Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Let's Meet Our Election Candidates!

With elections years away but certain Canadian political leaders (the mayor of Toronto and Prime Minister of Canada) in full attack mode rarin' to go, I thought we should preview some candidates for the next election. That leaders feel the need to take to the airwaves with smears, intimidation and attack ads when they have absolute free reign to govern pretty much says it all about their leadership capacities. The weakness and sadness of the alternatives up to now has unfortunately prevented me from having full confidence that these dolts will be duly punted from office in 2.5-4 years time.

With that, let's look at our first brochure

Hi, I’m your local Conservative candidate. Well, local in the sense that if I’m elected, I will represent this area your house is in. But you won’t actually see me at any local candidates debates (those are just me-expressing-my-opinion-and-making-the-party-look-bad incidents waiting to happen, and my leader has a very bad temper) or knocking on your door (unless you’ve been identified as a supporter in my party’s state-of-the-art voter information electronic storage system). No, just take my word for it that I will maintain a strip mall office around here somewhere, once my butt is safely in a $157,000-per-year House of Commons seat.

Why should you take my word for it? Well, look at me. I’m an honest, hardworking, churchgoing guy with a wife and kids just like you. Like many of my colleagues, I want a smaller government, although I have racked up an impressive amount of service – my whole career, actually – in the public sector. You can tell I’m conservative because I’m the least ‘fun' of the candidates - I stick with boring talking points about hard work and low taxes for you and hard time and tough love for pot-smoking criminals. You can recognize me by the conservative, neutral business colours I wear like black and blue (which are the colours we want our opponents to end up)

Why am I in politics? Well, like all Conservatives, I believe in law and order, low taxes, and small government. My party has been in power for six years, has been convicted of breaking the law itself at least once, and has actually greatly expanded the size of government and government entitlements, but just take my word for it this time. Also, I am a Christian who believes gay marriage and abortion should be illegal, and that capital punishment should be reinstated. My party will not act on any of these issues either because they are “political hot buttons”, but at least you know that in my well-paid, utterly powerless position of Conservative backbench MP, I will be believing in these positions during caucus meetings, during which our leader who also believes in them explains to us why it’s politically untenable to act on them. Meanwhile, these issues will continue to provide 41% of the content for the Conservative blogosphere, or whatever percentage isn’t taken up by Muslim bashing.

Hope you recognize my used-car smile at your next visit to the evangelical church



Hi! I’m your proud Liberal Party candidate for this election. You can recognize me through my extensive wardrobe use of the colour red (our party’s colour, which also happens to the colour of the Canadian flag, which we embody) and my excited, fresh vision for the country – a big, bold, inclusive, progressive and equal opportunity place where we move forward, together and soar to ever greater heights of achievement above the current Conservative culture of cynicism and fear.

Not enough specifics? Well, we know what we need to focus on – jobs, growth, the economy, economic development, home care, deficit reduction, post-secondary education, the environment, infrastructure, immigration, and the list goes on. We’ll figure out the plan as we go – but if you don’t think were up to it, just look at how successful we were in all these areas in the 1990s when we were in power. These are all things our party has an absolute monopoly on, even though they have continued to get done more or less the same in the six years since we held power.

We will get down to implementing our fully costed policies once we are done discrediting the NDP, who will bankrupt the country with their job-killing, left wing ideology, and the conservatives with their George W. Bush-style reactionary cuts. Only the pragmatic, centrist Liberals can lead this country forward, avoiding the spending cuts, tax cuts, environmental devastation, American integration and foreign takeovers that occurred under Canadian Liberal regimes in the past.

Too negative? Are we alienating everyone by attacking our left and right flanks non-stop? Well, we’ve got great news. “We Liberals”, in case you haven’t read about it in the newspaper every week, are in the process of “rebuilding”, “rebranding”, “changing our culture”, deploying a “grassroots strategy” and “taking our medicine”. We’ve “learned our lessons” from the last five or six elections and eight years and three leaders and six presidents/chief of staffs, and are working hard now to earn your trust with the former leader of the Ontario NDP – something we’re sure we’ll do once we figure out what we stand for by our next policy convention in 2017 – mark your calendars!

Thank you!


And leftward we go

Are you tired of politics as usual? Stuck between the doublespeak and hypocrisy of the old-style red party-blue party politics? Feeling brash and want to take action against the elitism and corruption of the Liberal party dominated by businesspeople, lawyers, corporations and political insiders? Or was that the Conservative party - I can’t tell them apart anymore. Well, no matter. You have a home here with our brashly coloured, orange party, the NDP. That’s who we are, the eighty-two year old New Democratic Party. You can recognize us through our brightly-coloured (usually orange) ties.

At least, that’s what we’re known as. But we have been involved in a rebranding exercise lately in an attempt to consolidate our recent political gains, and would now like to be known as “Canada’s New Democrats”. One thing we share with the Conservatives, who called themselves “Canada’s New Government” for four years, besides the annoying tendency to think of ourselves as ageless, is that we have never read Will Strunk’s advice to use the active voice. But that’s all we share, I swear! Unlike the Conservatives, we’re going to be stuck with our shitty "new" passive name forever.

No, unlike the two politics-as-usual clans, we’re going to be working hard with you from day one to make things right for the millions of Canadians who are falling further and further behind. These Canadians are so numerous in their desperation that they give us like, literally 18% of the vote every time. We’re going to get back to what matters to Canadians: Health care, pensions, education and the environment and end the military adventures and corporate giveaways. I don’t know why our message resonates strongest with young, privileged, educated white people, but it does, which means that the way demographics are evolving in this country, we need your senior and suburbanite support now more than ever! Especially before the social acceptability window closes and we can no longer cash in on the sympathy window to “fullfil our late leader’s vision he was so close to achieving”. Never mind that our party has promptly moved to secure the unprecedented gains it made in the last election by sending out all its best, smartest, most experienced MPs on a gruelling, months long leadership campaign slog across the country while leaving the front benches of the House of Commons we are the Official Opposition in for the first time totally empty!

Vote NDP and help get our middle class back on track before its too late!


Bottom of the relevance pile

Hi, I’m your weirdly named, un-photogenic, missing in action green candidate. No, you can’t volunteer for my campaign, canvass with me, or have my website address because I have no campaign staff, no campaign headquarters, no site, and actually, I pretty much just won this nomination by falling out of bed. All you have to know is that I am the “Green” party candidate (hence my “green” tie) and that I am so cynical and fed up with politics I am willing to guarantee that I get no more than 5 % of the vote with my wacky positions.

What are those wacky positions? Actually, they’re not positions so much as acknowledgement. Acknowledgement that in the current fossil fuel burning to drive economic growth paradigm, we and the planet are both totally f-----. The other parties know this too, but they avoid saying it because it’s depressing and you don’t want to hear it. So my party has chosen to be proactive and come up with a bevy of solutions which would help us shift out of this paradigm and which would be, from a practical standpoint, nearly impossible to implement if we were ever elected. Don’t worry, though - we will never be, because no candour or political instincts are actually required to be a green candidate. Just a vague interest in politics. We only have one real politician in our party, and she only became one because she made the party all about her celebrity cult and wants us to win on the same old-politics basis as the others. So actually, we’re alienating one of our core constituencies now – the disillusioned vote. So we’re even more pathetic than before.

Ouch. Well, vote for me if…if…you have no other reason to vote for anybody but like the colour…green?

No candidates or party-coloured ties were harmed in the making of this blog post

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Mulcair the Inevitable

He just won the toughest job in the country

Quick weigh in on the NDP leadership race which wrapped up tonight

1) Niki Ashton is the same age as me. While we both undoubtedly feel we have the knowledge and skills to lead Canada, society ain't buyin' it and won't be buyin' it for awhile.

2)I used to live in Paul Dewar's riding. At the time, the film The 40 Year Old Virgin starring Steve Carell was very popular. Dewar's election signs were indistinguishable from the cover of that DVD. Nice guy, but with awkward english-y sounding bad French was a non-starter for party leader at this time.

3) I also used to live in Peggy Nash's riding. Like Mr Dewar, too nice to be anything but torn to shreds by the Conservative war machine, and I hope she would take that as a compliment. Another issue: a career as an auto worker union negotiator is going to be a liability in our current post-bailout universe. Peggy, I'm just glad you were able to win your seat back as a socialist/populist in ridiculously rich and expensive high park last year. After today, I'd encourage you to aim as high as deputy leader

4) Brian Topp writes great columns in the Globe. Also delivers great partisan sound bites. A born strategist and communicator, but a lifetime in backroom wheeling and dealing did not get him ready for prime time. The awkward business of trying to finagle a seat outside election time was also a huge liability. He says he would seek it in Quebec where he's from, a province he likes so much that he left it over 20 years ago and lives in downtown Toronto. Mr Topp, how do you think that would read in La Presse?

5) Nathan Cullen was the pleasant surprise. This guy is a champion. I didn't even know he was a torontonian who lives in Smithers BC. I think his idea of non-competition in ridings to defeat the Conservatives is good in that its outside the box, but bad in its execution. It would totally backfire. What is needed is a harsh merger that puts all the career deadweights, corrupt partisan apologists, and LINOs (Liberals in name only) in the red party out to pasture and creates a new real alternative. The NDP talk tough now about being against such a scenario, but hopefully common sense will cut through the partisan fog by 2015. Common sense that would make them realize their 102 seats are a total fluke and they need to cast a broader net than they traditionally have to sustain any kind of long-term success. Virtues and ideological purity are great until you've been stuck with Steve Harper for 2500+ days.

6) Which leaves us with the victor Thomas Mulcair. The only one who made sense, which is not to say he's perfect. Like Bob Rae, he holds the ignominious albatross of being a former member of the provincial wing of the (progressive) competition while having to claim he's against a merger with said competition now. Mulcair has worn more hats - English language rights advocate, Bill 101 crusader, anti-development renegade, pro-centrist left winger - than any politician I can think of, but he will tell his critics to f___ off in a way that doesn't invite giggling, unlike the two previous Liberal leaders. His bad tempered and irascible nature was what prevented his outright coronation as leader of the NDP. Thankfully good judgement prevailed over those idealistic purists who thought only "nice" people could be in the party. Think of what you're trying to accomplish here, people. An electoral victory. What does a "nice" team that loses to a "nasty" team try to change? (Hint - it does not try to get nicer. See Stanley Cup Final, 2011)

I know Mr Mulcair has French citizenship through his wife which will inspire three vintage Doug Finley/Guy Giorno attack ads, but I also know this will just embolden the con bot ignoramuses at Sun Media, talk radio, etc. The quasi total of people ready to support him won't give a shit or be distracted by such nonsense.

In the meantime, best of luck Mr Mulcair. Try not to totally cannibalize your electoral chances sparring with the resurgent and always witty Mr Rae. Keep your eye on the ball - the enemy of the majority of Canadians. That's who you have to take down in 2015.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Is this ORNGE going to crush McGuinty?

This scandal shows that the Ontario Liberals have become so corrupt that even I, who unlike most of the fire-breathing conservative bloggers out there, have no innate visceral hatred toward them, agree with this image. The fact that I had to steal it from a nasty piece of work like Blazing Cat Fur also says something about what depths they've descended to.

It’s been almost two years since George Smitherman left the Ontario Provincial Liberal Cabinet. But the opposition must have one song in their head when they think of him today. The chorus of the Christina Aguilera one that goes

“Hold on…It keeps getting better

Alternatively, they might refer to him as the gift that keeps on giving.

My apologies for the corny references and clichés, but they work best to describe the utter ineptitude and blunders of the McGuinty government era. We are dealing with scandals which, when they break, are revealed to be of such magnitude that the public would have to be utter fools not to feel enraged. Disgusted. And taken for complete idiots. eHealth, G20, Mississauga Gas Plant cancellation, multiple TTC funding flip flops and the list continues. But the latest one is, in my opinion, the worst.

I’m talking, of course, about ORNGE, Ontario’s air ambulance service.

I admit I didn’t pay much attention to the scandal when it first broke out earlier this year. Vague rumblings about overpaid executives, administrative malfeasance, missing documents, unclear objectives; it sounded like par for the course for any mismanaged and inefficient government bureaucracy, especially in Ontario.

Then the auditor general released his report yesterday (A report that ORNGE was not willing to let him investigate the facts of last year – the health minister had to intervene). It is damning. The air ambulance service was being run – to borrow two more white collar crime terms quickly becoming clichés in the fast-evolving world of public and private sector corruption – as both a Ponzi Scheme and a Corporate Kleptocracy.

That is not an exaggeration. And it is a scandal that the government will not fact any consequences for this. I can tell you right now that there is no need for a committee, a public inquiry, a task force or a bloody Royal Commission on ORNGE. This is what stern newspaper editorial boards will be demanding, and they do not need to tread this lightly; there’s no point wasting any more time or money. The Ontario Provincial government has had plenty of time and lord knows, plenty of money to put its good intentions to work in so many different areas and initiatives, and time after time we end up with people on the take like this. McGuinty’s Liberals have burned through their last bit of scandal-forgiving goodwill with this one.

How bad is it? It’s very clear that soon after taking over the agency, ORNGE under ex-CEO Chris Mazza set up a web of shell companies that leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds into a web of for-profit enterprises. This included buying an artificially inflated piece of real estate (the $15 million Toronto Airport corporate headquarters), which was then leased back to the taxpayer for a 40% profit. Only 3% of the money from all the various business ventures every flowed back to the taxpayer. That’s the Ponzi Scheme part of it. The Corporate Kleptocracy part is the money that was either just paid out, like 600,000$ to finance seven executives’ MBAs, or “borrowed” in extremely questionable accounting practices, like the millions to add to Mazza’s McMansion in Etobicoke. And he wasn’t even on the Sunshine List.

Through all of this, there was only one kind of interaction between the Health Ministry/Mr. McGuinty’s government and ORNGE. When ORNGE asked for more money, they gave it to them. No questions asked. And certainly no oversight.

I suspect ORNGE hasn’t caught on with the public as a scandal in the same way as eHealth did because the report was just released yesterday, and also because its uncovered costs have not (yet) reached ten figures – the amount required for the Opposition to trot out the old “billion-dollar boondoggle” catchphrase they used with eHealth. Yet eHealth, for all the hysterics at the time, turned out to be relatively minor in the rearview. Yes, there were some $2,500 a day consultants expensing $4 Tim’s Horton’s bills and some embarrassing golden handshakes to make the execs who were pigging out at the trough go away, but the program itself did do a lot of work towards a goal of logic and noble intent that is still a priority being worked on. It is useful, necessary even, to digitize the province’s health records.

This ORNGE scandal, on the other hand, is full of outright abuse, which is why I don’t think it’s going away. Yes, they needed to improve/modernize the delivery of the province’s air ambulance service but it did not need to done through this ridiculous no-bid contract that amounted to a blank cheque written to a bunch of crooks. Because it was a no-bid contract, granted by the same guy who granted the eHealth no-bid contract and the Samsung Green Energy no-bid contract: George Smitherman. His attempt to use semantics and twist himself into a pretzel in this interview show just how much denial he is in about his position of responsibility at the time and the fact that he clearly did not exercise due diligence and was asleep at the wheel. I laughed out loud when he says the CEO (the guy who was pulling down $3M a year in salary and taking millions more in loans) should not bear the responsibility alone because there was also a “blue-chip board”. What the hell does that mean? And his excuse for the no-bid (“Can you imagine if I granted that contract to the Australians?”) Pathetic!

This government has behaved time and time again like naïve parents who give their 16 year old kid keys to the Ferrari. Except theirs is a leased Ferrari. Parked in the garage of a house with 3 mortgages on it. George Smitherman clearly was (is, even though he’s not in government anymore) that sixteen year old. And Chris Mazza and the ORNGE executives are his punk ass friends.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Who CARES about your stupid ipad?

Commandment #1 - I am Steve Jobs, your father in heaven, the greatest businessman, CEO, innovator, and human being ever. You shall worship no other gods but me.

Commandment #2 - Honour thy mother and father. Unless they buy a blackberry or PC. In which case, kick your father in the balls and call your mother a cow. On behalf of God (Steve)...

Commandment #3 - Thou shall not steal from apple.

Commandment #4 - Thou shall not kill, unless they are trampling someone in the line for the iphone 8 or ipad 22 when they come out. That's just part of life.


It’s funny that the ipad and its various knockoffs are referred to as “tablet” devices. When I hear the word “tablet”, I inevitably think of Charlton Heston descending from Mount Sinai, holding those two heavy bits of stone on which the Lord emblazoned rules of infinite wisdom for all of humanity to abide by. In an ironic moment of human fallibility, Heston smashes the sacred tablets in frustration a minute later, enraged at the spectacle of excessive stupidity and idolatry his Isrealite compatriots have become in his absence.

The current hype and fixation with the tablet “revolution” suggests that these modern tablets, like the 10 commandment ones, are also the product of prodigious wisdom. I, on the other hand, am in the dubious camp, believing they are more akin to the golden calf. While their existence and creation are perhaps the culmination of all the preceding decades of computer and tech innovation, I don’t believe the ipad for all its holy grail status increases human know-how and knowledge. The product is not greater than the sum of its parts; the bang for buck on adding value to lives is simply not there. Like all of Steve Jobs’ products, the ipad can be used as a terminal to access information and entertainment, but is mostly just a cleverly marketed product designed to make people part with their money and waste their time, while thinking they’re really “cutting edge” and “different” as members of the Steve Jobs Apple Cult.

As many critiques of e-readers have already pointed out, the last thing the ipad and its fifty knockoffs are about is reading books. A screen backlit with thousands of tiny blue lights does not provide an agreeable reading experience before bed, or at any other time of day for that matter. But these devices were never about reading books; that’s just a functionality that was easy to add and lends the device the “educational” cred which contributes to the mythology that has made it so successful.

And really, how many people are going to be working through long, small-print classics whose copyrights are expired now that their attention spans have been totally annihilated by these devices? Finding apps, buying apps, playing games, tweeting, reading tweets, checking facebook, buying stuff off itunes – where exactly do these activities that predominate the testimonial of any regular person who professes their ipad addiction fit in to this great world of “tactile innovation” and “collaboration” promised by S Jobs and all his company’s bullshit advertising? For now the main benefit of tablets is assuring a future generation is hobbled by poor eyesight and neck injuries. An excellent humbling of this device, in saying basically it represents nothing new or exciting froma practical, utilitarian perspective - is here.

I’ve used an ipad before. I’m not a dogmatic luddite – I’m quite proficient on the computer. The world where everything work-related and entertainment related occurs on tablets – a world that pundits and techies salivate describing – is not here. This device is simply not designed to write or read on with any rigour. I can’t relate to people who can’t sit still on trains or planes and have been saved by the ipad either. I’m rarely in transit long enough to watch movies and if I am I prefer to read – books and magazines don’t need batteries, chargers, and repairs, and if they’re dropped or forgotten somewhere, its not a $600+ loss. And are you really going to walk around town on this thing using it to read restaurant reviews and use google maps to figure out where you are? I fail to see how this device would provide me with any unique service other than waste time I can’t afford to waste, or why I would pay to add a gadget to my glut of outdated (yet still fully functional) technology – laptop, cellphone, ipod, fake ipod, digital camera, digital video camera, web cam, memory sticks, dvd player, etc. The comments under any article usually are dominated by similar sentiments, not echos of the fist pumping tablet glory of the article’s author.

Use your ipad if you must. After all, its your prerogative to buy slave labour, rare earth devices manufactured in China. Just stop boring us with your stories about how you can’t stop staring at and playing with the stupid thing 24/7. And please stop thinking your kid is so amazing because he knows how to use it at 1 and ½ - history will reveal that you were complicit in turning his brain to absolute mush. Actually, you’ll discover that yourself soon when he is socially maladjusted and totally lost without a screen to stare at.

Admit it – you were doing fine with a laptop and a phone. You didn’t need your ipad – you needed an excuse to spend $800 on a toy. Well guess what? That apple ad lied to you, and your kid and your grandmother are not geniuses because they know how to use this thing. And neither are you. Nobody cares about your stupid ipad.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Equalization – The Number Games

Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular series The Hunger Games exposes readers to a futuristic narrative of a dystopian society that revolves around a spectator fight till death sport between adolescents. Many older people may already recognize the narrative vein from the Greek legend of Theseus (which the novel is loosely based on) or the Japanese cult flick Battle Royale. The book is another example of a vehicle in the North American cultural landscape through which it is possible vicariously live out merciless Darwinian fantasies, virtuous expressions in our lexicon notwithstanding (“To err is human, to forgive is divine” “Anger begets anger and Violence begets violence”). Ms. Collins, of course, did nothing other than pick up a pen and create an imaginary world; in the real world, the NHL, NFL, and UFC defend brutality as a necessary evil, a free market demand to which the leagues are nothing more than the willing purveyors of supply. The NHL cannot defend fighting with any sound, reasoned arguments and it has no reason at all for not banning the hard plastic equipment that is a major factor is causing hundreds of concussions a year, but the status quo goes on. The league prefers to infer an unspoken “honour” code that feeds into the same cruel logic as Collins’ novel. Dave Andreychuk said as much on TSN the other day when asked by Michael Landsberg if he was surprised by an illegal bounty program the NFL’s New Orleans Saints are accused of running on opposing players, or had witnessed anything similar during his NHL career. He said that he understood perfectly from his own experience that guys would do whatever it takes to win.

700 players for one Stanley Cup. Two guys in a cage for one victory. We are participants in our own culture’s spectacles governed by loosely defined rules and ambiguous limits. We provide a scarce prize and force opponents to do battle, within “rules” of course, but within a margin of error that, like our society’s laws, allows for a great deal of morally questionable activity to still occur. Hence the “whatever it takes”, which makes no mention of respecting rules. Of course professional sports does not cross the threshold into the dystopian thriller/Roman gladiator frontier as players are not trying to take each other’s lives and are playing for seven figures, not survival. But career-ending injuries are a risk, and a frequent enough occurrence.

The adversarial nature of Canadian interprovincial and federal-provincial relations is a battle/turf war which is more subtle and nuanced than the ones described above but ultimately falls in the same Darwinian zero-sum game. There is a limited amount of power in the country to go around, areas that different levels of government consider their prerogative, and jockeying for dominance and influence. This is covered by the media in the same way as sports. Canada is not big enough for everybody; true pan-nationalists who feel a deep love for their country from coast to coast almost certainly have a vision of it coloured by their particular province or region which would alienate other Canadians once they started to elucidate it.

It would astound an outsider how un-united Canada is, and I’m not talking about a couple of referendum dustups. John Macfarlane lamented as much in this month’s Walrus editorial when he talked about the country’s inability to form a national securities commission. I’m studying pension legislation and that is another big story of provinces refusing to come to a common agreement to harmonize their regulations. Anything in this country that isn’t directly controlled by the federal government – anything besides mail, airlines, currency and banking, the military, shipping and railroads, and that’s a lot of things – inspires zero cooperation among the provinces. Why would any duly elected provincial premier or well-paid provincial board want to cede its little fiefdom to outsiders?

The federal government still does control a great deal, however, and capturing it is a big prize, currently held by Western Canada. Commentators in this country have no way of describing this situation other than the spectator sport-zero sum game terms. So John Ibbitson, Chantal Hébert, John Ivison – take your pick of national affairs columnists, they all agree – the West is “in” and “winning” and the East is “out” and “losing”. The easiest way to explain the composition of the country now is to look at the current situation of its best Western hockey team – the Vancouver Canucks – who are an elite, well-oiled contender, while two big market Eastern teams, the Leafs and the Canadiens, are stumbling, sputtering, mismanaged non-playoff messes. The “balance of power” and “centre of gravity” have shifted, which means (even though the provinces are still in charge of what they were before and the dynamics of power as such have not substantially changed) the West has an opportunity to steer the country and dictate its future direction on its own terms. The subtext is that the East is going to have to fall in line with the West’s priorities and its values.

A line of thought has been solidified by the recent change in the balance of power, which is that Quebec gets an unfair sweetheart deal through the receipt of equalization payments and that there will be no motivation to continue this arrangement now that the country’s power base is Calgary and not Toronto/Ottawa. In plain speaking, and Alberta’s premier recently said as much, there is no reason Alberta should continue to write cheques from its oil revenue to Quebec to subsidize Quebec’s cheap tuition and day care. Makes perfect sense, except when you visit the equalization website.

It turns out that the federal government disburses 15.4 billion dollars annually in a complex formula that allows each province to offer its residents relatively comparable social services and keep at least 50% of its resource revenues. Alberta and Saskatchewan both received equalization for decades (in fact, Alberta remains the only province with the distinction to have defaulted on its debt, in 1935). Quebec is the most visible recipient of the program because it gets the biggest slice of that 15.4 billion payment, 7.4 billion. But Ontario receives almost 4 billion and yet as a province contributes 12.4 billion more in taxes to the Federal treasury than it gets back in benefits. Ontario provides 38% of Canada’s GDP and Quebec 20%, which is roughly in line with their populations. But I’m not here to justify their receipt of equalization payments. I’ve said for a long time that for the Canadian federation to stop being dysfunctional and regional grievances ended, the equalization program should be abolished and with it the fed’s taxing powers sharply reined in. I just think it’s interesting that the phenomenon of equalization has crystallized in the Canadian Public consciousness as a direct conduit from the oil sands to Quebec when in fact it is the lowest per capita recipient of the program:

Quebec – 7.4 billion dollars – 8 million people = $925 per resident

Manitoba – 1.67 billion dollars – 1.15 million people = $1,452 per resident

Nova Scotia – 1.29 billion dollars – 922,000 people = $1,375 per resident

New Brunswick – 1.5 billion dollars – 750,000 people = $2,000 per resident

And rounding out our list of “have-nots” is Prince Edward Island, which receives a whopping $337 million dollars in Federal Aid for just 137,000 people. That equals $2,459 per resident on an island where 66% of residents are already employed in the public sector in some capacity!

It’s interesting how in the fierce fight for equalization dollars, Quebec has been the object of attack and scorn for so long while four other provinces receive a third to 2.5 times more aid. Is it because there are no hard feelings between “fellow Canadians”, which Quebecois are not really considered as? Or is it just plain racist? The Department of Finance, after all, does not go out of its way to break it down the way I have, which might combat the perception that the French Infant is sucking on the Nine Province English Mama’s teat. When have you ever read about NS, NB or Manitoba being “spoiled”, “entitled”, “ungrateful” etc. I find it ironic that Manitoba – yes, Manitoba, the province that lost the aerospace contract to Quebec in the 1980s that resulted in the birth of the Reform movement and its slogan “the west wants in” – receives equalization dollars. This province, whose population and economic growth are humming along just fine with an NDP government, attracts no wrath from other western provinces. Maybe because it is a western province, it can be forgiven for receiving government money that it probably doesn’t really need. I don’t have a bone to pick with Manitoba or anybody else. But we already know from the Ontario example that there’s no real rhyme or reason to this plan – other than allowing provinces to mismanage their finances and the federal government to play Santa.

Even though it says on the government website -

“Equalization payments are unconditional – receiving provinces are free to spend the funds according to their own priorities.”

The provinces not receiving funds from the program clearly feel that the resources are scarce and must be ideologically battled over. As public finances and resources decline, the fight could turn a lot nastier than the disgruntled minds contenting themselves with seething and chiding right now.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Robo-calls – If Anti-Bullying Legislation Applied to Legislators, It Would Be Just As Toothless

Whatever the outcome of the Robo-call investigation, there will be no consequences. This government is above the law

As Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad continues to massacre civilians of the Syrian population in Homs and other places with impunity, and Vladimir Putin celebrates his electoral “victory” in Russia with a severe case of I-have-the-biggest-dick-in-the-world syndrome, it is important here in Canada that we do not overstate the severity or magnitude of the robo-calls affair. Canada is obviously not Russia or Syria. Yet even in the relative peace, security and comfort we enjoy as Canadians, we cannot afford to be complacent in the face of the government’s continuous obfuscation and treachery. Because it has become clear to anybody paying attention that this government breaks the law all the time and gets away with it. Whatever we say about living in a “democracy” of “law and order” is true for now for ordinary citizens – the locking up of the Shafia family proves that – but the federal government has opened the door toward lawlessness and dictatorship a crack, and now that they have I don’t have a hard time seeing them blow it wide open down the road.

What do we know for sure about the robo-calls scandal so far? We knew during the election that a Conservative campaign worker attempted to storm a room and steal a student ballot box filled with non-conservatives votes in Guelph. Guelph was one of the last seats outside Toronto in Ontario that had not been won away from the Liberals by the Conservatives and they wanted it bad this time. We know now that someone in Guelph or somewhere registered a pay as you go cellphone in the name of Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette Quebec and harassed voters in Guelph either pretending to be the Liberal Candidate (not technically, totally illegal) or Elections Canada personnel (totally illegal). For those who follow the rhetoric of the CPC, the separatist scapegoat for the prank befits them. Like when you tell a cop “Yeah, my name’s (insert person you hate here) if you're in hot water.

Calls were reported across the country, especially in close races of ridings the Conservatives won for the first time from the Liberals by less than fifty votes such as North Bay and Etobicoke Centre). Elections Canada is investigating a call centre the Conservatives were using in Thunder Bay where the Star reports low-paid temps report being told to impersonate Elections Canada staff, as well as a company called RackNine in Edmonton, owned by proud Conservative Matt Meier. It has been revealed lately that the Conservatives also procured services from American robo-call companies. The government is categorically denying all wrongdoing, and the Elections Canada investigation in underway, but we know this: The government that buys attack ads in the millions not thousands, answers inquiries into its bungling of countless files with straw man personal attacks, and has security remove people from its campaign rallies whose social media profiles it takes a personal dislike in, takes no prisoners during election time or at any other time. And if 31,000 people reported fraudulent and possibly illegal robocalls, the road sooner or later will lead to the party it seems had a working, business relationship with at least four firms dealing in the trade.

Skeptical about the impish pouting and shouting of $157,000 taxpayer dollars per year, full-time partisans in the House of Commons like Dean Del Mastro and Pierre Polievre in the face of these accusations of bad behavior (“It was Elections Canada!” “The Liberals Did It!”)? It’s hard not to be. We are dealing with a party that is not just unafraid to walk on the dark side, but seems to live on the dark side. Remember a few months ago, Jewish Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s constituents in Mount Royal were harassed with robo-calls telling lies that he was stepping down and there was going to a by-election (no electoral stone goes unturned in the Conservative war-roon – like Guelph, the demographics of this riding confirm to Conservative strategists that it is ripe for the taking). The Speaker Andrew Scheer, who is supposed to be non-partisan in his role but is, remember, an elected Conservative MP, duly called the action “reprehensible” for the news headlines to report and did nothing. This matter demonstrates that there is a culture in the party of winning by any means necessary, and attacking even when opponents don’t know they’re in a fight (In boxing, this is called a “low blow” and is illegal, and good people extend the logic to real life; if an opponent can’t defend himself, how fair of fight is that?). It also shows that robo-calls have now been entrenched in the party’s modus operandi, which is why the denial and the finger pointing and the refusal to open their records are all the more comical. But we will not have the last laugh. The Conservative government and Conservative Party of Canada believe that anyone who has a problem with them and their disgusting tactics can do whatever it takes to stop them. Well, I’m sure a lot of people would love to, but in this country you can’t do anything.

It’s true. Those waiting for smoking guns, recalls, by-elections, and a thunderstorm of rotten eggs on Stephen Harper’s face would do better to return to tasks such as watching paint dry or grass grow. The last time the Conservatives committed electoral fraud (Yes. This Conservative Party of Canada has already been convicted of electoral fraud on a separate occasion, the 2006 election), it took Elections Canada and then the legal system almost four years to complete an investigation and arrive at a verdict. The verdict and the plea? Guilty. The punishment? A $52,000 fine, and one of the convicted criminals, Doug Finley, is now a Conservative Senator ($165,000 taxpayer dollars per year) chairing a Senate committee investigating how to revoke environmental charities’ tax-deductible status because of the threat he thinks they pose to the Canadian economy. This party also successfully rode out and outmaneouvered a challenge in 2008 from a legally legitimate, democratically elected coalition with an undemocratic prorogue, then did another totally dubious prorogue a year and a half later for the Olympics to derive the full partisan nationalist benefit from this event and because “the market is more stable when parliament’s not sitting”. Think about it. A precedent has been set that when the Prime Minister doesn’t like what is happening in the most important legislature in the land, the House of Commons, he can change the channel, put a padlock on the door, and shut it down until further notice. We have scientists in this country who are prevented from exercising academic freedom and doing their jobs by the government. There is also at least one minister (Tony Clement) guilty of blatant misappropriation of “Economic Action Plan” funds for basically partisan purposes to the tune of $50 million dollars, although with the CPC majority, he has no worries of ever facing any consequences for this.

If the people in this government held jobs in the private sector, they would be fired, plain and simple. We have clear examples here of misuse of funds, criminal activity, dereliction of duty, and doctoring/manipulation of records. There would not be a need for an essay like this or an explanation – a private sector manager would look at the facts on any of these files, and dismiss the employee responsible. Period. No time for the idiotic histrionics of something like question period; a superior in the real world sees these people engaged in unethical behavior, they knew exactly what they were doing, and now they’re liabilities. So get rid of them before they can hatch god knows what hair-brained schemes they think of next.

This is why that although I have full confidence in Elections Canada, one of the last good non-partisan bureaucracies in this land allowed to do its job (for now), I know the Conservatives won’t face reprisal no matter how bad it ends up being if and when the bomb drops. A segment of the population has been brainwashed into such ideological obedience (the ones screaming “Sore Losers!” on the comment boards of robo call articles) that they would support this government if it created a ministry to drown cats. We can’t eliminate bullies; we need to teach kids how to teach them the lessons their parents won’t. And we sure as hell can’t count on the bush league red or orange party to stop the authoritarian Conservative juggernaut which is only going to increase during the next 3 year period in which it has Carte Blanche to do whatever the hell it wants. But that’s a whole other story altogether.

Democratic Institutions

This week, the untouchable Steve Harper likely placed a consolation call to his close personal friend Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, and let him cry on his shoulder for the titanic and shattering defeat of his fake Subway plan, for which there was never any money, plans or approval from anywhere. Karen Stintz and city council wrested control of the Transit File from the feckless Ford, who acts like he’s a dictator but in reality is just one vote out of 45 on council who probably can only rely on 14 others. Harper probably bored his ears off with the big dick tales of all his own governments ill-considered legislation from the 2006-2011 minority period that got delayed, amended, rejected in committee, or in most cases died on paper between vacations and campaigns, and how the opposition that orchestrated all that even found his government in contempt of Parliament (a first for Westminster commonwealth democracies), yet in spite of all that the Cons came back and won a majority so GUESS WHAT? Now its F--- You Opposition, were ramming through all this s--- you rejected into the same massive bill and passing it uncontested.

Ford might smile and laugh half-heartedly at the legislative triumphs his ideological colleague, but it’s of little consolation: there’s no Prime Minister-style executive power at City Hall. Harper sat through five years of being subordinated and outwitted by the opposition, his hair went from brown to grey, his poker face went from steel to triple-reinforced steel, but there was vindication at the end of the line; majority and the promised land. But all Ford can do now is convene a stupid talk radio show with his brother on the station that the 10% of residents who are hardcore supporters listen to. Maybe these two thick-skulled blusterers can take a look at what their hero Prime Minister did when he was on the outside looking in – did he go breathe fiery-tongued, anti-government sermons at Chambers of Commerce and Evangelical Congregations and Gun Clubs and Western Alienation basement organizations? No, he put on a sweater, played Beatles songs, doled out pork and tax credits with a zeal that would make a socialist blush, pretended he was Chinese, Sikh, Quebecois, Tamil, and Jewish, depending on what day of the week it was, and refused a multinational’s acquisition of a Canadian corporation. In other words, he did things he had no interest in doing for the sake of getting into power but probably had fun, learnt a few things, and made himself look good in the process. Memo to the Ford brothers – you’re not going to accomplish anything jabbering on to the CFRB listeners who already support you while thumbing your nose at rest of the city. But of course you wouldn’t know that, because you’re elite silver spoon sons of a politician/businessman, so instead of learning lessons in politics in the face of defeat (a must for every successful politician) and admitting you were wrong, you just run back to the people who like what you say and tell you what you want to hear. I’m sure your wives have a great time dealing with such childishness every day.

Despite the clandestine funneling of extra powers into the executive in the past twenty years that has occurred at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, it is nice to see that Toronto Democracy still has mechanisms that respond to the most annoying kind of bully – the spoiled child (despite threats of robo-calls from the bully’s older brother). It remains to be seen what Canadian democracy can come up with to contain the most dangerous kind of bully that it has given unprecedented power to- the sociopath.