always Been Hard To Find Them

Peter Wehner offers a few thoughts this morning on the difficulty of governing. He writes in The New York Times:

In the late 18th century, Edmund Burke wrote to a friend and fellow member of Parliament that “every political question that I have ever known has had so much of the pro and con in it that nothing but the success could decide which proposition ought to have been adopted.”
Burke was right. It’s impossible to know the exact consequences once abstract ideas are imperfectly put into effect in the real world, which is untidy and unpredictable.

Many problems are devilishly complicated and we make decisions based on incomplete information:

Those in decision-making positions are often forced to make consequential judgments on incomplete information in a compressed period in an attempt to solve difficult and enduring problems. And the outcome of those decisions may well be determined by contingencies that are difficult to anticipate. That’s why it is important to look for leaders who not only have the right principles, but also discernment, wisdom and the ability to see around corners. And it’s important to keep our expectations realistic, because disillusionment begins with illusion-ment, which we should avoid.

These days, wisdom and discernment seem to be in short supply. But perhaps they always have been. I've been watching Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War. He makes clear that the war resulted from a fundamental misreading of a situation. The war began as a war of independence against a dying colonial system in Asia.

But the leaders of the day saw the war through perspective of the Cold War. It was a clash of civilizations -- between liberty and tyranny, good and evil. It went on for decades with a loss of life -- on all sides -- that was monstrous.

Wisdom and Discernment. It hard to find them today. It's always been hard to find them.

Image: Geckoandfly

Sunday, June 02, 2019

No Roosevelts

In the First Gilded Age, Robert Reich writes, an oligarchy controlled the United States. Teddy Roosevelt went to war against it and ushered in The Progressive Era:

Teddy Roosevelt called that oligarchy the “malefactors of great wealth,” and fought them by breaking up large concentrations of economic power–the trusts–and instituting a progressive federal income tax.
His fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, further reduced their power by strictly regulating Wall Street, and encouraging the growth of labor unions. The oligarchy fought back but Roosevelt wouldn’t yield.
“Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob,” he thundered in 1936. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

Now, with help from both major political parties, the United States is living through a Second Gilded Age:

According to a study published in 2014 by Princeton Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern Professor Benjamin Page, although Americans enjoy many features of democratic governance, such as regular elections, and freedom of speech and association, American policy making has become dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans.
The typical American has no influence at all.

There is one difference now, though. The United States is not ruled by a mob. But it is ruled by a mob boss -- who has installed his henchmen throughout the government. They will be hard to send packing.

Add to that the climate crisis, and you have a perfect storm of malefactors. And there are no Roosevelts in sight.


Saturday, June 01, 2019

Signifying What?

Jason Kenney is all about oil. And, given what's happening in the rest of the world, it's clear that he's living on another planet. As this one warms because of the consequences of fossil fuel extraction, he wants to speed up that extraction. Mitchell Anderson writes:

As the rest of the planet strives to curb carbon dependence, Alberta is instead stepping on the gas. The industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator has apparently promised the petroleum sector they will soon offer 15 minute automated approvals on about 90 per cent of new drilling permits. What’s next? A drive through window? A roadside vending machine?
The urgency to expedite new petroleum projects stands in stark contrast to the utter disinterest in cleaning up the old ones. Alberta is perhaps unique in the world in having no mandatory timelines for reclaiming oil and gas wells. There are about 300,000 conventional oil and gas wells in the province, all of which eventually require cleanup. Over half, or 167,000, are listed as inactive or abandoned. The oldest dates back to 1918. What’s the rush?
The Alberta government says this collective liability is a mere $18.5 billion. Internal figures from the regulator analyzed by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project instead peg the cleanup bill at up to $70 billion. This snapshot does not of course include the almost 3,000 additional drilling permits to be dispensed this year by the regulator’s expedited algorithm.
At the current leisurely reclamation rate it could take 126 years to deal with the methane-leaking mess already created. Yet somehow there is an assumption that the oil and gas industry is going to be around more than a century from now to settle up, even though almost 80 per cent of Alberta’s conventional crude reserves have already been extracted. Not to worry — Alberta regulators have ensured that industry posted funds to cover 0.3 per cent of cleanup costs.

Albertans face an existential crisis and an environmental disaster. As the rest of the world weens itself off fossil fuels, their province digs in and goes all in. The mess that will be left behind will be monstrous:

Apparently Ottawa and Alberta have hatched a plan to allow some bitumen producers to begin to dump tailings ponds into the Athabasca River. Decades of effort have failed to find a credible treatment option for the 1.3 trillion litres of toxic slurry built up since the 1970s. Yet oilsands firms may soon be authorized to release effluent treated by an as-yet-unproven technology into a river with one of the largest freshwater estuaries in the world. What could go wrong?
Michael van den Heuvel, a water expert from the University of Prince Edward Island summed up the grim environmental endgame for this decades-long problem “It’s going to happen sooner or later,” he told the Globe and Mail. “And it’s better it happens in a controlled and managed fashion than later on when nobody has the money.”
It is rare to have such an unvarnished assessment of the trajectory of the environmental and economic catastrophe now unfolding in Alberta. According to leaked government documents, the red ink associated with decommissioning all pipelines, well sites and tailings ponds totals $260 billion and climbing.

Apparently, that assessment hasn't penetrated Mr. Kenney's psyche:

Even as the petroleum party is winding down in Alberta, denial seems in full swing. Premier Jason Kenney acts like a drunken host offering exiting oil companies all manner of lavish inducements to stick around a while longer.
As promised, the first law tabled by his government was the Carbon Tax Repeal Act. Labour codes are watered down under the Orwellian title of the Open for Business Act. Corporate taxes are slashed, costing the already beleaguered treasury $4.5 billion over the next four years, according to the NDP Opposition. Kenney also pledged to wind down government support for clean energy projects, while spending $30 million in public funds on a so-called war room to counter climate criticism of the petroleum sector.

Word is that Kenney will be heading to Ontario during the federal election. With Doug Ford, he's planning  to tell Ontarians how we should do things. There will be a lot of sound and fury.

Signifying what?

Image: The Globe And Mail

Friday, May 31, 2019

Doug's Way

Since being elected, Doug Ford has plastered "Open For Business" signs throughout Ontario. But his actions in office undercut that slogan. Alan Freeman writes:

Sure, companies love reduced corporate income taxes and lower minimum wages but what they want above all is a rules-based system where you can make long-term business decisions, in the firm knowledge that you won’t be subject to the changing partisan political will of the folks in power.
That’s what distinguishes investing in a first-world industrial nation from investing in a banana republic, where the autocratic ruler in charge may grant you a permit to build a cell-phone network and the next year, yank it from you arbitrarily and give it to a political crony.
In an advanced democratic country, that makes governments reluctant to cancel the contracts signed by their predecessors even if they don’t like them. It’s not really a good message to investors to rip up contracts and when you have a system of laws and independent courts, breaking contracts can also prove to be very expensive.

Ford complains about expenses. But ripping up contracts doesn't bother him. Consider The Beer Store:

The Beer Store, established in 1927 to control the drinking habits of Ontarians in a society that was still deeply suspicious of demon alcohol, is clearly an anachronism. It’s anti-competitive and doesn’t reflect contemporary society and modern commerce.
Yet the three brewing companies that own The Beer Store signed a 10-year contract with the Ontario government in 2015 to renew this arrangement in perfectly good faith. It allowed for a broadening of sales in supermarkets but fundamentally allowed the near-monopoly to stand. Ford calls it a “sweetheart deal” for the Beer Store’s 450 outlets that he wants to end and fully open up the market.
But instead of waiting until the contract ends in six years, Ford is acting now. It’s good politics, he figures, and a great distraction from his lousy poll numbers and the pushback he’s getting from voters over cuts to education, health and municipalities.
The beer companies claim they have the right to claim billions of dollars in damages from Ontario if the province breaks the terms of the contract. The Ontario legislature, however, has powers to overrule that agreement and even escape the need to pay compensation, although the courts may feel differently.
In running roughshod over a legal contract, Ford is saying Ontario is open for business, provided they do business his way. 

And that's the message.  You can do things in Ontario -- as long as you do them Doug's way.

Image: Narcity

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Is Independence Worth It?

When Jody Wilson-Raybould announced that she would be running as an independent in the next election, she also declared that she was "not a party person." -- which begs the question: Is that  a good thing? Andrew Coyne writes:

Independents, after all, even running as incumbents, rarely win in Canadian elections. Research shows that voters tend overwhelmingly to vote for the party first, the local candidate second. Without a party label, and the machinery that goes with it, independent candidates have a hard time getting heard, and would have even were the campaign finance rules not so heavily stacked in the parties’ favour: parties can raise funds, on which local candidates can draw, long before the writ is dropped, whereas indies cannot issue tax receipts for donations until after the election has been called.

Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have distinct advantages. They are:

no ordinary incumbents, having carved out reputations in their time in government as fearless advocates for principle and/or competent managers. That they were so palpably mistreated by their former party and leader helps — people love to root for the underdog. And — the ace card — they can make a plausible case to their electorates that they will have more power as independents in the next Parliament than they might otherwise: more, even, than as members of any party.
[Both women] would be especially strongly situated, free to wheel and deal with all of the parties simultaneously, without themselves having to answer to any party. Add it up — the newly volatile politics of the internet age, their own star power, and the horse-trading possibilities in a hung Parliament — and the odds of these particular independents succeeding are considerably better than usual. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even lead a movement.

Still, what is troubling about Wilson-Raybould's declaration is that the problems we face today require collective solutions. We will not survive if we can't act collectively. Perhaps, Coyne writes, we need to redefine  what we mean by "political parties:"

Between the unseemly chaos of politics without parties, and the rigid lockstep of Parliament as we know it, there is surely room for a different kind of party politics — one in which parties are seen as loose associations of the like-minded, and MPs as fully sentient beings, rather than identical voting machines useful only for delivering majorities to their leaders.

Oh, were that it was so.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Disease Is Spreading

Paul Koring writes that Trumpism has gone viral:

An ugly contagion of xenophobic populism threatens to poison democracies, turning them inward-looking just at a moment in history when the crises of global warming and massive migration demand collective international solutions.
In India, the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi nailed down an increased and absolute majority this month with a Trumpian-style campaign that featured naked appeals to Hindu majoritarianism and barely-concealed Islamophobia. Modi’s 352-seat majority includes not a single Muslim MP, although India’s nearly 200 million Muslims form 20 per cent of India’s population.
In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo cruised to an increased majority in the world’s largest Muslim nation after callously embracing a nasty and exclusionary brand of Islam. Widodo’s pick of Ma’ruf Amin, Indonesia’s prominent and openly intolerant Muslim cleric, as his running mate, was a deliberate shift away from the acceptance of diversity that was Indonesia’s hallmark for decades.
In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro boasts he is “Trump of the Tropics” and ran a Trump-like nativist campaign in his successful bid for the presidency last fall. His derogatory remarks about women and especially Brazil’s Indigenous peoples make Trump look like a paragon of decency. Bolsonaro once voiced regret that Brazil had failed to exterminate its Indigenous people as efficiently as did the U.S. cavalry. “They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America,” Trump enthused when he hosted Bolsonaro this spring. 
So, the world’s four largest democracies all have Trumpian leaders, all tinged with racist and xenophobic tendencies, all mutually admiring of each other and all instinctively contemptuous of collective international co-operation.

But there is some hope on the horizon:

The results of the EU elections are more complex than the headline victories for xenophobes and ultranationalists would indicate.
Far-right parties fell short of anticipated gains. The centre of political gravity and thus the coalition that will emerge in the Parliament in Strasbourg has shifted to the left, not the right.
While centrist parties — which have dominated European politics since the Second World War — suffered a drubbing as voters turned out in record numbers to make clear they were tired of the same old offerings, the biggest shifts were to forward-looking, internationalist, and social democrat parties to the left of centre.
For instance, a Green tsunami washed across Europe. In Germany and Finland, Greens came second, Les Verts placed third in France. In Britain, the Greens edged the ruling Conservatives and closed in on Labour. Green parties also gained ground in Ireland and the Netherlands and Les Ecolos may finish first in the symbolically important city of Brussels, Europe’s de facto capital.
Young, diverse, internationalist voters, mostly concentrated in Europe’s vibrant and growing cities, powered the surge of support for Green and liberal parties. From Helsinki to Lisbon and Dublin to Berlin, new generations of Europeans share a common identity and a distinctly un-Trumpian view of the world. It’s focused on multilateral and co-operative solutions to the planetary perils of climate change, rampant inequality, and swelling migrant flows.

We are clearly at an inflection point. The upcoming election will be part of the emerging international picture.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The New Mass Media

Chris Hedges writes that there have been three media revolutions in the last thirty-five years:

the rise of right-wing radio and Fox-style TV news that abandon the media’s faux objectivity, the introduction of 24-hour cable news stations, and the creation of internet platforms—owned by a handful of corporations—that control the distribution of news and information and mine our personal data on behalf of advertisers, political campaigns and the government. The sins of the old media, bad though they were, are nothing compared with the sins of the new media. Mass media has degenerated into not only a purveyor of gossip, conspiracy theories and salacious entertainment but, most ominously, a purveyor of hate.

Hedges turns to a new book by Matt Taibbi titled Hate Inc. to help him explain what has happened. In the old media model, the goal was to manufacture consent. The new media still has the same goal:

The new media, Taibbi points out, still manufactures consent, but it does so by setting group against group, a consumer version of what George Orwell in his novel “1984” called the “Two Minutes Hate.” Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. It is mesmerized by the fake dissent of the culture wars and competing conspiracy theories. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on political personalities. Civic discourse is defined by invective and insulting remarks on the internet. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged. The result is political impotence among the populace. The moral swamp is not only a fertile place for demagogues such as Donald Trump—a creation of this media burlesque—but channels misplaced rage, intolerance and animosity toward those defined as internal

The old and new media set up battles in which there are only two sides:

The classic example was the show “Crossfire,” in which two antagonists, the stereotypical liberal and the stereotypical conservative, could never agree. The liberal, Taibbi pointed out, “was always cast as the person who couldn’t punch back. He was always in retreat. The conservative was always in attack mode. A personality like Tucker Carlson.” These staged and choreographed confrontations were, in essence, sporting events.

That two sided debate continues, even though -- on most issues -- the two sides agree:

The fact that on most big issues the two major political parties are in agreement is ignored. The deregulation of the financial industry, the militarization of police, the explosion in the prison population, deindustrialization, austerity, the endless wars in the Middle East, the bloated military budget, the control of elections and mass media by corporations and the wholesale surveillance of the population by the government all have bipartisan support. For this reason, they are almost never discussed.

Politics have now devolved into a sporting match -- which is on the air 24 hours a day. Each side rabidly roots for its team -- and nobody thinks.

Image: NBC News

Monday, May 27, 2019

Hiding Under The Bed

Andrew Scheer says that his environmental policy is a work in progress. But it really is hard to know what his party is thinking. It changes gears frequently. Rick Smith writes:

Trying to follow the Conservative stance on climate change can give you whiplash.
After all, this is a party that voted unanimously against signing the Paris Climate Accord in 2016, only to turn around eight months later and vote fully in support of the Accord (with only one Tory member dissenting).  This new commitment didn’t last long, however, with Leader Andrew Scheer first stating that the party’s climate plan would be built around achieving the Paris targets and then retreating to the vaguely defined goal of achieving “meaningful targets.”

All we really know is what the Conservatives don't like:

We know taxing pollution is out, despite a long history of Conservative support for market pricing mechanisms. Technology now seems to be a big part of the Tory answer.  Scheer has not been terribly specific about what “clean technologies” he is thinking of when he talks about how Canada is a leader in climate technology that it should be exporting to the world.  It doesn’t seem likely that he is referring to electric vehicles or renewable energy, support for which have been slashed by his friends in the Ford and Kenney governments.

It would appear that they are putting their faith in Carbon Storage and Capture (CCS):

Scheer’s Environment and Climate Change Critic, Ed Fast, may have given us a hint of where the Conservatives are headed in praising carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  Fast notes that despite the standard Conservative skepticism about governments picking “winners and losers” it could be useful for the government to put its thumb on the scale in favour of CCS, stating “we do want to encourage clean technology, especially in our oil and gas sector.”
CCS has long been favoured by the oil and gas industry as a handy way of continuing to rely on fossil fuels while addressing a growing public demand to get a grip on greenhouse gas emissions.  The problem is that there is little evidence it can actually be cost-effectively scaled up to deal with the scope of the problem.  Currently, the National Energy Board calculates that existing and proposed CCS systems worldwide would capture carbon equal to just 1% of current global emissions.  So the Tory’s magic bullet is unlikely to be any more effective than the Liberal carbon tax that Fast and Scheer contend is too low – and too economically harmful at higher levels — to effect real change.

You get the impression that Scheer would rather ignore the whole thing -- which, frankly, is what the Conservatives have been doing for years. They are hiding under the bed, hoping the bogeyman will go away.

Image: Jewish Public Media

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Have They Not Seen?

Max Boot used to be a clarion spokesman for the American Right. Now, having seen what the Right hath wrought, he is horrified. Last week, he writes, Donald Trump hit two new lows:

The president just delegated to Attorney General William P. Barr the authority to access and declassify the intelligence community’s most closely held secrets as Barr investigates the investigators who tried to stop Russian penetration of the Trump campaign. So Trump’s position is that his tax returns should remain private but the CIA’s “sources and methods” should become public.
This gives Barr a license to selectively declassify documents, just as Trump did last year to help Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issue his own memo on the same subject. Nunes’s contention — that the FBI probe was triggered by the “Steele dossier” paid for by the Democrats — turned out to be false. But Barr is undeterred by Nunes’s failure to prove a deep-state conspiracy against Trump. He appears determined to find something, anything, in the secret files to feed Trump’s victimhood fantasies, even if the cost is to blow the cover of sources who have risked their lives to help the CIA.

And, also last week, Trump circulated a doctored video which appeared to show an inebriated Nancy Pelosi:

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of throwing a “temper tantrum” in a meeting with top Democrats, the president threw another one right on cue, calling her “Crazy Nancy,” saying “she’s a mess" and posting a doctored video to give the impression that she had trouble speaking. This, too, is an abuse with a precedent: During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly cast aspersions on Clinton’s health. The indictment of dirty trickster Roger Stone reveals his friend Jerome Corsi writing to him on Aug. 2, 2016: “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke.” Trump is like a football coach who keeps calling the same plays for different opponents — as long, of course, as those opponents are female.

There is no one left in Trump's White House to tell him when something is a bad idea. And the Republican Senate will continue to do his will.

Have American voters not seen through this man yet?


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Utter Incompetence

If you take a close look at Doug Ford's first budget, Martin Regg Cohn argues, you begin to understand how incompetent he and his government are:

By rejecting the bureaucracy’s best advice — dismissing the non-partisan professionals as know-nothings — Ontario’s self-styled “Government For the People” shortchanged the people. Now we are all paying the price for a budget built on a foundation of false assumptions.
And flawed accounting.
On paper, the budget purports to spend a record $163.4-billion — a hefty $4.9 billion more than the last Liberal budget delivered some 12 months earlier.
But those additional billions are not all going toward front line services, nor allocated to future infrastructure. Social services, for example, will be cut by $892 million, reaching $1 billion the year after.
Instead, the money is being misallocated to a fiscal chimera, born of an obsession to redo the province’s books.
Controversial accounting changes would render worthless, for the first time, a hefty $11 billion surplus from a jointly-held pension plan long listed on the province’s books as an asset. By blowing a hole in the budget, the Tories suddenly displaced billions of dollars from regular spending that had to be found — and ultimately defunded — elsewhere.
A note in the government’s financial statements shows $2.7 billion added to the budget deficit in order to “provisionally adopt auditor general’s accounting treatment of pension expenses.” That’s a reference to auditor Bonnie Lysyk’s surprise demand that Ontario stop counting any such pension surplus as an asset — unless the fund fell into deficit (in which case, with utter inconsistency, she’d count it as a liability).
Under the last Liberal government, top civil servants had pushed back against Lysyk, noting that she and her predecessors had fully endorsed treating it as an asset since 2002 (not to be confused with raiding a pension fund, which remains illegal). Ultimately, the previous government heeded the advice of an outside panel of accounting experts who found Lysyk’s analysis fatally flawed — akin to claiming that merely because depreciation is an abstraction, it’s an imaginary number.
Interestingly, another panel appointed by the Tories landed on a similar actuarial analysis, noting that a pension surplus could not logically be worth nothing (as Lysyk had insisted). Yet in their zeal to dismiss and demonize anything that came before them, the PCs ignored all outside advice in adopting the auditor’s audacious demands.

And the damage will not just occur this year, it will be ongoing:

Another $2.4 billion in indebtedness was added to our budgetary burden, thanks to the auditor’s criticism of a 2017 hydro discount plan enacted by the Liberals under public pressure. Lysyk had argued the refinancing scheme would get lower interest rates if the borrowing went on the province’s books — underwritten by taxpayers rather than ratepayers (via OPG). Cheaper, but not fairer — henceforth the hydro bills of cottagers and affluent customers with outsized properties will be subsided by all Ontarians, rich or poor.
Another $1.5 billion in revenues were forfeited by the Tories in the last fiscal year after they killed the cap-and-trade program that required polluters to pay a price for carbon (with the proceeds going to transit investments and subsidies to schools and hospitals for energy retrofits). A further $308 million in scheduled tax increases were also cancelled.
Together, those tax and accounting changes add up to roughly $7 billion in recurring revenues that must be found elsewhere. Every year.

The Fordians did what conservatives have done for decades. They fled from expertise. Is it any wonder that Ford's support has crashed among Ontarians? They know incompetence when they see it.

Image: Times Higher Education

Friday, May 24, 2019

How Do You Arrange That?

Michael Harris writes that a choice between Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer is a lousy choice. Trudeau has proved to be a remarkable blunderer. The list of his mistakes keeps getting longer:

Trudeau overpays for a pipeline carrying dirty oil through pristine rivers and forests in British Columbia;
He exempts certain tarsands projects from new environmental assessment rules in a crude trade-off with Alberta;
He considers loosening restrictions on the pollution of major rivers with toxic effluent from tarsands tailing ponds;
He allows the unregulated use of seismic blasting to explore for oil and gas on Canada’s east coast, right whales be damned; 
That serial incompetence and hubris cost the PM two star cabinet ministers, his principal secretary, and his clerk of the privy council. And it is why he stands at a miserable 27 per cent in the most recent Leger poll conducted between April 18 and 22 for the Canadian Press — 13 points behind Scheer and the Conservatives.

Scheer, on the other hand, is worse:

But here’s the rub. As disappointing as Trudeau has been to many voters, the traditional alternative, the official Opposition, is far, far worse.
The government-in-waiting led by Andrew Scheer is a collection of Harper era re-treads peddling the same populist Republican policies Canadians vigorously rejected in 2015. As a group, the Conservatives’ favourite driving gear is reverse.
When the Tories had a chance to take the party in a new direction with a new leader, a step or two perhaps toward the values of the old Progressive Conservatives, they rejected someone like Michael Chong and chose Harper-clone Scheer. That was the declaration that, at least ideologically, this is still Harper’s party.
That could be why the Conservatives have never rejected the trademark policies of the Harper years that cost them government in 2015.

If you want to vote Green, your best hope is for a minority government with Elizabeth May holding the balance of power. So, here's the question. How do you arrange that without electing Scheer as the next prime minister?

I ask that from a province where Doug Ford is now the premier.

Image: Flipkart

Thursday, May 23, 2019

At Each Other's Throats

American politics have always been partisan, Glen Pearson writes. But Canadian politics used to be different:

Americans have always remained divided along partisan lines, while the Canadian context has been more of accommodation along general principles – a hegemony usually kept together by political parties usually hewing close to the political centre.  That national coherence is now fraying in light of more extremist tendencies weighing heavily on our traditional parties.

Increasingly, we are adopting the American model:

Seriously, we make assumptions based upon our belief that our positions are well thought out and we wonder how those with opposing views can be so naïve.  I’ve encountered a lot of this lately, as a conservative mindset sweeps across much of the world.  Those holding to such views who I encounter every day and work within our community think it’s high time that liberal thinkers started waking up to reality.  Liberal thinkers feel exactly the opposite.  How can they be so dumb?  Why can’t conservatives be open to research, to rational thinking?

We would do well to read a book by Jonathan Haidt titled The Righteous Mind:

Haidt declares right off that his goal for the book is to help people better understand and dialogue with each other as they work their way through their differences – a task seemingly impossible in our modern world where everything is about politics.  But the reader needs to beware that Haidt believes that all of us act more by intuition than rationality, so if you’re going to use reason to debate others, you might not get far.  In doing so, he provides plenty of research, as we would expect from a social scientist.  It’s more important to understand the other point of view than it is to defeat it, he says, adding that we were never designed to listen to reason:
“When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve already decided.”
Haidt believes that people reason all the time, but that they base it upon their preconceived intuition or value systems – filters that make movement in thinking a pretty difficult thing.  And, yet, we all think we’re smart and capable people.  There’s a significant disconnect here and it has its effects not only on our relationships, but ultimately on our politics – how we reason, vote, and collaborate together to face our greatest challenges.
The Righteous Mind reminds us that our certainties could end up being dead ends, leaving us little room to maneuver when the time comes for compromise.  We don’t necessarily have to agree about our political directions, but we do have to respect that we all – millions of us – hold to core beliefs that require one another to achieve together instead of dividing into rigid camps that could put the lie to what we have historically constructed together.  As DeShanne Stokes would put it: “We owe our loyalty to each other and to our children’s children, not to party politics.”

Wise words. Until we get our loyalties straight, we'll be at each other's throats.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ford Nation Never Noticed

Doug Ford sold himself as a man of the people. His first budget was supposed to underscore that perception. But things didn't work out that way. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

His first budget would recast him as a kinder, gentler premier. Not too tough, not too soft — just right.
It didn’t go according to plan.
By holding back the bad news — under the guise of a good-news budget — Ford’s Tories are belatedly paying a heavy price. Not as high a price, however, as ordinary Ontarians facing the daily drip-drip-drip of cascading cutbacks in recent weeks.
It all adds up to billions of dollars slashed from local education, transit, health care and social services. And it has provoked a growing backlash.

A recent poll suggests that 75% of Ontarians think their province is on the wrong track. So what's the big man to do? Declare bankruptcy:

Instead of moderation, desperation and disruption are Ford’s new watchwords — because desperate times allow for desperate measures. Rather than talking up Ontario’s prospects, the premier is now taking the province down — way down.
Ford has announced a fiscal emergency that can now be revealed:
Ontario has been declared bankrupt. By our own premier.
“We already came in here with a bankrupt province,” the premier now warns Ontarians every chance he gets.
“We were inheriting a bankrupt province,” he tells the legislature, a talking point faithfully repeated by his Progressive Conservative ministers and MPPs.

This truly is news:

In Ford’s view, Ontario’s economy is coming apart like crumbled feta cheese in a Greek fiscal crisis. One of his top ministers went further by citing the spectre of Venezuela’s economic wreckage, as if Ontario might soon be a failed state.
Never mind those roadside billboards proclaiming “Ontario is open for business.” Now his Tories are spreading the word and telling the world we are under bankruptcy protection.
The underlying premise behind the overheated rhetoric does not require a degree in accounting (nor any degree at all, which suits our premier): Tough times call for rough cuts.

But is it true? Is Ontario bankrupt?

Yes, years of deficit spending under Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative governments (with only a few years of surpluses under the Liberals and PCs) have piled on nearly $350 billion in debt. But a distaste for debt does not equal disaster — as many Toronto homeowners with outsized mortgages can attest.
Ontario’s finances may seem overstretched to some (including me, as I’ve written in past columns). But its net debt as a percentage of overall economic activity, as measured by GDP, has held steady at about 40 per cent over the past six years.
That’s a world away from the 175 per cent debt wall during Greece’s financial crisis. Which is why no credible credit rating agency, no responsible auditor, and no serious analyst would ever endorse Ford’s wild claims.
Bankruptcy is a false premise — like the premier’s false promise in the last election to trim the fat without impacting transit, health, education, or vital social services. Hyperbole aside, it is bizarrely off-message for our populist booster-in-chief.

The truth is that Ford and his party have been pedalling bankrupt ideas. They were proved bankrupt definitively over ten years ago. Ford Nation never noticed.

Image: Shale Directories