Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Listening To Our Better Angels

Readers of this space know that I have had little good to say about Doug Ford. But Martin Regg Cohn -- who also has seen little to praise in Ford's performance -- writes in today's Toronto Star  that Ford is turning out to be the kind of leader Ontario needs at this moment:

He is listening, at last, to expert advice — not going with his gut. Where once Ford mistakenly encouraged people to fly off on March break, he is now a self-disciplined disciplinarian, admonishing people to stay home with displays of tough love.
Even if his briefings do not soar to the rhetorical heights of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, they do not stoop to the buffoonery and bellicosity of Donald Trump’s White House monologues. While Ford’s audiences can’t compare to the record numbers of Americans watching their duelling leaders on daytime TV, and don’t match the reach of a self-isolating and importuning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the premier is making his mark.
Ford’s daily performance is so remarkable because it is so unexpected, so unlike the public persona he has cultivated throughout his public life. Gone for now is the hostility and insecurity, the pandering and partisanship, replaced by a steady resolve and resilience in the face of tough questions.

He no longer speaks as the leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, but of all Ontarians:

The premier is acting and talking, at last, like the premier of all Ontarians. Not a political messiah preaching an imaginary Ford Nation incantation.
“There’s no better army than I have behind me than the 14-1/2 million people of this province that are standing shoulder to shoulder united, working with us,” Ford intoned Monday. “We will conquer this, we will defeat this COVID-19.”

I admit my surprise. However, it reminds me that -- occasionally -- we listen to our better angels. We're going to have to do a lot more of that.

Image: CTV Troronto-CTV News

Monday, March 30, 2020


At a moment like this, Trust is the coin of the realm. Last week, the Trudeau government came close to destroying that trust. Robin Sears writes:

The Trudeau government should probably be saying a quiet thank you to Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh for pulling them back from the brink in their shaky handling of the emergency relief legislation. Inexplicably, the government sought the power to tax and spend, with no Parliamentary oversight, until the end of next year. It was unwise, unnecessary and fed directly into Liberal opponents’ favourite meme about the governing party as sneaky and power hungry.
They deserve credit for quickly moving to mend the self-inflicted damage. All parties, with the exception of some predictable showboat backbenchers, deserve credit for mostly foregoing the usual partisan hyperventilating, leaving the tough talk to private negotiations.
One may hope there were voices on the government side who said, “Wait a minute! This will destroy trust in us to govern fairly, openly and competently. Lose that trust and we lose the country!” I think we may be confident that all the political players will understand how essential it will be to avoid another such potentially disastrous moment.

However, this moment will last for quite a while. And, when the virus subsides, we will truly be faced with the problem of trust:

Discussion will soon have to turn to issues of recovery and payback. As the medical crisis crests and begins to come under control, the economic crisis will continue to deepen.
It is at that moment, perhaps over the summer in Canada, that trust in our politicians and business leaders will become invaluable. They will need to triage economic assistance, making some who get pushed down the list, even more frightened and angry.
Business leaders will need to be seen to be “doing the right thing” by their employees, customers and community. Those who now turn to making ventilators and PPE products for free or at cost for front line workers will have built a reservoir of trust that will help carry them through their own priority-setting nightmares.

COVID-19 is testing our national character. Let's hope we can pass the test.

Image: Facebook

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Denial Zombie

Paul Krugman has been writing lately about what he calls "zombie ideas." Climate change denial is a zombie idea. So is pandemic denial.  Both are zombie cousins.  Both are rooted in disdain for expertise. Krugman writes:

When you have a political movement almost entirely built around assertions that any expert can tell you are false, you have to cultivate an attitude of disdain toward expertise, one that spills over into everything. Once you dismiss people who look at evidence on the effects of tax cuts and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re already primed to dismiss people who look at evidence on disease transmission.
This also helps explain the centrality of science-hating religious conservatives to modern conservatism, which has played an important role in Trump’s failure to respond.

Those who deny both climate change and the pandemic also fear the halo effect of government action:

Conservatives do hold one true belief: namely, that there is a kind of halo effect around successful government policies. If public intervention can be effective in one area, they fear — probably rightly — that voters might look more favorably on government intervention in other areas. In principle, public health measures to limit the spread of coronavirus needn’t have much implication for the future of social programs like Medicaid. In practice, the first tends to increase support for the second.

Modern conservatives have zeroed in on who and what they consider are their most powerful enemies -- experts and government. They've done this on the climate change file. And they're doing it during the coronavirus pandemic.

Image: theenemy.com.br

Saturday, March 28, 2020

When Will They Ever Learn?

Human beings are flawed. Two of our most glaring weaknesses are our collective short term memory and our inability to think long term. Alan Freeman writes:

It’s unbelievable how quickly human memory fades. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was horrific, killing tens of millions across the globe. But it quickly receded from collective memory, overwhelmed by the loss and grief that had resulted from the First World War and the need to rebuild society. And within two decades, there was another world war. The Spanish Flu became a relic, its lessons forgotten except by some historians or epidemiologists. 
More recently, outbreaks like SARS in 2003 and Ebola a few years ago grabbed headlines, then faded. Politicians who had vowed big changes moved on and their successors were preoccupied with other pressing issues. Public health officials may have continued to make their case for better preparation, but it became harder to convince the public of the immediacy of the danger.

And, when we try to plan for the future, we plan for the last disaster:

As with war, the next conflict is never the same as the last one. The financial crisis this time is completely different, sparked by a societal crisis, not the fundamental soundness of the financial system. Some of the reforms from post-2008 will help but many are irrelevant.
In her 2017 annual report as Ontario auditor-general, Bonnie Lysyk reported that the province’s health ministry had a stockpile of 26,000 pallets of supplies for medical emergencies, including respirators, face shields and needles that had been purchased at a cost of $45 million, presumably after the SARS outbreak. Eighty per cent of the supplies had reached their expiry date.
The report said that the vast majority of these supplies hadn’t been used in the health care system before expiry because the budget “only allowed for storage and not for management of them.” But the ministry didn’t even throw out these supplies. It was continuing to store them at a cost of $3 million a year. How that was cheaper than using the supplies is my big question.
What’s interesting here is that the auditor-general saw this solely as a waste of money and didn’t deal with the fact that the stockpile, which had been created for a reason, had become essentially useless.
So instead of creating a system for a stockpile to deal with emergencies, with constant renewal of the supplies to make sure nothing went to waste and updating them to make sure it was current, the stockpile was regarded as a one-time event that was easily forgotten.

Those two faults -- short memories and the inability to genuinely deal with the future -- are abundantly on display once again.

The old folk song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? asks the eternal question, "When Will They Ever Learn?"

Image: You Tube

Friday, March 27, 2020

COVID-19 In Australia

Brigid Delaney writes that COVID-19 is ravaging Australia:

By Monday an estimated 88,000 people lost their jobs in the hospitality industry alone and tried to file for unemployment. The system crashed under the demand.
Black Monday brought waves upon waves of frightening news (record job losses, NRL season over, Olympics won’t go ahead, Queensland to shut borders, 3,000 Australians stranded on cruise ships; pubs, cafe, licensed premises, gyms etc all shut at midday). There were heartbreaking sights: the streets all across the country empty, except for thousands and thousands of people queuing at a mandated social distance for Centrelink. The next day people started lining up at 4:30am.
The virus is invisible – but the economic devastation is a tragedy you could see. Each job loss represents a seismic explosion in an individual’s world. By the end of Monday at least 15% of people I know had lost a substantial portion of their income, or their jobs or businesses they had spent decades building up.
Suddenly jobless in my circle were yoga teachers, barmen, baristas, cafe owners, a university support worker, university cleaner, personal trainers, roadies, two tour managers for bands, freelance journalists, friends in PR and regional journalism, playwrights, coffee cart owners, sound engineers, winery owners, chefs, cinema operators, kitchen hands, film production crew, ushers at theatres, stage hands, driving instructors, those doing contract work for financial services, event organisers, florists and professional MCs.

Around the world, the virus leaves upheaval and fear in its wake:

Fear is everywhere this week. You can see it in people’s eyes and hear it in their voices. It even leeches out of text messages – as if the virus had the power to distort even the most disembodied form of communication.
The fear is not just the mortal fear of contracting what could be a deadly virus, the fear is losing your job and having no money, the fear is being evicted and made homeless, the fear is foreclosure, the fear is being separated from your family – whether interstate or overseas (or in my case, a town two hours away), the fear is bankruptcy and sacking your staff, the fear is your debt, the fear is for the education and anxiety of your children, the fear is for the health of your elderly parents, the fear is for your immunocompromised friends. It goes on.

These are very trying times -- all over the world.

Image: BBC

Thursday, March 26, 2020

These Are The Times

Gary Mason writes that Donald Trump created the perfect storm that is now sweeping across the United States:

Luciana Borio, the president’s biodefense preparedness advisor, warned that a flu pandemic – not a 9/11 redux – was the country’s No. 1 health security threat. As the director of medical and biodefence preparedness at the National Security Council, Borio said the country wasn’t nearly ready to confront such a lethal outbreak if it was to occur.
What was the White House’s response? It dismantled the NSC’s global health security office shortly thereafter.
Dr. Borio, and other experts such as her, were soon out of jobs. And now, 327 million Americans have been left to suffer through a pandemic without a coherent strategy for dealing with it – even though their government saw it all coming.

Now Trump claims that he's going to put Americans back to work by completely ignoring the advice of all of his country's public health experts:

Now, he is musing about grossly inflaming a problem he had a chance to mitigate. Mr. Trump is threatening to ignore the advice of virtually every major public health officer in the U.S. – including his own White House adviser on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci – and effectively allow for a “culling of the herd” that will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

That poses a problem -- a really big problem for Canadians:

This intended course of action has already caught the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, and to say there is worry there would a gross understatement. Canadians also have to be prepared for the fallout of Mr. Trump’s actions.
That means being prepared to tighten restrictions at the border even further. If the virus spreads because of a decision by the president to relax the rules around social distancing, it will undoubtedly mean that those U.S. workers coming into Canada now to transport goods will be at greater risk of carrying the disease.

In the words of the American revolutionary, Tom Paine: "These are the times that try men's souls."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What We Have Learned About Ourselves

The coronavirus provides us with a societal mirror in which we can see our flaws. In the United States, the flaws are glaring. Bruce Arthur writes:

In the United States the country’s fundamental sicknesses have not been put aside for the pandemic, and the structural weaknesses of the superpower — the bluff of a tilted economy, for-profit health care, the failed state of the Republican Party, and the irredeemable black hole of narcissism and ignorance from its president — have not budged.
Donald Trump trumpets unproven cures, promises empty solutions, and argues with scientists on live TV to cover his failures. He is pushing the idea that the economy is more important than a health system crushed, and perhaps millions dead, as Senate Republicans fight things like paid sick leave.
In America, the mirror shows something like the days before the French Revolution, but with fewer wigs. Trust and information levels between political parties are a chasm. It is a daily tragedy.

In Canada, we've done better. But we've been slow to recognize the danger:

Several public health authorities, including Ontario, are still limiting gatherings to 50, which doesn’t make any scientific sense epidemiologically, or when the message is stay six feet apart. (Quebec has limited public gatherings to two.) Especially given the testing gaps in the system, especially in Ontario, which has us still a little blind. Several doctors who do front-line testing in Toronto are apoplectic about the public health standards for who gets a test.
We’ve been too slow. Governments have been too trusting in establishing restrictions, and Canadians have not had enough societal discipline to listen to governments or responsible media. If you played beer pong in Vancouver or anywhere this weekend, your posterior should be paddled in public by someone standing six feet away.

This is a test for our society. It will take a while before we can grade ourselves. But the mirror tells us that we can still do better.

Image: Facebook

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Exhibit A

Watching Donald Trump and the Republican Party deal with the COVID-19 crisis provides us with a saga of profound and utter incompetence. Paul Krugman writes:

First, let’s talk about the nature of the economic crisis we face. At the worst point in the 2007-2009 recession, America was losing around 800,000 jobs per month. Right now, we’re probably losing several million jobs every week.
What’s causing these job losses? So far it’s not what usually happens in a recession, when businesses lay off workers because consumers aren’t spending enough. What we’re seeing instead are the effects of social distancing: restaurants, entertainment venues and many other establishments have been closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
And we neither can nor should bring those jobs back until the pandemic has faded. What this tells us is that right now our highest priority isn’t job creation, it’s disaster relief: giving families and small businesses that have lost their incomes enough money to afford necessities while the shutdown lasts. Oh, and providing generous aid to hospitals, clinics and other health care providers in this time of incredible stress.

Recent history has shown, however, that Trump and the Republicans are opposed to disaster relief:

Remember, we’ve had more than three years to watch this administration in action. We’ve seen Trump refuse to disclose anything about his financial interests, amid abundant evidence that he is profiting at the public’s expense. Trump’s trade war has been notable for the way in which favored companies somehow manage to get tariff exemptions while others are denied. And as you read this, Trump is refusing to use his authority to require production of essential medical gear.
So it would be totally out of character for this administration to allocate huge sums fairly and in the public interest.

If there was a textbook example on how not to do something -- anything -- the Trump Administration would repeatedly serve as Exhibit A. Let's hope the rest of the world takes note.

Image: Exhibit A

Monday, March 23, 2020

We Can't Go Home Again

Robin Sears writes that we are facing a challenging future:

Now we see the emergence of heroes and misfits. Beach partygoers versus nurses working 18-hour shifts. Most media are trying to celebrate the heroes more, while also castigating the selfish. The world’s most famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, has launched a campaign to bring art and music from ordinary citizens to the world. It has already produced thousands of uplifting moments (#songsofcomfort). Choir masters and artists are stepping up with similar projects offering respite from another bleak day.
Next will come a peak in recrimination and criticism of the speed, effectiveness, fairness and impact of government responses and the stupidity of some chiselling corporations. The unreachable embassy, the collapsing phone banks, those airlines and credit card companies treating their clients cruelly.

We've made a fairly good start. But we are really going to be tested:

Our health system is being tested as never before. Those who hold it together need to know how much we respect and honour them for their heroic struggles not to allow it to collapse.
But a bigger challenge lies just over the horizon: taking the steps to prevent a repeat pandemic.
Changing the way we live will be part of that. China has inflicted three medical crises on the world in less than two decades. The world has every right now to say, “Stop the bizarre and unacceptable practice of hunting, selling in open markets and eating toxic wild animals. Now.”
Greenhouse gas emissions have collapsed in the hardest-hit countries. Maybe we can find ways of avoiding the 2009 5 per cent bump up we hit on recovery. Corporations that replace carbon-based systems with green technology should receive more support than those who don’t.
It is much easier to declare bankruptcy than to fight back from it. It easier to build a wall than a bridge. But ongoing barriers to trade and community will only lengthen the social and economic pain. Some of the emergency measures now rolling out should be assessed in a few months for what worked and what should stay. Why not have a guarantee of sick pay for every worker? Why not have a form of EI for the millions of Canadians who are self-employed?

Lots of questions. We should take them seriously -- because the world has changed, and we can't go home again.

Image: 365 Days In Aspen

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The New Normal

For years now, the gig economy has been morphing into our new economic model. Martin Regg Cohn writes that the coronavirus has made gig workers of us all:

If you think these are tough times, spare a thought for those already living it, and likely to experience it for the rest of their working lives. Who are these people?
Today these people are us, cooped up at home. But in recent years, it has been a lot of “other” people — from the millennial children of boomers who have never known anything but the gig economy, to new immigrants lacking local experience, to older workers lacking retraining.
Bouncing from part-time job to contract job to temporary job. Waiting at home to get a gig offering free food samples to shoppers; or on call to deliver your Amazon parcels; or checking the part-time roster at Tim Hortons for an unscheduled shift.
The new world of work long predates the novel coronavirus. And long after the pandemic disappears, the gig economy will keep growing — and going viral — with all the uncertainty, insecurity and disruption you feel in your bones today.

And when the virus subsides, the gig economy will be stronger than ever. We need to develop policies to deal with it:

Now that we have your attention and rumination, consider the solution. Like infectious diseases, insecurity is nothing new — it keeps coming back in one form or another.
We all hope there will one day be a vaccine for the pandemic.
But we already have the antidote to precarity: security — income security.
Income security sounds like something abstract or complicated, but nothing could be more tangible and understandable: If you lose income, you make itI up with a guaranteed minimum; if you gain or regain income, you give up your supplement (it’s taxed back).
Consider the current patchwork of social welfare programs for those in need, in economic distress, or without employment income:
Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. There’s also EI, OAS, GIS and ODB — short for Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and Ontario Drug Benefit.
There are many more, but you get the idea. Yet did you truly know — before the pandemic hit and emergency aid magically appeared from Ottawa — that less than one-third of unemployed Ontarians were eligible for jobless benefits?

And that's the problem. What is available to one-third of us should be available to all of us. That should be the new normal.

Image: SlidePlayer

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Required Policy

Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write that we are headed for a very large deficit. But it's manageable:

It won’t be long before people will start asking about what all this will do to the deficit. The December 2019 Economic and Fiscal Update (Update) forecast a deficit of $28.1 billion for the current fiscal year.  That was before COVID-19 and the sharp decline in oil prices. This has now been increased by $27.4 billion to $55.5 billion, assuming only $27.4 billion will be required and the economy rebounds quickly after one quarter. But it could be much higher if the ERP [Economic Recovery Plan] is in place for nine months, rising to $110 billion (4% of GDP).
But this ignores the impact of shutting down the economy. Right now no one knows. Private-sector economists are all over the map as to what could happen over the next 12 months.  Some are forecasting a decline in real GDP for one quarter only, others for three quarters. Some expect only a marginal decline in GDP, while others expect double-digit quarterly declines.
The government would be wise not to table a budget or even an Economic and Fiscal Update at this time. This would be prudent and quite understandable in the current circumstances.  We are living in a world of complete uncertainty both globally and domestically.  The current health and economic environments are intertwined and extremely volatile. Quarterly economic data for the first quarter will not be available until May and for the second quarter until August, although monthly data published in the interim will provide an indication of what is happening.

Recent history provides a little perspective:

During the 2008/2009 financial crisis, the deficit in 2009/10 reached $56.4 billion of which $18 billion was attributable to the stimulus measures, meaning that economic developments amounted to $38.4 billion of the deficit outcome. Real economic growth declined for three consecutive quarters, by 1.2 per cent, 2.3 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively.
If the economic impacts were similar, this would result in a deficit of $93.9 billion for 2020-21. However, GDP is much larger now than in 2009.  In addition, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy is likely to be much greater than that of the financial crisis. Finally it is very likely the government will have to extend the policies announced to date to the second half of 2020-21. This could add another $55 billion to the deficit. A deficit of $150 billion (6% of GDP) or higher is very possible.

But people shouldn't panic when they see big numbers:

This is a manageable deficit. It is a cyclical deficit, not a structural deficit. It can be eliminated relatively quickly once the COVID-19 is halted in Canada and other countries, the global economy and domestic economy begin to recover and temporary anti-virus policies are removed.

There are times when going into debt is simply required policy.

Image: Investopedia

Friday, March 20, 2020

Remaking the World

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the Trudeau government to rebuild the Unemployment System we once had. Tom Walkom writes:

In 1995, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government effectively gutted what it by then was calling Employment Insurance, reducing payouts and making it much more difficult for the jobless to qualify for benefits. In one blow, the federal government rendered irrelevant one of Canada’s premier social programs. That irrelevance only grew as governments across the country allowed businesses to avoid payroll taxes by treating their workers as self-employed, independent contractors ineligible for EI.
By last December, only 39 per cent of the unemployed qualified for EI. But jobless rates were low anyway and no one much cared. Until the coronavirus epidemic struck.
Now workers are once again losing income. The reasons differ from the experience of the 1930s. People are staying away from work for health rather than economic reasons. But the effects are the same. Through no fault of their own, large numbers of Canadians are effectively unemployed.

The feds have added additional programs to the old one:

The Emergency Care Benefit will provide up to $450 a week for up to 15 weeks to those required to stay home from work who don’t qualify for either paid sick leave or EI.
The Emergency Support Benefit will provide an as-yet-unspecified amount of money to those facing unemployment who don’t qualify for EI.
In effect, the Liberal government is reinventing an unemployment insurance scheme that will actually cover the unemployed.

Bill Morneau claims that these are temporary measures. But they will have to become entrenched -- for at least two reasons:

First, there is no guarantee that this epidemic will be over soon. Even the eternally optimistic Trudeau says this emergency could last months.
Second, we will almost certainly face more emergencies. Some will be epidemics like this one. Some will result from climate change. Some will stem from the financial and economic contradictions in world markets.

The world is being remade.

Image: ResearchGate

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Brave New World

While he applauds the federal government's support package, Jim Stanford writes that it should be larger -- and it will have to be larger -- because there are bigger shoes to drop:

Clearly, this terrible situation is going to get worse before it gets better. Expect the April labour force data (to be published in early May … assuming Statistics Canada staff are able to work!) to show a sudden decline in employment of 300,000 or more -- by far the biggest one-month drop in Canadian history. That would push the unemployment rate quickly up toward 7 per cent, with more to come. (The March data, based on a phone survey conducted last week, before school closures and other emergency measures were implemented, will capture only the beginning of the downturn.) Knock-on effects from the initial lay-offs (experienced through shocked consumer spending, disrupted supply chains, bankruptcies or closures) will cause those losses to cascade in subsequent months. Assuming the lock-down is extended for some weeks, expect a hit to annualized second-quarter GDP in the order of 10 per cent or potentially more, and unemployment to rise to 12-15 per cent.

It's been quite a while since we've seen unemployment numbers like these. And a lot of the unemployed will be people who have never been covered by EI. The federal government is the only institution that has the tools to deal with this crisis:

There is no doubt, then, that more immediate support will be required in many areas, as this crisis continues to unfold. All three leaders today indicated their understanding of this, and their willingness to act, which is encouraging. And apart from a few gratuitous boasts by Mr. Morneau about how Canada's "strong fiscal position" allows his government to act powerfully, there is almost no discussion of "how will we pay for it." Of course, no matter how big Canada's public debt was today, there is still no limit on the federal government's ability to create purchasing power and mobilize resources. This idea, once heretical, has now been widely accepted, even in polite mainstream company. Even Governor Poloz agreed today that quantitative easing is now a "standard part of the central bank toolkit." Progressives can push hard to make sure the full capacity of government and the central bank is used ambitiously and fairly -- and that it isn't replaced by knee-jerk austerity once the immediate crisis is over.

And, when this crisis is over, the federal government is going to have to be restructured to deal with the brave new world this virus represents.

Image: Big Think

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

We Need A Paradigm Shift

Andrew Nikiforuk writes that COVID-19 is a wildfire:

A pandemic is like a wildfire. The more fuel it finds, the hotter it burns and before you know it is running out of control, and there are not enough resources to put it out.
COVID-19 is a fire burning through human communities. We can slow this fire and perhaps even manage its spread by purposely reducing the fuel load. That means breaking the chain of infection by closing public places, eliminating travel and avoiding crowds, and washing hands.
But inertia is the general response to things that cannot be seen, such as multiplying viruses in asymptomatic carriers. Canada did not restrict travel from infected areas fast enough. It did not test and contain enough. Now that community spread is well established in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, things will get ugly before they will get better.
But community action can still determine how bad things become and how fast we recover from this biological invasion.

We long ago stopped acting as citizens and started thinking of ourselves as consumers. But acting like a consumer will not stop this virus:

COVID-19 is a stealth virus and an entirely new one. It can breeze through a community much like the flu, but is ten times deadlier.
It is highly contagious and could have an infection rate between 35 per cent and 70 per cent in Canada. That means if one infected person mingles in a crowd of 50 people and shakes hands and sneezes, between 15 and 35 people will become infected. 
By the time health officials reported three deaths from COVID-19, as many as 1,500 infections have already passed through the community, reports University of Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman. How can that be when the reported death rate in other countries is far higher than three out of 1,500? Because we are at a moment when the virus is being spread quickly and widely but quietly because so many aren’t yet showing symptoms. The curve is almost certainly sharply steepening; we just can’t see it yet.
Dr. Michael Warner, an intensive care doctor at Michael Garron Hospital, elucidates on the math: There are 14.5 million Canadians in Ontario. Thirty per cent could contract COVID-19. Of those infected, five per cent will require time in intensive care. That’s 217,500 patients. But there are only 400 ICU physicians in Ontario who normally care for 12 to 16 patients. 
“Soon everyone in Canada will know someone with #COVID-19. Do we have to wait for this to occur to acknowledge it is completely irresponsible for the government to deem safe gatherings of (less than) 50 people?” he recently asked on Twitter.
“If you wait until it’s a crisis and then say we’re going to respond to this crisis by implementing drastic public health measures, they will work, they will work predictably, but you’ve already missed the boat,” Fisman has warned repeatedly.
“The time to intervene,” he said on CBC, “was before it got bad because you knew it was going to get bad, you knew that when it was quiet was the time for you to intervene.”

Given the math, the path is clear. It's time to become citizens again. The lives of thousands of Canadians depend on a paradigm shift.

Image: System 100

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Society The Enabler

Today Ontario declared a state of emergency. It joins PEI and Quebec in doing so. This really is crunch time and we all have to act responsibly. Andre Picard writes:

The only way to slow this pandemic is for all of us to become helpers, to embrace the now-familiar concepts of social distancing and self-isolation. In these extraordinary times, we are being asked to take extraordinary actions.
Work from home. Avoid social gatherings. Stop all travel. If you’ve returned from travel, self-isolate – meaning no contact with anyone for 14 days. Schools are being closed. Our sources of entertainment, from pro sports to theatres, are being shut down. Soon, so too will restaurants, bars, malls and all other non-essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.
These are sacrifices. They will last for a while. But we’ve survived much worse.
In times of crisis, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer most – the frail elderly, people with disabilities, the working poor, the homeless.
Social solidarity is needed now more than ever, and one senses that it is building.

For fifty years, we have been on a hyper-individualism sugar high, egged on by Maggie Thatcher's declaration that "there is no such thing as society." Obviously, the Iron Lady was dead wrong. It is society that enables us to survive.

Image: Opening Gates

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Naked Emperor

The COVID-19 pandemic has stripped Donald Trump of his cover. Maureen Dowd writes in The New York Times:

Until now, Trump has mostly succeeded in covering up things that could damage him — from taxes to payoffs to paramours during the campaign to blocking evidence and witnesses in his impeachment to his conversation with Vladimir Putin where the interpreter’s notes disappeared.
But a global pandemic is different.
He can’t cover up his lack of empathy, his instinct to mislead, his refusal to do his homework and his blame-shifting. And the idea that Trump could soothe a nation went out the window a long time ago.
He can’t cover up the fact that he is not interested in public policy fixes or ending his juvenile sniping across the aisle. After he woodenly said in his national address Wednesday that “we must put politics aside, stop the partisanship and unify together as one nation and one family,” he jumped back on Twitter to trash Barack Obama and Joe Biden, this time criticizing their response to the swine flu virus.

But, of course, none of this has changed Trump's behaviour:

Even when the president stopped being so blithe about the virus, even after his error-ridden national address and his press conference Friday declaring a national emergency — “two very big words” — his attempt at maturity was crystallized in one sound bite. “No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said, when asked about the egregious lag in testing.
When Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked him about the valuable time lost because of that inexplicable decision [to disband the White House Pandemic Office] Trump bristled at the sound of a voice that dared pierce his cocoon of sycophancy.
“I just think it’s a nasty question,” he snapped back. “When you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people. I could ask perhaps my administration” because “I don’t know anything about it.”

Trump is naked. And his ugliness is completely exposed.

Image: POLITICO Europe

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Economic Consequences Of COVID 19

The economic consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic will be far-reaching. Jim Stanford writes:

It is increasingly clear that the economic fallout from the pandemic is also going to constitute an emergency. And it requires government to respond as urgently and powerfully in the economic sphere, as they are attempting for public health.

What needs to be done? Stanford suggests several interventions:

1. Immediate Mobilization of Resources to Protect Health: Obviously governments and health authorities must now throw every possible real resource into protecting health, as much as they can, including:
More staff at health facilities.
Alternate off-site or mobile testing capacities.
Home support for people quarantined or recovering at home.
Quick expansion of capital equipment (including buildings and equipment), as much as possible.
2. Income Protection for Workers: The pandemic has exposed a frightening and dangerous aspect of the new precarious labour market. Only about half of employed people now work in a "standard" full-time permanent job with benefits -- like sick leave. So when people are instructed to stay home from work to avoid spreading the virus, many incur a major and immediate financial loss. Unfortunately, that will compel some to ignore the health advice and keep working -- with catastrophic health consequences. This pandemic is reminding us that the wellbeing of everyone, depends on the wellbeing of everyone else. The short-sighted responses of some business leaders, complaining about the cost of sick leave and that workers "whine" or "fake" their conditions, is as morally repugnant as it is clinically destructive. (For a despicable example, see Howard Levitt's comments about workers imagining illness on CBC's The Current).
3. Debt Relief: Morneau and his colleagues moved quickly today to assure businesses that they can continue to access credit to maintain operations and stave off bankruptcy. There will likely be a need for more hands-on support for firms in many industries (including airlines and other transportation and tourism providers). It makes sense to keep businesses from going bankrupt at a time when unemployment is rising anyway, but those interventions need to learn from the mistakes of past rescues. Conditions must be attached to protect employees at these firms right through the crisis (like no layoffs), and to ensure that rescued companies are held to long-term performance requirements (including future Canadian production and employment). The memory of major banks and automakers that were bailed out at the public's expense in 2009, and then quickly returned to their bad old ways (speculative lending and industrial disinvestment, respectively) reminds us to leverage our support during times of crisis into long-run influence over their subsequent activities. The best approach in that regard is to take public equity stakes in these businesses as a condition of financial support (as some European countries did with banks and other major bailed-out businesses).

But, most importantly -- when this is over -- the economy will have to be reconstructed. And that presents an opportunity:

The traditional tools of stabilization (monetary and fiscal adjustments) are clearly not capable of addressing the scale of the problem. Monetary policy, indeed, has already lost most of its effectiveness: with interest rates near zero, and borrowers scared deeply about what lies ahead, the emergency interest rates cuts announced by the Bank of Canada this week will have virtually no impact on real economic activity in the coming year or longer. (It probably won't even reignite house price inflation, which has been its dominant "achievement" of late.)
And fiscal interventions will need to go far beyond counter-cyclical stabilization. Canada's economy will need to rely on public service, public investment and public entrepreneurship as its main "engines" of growth, to recover from the coming downturn, prepare for future health and environmental crises, and improve conditions in our communities. The abysmal failure of private business capital spending in recent years -- which has fallen by one-third as a share of GDP since the turn of the century, despite hugely expensive corporate tax cuts -- was already indicating a growing role for public investment to lead the way. Now, in this moment, it is laughable to imagine that private capital spending or exports will somehow lead the reconstruction of a national economy that will experience an unprecedented and scarring shock.
There is no shortage of urgent rebuilding required in our economy and our communities: sustainable transit, green energy, non-market housing, expanded public services (including aged care and early child education) and any number of other urgent priorities. The case for mobilizing those resources, under the leadership of governments and other public institutions, is compelling. We can put people to work, repair the damage of this crisis (and better prepare for the next one), and deliver valuable services. All we need is the willingness to imagine a different model of organizing and leading economic activity.

We are in a very trying situation. But, if we think carefully, we might make our nation better -- much better.

Image: Diply

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Thinking Outside The Oil Box

Many Albertans -- and particularly its premier -- are in denial. Alan Freeman writes:

It’s over. The great Alberta oil bonanza, which has allowed the province to prosper for decades with a combination of high government spending and low taxes, has crashed and isn’t coming back anytime soon.
The coronavirus and the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia are just the latest manifestations of what’s been going on for years. Climate change is forcing the world to review its addiction to oil and when it comes time to ditch that habit, Alberta is poorly placed to respond.
Rather than be fixated on building new oil-sands facilities and pipelines, attention is soon going to focus on whether existing operations can keep operating if prices stay at low levels.
If ever there was a time for Alberta to pivot away from its historic dependence on oil to fuel its economy and embark on a completely new path towards diversification and fiscal maturity, it would be now. (By fiscal maturity, I mean taxing Albertans for the services they receive rather than betting that resource revenues will be the Sugar-Daddy that saves them from a sales tax and the kind of provincial income taxes most of us pay.)

Unfortunately, Jason Kenney has no plan to pivot. He's following a familiar formula:

In a nutshell, it’s the same formula we’ve seen from Alberta governments for decades when boom inevitably turns to bust. Pray for higher oil prices. Cut spending. Blame Ottawa. Keep taxes low. Never save for a rainy day. And don’t ever tell Alberta voters the truth. 
That was the familiar, dumb formula set out in Finance Minister Travis Toews’s budget on Feb. 28, a budget that predicted increasing oil prices to an average of $58USD a barrel for 2020, which would miraculously hike the province’s stream of resources so much that the provincial budget deficit would disappear by 2022-23. Poof.
Toews claimed the projections were “credible” and “cautious.” They probably never were. Now, with oil prices at hovering around $33USD and a bit today, these projections are clearly a joke and Kenney, Toews and Co. should be looking for jobs as clowns with Cirque du Soleil. 

What should Kenney and Company be doing? Freeman has a few suggestions:

The federal government should propose establishment of an Alberta Tomorrow fund (perhaps Saskatchewan can join in too.) Ottawa could commit $10 billion to the fund over five years, conditional on matching contributions from the provincial government on a dollar-for-dollar basis. So a total of $20 billion over five years from the two governments, to be jointly managed. 
The fund should be dedicated to weaning Alberta off oil and gas through massive retraining of oil workers, investment in green technologies and building on the province’s high-performing universities. Not a single cent from this fund should go to shoring up oil and gas firms, pipelines or the petrochemical industry. The Trans Mountain expansion project is enough of a commitment for Canadian taxpayers. 
How does Alberta finance this new fund? Of course, that’s up to its government and legislature, but here’s an idea. A provincial sales tax would be a reasonable way to do so. Since Albertans seem allergic to the idea of taxation and think it’s some sort of eastern curse, call the tax a “levy” or something cute, like the Alberta Advantage Payment. Whatever. But you get the idea.
The tax can start small, at three or four per cent, and build up over time, to eventually reach the 6-per-cent provincial tax rate that’s in place in Saskatchewan. Still the lowest in the country. The federal government could agree to a sweetener as well, making a onetime contribution to the province for harmonization with the federal GST, using as precedent the $4.3 billion Ontario got from Ottawa for aligning the two taxes in 2008.

It's time to think outside the oil box.

Image: HRO Today

Friday, March 13, 2020

Modernity On Trial

Andrew Coyne writes that modernity itself is now on trial:

The whole project of modernity, and of the nation-state that was its creation, was to relieve individuals and communities of certain risks, against which they had previously had to protect themselves. Cities are no longer ringed by walls that protect against marauding bands; nor are property owners obliged to cower behind stone fortifications, surrounded by moats. We move about with an ease and freedom from fear that would astonish all but the past few generations; exchange millions on a handshake; and so on, all the many ways in which we have been allowed, as it were, to let down our guard.
Until lately, the trend had been toward greater integration. Competition, itself intensified by integration, drives a relentless search for greater efficiency, in ways that imply ever tighter integration: just-in-time delivery, global supply chains, e-commerce. But with that tighter integration comes an increasing fragility. The more connected we become, the more productive; the more productive, the more dependent on those connections; the more dependent, the more vulnerable to their disruption.

In an increasingly integrated world, trust is the coin of the realm. And these days, trust -- the foundation of modernity -- is under attack:

One of the things in which we trust, for example, is that our dealings with others will not leave us killed or crippled by a communicable disease. 
Until as late as the previous century, this would have been a dangerous bet. For most of human history, plagues of one kind or another were regular visitors, wiping out a third or more of their host populations, only to do the same or worse in succeeding centuries.

Over the last fifty years, the political right has been dedicated to destroying the institutions we established to promote trust. We have now reaped what we have sown.

Image: inc.com

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Trump's Chernobyl

Brian Klass writes that the coronavirus is Donald Trump's Chernobyl:

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, the No. 4 reactor at Chernobyl power station exploded just outside the town of Pripyat in the Soviet Union. During the crucial early hours of the disaster, a cascading series of mistakes exacerbated the emergency. Subordinates who feared their superiors kept quiet. Superiors who feared contradicting the prevailing mythology of the state — and its leader — bent and broke reality. They made a series of smaller lies to protect the big lie: that the Soviet Union had everything under control.

For Trump, everything is about the Big Lie. And, while the Big Lie may work for a while, it crumbles in the face of disaster:

By putting dangerous myths above objective facts, Trump has turned the crucial early phases of government response into a disaster. Some public health experts in government have undoubtedly kept quiet, having seen repeatedly what happens to those who publicly contradict this president. And Trump himself, along with those who surround him, has tried to construct a reality that simply does not exist.
Two weeks ago, today, Trump tweeted that “The coronavirus is very much under control in the United States … Stock market is starting to look very good to me!” At that point, there were a small number of cases, but public health experts clearly stated that the number was likely to spike. Nonetheless, Trump accused his critics of perpetrating a “hoax” and said their concerns was overblown. He said that the number of cases — 15 at the time — would soon be “close to zero.”

The real facts have obliterated Trump's alternative facts:

Today, there are more than 500 cases. There will soon be thousands.
The stock market is crashing. Every indicator from bond markets predicts a serious recession. The death rate is climbing. And if the outbreak in Italy is any indication of what we should expect, everything is about to get much worse.

But, unlike Chernobyl, Trump won't be able to build a concrete bunker around this problem.

Image: Britannica

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Viral Change

Sometimes, surprises come out of left field. In the United States, the coronavirus has come out of left field. And it has changed the American presidential race. Richard Wolffe writes:

All the way back in mid-February, Donald Trump brushed aside the coronavirus as “very much under control in the USA”. That was just two days after Bernie Sanders won his breakthrough victory in the Nevada caucuses, putting him on course to a commanding lead as Super Tuesday approached.
But this is not the same political country it was last month. In the short span of a couple of weeks, American voters have traveled a very long way. If the coronavirus sweeps across the country as the experts predict, that journey will only accelerate, reframing this year’s elections in profound ways.
Tuesday’s primaries confirmed the extraordinary transformation of Joe Biden’s campaign, from almost dead-man-walking to almost dead-certain nominee. There are almost no similar cases of a candidate bouncing into such a wide lead in such a short time.

It's beginning to look like the dead man walking will be the Democratic nominee for president:

Trump’s entirely botched response to the coronavirus pandemic has only intensified this electoral choice. Instead of simply voting for the most electable candidate, Democrats are now voting for the most competent president. In that context, there is vastly more reason to trust a former vice-president than an insurgent outsider.
According to CNN’s exit polls, nearly 60% of Democratic voters in Missouri said they trusted Biden to handle a crisis, compared with around 25% who said they trusted Sanders. In Michigan and Washington state, the numbers were not much better for Bernie.
Other polls underscore how powerful this case is for Biden in his likely general election against Trump. In a recent national poll of registered voters of all parties, Biden beats Trump by 16 points on the question of who would do a better job of handling a crisis, while Sanders is ahead by just six points.

Trump isn't a bright man. But he was bright enough to know that Joe Biden was his most dangerous political rival. What Trump didn't understand was that it was he himself who was his most glaring weakness.

Image: New York Post

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

It's Insanity

You might think that Donald Trump's denial of reality in the face of the coronavirus is something new. But Paul Krugman writes that denial in the face of a crisis is an entrenched strategy on the political right:

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The 2008 financial crisis was brought on by the collapse of an immense housing bubble. But many on the right denied that there was anything amiss. Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s chief economist, ridiculed “bubbleheads” who suggested that housing prices were out of line.
When the economy began to slide, mainstream Republicans remained deeply in denial. Phil Gramm, John McCain’s senior economic adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign, declared that America was only suffering a “mental recession” and had become a “nation of whiners.”
Even the failure of Lehman Brothers, which sent the economy into a full meltdown, initially didn’t put a dent in conservative denial. Kudlow hailed the failure as good news, because it signaled an end to bailouts, and predicted housing and financial recovery in “months, not years.”
Wait, there’s more. After the economic crisis helped Barack Obama win the 2008 election, right-wing pundits declared that it was all a left-wing conspiracy. Karl Rove and Bill O’Reilly accused the news media of hyping bad news to enable Obama’s socialist agenda, while Rush Limbaugh asserted that Senator Chuck Schumer personally caused the crisis (don’t ask).
The point is that Trump’s luridly delusional response to the coronavirus and his conspiracy theorizing about Democrats and the news media aren’t really that different from the way the right dealt with the financial crisis a dozen years ago. True, last time the crazy talk wasn’t coming directly from the president of the United States. But that’s not the important distinction between then and now.

There's a word for this: It's insanity.

Image: Medium

Monday, March 09, 2020

History Rhymes All The Time

Three of the Conservative leadership candidates want a fall election. Susan Delacourt writes:

Peter MacKay, seen as a front-runner, tossed it out in a fundraising letter: “Canadians have lost faith in this government. Protests, shutdowns, economic decline, and job losses with more to come. Canada is a great country, but we’re being held back by failing government. We need an election in October.”
Sarnia MP Marilyn Gladu had already served notice of a similar intention in a Facebook post a few weeks ago. Erin O’Toole, who received the gift of an endorsement from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney this week, said: “As soon as I become leader, I will table a motion of no confidence in the government.”

But Canadians don't appear too eager to go to the polls again. And the Conservatives might do well to consider Michael Ignatieff's experience:

The Liberals replaced [Stephane] Dion with new leader Michael Ignatieff. It was an uncontested race and by summer of that year, Ignatieff and his team felt ready to take on Harper and put the country in a quick do-over of the election of 2008.
Famously, and to his eventual regret, Ignatieff ended the Liberals’ summer retreat in 2009 with the threat: “Mr. Harper, your time is up.”
In his book about his brief, unpleasant time as Liberal leader, Ignatieff refers to this gambit as a “debacle” and warns: “Voters punish politicians who look like they’re playing games or changing their tune. I looked like both and paid the price.”
MacKay, Gladu and O’Toole may not have read Fire and Ashes, Ignatieff’s book, but they may want to revisit history when they consider the “let’s try it again with another leader” plan. They may also want to consult with three players — the New Democrats, the Bloc Québécois and most importantly, Canadians themselves.

Ignatieff was guilty of a common political sin -- the temptation to speak before listening. That flaw leads to another political sin -- certitude. Ignatieff was certain that he knew better than voters what those voters wanted.

History rhymes all the time.

Image: Justia Trademarks

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Some People Are Immune

During the federal election, the Conservatives ordered Doug Ford to keep his head low and his mouth shut. But, in the wake of that failed strategy, the old Doug Ford is back. Bob Hepburn writes:

You can’t keep the real Doug Ford down.
He’s back to bashing the media, snapping earlier this week that “you guys, the media, want to stick in this little downtown Toronto bubble.” His angry outburst came when reporters asked legitimate questions about the province’s controversial new double-blue licence plates.
He’s back making gross exaggerations about his supposed accomplishments, for example bragging last week about how his job-creation record is better than that of the previous Liberal government, which it isn’t.
He’s back claiming credit where it’s not due and whining about not getting the credit he thinks he deserves. For example, he unashamedly boasted about reaching a deal with the Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations on the building of a road to the “Ring of Fire” chromite deposits in the far north of the province. Of course, it was the same Ford who ripped up basically the same deal reached by the Wynne government almost as soon as he took power in 2018.
He’s back railing against unions. This week he blasted teacher unions, with whom his government is in tough contract talks, for supposedly holding “the province hostage for 50 years.”
He’s back encouraging partisan applause from his caucus in the legislature, where earlier this week Tory MPPs staged two standing ovations in a Question Period session.

If you thought that Doug had learned some lessons, think again. Some people are immune to education.

Image: socialist.ca

Saturday, March 07, 2020

The Next Ontario Liberal Leader

Kathleen Wynne's days as Ontario's Liberal leader were always numbered. She came at the end of a long Liberal run. And familiarity breeds contempt. Wynne had an ambitious agenda. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Wynne put forward a bold new Ontario public pension plan, forcing Ottawa and the other provinces to improve the outdated CPP. She emphasized the environment by building mass transit while embracing cap and trade carbon pricing. She liberated beer from the grip of the big brewers who owned the Beer Store, delivering it into supermarkets. She achieved her promise of a balanced budget (until the auditor general, with peculiar pre-election timing, moved the goalposts). And she appointed a new minister of Indigenous affairs to foster reconciliation.

But she refused to raise taxes to pay for her program and instead decided to sell off a considerable chunk of Hydro One to pay for it. That was a bridge too far:

Wynne called it “asset rotation” and “broadened ownership,” but she got all tangled up.
People confused Hydro One with the defunct Ontario Hydro. Outdated hydro poles were conflated with electricity strategy, even though Ontario Power Generation (OPG) was never on the auction block.
It was Wynne’s undoing. Instead of demonstrating her open-minded approach to practical problem solving, the public took it as proof of the premier’s betrayal of provincial values of public ownership.

And, so, Ontarians sent the Liberals into the wilderness. We will soon learn what, if anything, they have learned in exile.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The Virus He Has Spread

Paranoia has been part of American politics for a long time. Paul Krugman writes that it has been at the heart of recent American political debates:

Remember, conservatives have spent decades denying the reality of climate change, insisting that it’s a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast international scientific conspiracy. And as the signs of climate catastrophe multiply, from wildfires in Australia to drought in California, climate denial has only strengthened its grip on the G.O.P. On the eve of the 2018 midterms, a survey found 73 percent of Republican senators denying the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is happening.

Then there was the fear that Barack Obama's economic policies would fuel an inflationary spiral:

Consider how many on the right reacted after their dire predictions of hyperinflation under Obama failed to pan out — not by admitting that they were wrong, but by insisting that the numbers were being cooked. And I’m not talking about fringe figures, I’m talking about people conservatives consider leading intellectuals.

Conspiracy theories haven't always been the exclusive property of the right. You can see paranoia in the Sanders campaign:

It was dismaying to find a senior Sanders adviser declaring that all those disagreeing with proposals for a wealth tax — which, by the way, I support — “are the types of groups and academics that are funded by the powers that be, the establishment, the billionaire class.”

Paranoia produces what Krugman calls "zombie ideas." These days, most of the zombie ideas are on the right. And, at the moment, the biggest, ugliest zombie idea is that the coronavirus is a "hoax" propagated to take down Donald Trump:

Not to worry, say right-wing pundits and news organizations: It’s all a hoax, a conspiracy by the liberal media to make Donald Trump look bad. Administration officials and Trump himself have echoed their claims.
These claims are, of course, crazy. Among other things, Covid-19 is a global phenomenon, with major outbreaks ranging from South Korea to Italy. Are the South Korean and Italian media also part of a conspiracy to get Trump?
This craziness was, however, entirely predictable to anyone who has been following right-wing politics. It’s just the latest battle in a long-running war on truth, on the very idea that there exists an inconvenient objective reality.

Paranoia is -- essentially -- a denial of reality. That's the world Donald Trump lives in. And that's the virus he has spread for decades.

Image: Signal v Noise

Monday, March 02, 2020

The Sales Tax Bugaboo

Alberta is in a financial hole. And, Graham Thompson writes, the solution is obvious. It's as obvious as the chart in this year's provincial budget:

On page 169 of the new Alberta provincial budget is a chart that drips with irony.
It is an illustration that succinctly points out what’s right with the province … and what’s so very wrong.
It is titled “Alberta’s Tax Advantage” and points out in a province-by-province comparison how much more money Alberta could collect each year if it had the same tax regime used in other provinces.

What Kenney calls the province's advantage is the province's lack of a sales tax -- something every other province has:

If Alberta had the same taxes as Ontario, for example, it would collect an additional $14.4 billion a year. The same as Saskatchewan: $15.1 billion. British Columbia: $17.5 billion. On all the way up to Newfoundland: $25.5 billion.
Even if Alberta simply introduced a provincial sales tax comparable to BC’s it could generate an extra $7 billion a year.
That amount would be enough to balance this year’s Alberta budget — and allow the province to start paying down the province’s accumulated debt that will hit a record $77 billion this year. But the thought of a sales tax is so unpopular in Alberta that its acronym is jokingly called the Political Suicide Tax.

Rather than introduce a sales tax, Jenney cuts government programs. Finance Minister Travis Toews has signaled the road ahead:

Toews says the province is “turning the corner” this year and is forecast to finally claw its way out of the recession that hit four years ago.
But that forecast is based on higher oil prices, getting more oil to market and seeing increased investment.
Alberta is once again placing many of its eggs in the notoriously unstable oil basket.

It's a well-established pattern in Alberta. And, in the end, it's self-defeating.

Image: alberta.ca

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Macdonald's Strategy Won't Work

Robin Sears writes that what is going on in Northern British Columbia is not a new phenomenon. It is the culmination of a decades-long refusal to deal with the intersection of First Nations rights and resource development:

Its roots go back decades to a stunning decision by the Supreme Court in 1997, the Delgamuukw decision. The court declared governments can retain control over resource and transportation projects, but they must also enter into negotiations to settle issues of land management and governance with Indigenous peoples:
[T]he Crown is under a moral, if not a legal, duty to enter into and conduct those negotiations in good faith. Ultimately, [these issues will be resolved] through negotiated settlements, with good faith and give and take on all sides, reinforced by the judgments of this Court.”
Governments led by Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and, initially, Justin Trudeau defied the court. Why? Because they knew that successful negotiations could only end in one place — reduced power for the governments involved to maximize the revenues from resource extraction on those lands. Now all Canadians are paying a heavy price for their cupidity.
There is always a cost to kicking the can down the road. All those politicians, protected for years behind their shield of lawyers, paid literally hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars in dozens of similar battles, are now squabbling over whose fault it is. Imagine if some of that money had instead been used in settlement agreements?

We've reached the point where we can no longer kick the can down the road. Some goodwill has been displayed in this crisis:

To give credit where it is due, Ottawa’s minister responsible for this file, Carolyn Bennett, has worked hard to get serious negotiations underway behind the scenes, as has B.C. Premier John Horgan and two former B.C. NDP MPs, Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen. Until this winter’s explosion of anger, they appeared to be making progress.

But now Justin Trudeau himself has to step in:

Now it’s time for the prime minister to put the full force of his government behind an urgent acceleration of talks to finally arrive at the settlement the Supreme Court told them was their duty decades ago. The last excuse, the last prevarication is now history — or we will face an even more bitter confrontation next time.

John A. Macdonald's nickname was "Old Tomorrow." He had a talent for kicking things down the road. Mr. Trudeau can no longer afford to employ Macdonald's approach to governing.

Image: Ottawa Beer Fest