Wednesday, April 9, 2014

With the new Québec government, the provinces should push back

Monday's landslide win by Phillipe Couillard and his Québec Liberal Party is a great sign that the idea of sovereignty may have been set aside for a long time. But I think it should lead to something more. It should lead to the federation our Founders wanted but has often wavered from this principle, especially under Stephen Harper.

At the outset, I have to say that with the win, the new governing party will definitely have to come clean about its possible role in the ongoing corruption investigation into kickbacks in the construction industry and fast. If campaign and other contributions found its way from dirty money into its coffers, it will have to be paid back and openly. Being frank and honest is the best kind of government, which will set a best practice for the rest of the country, including the federal government.

But beyond that, there is a much more important issue. That is the Harper government doing so many things unilaterally without the advice or the consent of the provinces and territories. And in some cases, even infringing on their jurisdiction and not caring.

The provinces and territories are not "glorified municipalities" as John A. Macdonald dismissively referred to them. The provinces are the primary components of our federation. Otherwise, they'd have the same status as the National Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - the national government in the UK can shut them down permanently simply with an Act of Parliament. (The territories, which form the rest of our country, do exist at the wim of the feds, but disbanding their Assemblies would be unthinkable.)

I'm not just talking about the fact there has been no meeting where all jurisdictions sit with Harper at the same table.

Nor am I just talking about crime legislation which impedes jurisdictional authority to have sentencing options that are appropriate to each individual offense rather than a blanket "my way or the highway" mandatory minimums. We've seen how that works in the States (i.e. grossly overpopulated prisons).

It goes further.  Even though the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords failed, the federal government under four Prime Ministers took at least two of the planks seriously and made it semi-official policy.  Harper has not. And perhaps with a federalist government in Québec, the push-back that is required will have much more credibility.

One of the planks is shared cost programs and the principle if a province or territory wants to opt out it should have access to federal funds if they create a program with similar objectives. When we created Medicare in the 1970s, for instance, it was understood that it would not be the feds managing a national program - we left it to the jurisdictions.

I for one cannot understand, for example, why Harper created the Canada Jobs Grant without considering that every province and territory already have their own job retraining programs that actually work for many of the applicants that need them. This is insanity. Federal funding should be increased of course, but leave it to those who know best to implement their own policies (the principle of subsidiarity).

The other plank somewhat related, and I think much more important, is immigration. As I've noted here several times, immigration is a shared head of power. Canada may be the only federation in the world that has this feature. But at present, it is only Québec that has actually excercised their rights and insisted on selecting its own regular (i.e. skilled workers) class immigrants. By all accounts this has been a successful program. And frankly, using its best practices, the other provinces can a) insist to the federal government they have the power do the same, and b) they get the same level of per capita settlement funds as Québec does.

It is true the Québec arrangement has its origins in an agreement signed back in 1977 under René Levesque. Pierre Trudeau wisely consented to this with his former friend turned enemy (despite the then Prime Minister's "One Canada" policy) because he knew what the Constitution said, that the provinces do indeed have this privilege, and it was hoped it would be a role model for the English speaking provinces to follow. Why they haven't I don't know but it's way past time they should. We know who the best workers are that can contribute to our "community of communities" - not the feds.

Actually having a federalist party enforcing its rights on this and other heads of power, gives the other provinces leverage. And I think, the opportunity to make Harper deal with his co-equal partners as they are. This is, right now, the best way to move things forward and to give the incumbent a much needed lesson in what our Constitution says, and means.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

RIP Spousal privilege

One of the oldest principles in law is the spousal privilege. Considered even more sacred than the privilege between a lawyer and client, physician and patient, or cleric and penitent, it has at its core one basic principle: Unless there was abuse involved or a couple conspired together, any communications between spouses is privileged unless the "witness spouse" (i.e. that whom is not accused) waives this right and testifies. This has existed in the UK for centuries (although Scotland is phasing it out) and was inherited by Canada and the United States.

PMS wants to get rid of it. The proposal is part of a larger victim rights' bill.

Set aside the two are totally separate issues. I do support giving victims of crime a greater say in the judicial process (although this cannot give them veto over plea bargains).

But there may be very compelling reasons not to testify. The privilege ends if there is coercion but one may very well want to keep his or her mouth shut if there is any possibility he or she could be charged as a conspirator. As well, confidence is a two way street. If one can't be trusted, then who else can?

I can see an exeption if there was prior knowledge a crime would take place. But after the fact? I'm not sure This one really has to be thought out, and as usual Harper isn't really doing that.

What in the world is Eve Adams?

When I was a kid, I was known for throwing hissy fits on just about anything that didn't go my way. Now a lot of us adults probably were like that in our younger days, too, but we smartened up. In that vein, though, I have to wonder if Eve Adams was like that as a child, because lately she's been at the edge of losing it - and her party's respect too.

Adams started out as a bright light in an otherwise dark Conservative administration. She handled some pretty touchy assignments. One of them was a visit by Prince William and Catherine Middleton (in a country that increasing has anti-monarchical tendencies, which Harper is trying to crush).

But according to Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star, Eve Adams has become a real disciplinary case for the Prime Minister. And the chain of events started out with, of all things, a car wash. Seriously. And it and other events have prompted Harper to order an internal investigation.

Back in December, Adams was getting her car washed. Apparently there was still some ice left on her vehicle. She complained and demanded her six bucks back. When the station owner - a Conservative - refused, she blocked a lane in front of one of the pump lanes, which caused a major backup onto a busy Ottawa street. The owner then filed a complaint with Harper.

Note that if this was a Liberal or ND, it might have caused embarrassment for the leader but not much else would flow out of it other than a severe reprimand. But crossing a fellow Conservative? Well, regardless if she knew his affiliation or not, an MP or Senator may have some special privileges that go with the office but there is no excuse at a privately owned and publicly accessed facility. She "apologized" but we all know what that means - she wasn't sorry at all.

Then there's her disrupting a meeting of her party for a new district being created for the next election, one that isn't even contiguous to the one which she represents right now. That's her choice if she wants to run there - unlike the United States one does not have to live in the district he or she represents. (One of the most famous examples of this is John Turner who when he returned to Ottawa in 1984 was chosen as MP in a Vancouver district for two terms, even though he's lived in Toronto for as long as anyone can remember.)

But she just shows up at the constituency meeting, and keeps disrupting it even though most members of the committee would rather have a local candidate. The committee kept asking her to end the filibuster and leave but she did not.

In an election where every district in the Greater Toronto Area is up for grabs you'd think Adams would fight for the nomination the old fashioned way - hitting the ground and going door to door. Instead, she uses her "ten percent" mailers and uses her party's database of how nearly every Canadian can be expected to vote to solicit memberships in an area that doesn't even exist yet!

There must be more but I guess there was only so much space for Tonda's story.

I, for one, am disgusted by this behaviour. I guess we're all used to the hijinks of some MPs who use office expense accounts for their own purposes. Or members who use too many of their free airline or train privileges to make trips that are personal, and not related to official Parliamentary business or going home for the weekend so they can spend time with their families.

Privileges are not the same as rights. I've stated this before here. Those who have the privilege of serving in the Second Estate are expected to have at least slightly higher standards than the rest of us. Particularly, their right to speak their mind without repercussions are limited to the House and its committees. Anything that happens outside the Château by the Rideau is their responsibility, not ours.

If I had a hammer ... no, I would never do that. But Harper can't wait for the investigation to go on. We know the facts. Eve Adams should not only be expelled from caucus, she should be banned from her party - for life. Only this would send a message to the other MPs that the patience of We the People can be tested so much before we get really pissed off.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Another rebuke against PMS

0 and 4 so far for Stephen Harper.

First, he lost the InSite decision, which now allows safe injection sites.

Then he lost the prostitution decision, which all but legalizes the sex trade.

Yesterday, he lost a decision which in effect restores accelerated parole for those who have served just 1/6 of their prison sentence.

Today, he got a really big slap in the face, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6 to 1 to annul the appointment of his choice to fill one of the vacancies for Québec on the High Court, Marc Nadon.

In laypersons terms, Judge Nadon had been sitting for nearly two decades on the Federal Court of Appeal; but while his legal residence was Québec, he had never sat on one of the courts in the province.   In fact, it wasn't even clear if he was a member of the province's bar.

Today, the court came down hard.   In a joint decision written by all members of the majority, the ruling was that a justice from Québec must have have been seated in a court within that province -- whether the Court of Appeal or an inferior court, and by logic also a member of the bar of the province.   It's not just enough to be a member of any court.   And one also has had to be a member in good standing of the province's bar for at least ten years.

And this goes back to the reason why the province is guaranteed three seats on the High Court -- while the other jurisdictions of Canada base their non-criminal law on common law (i.e. judge-made principles), Québec has a Civil Code, an exhaustive statement of over 3000 rules that guide family and property law as well B2B, B2C and C2C transactions -- and that means everything, even hotel lodging and insurance policies.   (For example, most Canadians usually get a very long auto insurance policy full of gibberish, in Québec reference is made to just eight to ten sections of the Code, in quite plain language, that says pretty much the same thing.)

I find it hard to believe that Harper didn't bother to read the law or the Constitution close enough.   Then again, he's had nothing but contempt for our supreme law from the moment he entered office.   More to the point, he just views the Charter of Rights as a detail.    Human rights are not a detail, they are part of and indeed the heart of the fabric of justice.   Same with the division of powers between the feds and the jurisdictions.    And now, he really got caught red-handed.

The odd thing is that Nadon has recused himself from every case on the docket pending this decision.   And all that time, he's been collecting an annual salary of $351,700.    Now that his appointment has been annulled it's not clear if he has to pay that money back.    I doubt it since he was certain he got his appointment in good faith, but it does send Harper back to the drawing board.

I think Nadon would have made a good justice.   He just didn't qualify.   The Prime Minister had better get the credentials of his nominees straight.   It may reduce the pool from which to select, but there's a better chance of finding a suitable candidate within that pool than spreading oneself thin.

Next shoe to drop?   The Senate Reference.    And I think we know where that's leading when the Supremes rule later this year.

Strike five (we hope).   Unfortunately, this isn't baseball.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two steps forward in America, one step back in Uganda

Another good (and bad) week for common decency.

1) Freedom of religion.   That's the excuse a lot of business owners used well into the 1970s when they refused service to Blacks, Asians and Native Americans.     So it was good to hear Gov. Janice Brewer of Arizona veto the so-called "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed people to do business with gays and lesbians.    It followed the same flawed logic as segregation.    You just can't deny service to someone without a good reason -- for example, they're a known gang member.    9 million people in the States are openly gay, roughly the size of New Jersey.    Why would you turn away a revenue stream like that?    Really.

2) Also this week, a federal court in Dallas struck down the portion of the Texas constitution that bans gay marriages.    That's now two of the eleven Confederate States, and cases are pending in five more.    The march is relentless and that's a good thing.    If this ruling stands, nearly half the population in America will have marriage equality.     What two people do, as long as it's consenting and there's no abuse, is really none of my business.

3) Unfortunately, the regression took place in Uganda, which has now decreed a life sentence for gays and lesbians and even prohibits advocating for LGBT people.   Upon signing the bill the country's President, Yoweri Museveni, said that one of the reasons he was signing the bill was that he didn't "understand" homosexuality.

For the record, sir, I don't know what it's like to be gay (even though I have been falsely accused numerous times of being gay), but that doesn't give me the right to discriminate against LGBTs.   I don't know what it's like to be a visible minority but that doesn't give me the right to discriminate against people who don't have the same skin colour as me (white).    I'm not a woman and I will never know what it's like to be a woman -- and I will plead guilty to some male chauvinism -- but I have never discriminated against, or hated, a woman because she's a woman and I never will.     Homosexuals, people of colour, women -- they are not my enemies, they're my partners.

It wasn't that long ago in Canada that women couldn't file rape complaints against their husbands, but we changed that.    We once forbade women from getting a loan without a male co-signer, but that was changed too.   People of colour once couldn't be in the same sections of a theatre as whites (yes, in Canada) but we saw sense in that.    And gays and lesbians were granted equality in employment and housing a long time ago -- I think Québec was the first, in 1979, when most in that province would have still been opposed to the idea.

People evolve -- I know I have on this issue.   Some people, and some countries, not near fast enough.    If we boycotted with our tourist dollars those states that still discriminate, it just might change minds if sales tax revenues began to dry up -- it certainly did with South Africa and apartheid when the petrodollars of tourism dried up (today, not only is the country free of course, but so is the LGBT community).

The EU member states and other European countries have cut off foreign aid to Uganda.    The US is threatening to do the same.    Meanwhile, Canada has only said the law will "impede relations" but otherwise is doing nothing (for now).    We have to do something.    Last year, our remittance to Uganda was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $41 million.   A lot of it to "on the ground" local groups, many of which are blatantly anti-gay.    We all know how PMS personally feels about the overall issue of homosexuality, but he has scrupulously enforced our laws here as they are.    Isn't it time he "stood up for Canada" and said he will not tolerate in any way what Uganda is doing?   He's cut off all aid to Mali and a big chunk to Haiti for their human rights abuses.    Why should the home of "The Cranes" be any different?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Finally, the Confederacy gets on board -- well, one state does

In a decision that surprised me, a Southern federal judge overturned Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.   Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen also ruled that the state also had to start respecting the laws of 17 other states and Washington DC that permit the practice.   This marks the first time a Confederate state has joined the bandwagon of equality.   (Read the decision in Bostic v. Rainey

Of course, I support the decision.   But I would like to briefly talk about my concern that some civil rights leaders are comparing this ruling to Loving v. Virginia which legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1967.   This case was also referenced by Wright Allen.

I think the comparison is misplaced because the Loving case, along with similar laws in 14 other states (most of the other states, knowing how the High Court was going to rule, put an end to the nonsense themselves) was based on a law that was totally based on a racist conception of how the gene pool should operate, one that was completely misguided and later scientifically proven to be wrong.   But the fact was the Court primarily cited the 14th Amendment, which put an emphasis on equal protection of the laws.

In the case of Bostic, Wright Allen went much further.    She did agree that the 14th Amendment (equal protection of the laws) was violated, but far more fundamental in her analysis were two items: 1) the 1st Amendment which guarantees the right to peacefully assemble -- or we in Canada and most other democracies call the right to freedom of association; 2) Article IV, Section 1 of the original Constitution which requires, as I noted above, a state or territory to respect the decisions of other states -- which includes marriages, legal contracts filed in court (a fact even straight-sex couples often forget -- it is a legal contract!!!).    The fact that the state amendment in question violated both of these clauses made the entire law invalid.

Opponents of the law will say, violated on a technicality.    This is not a mere technicality.    The law was designed to protect opposite sex marriages regardless of race.    It prohibited even same sex opposite race marriages.    And that took it to a whole new level.    This wasn't about prohibiting certain kinds of sex.   It was about prohibiting "different" kinds of families.

This isn't an enhancement of Loving, it compliments it -- big time.    It's time for SCOTUS to rule in favour of common sense and ensure as its motto does, "equal justice for all".    If they struck down DOMA and California Prop 8 then it's time to have equality across the United States.    Heck, it's been made legal this year in each of England, Wales and Scotland (and even the very religious [on both sides] Northern Ireland has conceded to civil unions).   Why won't America -- all of it -- join the train?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Future posting

I haven't gone away, I'm still very much here.   Sometime in the next few days, I'll be making a very personal diary entry.    But it's something I've wanted to say for a while.   When I do write it and post it here, I hope you'll understand.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing right by sex trade workers

Due to multiple technical issues I haven't been able until now to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford on December 20th but all I can say is it was absolutely the right decision.   What surprised me was that it lined up 9-0, I was expecting 5-4.   Given that five of the justices were appointed by PMS and one by Mulroney, one might expect conservative thought to win, but as we have come to expect, the Court thankfully looked at the big picture and agreed that the three provisions of the Criminal Code at dispute -- running a whorehouse, communication for the purposes of sex and living off the avails of prostitution -- were meant to go after pimps and johns but instead went after the very people the law was designed to protect, sex trade workers, and that was unconstitutional.   If you haven't read the decision, do so at the link, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin doesn't mince words about the dangers of the business or the real harm it causes the victims but that there has to be a better way.

By no means should this be seen as a total victory.   The rights of workers in the trade have been guaranteed but there is still exploitation, especially with teens and immigrants.

That said, I had to laugh when I heard the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada -- which with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and REAL Women (no surprise on the last one) filed a joint amicus curiae brief against the women who filed the original petition during the appeal -- said the best way forward in light of the judgment was to just ban prostitution altogether (it has been legal ante the ruling).    Don't go after prostitutes, just the pimps and johns.

Well, two points.   As I said above the law was meant to go after those two groups but the way the law was constructed made them go off relatively free.   Of course we should be going after the exploiters.

But making it illegal?    That would just force everything underground and make things even worse for the workers, especially the women.   It's those workers who are our front line.   They know what's going on with their fellow workers.   They know what's going on in the underground.   They're the ones the police should be going to first when there are missing women and missing teens.   They shouldn't be ostracized because of their chosen profession.

I am almost certain I would never hire an escort or another else woman in the trade for "services".   (Right now I can't afford it anyway!)    But I think both men and women who want to purchase such services should have a reasonable expectation his or her temporary partner isn't being exploited.

Don't forget, the Mafia got its start with Prohibition.   By the time alcohol was made legal again, they were firmly entrenched and now control at least 10% of our economy.    They definitely have their hands on prostitution.  Do you think it'll get better with making that illegal?   Really?   (Apologies to Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler.)

I say, totally legalize it, with appropriate safeguards.   If rape occurs during a paid for transaction, then it should become a hate crime with enhanced penalties just like any other crime motivated by hate.   Empower the workers to help the police go after the real scums -- those who do exploit people for the money or the hell of it.

Tax it.   This is a huge revenue stream waiting to be tapped into.   It may be a bridge too far for the incumbent government but with fiscal restraint it cannot be ignored.

This is an opportunity to fix the law.   But the PM may have other ideas, and not just because he's an evangelical (although many friends of mine at work who are support the decision).

I'm sure Harper is tempted to use the "notwithstanding clause" which would reinstate the ante quo and kick the issue down the road for another five years.    But there is a strong precedent his Attorney General, Peter MacKay, can use instead.

When the original rape shield law was "voided for vagueness" in 1992, women's groups were clamouring for the clause to be invoked.   But as the then AG Kim Campbell pointed out, the fact the law was vague did neither attackers nor victims any good.   Not the victims because it wasn't clear what evidence was excludable    Not the defendants because they didn't know on what basis they could defend themselves.

The statute that replaced it, which passed unanimously in both Houses (when has that happened under Harper?) was the "no means no" law.   Not only did it put in clearer guidelines for when a victim's past sex history could be used, the law also created a nine-point test to determine if there was consent to sexual activity.    It has survived court scrutiny, and more important there have been a higher number of convictions for sexual assault.

The point:    Rework the nullified provisions.    Make it clear who gets protection under the law and who doesn't.   If it means expanding and tightening "no means no" by all means do so.   But don't make the whole business illegal.    Then it's society as a whole that will be the victims, not just sex trade workers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is that all the post office could come up with?

Since the post office department (literally part of the government) became the Canada Post Corporation in 1982, its mandate has been to deliver the mail but to do so on a self-sustaining model; in other words, no bailout from Parliament.    That's been fine, because until a few years ago it was a very profitable venture paying dividends into general revenues.

Recently, though, despite having huge revenue streams from Purolator Courier and the Canadian arm of Amazon.com, it's been losing money.   Simply stated, with people getting their bills online, through ePost no less (!), and a switch to e-mail as the main form of communication -- not to mention pretty tight collective bargaining agreements and being on the losing end of a pay equity case -- the post office has been losing money.

There are ways to turn all of this around.   But I am worried about the choices the company has made.   And I'll go through their "five points".

First, jacking up the price of postage to a buck (yeah, yeah it's 85 cents if you buy a book of ten but who does that, really?).    This may indeed reflect the true cost of service, and it may be Canada Post's way of getting out of the bind it was in when Parliament said it could only raise postage prices to just ¾ of the rate of inflation for several years ... that restriction has now expired.   For those on fixed incomes, or those who can't afford Internet access (or believe it's the tool of the devil), it certainly puts a crimp on their lifestyle.   So what if costs less than a cup of coffee?

But it's interesting this is happening just as the federal and provincial governments are phasing out cheques as a method of paying entitlements and refunds.    Members of Parliament and Senators get double-ended franking (i.e. postage is free both ways), but the executive has to pay for mailings.    There may be volume discounts for them as well as large commercial enterprises but small businesses pay the going rate .   And as far as Business Reply Mail?   It's like a collect call, they pay more to receive it (there, one of "Their" dirty secrets is out in the open!)   Guess how many charities will stop accepting BRM, even if it means a drop in donations?    Do the math.  A ton.

I find it more than coincidental that the Post, knowing they would lose their biggest customer by far, would make up the difference and then some with postage.     If anything, this may actually get people who don't bank online or get direct deposit to do so.  No money, no money.

I'd say phase in the increase over four years.   Not in one fell swoop.

Second, ending door to door delivery for the third of the population that still has it.     Sure, it's easy to just walk to a mailbox.   When I was just five or six years old, my family and I were using a primitive version of the Superbox.   But when I moved to neighbourhoods that had them, I enjoyed the convenience of D2D.   Maybe that has gone the way of the dodo, but there are a lot of people, especially seniors and the infirm, who won't appreciate having to walk with difficulty to get their mail or worse paying someone else to do so.

I think everyone should get D2D -- every household -- but that's not really practical under the current framework.    But how about giving us the choice, on a user-pay basis?   If the difference between delivering to a doorstep and to a community mailbox is just $100 or so, as the Post claims, then why not let people decide?   Given the choice, I think most of us would gladly pay for the convenience.

Third, franchising post offices.   Most of them actually already are.   Contrary to popular belief, they are not allowed to charge more for parcel service than corporate owned stores --  that's against the law and it should continue to be so.  But getting out of the business altogether is another story.    There may be some cases, especially in rural areas, where a franchise simply isn't sustainable.    In this case, a higher hand is warranted.

There should be no sacred cows, but every corporate office should get the magnifying lens and the determination if local involvement is more appropriate or if the company should stay.    Whatever the case, corporates should have the same operating hours as franchises -- usually, the same hours as most malls.    And for God's sake, don't get rid of the historical offices, like the one on Adelaide Street in The Smoke.    I'd kind of like, just once, sending out mail the way they used to -- with a seal and wax!

Fourth, the old standby, streamlining.    This means fewer postal sorting plants.

There was a big uproar not that long ago in the Tri-Cities (Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo) when The Post wanted to close the plant there and move operations to the Millen Road plant here in Hamilton.    Delivery of sensitive mail is essential everywhere; but in an area much more prosperous than The Hammer, it is much more so especially with financial services and health and life insurance which they have a lot of.    There was some backing off although there were also layoffs, but no guarantee of the future.

What does this mean?    More centralization.

I'm sorry, but my answer is no.    There may be some plants which are truly redundant, but processing close to the point is what helps get the mail out in time.    I don't think the Millen plant is going away anytime soon, but I'm sure people in Stratford or Saint Thomas would be happy to learn their mail was going through Hamilton, if you know what I mean.     Better mail sorting machines, sure.    But this is nuts.

Fifth, attrition.   Ah yes, get rid of the deadwood, don't hire any new people -- or at least as few as is necessary to run the joint.

Two points there -- severance packages mean you get your company pension up front until you're 65 at which time it stops paying.    You have to rely on CPP / RRQ, OAS and your RRSP (if you have one).    People paid into these things counting on a pension for life, and while there is a big shortfall of $6.5 billion (which can be overcome), it's not fair to change the rules midstream.   For new people coming in, maybe.   Not for the veterans.  A deal is a deal.     And what if one takes a package while his or her union grievance is still in process?   Does that mean if he or she loses, the pension is gone too?    No one has answered that.

As for new people -- yes, there are intakes every so often, but it's not like it used to be.   The wages are lower and the benefits less.   And remember, these are not civil servants, they are employees of a Crown Corporation.    But as federally regulated employees, the labour and workers' compensation rules are different than for everyone else.    They may not get the same treatment they might get at a lower level of government.    The disenchantment and "revolving door" syndrome could be substantial unless newbies have the expectation of getting to a "regular" pay level rather quickly.

There are other ways of achieving the goal of getting back into the black.   Three day a week delivery; contracting delivery to the private sector; making some components of the "midstream" other than sorting competitive as well.

But this is a worst case, graveyard scenario.     And the problem is, it's harder to dig out of a grave than to dig it.    Ask any government who's run a deficit; going back to the black there is a Herculean task.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should Worker's Compensation be a shared responsibility?

We all know the reason for workers' compensation.   We give up the right to sue a company for injuries that happen at the workplace (although it is possible to sue another company that made the equipment responsible for the injury, in a product liability lawsuit).   In exchange the province's compensation board will pay replacement income.  It may be partial if we have to resort to modified work.  For example, if taking modified work reduces a salary by 15%, comp will pay an amount equal to 15% of after-tax income, since benefits are tax-free.  In some cases, it could be as much as 60% or more of after-tax if we are totally unable to resume work (the rest would be covered by a CPP or RRQ disability pension which is taxable).

In some provinces, a province's worker's comp board is just that, it is solely focused on determining compensation.

Some other provinces, however, have a dual mandate for the service  -- not just paying compensation for injuries but also trying to prevent injuries, in other words promoting workplace occupational health and safety.   These provinces include BC, Ontario and Québec (with their CSST).  That makes sense, we should have as an aim keeping injuries at work to a minimum -- after all, healthy employees reduces overhead related to the costs of workplace related absenteeism.

In all cases, though, the responsibility for paying premiums for worker's compensation is solely the responsibility of employers.   Employees pay nothing.  In fact, it is this payroll tax (anywhere from 1.12% to 2.75% depending on the jurisdiction) that many companies claim is a disincentive to expand their operations.

What I'm writing next is probably a very unpopular position.   But it is what I think. 

In Canada, the CPP / RRQ and EI programs are shared between employers and employees (1:1 for pensions, 1.4:1 for unemployment).

This is an issue that has made me curious for quite some time.    But after thinking about it, I think that worker's comp should also be a 1:1 proposition.   Here's why.

A company has as a primary duty the safety of its employees.   Whether it's in a factory or an office environment, people have the right to expect minimal to no disruption in their working lives.   This means safe factory equipment with guards to prevent injury, readily accessible eyewash stations, computer stations that minimize Carpal-tunnel syndrome incidents, and of course and sadly the stress that can result from sexual and other types of harassment.   And so forth.

But I think employees also have a reciprocating duty to contribute to workplace safety -- by avoiding risky behaviour.   The benefits that come with worker's comp aren't free, someone has paid for them.    I'm not just talking about slips and falls at the factory.   They also happen at the office, for example if you rush to make a turn around a supervisor's "platform" and you slam your knee into a sharp corner during that turn.   It also deals with harassment issues -- one just might think twice knowing their hard-earned money might be used to compensate for other people's physical and mental health costs.   (Of course, this should not mean the rogue is exempt from being personally sued.)

Certainly, no one should be penalized financially for unintentional accidents, or even incidents where their was just plain idiocy on one's own person.   In fact, firing an employee under such a circumstance should be illegal unless he or she deliberately endangered other persons.   And there should always be zero tolerance for racial or sexual harassment because of the mental health implications.

Given all of that, I've in my working life seen risky behaviour both at the factory and at the office.   And it bothers me that on this one item, employees think they can get a free ride.   As I said, nothing is truly free.  Giving workers peace of mind that they will be taken care of is part of our social safety net and it is a principle that should be protected.   But it should also mean that employees should take responsibility not just for their own safety as much as is possible, but for taking care of their fellow workers too and protecting their safety as much as employers should.   That's why an employee payroll tax for worker's compensation is warranted.

If employees had premiums deducted from their pay cheques (which would be fully tax-deductible, of course, just like the other payroll taxes) it might make them think twice before doing something inherently risky or just plain stupid.    And giving employers a bit of a break would be an incentive to hire new staffers.

This change doesn't have to be done overnight.   It can be phased in over four years to give us time to adjust.   But for the most part, the system we have is stuck in a World War I mentality (the period when most provinces set up their régimes).    It needs to change.   And making it a shared responsibility is one way to do so.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"I've got more than enough to eat at home," Ford says

You couldn't get the best scriptwriters in Hollywood or Broadway to come up with this line.   Rob Ford, responding this morning to numerous allegations that he hired a call girl to visit his office in Toronto (among other allegations of downing mickeys in one shot and DUI), said they were untrue.    But then Ford went after one of his former assistants who talked to the police, a woman who claims he sexually harassed her with lewd comments about his own sex life:

"Oh and the last thing was Olivia Gondek," Ford said, "it says it says [sic] that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek, I've never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married. I've got more than enough to eat at home. Thank you very much."
If your spouse or common-law partner talked about you like that, in public, you'd be very tempted to serve the other half with separation papers.  More than likely, you would.   But of course, this is Rob Ford.

A couple of hours later he apologized twice (never sorry, so it means squat) then said he has been in professional counselling.   That would have been helpful to know ... last week.

All the city council in Toronto can do is strip him of his ex officio duties (jobs he holds by virtue of being Mayor).   But it would be better than nothing.    Toronto needed some fiscal conservatism even in a very liberal city, but Ford has undermined his role with all this crap.    Can't he just call a time out?    Please?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take a time out already, Rob!

So Rob Ford has actually admitted it.   He's bought illegal drugs during the last two years.  Notwithstanding that concession, 30 of 44 councillors on Toronto City Council voted to ask him to take a leave of absence.  Naturally, Ford refused.  He also said he still has a "coat hanger" in the closet.   I've heard of double entendres but not that one.   (Any guesses what he means?   Because unless he's had an affair, I'm otherwise stumped.)

And, oh yeah, the organizers of the Santa Claus Parade asked Ford not to show up.  (Ford says he will anyway).

Look, people make mistakes.  I get that.

But let's count the ways Ford has gotten into hot water without consequences:
  • DUI and marijuana possession in Florida
  • Being kicked out of the ACC while intoxicated
  • Acting like a jerk in a restaurant on St Patrick's Day
  • Driving with a cellphone in hand
  • The incident with Sarah Thompson (I believe her side of the story, FWIW)
  • The video
And it goes on and on.  And the police files unsealed today are even more disturbing.   And we'll no doubt be hearing more.

Most cities in this country of Canada would not tolerate this kind of behavior from the top of the heap.    The council would have thrown him or her with the trash a long time ago, asking him or her to resign with such a strong non-confidence motion that the mayor would take the hint and walk away.

I'm against the idea of recall.   Yes, Athens had it 2½ millenia ago but I think the idea of pulling someone out midstream for purely ideological or moral reasons is wrong.  I'm still furious that Gray Davis was trounced in favour of Ahnold, even though the California Legislature was just as responsible for the power fiasco in that state in 2002-03.   If you recall one, you should recall all.

But there is nothing immoral about taking a leave of absence.   About the only people who can't take time off from their job are clerical ministers, for obvious reasons.

Ford can't seem to understand he's a big joke to the world.   No doubt he'll be the subject of yet another series of attacks by late night this evening.   Toronto, and by extension the country, has more important things to do than worry if what will next come out is Ford hired sex workers  -- well, looks some may have visited his office, and he was probably DUI at some point during his term)

He should take the rest of the year off.  Get some perspective.   And run the 2014 campaign on the way forward, not what happened in the past.

UPDATE (6:26 pm EST, 2326 GMT):   Some new info on the latest shenanigans.

Friday, November 1, 2013

As always, it's the coverup (if that's what it is)

At this point, I really don't give a damn if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did drugs.   If he did it certainly hasn't impaired his performance as a politician.    What I do care about are the following:
  1. Ford obviously has major issues.   Be they mental or substance, or both, he needs to deal with them before someone really gets hurt.   His city has an excellent benefits package that includes counselling.   He should acknowledge the issue, and use the taxpayer funded help.   Just talking about it to an impartial person might be a start.
  2. Using drugs is one thing, but lying about it is quite another.   Like Watergate, Iran-Contra, tainted tuna and Miss Lewinsky, it's getting caught up in inconsistencies that's the problem.   As ever I support the right to presumption of innocence.    But if the smoking gun is now there, he has only one chance to set the record straight; otherwise he's toast.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

See, we told you so (Senate reform edition) -- and what I'd like to see

Finally someone has told the Prime Minister he can stuff it on his brand of changes to the Senate of Canada.  It comes courtesy of the Québec Court of Appeal which has unanimously ruled Bill C-7, if passed, would be unconstitutional and therefore a form of "dead letter clause".

(The official ruling, in English is here -- courtesy The Montréal Gazette)

Stephen Harper has been so determined to "reform" (pun intended) the Senate of Canada that he has introduced unilateral legislation creating fixed nine year terms and elections only in those provinces that want it.   (Compare this, for instance, to the Beaudoin - Dobbie Committee of more than 20 years ago, to which I actually filed a brief, which recommended fixed six year terms and elections held across the country).

Harper's argument is that Section 44 of the 1982 constitutional amendment allows Parliament to pass laws that exclusively pertain to the House of Commons and the Senate.    That's fine for changes to the formula that determines representation of each province in the House of Commons (Section 51 of the original 1867 Constitution), or if the Senate decided to replace the appointed hack of a Speaker with one elected amongst its members, just as the House does after every election; or just in general any changes to the Standing Orders of Procedure in each House.

But actual changes to the nature of the Senate?   Well, not so much.   And the QCOA ruled as it should have:  That the correct procedure is Sections 42 (b) and (c) which prescribes 7 provinces with 50% of the population; with no province being able to opt out.   In other words, the provinces have to be at least consulted and give their ratification based on that formula; and even if the Senate self servingly voted against the amendment or hoisted it for six months, the House could pass it a second time and then the GG would then have no choice but to "seal" the amendment.

It's interesting that Québec, which has never ratified the 1982 amendment although it acknowledges the amendment does apply to the province, would be the ones challenging the law.   But if it wasn't there, another province would have filed a reference to the high court and the ruling would have been exactly the same.   Here's why:

Those of us who have actually read both Acts (as well as the numerous amendments in between) understand that the Confederation bargain was such that the Atlantic provinces would have at least as much say as Ontario and Québec in The Other Place, to offset representation by population in the House.

And while it rankles many in the West, it explains why representation in the Senate is as it is:   Ontario and Québec each have 24; Atlantic Canada has 30 (10 each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 4 for Prince Edward Island, 6 for Newfoundland and Labrador); the four Western provinces have 6 each for a total of 24; and the territories get one each (prior to 1886, the Great White North didn't even have representation in the House, and only finally got Senate representation in the 1950s).

But more important, the reason the Fathers of Confederation set lifetime terms for Senators (this was changed to 75 years old by an amendment in 1965) and setting the minimum age at 30 (still in effect) was 1) to ensure Senators summoned would have the maturity to handle the responsibility of reviewing House legislation and if necessary amending or rejecting it; 2) to free Senators from political pressure of the kind having to report to the people every four years, unlike in the House.  Regarding the age limit, the QCOA pointed out that such an age limit, if it were created now or lowered from the present limit, would not be passable under section 44 either.

As time as gone on we've come to see that a second Chamber needs to be more democratic.   While some countries have in recent years abolished their Senates (Croatia and Norway, to name just two), other countries have had their Senate elected from the start or became so after major public pressure (for instance, the US Senate became elected in 1913, but is still seen as the more important body in Congress because Senators represent not only the people, but their respective state legislatures -- as it was they that originally selected the Senators from 1787 to 1913).

I know of only two other countries that have indirectly elected Senates via an electoral college:   France (although the campaign to reform or abolish there has been ongoing for some time) and Ireland (where the voters surprisingly voted down an abolition amendment earlier this month).   Canada is unique among democracies where the provinces don't even have to be consulted -- appointments are made solely by the Prime Minister.    Even for the Supreme Court, it's been established since during the brief Clark administration that the PMO will at least get a short list of recommended candidates, which the government doesn't have to accept but at least would consider before picking another candidate.

Reforms have never really happened in Canada because a) the push for a "Triple E" Senate of elected, "effective" and equal representation was really a poison pill aimed by some Westerners at Québec which would never have agreed to it and therefore would have preferred independence; 2) the failed Charlottetown referendum in 1992 had a Senate that was so much weaker than the House that it would have a joke job.   Running for the Senate under those parameters would have been like someone deliberately running in the primaries for Vice-President of the United States.   (Some states actually allow this!)

On top of Expensegate, Harper didn't need this.   And he will have to make a really strong case for his government when the Supreme Court reference is heard -- however, the QCOA ruling will be very persuasive in guidance.

The only question remaining is if the Senate can be abolished by the 7-50 formula?   I say unlikely.    That's because 1) the bargain of regional representation in the Upper House being changed would violate an important constitutional convention which while unwritten would nevertheless go against the intent of the Fathers and therefore be unacceptable; 2) Section 41 (b) protects both the 1915 amendment which ensures that any province (presently Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) gets at least as many MPs as Senators; and also that in no case less than what a province had in 1982, and changing either or both principles requires unanimity.

Simply put, all ten provinces.   And I think the only plausible way to compensate the smaller provinces by having the lost Senate seat, is if it would become House seats elected at large (that is, the whole province).   Believe it or not, this is what Bob Rae's opening position was during the 1992 talks.


Now that, if actually implemented, would be fun.   Because Ontario and Québec are going to have 121 and 78 seats respectively after the next election.   Add 24 to each, and that becomes 145 and 102.   Meanwhile, BC would go from 42 to 48, Alberta from 34 to 40, Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 14 each to 20.   On the other side of the country, New Brunswick would jump from 10 to 20, Nova Scotia from 11 to 21, PEI from 4 to 8, Newfoundland from 6 to 12.

Yeah, that would go over well.   Newfoundland, with just a half a million people or so, would have nearly as much presence in Ottawa as Manitoba with more than double the population.     Alberta, with more half the population of Québec, would have only one third as many seats.   And so forth.

I really don't know where this is going.   Chances are, there will be no changes and we'll end up where we are now, with a otherwise dysfunctional chamber whose only useful purpose these days is to produce committee reports that really challenge the status quo and gets us to think.   Especially reports on national security and public healthcare, both categories of which have made the feds cringe when the reports were released.

But personally, this is what I think we should have in terms of reforms that could get 7-50:
  • The minimum age to run for the Senate is 18 years, just like the House;
  • There is no property requirement unlike now;
  • One must clearly have an established connection to his province or territory -- proof of residency or just proof of the fact they were at a physically located homeless shelter would suffice;
  • All Senators are elected for re-electable six year terms, with staggered classes (two halves with one half elected in three year waves; or three classes with one-third up for reelection every two -- as is the case in the States); in no case will a House election happen at the same time so there are no crossovers of current campaign issues;
  • proportional representation with super-districts of four to six Senators each, depending on population;
  • the representation that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia should be reduced so that the other Atlantic provinces get a bigger role.   This may mean more MPs for PEI and NL but in such an important body the small need the protection of the whole -- pardon the expression;
  • Ontario and Québec should give up four seats each and those given to the Western provinces, so each of those provinces would go from six each to eight;
  • the territories get two each instead of one;
  • the Speaker is elected, not appointed;
  • the Senate actually has real power and exercises it, including the power of a sub poena, and the right to reject legislation outright as it does now;
  • the Senate doesn't wait for legislation from the House to reach it to consider it (ending sober second thought); instead it can introduce legislation (except money bills) and have first thought on an issue if it so chooses, with each bill going through the three reading process in parallel with the separate House legislation, with the differences in House and Senate bills sent to conference for compromise before going through a final vote;
  • the Senate allows its floor proceedings to be televised, live (not just committee hearings);
  • if a federally appointed judge faces dismissal, that he or she faces an impeachment hearing in the House and then an open trial in the Senate with the Senators acting as proctors.    This way, the dismissal of a section 99 judge would have to get clear majority votes in both Houses, each sitting separately -- presently it's not really clear whether that's the case, or if a majority of the combined membership is required (although to date there has never been a trial, such a judge recommended for removal quits rather than face the humiliation of being rejected by the people's representatives); and
  •  the six month hoist for constitutional amendments is retained but at the end of the hoist the Senate must vote on the amendment, up or down.
At least for now,. the idea of railroading an "amendment" up our throats is waived off.   The Senate can't be changed like Harper would like it to.  It has to be done soundly and with a constitutional basis.

But we can't wait another 200 years for a change.  It has to be within the next four years.   Otherwise, we're condemned to a very boring place on the taxpayer's dime for a very long time.

UPDATE (2013/10/25 3:00 pm EDT):  Minor edits to correct math errors.

Senate or Star Chamber?

Barring a last minute change of minds, it looks like Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin will be effectively impeached from the Senate.

I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.   I will recognize that I have written all three have a lot to answer for.

But I also believe in the principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty.   Something that Stephen Harper, the alleged guardian of the Constitution, does not believe in.  By using such a huge hammer before the criminal investigation is complete, Harper has effectively converted the Senate into a Star Chamber.   Bad King John would be very pleased that Magna Carta has been repealed, at least in Canada.