Saturday, 14 November 2015

PARIS -Le Lendemain/The Morning After

11/14/2015 >   > D’abord j’aimerais offrir aux Français mes condoléances sincères.  La France est un pays très important pour moi, je n’ai que des bons souvenirs du temps j’y ai vécu, et je continue de cotoyer des Français au quotidien ici à Montréal.  Paris est une ville très spéciale et ça fait mal, tout simplement.  La solidarité est donc de mise à travers le monde, et je pense bien vous allez en voir. >   > First of all let me say that France is a very special country for me.  I have very fond memories of the time that I lived there and continue to interact with French people often here in Montreal.  Paris is a great city and this hurts, condoleances and solidarity are the order of the day. >   > I have something else to say that is burning me up inside.  This is to all the right wing demagogues and ideologues on tv, on the radio, in the press, and especially on twitter, who immediately exploited this tragic event for their own personal ax-grinding, unable to resist that their own cynical impulses to not only kick dirt in the faces of their political opponents, but to suggest that said opponents’ “softness” or “relativism” was somehow responsible for the deaths of ~129 people.  Here’s an example from Stephen Harper inner-circle alumnus Gerry Nicholls. >  
> Let me give you ignoramuses a little history lesson.  Attention spans these days are compressed to micro seconds.  People have short memories.  Everything is “instant reaction! instant reaction! knee-jerk!” .   So you probably forget all the other times this has happened. Let’s look back at terrorist attacks perpetrated against the west by racial islamists in the past 17 years.  US Embassies in Kenya & Tanzania August 7 1998. New York Sept 11 2001. Madrid March 11 2004.  London July 7 2005.  Paris November 13 2015.   Those are just the notable ones that I remember; there are hundreds worldwide every year.  Right wing governments have been in power in Spain, UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and France for many of the years during this period.  This begs the question: what exactly would you have done differently, in the past and today, that makes you feel entitled to fucking moralize against the population at large as if you belong to some enlightened minority who “understand the threat” and the “urgency to act” at a time like this? >   > I’ll give you an example of what your urgency to act has given us.  Two lifelong piece of shit dictators removed by Western military forces in Iraq and Libya, which has created highly destabilized countries where the populations are more vulnerable to sectarian warfare, lawlessness reigns and corruption is rampant.  The kind of place that is a fertile breeding ground for organizations like ISIS. >   > Excuse me if I am skeptical in the face of your tough-guy bullshit that sees the world like a giant playground we just need to walk across and kick some ass in. >   > Refusing to be cowered, suspicious, and afraid is how you defeat brainwashed murderous ideologues like ISIS.  You are letting them win the war by fanning the flames of division and clamouring for a world war.  I live my life with my head held high everyday with no fear of Islamic terrorists.  We live in western countries with world class spy and surveillance apparatuses and police and military personnel.  If some piece of garbage extremist wants to kill innocent people where I live he’s going to have to get past all those hard working people doing their jobs, and THEN he’s going to have to kill himself, because those people won’t let him survive for 2 seconds once it becomes apparent what he’s doing.  If I was at that show yesterday I might not have survived but alas, that could not have been prevented in all these tragic deaths.  SO spare me all your lecturing directed at “bleeding hearts” like you’re somehow the principled and upstanding members of the human race…the fact that you would use this terrible time to plunge us into a maelstrom of vile and incendiary rhetoric says a lot more about your weakness of character then your “resolve”.  I’ll take my chances of surviving every day like every other human on earth does and all of your reckless mouth-frothing will not change that one iota. >   > Even Justin Fuckin Bieber sounded a million times more enlightened than any of you last night.  That says a lot. Get a grip already

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Why I'm Voting For Stephen Harper

My name is J.C. I'm an average Canadian and I voted for Stephen Harper in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and I'm getting ready to do it again in 2015.  Here's why.
In terms of being an average Canadian, there is just nobody who represents my interests, my values, and what I believe in more than Stephen Harper.  I believe there is a lot of danger in the world and he is the only one who can keep us safe and protect us.  When he's riding that ATV on the ice off Iqaluit, looking through those binoculars on a Canadian battleship in the Baltic Sea, or looking Vladimir Putin in the eye and telling him to get out of Ukraine, you know one thing for sure.  This is a tough guy.  He is a tough customer.  You don't want to mess with SJH.  Especially when he's got that black HBC 2010 Vancouver Olympics Canada sweater on.  I know that's what I wear whenever I'm not wearing a suit.  I'm on Team Canada!
Canada is a modern country with modern values and that's why we closed our embassy in an  theocracy like Iran.  And now we are bombing the evil islamic terrorists in ISIS that pose an existential threat to…Iran.  So we are against Iran and we are against ISIS.  Iran said Israel needs to be wiped off the map in 2005 and Israel is our friend.  Remember, if you get on Stephen Harper's bad side it's a lifetime grudge that's why we throw anyone who harms a police dog in jail for five years in Canada.  Anyway, there is no other principled nation on earth that defends the rights of radical extremist jewish settlers who carry assault rifles while they push their kids in strollers in the occupied palestinian territories as ardently as Canada.  The palestinian arabs they killed and displaced were all terrorists anyway.  Saudi Arabia is also an islamic theocracy and saudi money has been a big help to terrorist and non-terrorist palestinians.  The Saudi monarchy promotes a very conservative islamic ideology similar to ISIS and has held public beheadings in the country.  We did an arms deal with Saudi Arabia last year but are bombing ISIS. Can you keep it all straight? Stephen Harper is the only Canadian politician who is tough and takes a principled stance in this region -  the other guys just want to coddle and appease the terrorists.
I am proud to live in a country blessed with natural resources.  When Stephen Harper said he wanted to make our country as an energy superpower my heart swelled with pride.  Even if the kind of oil we sell, Western Canadian Select (WCS) trades at a discount to conventional North American oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), which trades at a discount to the crude price on international markets (Brent), and the price of all of these commodities has fallen 55% in one year, our economist prime minister is clearly an extremely intelligent guy who developed a very innovative and forward thinking economic policy.  I mean, he must be, right? The media always says how smart he is.  Our oil also risks to keep trading a discount because 0 new pipelines have been approved in 4 years of conservative majority rule, but don't worry, change is just around the corner.  It's like Harper said, right? You don't take no for an answer.
Canada is a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world.  That's why Stephen Harper is taking such pain to pick up the megaphone and tell the world so.  Our country is literally spending hundreds of dollars of taxpayer money building a huge, 80 foot statue of liberty knockoff in the middle of Cabot Trail National park on cape breton island (Mother Canada), her arms stretched out to the atlantic ocean and her ass facing Nova Scotia.  Or how about an avant garde, multi-edged monstrosity on public land in the middle of downtown Ottawa between our nation's most sacred institutions (parliament, the supreme court)?  That's our national memorial to all of history's victims of communism, who nobody before Canada ever thought to memorialize probably because it is impossible to determine how many people actually died from a political ideology.  But Canada does, that's who we are, and in case you didn't know that, well, just look smack in the middle of our capital.  We don't do subtlety in this country anymore.  We stand firm in our solidarity with millions of dead nationless, faceless, nameless, imaginary victims of communism.  Thank you Stephen Harper, for making your personal ideological score-settling something Canadians will have to explain for generations to come.  We can also count on Harper to stand up and be counted in our country's undying loyalty to the British Monarchy.  If that means spending tens of millions of dollars every year Prince Charles or Prince William decides to show up for "a visit", so be it.  If the other guys want to pick a pointless fight with the monarchist league of canada (14,000 members, median member age 88) let them. 
The other guys will bankrupt the country with their wacky policies.  This government has run deficits in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and...wait for it.  This year we have balanced the budget.  And we have passed a law that every Canadian government must balance the budget forever.  We do not listen to those eggheads at the bank of canada and the parliamentary budget office (which Stephen Harper created) who say that there will be a deficit this year because of weak oil prices.  We know we've got our priorities straight.  Anyone who asks you if it was worth it hasn't seen all those new curling rinks on the Saskatchewan prairie paid for from the funds of the "economic action plan"
And there's no government that's closer to our men and women in uniform, even though veterans have had to sue for benefits and the government has not managed to build any battleships in Halifax or Levis or order any new fighter jets since 2006.  I guess that must have been the Liberals.  And you can't trust any of the scientists, journalists, premiers, or academics out there.  They purposely distort our democratically-elected government's message.  They're the enemies.

It's been a great ten years and here's to another 3,650 days of Conservative majority rule!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Federal Finances – Totally Extreme

Well, despite years of deficits at the federal level, more specifically an over 25% increase in Canada’s national debt since they took over, the Conservatives feel it is time to double the amount Canadians are allowed to put into TFSAs next year.  Hey, no objections here.  If you want to let me shelter $47,500 from tax and potentially make some really lucrative investments, who am I to refuse? The Conservatives will be denounced by the other parties and traditionally “left” participants in the public debate in Canada, saying it only benefits the rich.  While there is some truth to their argument, because not many people necessarily have all the money lying around to max out their TFSAs, including me, it is simply shameless pandering to the large segment of the population whom we should have no sympathy for: those who live beyond their means.
It is not just the “1%” who could have found a few hundred bucks in their jeans every month to invest every month since the TFSA was created in 2009, a time during which we have seen the US market triple and the Canadian market double.  A reasonably thrifty and industrious person earning the median national income or less could have easily done that and be sitting on over 50k today tax-free.  But no, we should penalize this guy because the average Canadian is absolutely clueless, and has no money to invest because of their car payments, $180 cable packages, and maxed out credit cards and lines of credit.  The fact that only a small part of the population seems to have the intellectual wherewithal to take advantage of their right to use this account properly should not incite overzealous populists to alter or cancel the program.

Besides, anyone with knowledge of recent Canadian fiscal history knows to take this carrot and stick vote buying with several grains of salt.  What the government giveth the government taketh away.  Loopholes and opportunities to shelter money are always exploited to the max by rational actors (a group that does not include average Canadians, it would seem) until they are no longer tenable.  In the early 2000s, many companies in Canada figured out that instead of being publicly owned corporations they could turn themselves into something called “income trusts” (and they still exist today: any ticker on the TSX that ends with .UN is an income trust) and thereby avoid paying tax on their profits.  This is because they would distribute much or all of it to shareholders in the form of income which, until 2006, was not taxed in the hands of the shareholders.  Seniors and smart people of all ages could invest their savings in shares which would provide a reliable stream of tax-free revenue, and many did.  It was fun while it lasted.  The conservatives had to break their election promise when it became apparent that Bell, the big banks and pretty much any blue chip crown jewels this economy had were going to join the bonanza and convert to income trusts, pretty much ensuring an avalanche of corporate profits was going to completely escape taxation indefinitely.   The loophole was closed.  Income trust income is taxed today like regular income, whether it be in the form profits flowing from refining zinc (Norando Income Fund, TSX: NIF.UN) or selling slices of pizza (Pizza Pizza, TSX: PZA.UN).

So the odd greedy pissed-off senior would leave a comment on political news articles, and Jim Flaherty said he got earfuls in airports for the rest of his life, but most of the population didn’t give a shit because they weren’t personally affected by the change, and probably didn’t even know or care what it meant.  The same thing is going to happen one day with TFSAs.  Those future trillions can and will be taxed at the stroke of a pen, in the name of “fairness”, and naïve entitled Canadians won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.  Revenue Canada is the nation’s most powerful creditor, and anyone who thinks their RRSPs and TFSAs are bulletproof needs to remember that nothing is guaranteed in this world, not even the solemn word of the Canadian government.  The Income Tax Act has been amended many times and it will be amended again if the nation’s fiscal health is compromised, and demographics pretty much ensure that it will be.
But in the meantime, invest away or “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”, to use one of my favourite redneck quotes, with your tax-sheltered cash.  Because whether you choose to invest in Bell, Potash, or some junior uranium producer in the third world, you’ll be doing better than this next group of people who are going to be affected by another Conservative government policy.  For all the bitching in the Canadian financial pages about high fees, these people would be in heaven if they could pay 2.5% a year on their money.  They are the people who don’t have any money – the people who are going to be affected by the government’s policy of requiring everyone to sign up for direct deposit by spring 2016.
It’s hard for some people to digest – that the notion of walking into bank branches, standing in line with physical paper cheques, waiting for 5 days for the cheque to clear, etc, etc, is just completely unnecessary in 2015, and has been for a long time.  The real old timers will want to update their bankbook at the end, just to complete this cumbersome and time consuming sequence.  These amounts and who they are destined for is all digital data in the computers now.  If people want to hang onto their “symbols” of how banking used to be, that’s fine, but these things are now purely symbolic, so normally I’d be all for the government doing its part to phase out what costs, after all, real taxpayer dollars.  And these bank artifact antique collectors are not the people I want to talk about. The truth is, there are people in Canada who do not have and cannot get bank accounts.  This is the most vulnerable layer of society who will probably experience more stress and difficulty as a result of this change, and this is what has driven a lot of criticism of this policy.
There are all kinds of people out there – mentally unstable, unable to look after their own affairs, transient – who cannot get bank accounts.  To get a bank account you need two pieces of ID, to get the ID you need to have your original ID and navigate government bureaucracy.  Also, to get ID, you generally need a fixed address. You laugh but there’s people out there who can’t deal.  And these are the people who end up giving a huge chunk of their pathetic amount of government assistance to cheque cashing outlets and other shady payday loan companies because they are literally in hand to mouth survival mode.  If they had bank accounts they could have immediate access to their money when it gets deposited, if they can get their head around obtaining a void cheque and sending it to the government (not likely).  And that is if they can get the bank account.  Someone who smells, is incoherent, scary, or unable to be respectful and polite is not going to get far in a bank.  Or maybe they are banned from certain banks for doing things desperate people do, like writing cheques to themselves and depositing empty envelopes in ATMs. 
For a brief period in my life when I did collections calling the States, I discovered that a shocking number of Americans I talked to had no bank account and functioned only with money orders.  I know there is a similar segment in the Canadian population.  And this policy, if it is applied too severely, will adversely affect that segment of the population.  All to save 19 million bucks.  Whether the government is competent or not, we’re stuck with it, so as far as this being an important cost-cutting measure, all we can say is “If you say so”. 

Now let’s get to work depriving it of untold billions of tax revenue.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Zunera Ishaq has made Canada look stupid

After much internal deliberation about all of the symbolic dynamics of this story that make it a controversial and provocative one, I decided that I absolutely do not give a shit if Zunera Ishaq wears her niqab in her citizenship ceremony.  Why? I think the fact that she has managed to make Stephen Harper look stupider than the two opposition leaders makes her deserve to wear it, if nothing else.

Let's start by getting one thing out of the way.  The reason she is allowed to wear it under the law is that she is not harming anybody else by doing so.  Nobody else's rights or freedoms are impinged upon, and no undue burden is placed on the state,  Yes, it does feel at first like you are being played for a fool and how far does tolerance go in the name of political correctness, but if we are afraid of a regressive and oppressive islamic culture permeating the Canadian state, let's talk about matters of substance rather than little pieces of cloth.  There will be no legally recognized sharia court.  And "cultural customs" that cause or could cause harm to free Western citizens - honour killings or genital mutilation or whatever it is, will not and cannot be defended within a Western legal framework.  Niqabs and burqas are not a "gateway drug" that will plant these things at our doorstep.  Just look at the Shafia family in prison.  The system works.

One inconvenient truth of our modern, western, liberal democracy is that we have to tolerate free expression and free speech no matter how offensive they may be.  Whenever some blowhard politician starts talking about "things going too far" and "where do we draw the line", you know that you have to stop taking them seriously.  You cannot open that can of worms saying that you speak for the "majority of reasonable, common sense people" because then you arbitrarily get to decide what is acceptable and what is not.  This is a slippery slope that society cannot be permitted to slide down.

The gold standard we have to settle for is zero tolerance for intolerance.  That is why, despite all of Bernard Drainville's resurgent demagogic drum-banging for his no-religious-symbols-in-public-spaces  crusade in Quebec following the Ottawa and St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu soldier shootings and the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, the PQ got destroyed in the last Quebec election.  Sure, the emotional appeals get momentum early on (I think "burqas" probably occupy the spot between "root canals" and "Chad Kroeger" on the "Things the general Canadian population loves" list), but the crusading turns into a massive liability as the politicians are forced to twist themselves into pretzels to defend a position that they themselves are making up on the fly ("No, no one will lose their jobs over this.  OK, maybe some people will. But only after a five year easing in period.  But not in this category.  But only for religious symbols with this degree of ostentatiousness").  Now, as Stephen Harper doubles down on his anti-niqab position, he is taking possibly the biggest risk of his political career, as Chantal Hébert and other seasoned veteran political observers have duly noted.

Because make no mistake, this is pure and simple politics.  2015 is shaping up to be a volatile and bumpy year for Canada's economy, and people out there are hurtin' pretty bad.  Layoffs are mounting, real GDP growth is anemic despite a zero interest rate policy and materials, financials, and oil & gas - the cornerstone sectors of the TSX, are all susceptible to intense speculation, downward pressure, and extreme volatilty.  Amidst this backdrop, the country struggles with an unimaginable housing bubble (average Canadian home price: $431,000) the feds did nothing to prevent.  Just bear with me here for a second.  Median house price is $431,000, let's say the average Joe and Jill save 5% down (meaning the mortgage is now insured by the taxpayer), and now owe about $405,000.  Their monthly payment is $1900 for 25 years, but the average family income is only $68,000. That means they only have about $1400-$1700 a month left for property taxes, electricity, cars, gas, phones, groceries, cable, beer, shit I hope they don't have any kids because we just about broke the bank here already.  You see where this is going.  People across Canada are awash in debt.  Cashing out what meagre savings they have in futile attempts to service the mountains of it that they have.  Robbing peter to pay Paul.  I know its happening because I see it myself every single day.

Amidst this backdrop, oil's mini-recovery in February looks to have been a head-fake following the outright crash in the commodity in Nov-Dec-Jan.  Now crude is testing new lows and inventories are sky-high.  So when Joe Oliver said in February that the government was "delaying the budget until April to assess the impact of low oil prices", I'm sure what he meant that he was waiting until March so he could assess when they were lower still.  Every smart finance minister wants less dollars to spend on his budget than before.

As I said in my last column, there is no guarantee that Stephen Harper will lose the next election, due to the ineptitude of the two opposition leaders, but it is pretty clear that there are finally some macroeconomic conditions that make his hokey and worn out "steady hand on the tiller" argument weaker than ever (especially given the amount of public debt his government has rung up).  But maybe his terrorism/fear strategy will pay off.  This is a democratic country and polls say he has the support of the population to pick useless fights with Zunera Ishaq and ram through undemocratic, privacy-violating digital surveillance bills in the wake of the radical Islam fad.  But after nine years of endless tempests in teapots that saw the Conservatives duly sent back to Ottawa despite no end to the righteous indignation they provoked (Who can forget Michael Ignatieff's unbelievably dorky table-pounding: "Mr Speaker, when will the minister do the honourable thing and resign?!"), the economic picture might be shitty enough later this year to finally provoke a sea-change among the non-partisan undecideds.  At the end of the day, jobs and debt will trump niqabs.

And we will all remember, back in march, when modern, liberal, enlightenment democratic ideals prevailed.  We may not like Ms Ishaq's niqab, but we must defend to the death her right to wear it. Just like we must defend equally to the death Chad Kroeger's right to produce his shitty music.  By obsessing over things that offend us we become the parody of ourselves that loses all credibility.  Keep calm and throw on Nickelback's latest album while kicking back with the Sports Illustrated Burqini Edition.  Spring is here, baby

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Choiceless Canada

In Canada, if I want to buy groceries from a supermarket, there is a 97% chance that the store will be owned by Loblaws, Metro, or Empire (the Sobey family).  If I want to go open a bank account, there is a 97% chance it will be with one of the big six banks, since that is the percent of the country's inhabited area that their branches are present in.  Need internet, TV, or cellphone service?  You are almost certain to be dealing with Bell, Rogers, or Telus, or some combination thereof (you could take them up on their offer for one of their enticing "bundles" and thereby only deal with one annoying customer service department, but the real best option is to deal with one of the discount providers they own).  Okay, there is Videotron in Quebec and Shaw out west in this sector, but lets not split hairs.  Gas for your car?  We have it on tap from our national treasure, Petro Canada (Suncor), as well as from Dutch (Shell), American (Esso), and Chinese (Husky) sources.  Need to ship goods by rail? You can use Canadian Pacific or Canadian National. Booking a flight? You have a choice between Air Canada or Westjet.  The Panda bear doesn't do long hauls so I'm leaving him out.

Do you see my point? Most critical sectors of the Canadian economy are dominated by 2-6 players, not more.  I'm not here to attack them or accuse them of choking free enterprise with oligopolistic practices (there are, after all, hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized independent businesses in Canada), just to make the observation that, as a nation our consolidator instincts seem to have gravitated to the sectors which happen to be the most visible, the most used by the most people (like, everyone), and therefore the most profitable.  None of these companies are inherently evil; they all employ tens of thousands of Canadians and their income flows back to Canadians in many forms like through the dividends that flow from their shares on the TSX and in all of the institutional (pension fund and mutual fund) ownership of them.  You could make similar cases for other sectors -  with media (Globe, Torstar, Postmedia, Quebecor, Irvings), fertilizer (Potash and Agrium), auto parts (Linamar, Martinrea,and Magna) and natural gas pipelines and delivery (Enbridge and Transcanada), this country is just not that diversified.  As much as that often repeated and nauseating quote about our stable and heavily regulated banking sector gets held up as to why our nation's economy "weathered the storm" during the 2008-09 financial crisis, it seems pretty clear that stability - in the form of big, boring, profitable, cash machine companies that never have more than a couple of direct competitors - dominates the Canadian economy as a whole.

We could have an economics discussion about whether this composition of the economy makes us better or worse off collectively.  We could have a psychology/social science discussion about whether our national psyche craves stability and predictability.  We could talk about how if we were more entrepreneurial as a nation we would have hordes of young bootstrappers failing fast, failing often, and smashing these oligopolies.  And some grumpy right-wing populists and professional left-wing union type people, the two biggest whiners in the public square who often succeed at poisoning the debate quite successfully, could complain about "price gouging" and "unsatisfied customers" and "protecting Canadian jobs" and "big companies paying their fair share". I am not here to engage in any of that unproductive ax-grinding.  Rather, I want to focus on the area of our society where we suffer from the most abysmal lack of choice, which is our political system. These companies are all governed by laws, regulations, and legal and governmental mechanisms; the fact that we have no choice who governs us in our democracy is the real tragedy, and the lack of choices in this area is the one from which our society will suffer the most in the long run.

The Conservative government in Ottawa is old, spent, totally bereft of ideas and hollowed out of many of the brighter ministers who served in it earlier on.  It has endured a lot of criticism over the years from mainstream media and nobodies like me, 80-90% of which was deserved.  The government turned out to be a lot more moderate over time than I think a lot of people would have predicted, but make no mistake: on drug sentencing, environmental regulation, the legal system, digital surveillance, and taxation they have enacted pernicious and harmful policies that represent long-term detrimental effects to the country.  I have never voted for them and always opposed them, both on principle for these issues and for the authoritarian central control the Prime Minister's office exerts on the government and the secretive and deceptive ways he severely limits access to himself as if he was some third world dictator or billionaire.  This behaviour is unbecoming of what we have a right to, which is a democratically elected Member of Parliament who has the confidence of the House of Commons to lead the government - A person who is a normal citizen like any of us whose duty is to serve Canadians, first among 308 equals.  Not this smirking wannabe pretend oilman/economist who is probably still stimulated imagining his armoured car and security detail and his smirking sidekick retired investment banker finance minister whose job seems to consist of trying to sound smart while deflecting attention from the country's actual finances.  I cannot think of two people less deserving of the public offices they hold.

And yet, who do I have to support to replace them? Who do I go to bat for in 2015 when I'm talking to less politically-attuned friends and family? Nobody.  I can't vote Conservative, and I don't know a single coherent, reasonable, thinking person who has one positive thing to say about either opposition leader.  This NDP official opposition has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, the so-called "social justice party" being wholly, entirely, invisible to Canadians.  Rather than hammering the government day in and day out over its one-sided foreign policy, its irresponsible depriving of hundreds of billion dollars to the treasury through needless tax cuts, and its shameless distribution of pork for curling arenas in one-horse prairie towns, we are treated to the Thomas Mulcair show which has about as many Canadian viewers as Australian rules football.  The two episodes that sum up this guys performance to me are the following: In May 2013, following one bitter laid-off middle aged employee's revelation to the CBC that RBC outsourced some IT operations to a California-based, NASDAQ-listed company called iGate with employees in India, Mulcair wasted no time pouncing on what he perceived to be a political opportunity.  He scheduled a press conference on the steps of Place Ville Marie, the tallest building in Montreal which RBC has their logo on the front of and where they lease some space, pounded his fist for the TV cameras for a few minutes and fired off some righteous indignation soundbites.  Him, his cars, the people, and the cameras arrived, unloaded, got the segment done in a flurry activity, and were gone before you knew it.  The whole thing took maximum 20 minutes on a blustery weekday morning.  This guy is supposed to be in Ottawa holding his government's feet to the fire and he is here in Montreal do what, exactly? Bitch about how shitty a big bank is to Canadians?  Complaining about banks.  Why not complain about taxes and the weather and houses prices while you're at it? That makes you look like a real prime minister in waiting.

I didn't notice the NDP again until about a month ago, when CP rail was in a labour dispute with its employees who the Conservative government would have just immediately legislated back to work anyway, as is their custom.  Mulcair convened the media for a press conference at 1:30 P.M.with Alexandre Boulerice, one of the five or so out of 107 NDP MPs who has uttered more than 2 words in public since 2011.  And lo and behold, CP came to an agreement with its employees in the morning before it started.  I can just imagine the soup nazi standing there yelling "NO NEWS CYCLE FOR YOU!"  The NDP has this incredibly self-destructive tendency to see itself as this stern, paternalistic moral compass whose job it is to discipline Canada's large companies, when in fact they have no jurisdiction over said companies and the average Canadians they are supposed to be championing and winning over couldn't give a hoot.

It really is a shame that the NDP is so inept and so pointless as an opposition party, squandering this golden opportunity to really get Canadians' attention and occupy their rightful place in the mainstream.  Because the Liberal Party really committed hari-kiri in selecting Justin Timberlake as their leader.  The cringe-worthy yet truly predictable result of this ill-considered decision cannot be fully assessed here until we see election results, but I will say this.  To consider what a dumb move the Liberals made in selecting Trudeau as their leader, imagine what would happen if the Conservatives selected Ben Mulroney as their leader.  It would never happen, because Ben has the job that is suited to him, which is covering celebrity gossip on TV.  Trudeau would actually do great at something similar, and what's scary is you could apply his "pluses" as easily to Ben. "Really nice guy" "Really good looking" "great at connecting with people" "prime ministerial pedigree" "Dad of young kids" "Bilingual".  Apparently the requirements for being the leader of a Canadian political party now are the same as for being on a reality show, and if anyone wants to explain to me how Justin's tenure as Liberal leader has resembled anything other than a reality show, I eagerly await your conscientious objections.

And I continue to be sad as I pine for the day I will actually have a proper political choice as a voter in Canada, with a candidate worth voting for.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Lacking Credentials is Five Years Old!

Good evening,

I am, I think, a lot older and a lot wiser than I was when I started doing this, so hopefully the quality of the posts has improved over time, but some things have not changed:

Canada still has a broken political system and a dearth of political leadership.  Federal and provincial (municipal has been a little better) elected officials care more about prestige, appearances, and pissing contests that protect their own little fiefdoms than they do about doing the work they were elected to do.  Politicians prefer show-boating and photo-ops to hard work and substance, and as a result the country's political scene is a bubble, or an echo chamber as it were, that interests very few people.

The media landscape is as nasty and depressing as it was five years ago, with a few glimmers of light and some minor changes.  The Post has some smart people writing for it now who use their brains and are critical, after the emerging from the strident and partisan pro-Israel, pro-Conservative dreck machine it was under the Asper family.  The paper no doubt retains this bent but Paul Godfrey is a hands-off businessman, not a spoiled rich-kid ideologue.  The Globe has for the most part left the clutches of Bell but struggles to shrug off the midtown Toronto elitist bien-pensant current that permeates way too much of its content.  The Post has also taken over the Sun newspaper chain from Quebecor and will probably keep it the toilet paper that it always was.  Here in Montreal I have the treat of the same toilet paper en francais which is the Journal de Montreal, proud organ of the separatist opposition after years of inscrutable pandering to the lower classes with no discrenable political leanings, now that its owner is a PQ politician.  The Star meanwhile remains the concerned paternal figure it always has been, with some decent scoops. Jesse Brown's Canadaland has really lifted my mood.

The world remains a chaotic and unfair place. Wars rage, economies crash, commodities are volatile. Yet fortunes are made every day.  At the same time, Canada is home to more poverty and suffering than maybe we realize.  McMansions are as popular as ever, and so are food banks.  I'm more zen about the whole thing then I was five years ago because I have realized that with the passage of time, things have a way of more or less sorting themselves out.  But I'm not under any illusions that things are getting better. They've been getting better for me, but that doesn't give me license to be ignorant and give the old bootstraps speech, which seems to be our natural instinct as humans when we are fortunate, unfortunately.

My output has really dropped off the last two years.  I will take the easy way out and blame my kids.  I have maintained output nonetheless.  I am proud of this blog because over 50,000 people have looked at it and it remains a constant thing in my life which has otherwise changed profoundly in many ways.  2015 promises more, new, exciting changes: what, I cannot yet say, because I do not know.  But I am on the cusp of graduate studies (yes, credentials), and I feel like professionally I am starting to hit a stride which might finally take me somewhere interesting (notice I never talk about my day job on here).

I don't know if the blog will change in some way or migrate to a new platform - it probably could use an injection of pizzazz of some sort - but I do know that keeping this on life support has been worth it, because there is always something to talk about and anyone, even one person, who engages in the slightest with the challenges our country faces in a way they hadn't thought of before after coming here makes it all worthwhile.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2015 from Lacking Credentials.  Thank you for your patience while I try to think of a way to bestow the greatness I think this blog is destined for on it.

Happy Birthday Mom

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


So let's recap.  In less than three weeks, you've been fired from a multiple-six-figure gig at the CBC hosting the country's most popular radio show, had a thirty foot mural of yourself removed from the CBC lobby, been dropped by your publisher (Penguin), disowned by your former band mates (moxy fruvous), let go of by the artist whose career you had managed (lights), and been informed through the media that your participation in hosting the prestigious Canadian awards events for the Giller Prize (literature) the Polaris Prize (music) and Canada's Walk of Fame was no longer needed.  The nation has been transformed into a feeding frenzy of piranhas, articles about you and the cascading tide of revelations about your life sometimes occupying most or all of the top 5 most popular stories on the country's major news outlets.  A kicking ourselves in the collective ass is occurring in the Canadian nation, everyone wondering how we did not see, behind that velvety voice, behind that slick but just rough enough demeanour, lived a tyrant, an egomaniac, a serial abuser of the awesome power he had gained? The story morphed and unfurled in directions we never could have imagined, parliamentarians past and present coming forward with accounts of abuse in what has been, after all, always referred to somewhat creepily as an "old boys club".  Respected and hardened female columnists have come forward in their fifties and sixties with stories of rape from their youth that they never felt the need to share until now, making all those eyeballs privy to the trauma they have lived with alone, for all these years.  And because of all this your name, the one you were born with and will live with forever, will never mean the same thing to anyone in Canada again.

Is this just? Is this fair? Has anyone you can think of gone from untouchable to radioactive in this amount of time? You can ask Tom Flanagan about it, who reasonably mused once in a talk to university students that pedophiles might cause less damage to society if they were able to access artistic child porn that did not use real subjects.  An Idle No More member who took issue with Flanagan's position and comments on the unrelated issue of his movement put the comments up, out of context on Youtube, and smeared him as a child pornography supporter.  Tom eventually did get his job, his reputation, and his column in the globe back, but he wrote a book about what happens when the twitter mob gets ahold of their tweet-shaped pitchforks in the Internet age.  The "Court of Public Opinion"s migration to the interwebs means the judgement is more swift, reactionary, and emotional than ever, and while permissiveness and liberal attitudes prevail as consensus on matters of social conscience in our society, the crowd can turn vicious when the wrong emotional chord is struck or the wrong taboo is  dredged up.

I am not trying to be a contrarian here defending a radioactive former radio host.  He did, after all, bring this upon himself.  The truth of the matter is that he claimed when he tried to get in front of the story on his facebook page that these were "private matters" and that his "private life should remain private".  As I pained myself to point out earlier this year on this blog, in January, when the hapless French president's extra-conjugal trysts were the stuff of tabloid fodder, when you are an official or unofficial public figure, there are certain sacrifices you make.  Period.  If you refuse to make them, then you are guilty of having a strong sense of entitlement and therefore unfit for the office you hold. You don't have "rights like everybody else". You are a somebody, not a nobody.  And the last thing all the nobodies out there who look up to you need to see is your deviant, dangerous, degenerate behaviour which you've somehow rationalized to yourself is ok for a person in your position to be engaged in.

Woody Harrelson's character Marty Hart in the show True Detective summed it up best in one of the first episodes, ominously alluding to his former partner "When a man is a certain age...and he doesn't have a family..." You start to wonder, basically. Married, divorced, kids, common law, gay, asexual, whatever. Society is not that judgemental these days.  But you have to have some explanation. Trolling social media for girls 20 years your junior and using your celebrity status to star strike them the better to increase their vulnerability? Indefensible beyond all recognition.

Then again, so should be fraternizing with thugs, smoking crack, and showing up drunk at black tie events all over town.  The public is not rational.  It does not have a fair mind.  People write the most hateful and reprehensible things in the comments below articles, when they do not spread misinformation and lies.  The vitriol and incendiary behaviour pervades the portion of the public square that is online, as it ascends to the halls of power in the legislative chambers of all levels of government.  This is not the world one wants to broadcast and justify an affinity for "rough sex" into.

Court, jail, sentences, arguments, evidence, witnesses and yes, justice all still exist in 2014.  The legal matters and cases all grind their way slowly through that system through years and months, through appeals, precedent, jurisprudence, higher court rulings, overturned verdicts, more appeals, new laws, amended laws, repealed laws, and unenforced laws.  The "official" justice system exists alongside the "real" justice system, online where our thoughts and mores have been collectivized and where the judgements are swift, irreversible and merciless.