Thursday, December 31, 2015

Should there be a referendum on PR?

The Conservatives are vowing to filibuster attempts by the governing Liberals to reform the way we elect our MPs - be it alternative vote or some kind of proportional representation, unless there is a referendum. Normally, changing the rules for representation only requires a vote of Parliament. But this just might require a constitutional amendment of the kind that requires the consent of at least seven provinces, especially if we're going to tinker with the idea of proportionality for the provinces.

Remember that several provinces are over represented thanks to a grandfather clause - if there were strict proportionality, Saskatchewan would have 10 members, Manitoba 12, New Brunswick 7, Prince Edward Island 2, Nova Scotia 9, Newfoundland-Labrador 5. Instead, they have 14, 14, 10, 4, 11 and 7, respectively. Will a new PR system require provinces get strictly what they're entitled to and no more?

Also, there is the issue of "overhang" seats. This commonly happens in Germany, when a party's percentage of the popular vote means it gets fewer seats than the number of constituencies they're entitled to by that vote - or vice versa. In such case, new seats are created out of fresh air and people on party lists who might not have been entitled to be elected, end up with seats.

What could that mean? Presume we stick with 338 seats, but after the votes are counted about 20 overhangs are created. Where to sit them?

You may have noticed a change in seating arrangements for this Parliament. The seats used to be two by two. To make room for the 30 new members this year, the seats had to be arranged so members now sit in blocks of five.

One could argue if we're going to have a referendum on this, then the entire constitution will have to be reopened. I don't think so. But I think there's a point here. In every country I'm aware of that has made the switch from FPTP to something else, voters were asked first. So, I think we should be here, too.

For myself ... If it's alternative vote, I'd go against. But if we went to something like STV or MMR ... that is something I could support. I'd prefer the latter because you could vote for a list (i.e. for PM) for one party and a local candidate from another.

The GOP's worst nightmare, a brokered convention

Before we went to a primary-style system of selecting party leaders, we were used to the idea of contested party leader conventions in Canada. Sometimes you just never knew who might win, and there might be the occasional surprise - take Joe Clark and Dalton McGuinty, just to name two. But there hasn't been a seriously contested GOP convention in nearly 70 years (the last time was 1948, when Dewey defeated a field of 11 other candidates, including future Supreme Court justice Earl Warren). But given how the candidates have been acting, it just might be a possibility.

The rules are if you're a delegate you are committed to your candidate but only for the first ballot. If no one gets the magic number (in this case, 1237) then it could be a nasty fight. Say, for instance, The Donald manages to take the lead but only gets 40%. What kind of deal making will have to be done amongst the other candidates? Who gets to be prez, veep, State, etc.? Also complicating the matter is an obscure party rule that says a candidate may not even be considered at the convention if he or she hasn't won a prescribed number of states. In that case, their delegates are released and it becomes even more chaotic.

This could easily play into the hands of the Democrats, especially if their candidate wraps it up early. This could be a huge advantage since he or she will be running the general election from the time they actually clinch the nomination. And if the GOP leader turns out to be someone who isn't all that charismatic or a hero (and I don't consider Trump to have the charisma needed to be President) it could be smooth sailing.

P.S. The Democrats aren't immune from this. In 1924, the Democrats took 103 ballots before settling on a dark horse named John Davis. John Who? I couldn't resist. Sorry, Joe.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

This El Niño could be the worst ever

Remember El Niño 1998? The mild winter where we got more rain than usual in most places, while Montreal got the ice storm? Well, if the weather predictors at NASA are right, this winter could cause even more problems thanks to the warm weather phenomenon. I can't say global warming is entirely to blame for it, but there's no doubt the cycle has been occurring more frequently over time.

One thing to look out for is flooding. Areas below escarpments and mountain ranges in the lowlands are prime targets, and when we have winter storms followed by rapid melting, there's going to be problems. Storm sewers just aren't designed to handle that capacity, and in rural areas there is no where for the water to go at all.

We've already seem massive floods in Latin America. We saw what happened in Missouri earlier this month. And let's not forget Africa, which has food security issues due to drought.

We might, just might, escape the bullet. But I doubt it. Sometime that should happen every seven to ten years is now happening as often as every other year, and that is not a good sign. Governments need to wake up and prepare for the worst case scenarios. No one should have to die because the weather is screwed up ... in no part thanks to us.

Weather happens, but customer service ...

Hamilton's airport isn't exactly a busy place. Although Westjet did run a lot of flights out of there for a while citing Toronto's massive landing fees, most flights eventually migrated to Pearson although there are still a few WJ planes every day from Munro. For the most part, the white elephant airport has been running on charter flights. The facility is known for very quick check-ins, easy security checks and being able to walk right up to the plane to fly.

Such wasn't the case Monday night when the first storm of the winter season kicked in. A Sunwing flight from the Dominican Republic made a stop in Hamilton before reaching Calgary. It got stuck on the tarmac for eight hours. The airline says the weather made it difficult to attach the ramp to the plane meaning passengers had no recourse. The situation was only resolved when someone called 911. They finally got to sleep at a nearby hotel before flying onward. As compensation, the airline is offering $150 a head.

Maybe it's me, but I was on a flight that was delayed for one hour because someone who checked baggage never showed up at the gate - which made sense. I can't imagine being on a plane that long - no food, no other attempts to comfort the passengers. Not to mention no ventilation.

Friendly skies this is not. I realize charter airlines have a different mandate than commercial operations, but one would still expect a level of service that is comfortable even during an emergency. Friends of mine have flown SW and have had no complaints - but I'd think twice the next time I'm headed to the Caribbean.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Falwell U allows guns in dorms

Yes ... Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, has announced that it is ending its ban on guns in dorms. Like this is supposed to make us feel any safer. They claim it's a stand against terrorists. Apparently students can already keep guns in their cars. The campus police is even offering free firearms training.

I would kind of expect this from one of the most conservative universities in America (as well as one with one of the best debating clubs).

But Jerry Falwell Jr, in making his announcement, also made an off-the-cuff (we think) remark about the need to "end those Muslims". Muslims actually do attend the Christian university. Not thinking there, pal.

Besides, what if an armed person actually came on campus and started shooting up, like what happened a few years ago at Virginia Tech? I think it would be an even bigger bloodbath, especially if students pointed the wrong way and shot fellow students or staff members.

I get the Second Amendment. But with rights come responsibilities. This idea comes off as totally irresponsible. It's only asking for trouble.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Libs to repeal spanking law

It is decades overdue, but finally in response to a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the Trudeau government will move to repeal §43 of the Criminal Code, which allows for "corrective force" (i.e. spanking).

No doubt this will get the socons riled up as yet another example of social engineering. But there is simply no proof corporal punishment works. If anything, it makes for more resentful children which in turn leads to higher rates of crime, especially among minors. At the least, even if it doesn't lead to crime, the resentment can be life-lasting which doesn't bode well for when they become parents.

We don't live in Biblical times. This is the 21st century, and we need to find appropriate ways to discipline our children. Spanking, switches, tree branches etc. are no longer appropriate. Actually ... they never were.

Yeah, like I'd turn over my tax refund to Queen's Park ...

... yet since the Mike Harris days, people in Ontario have actually had the option of donating some or all of their tax refund to help pay down the province's debt. How much has been raised so far in the last 19 years? $2.8 million. That's it. What is Ontario's debt? At the end of FY 2014, it was $288.1 billion. We're close to matching New York State, which is $300 billion or so in the hole.

Yet now, Ontario's deputy premier is suggesting that the people of this province seriously consider ticking that box at the bottom of page 4 to help the debt burden.

Are you serious? We're about to be hit with a 1.9% payroll tax for a pension plan most of us don't even want. It'd be a lot easier to get rid of corporate welfare, and work with the CRA to go after the black market (oh, excuse me, the underground economy). Heaven knows how much we lose just on that second one - if the feds are losing $80 billion a year nationally, that works out to about $13 billion in lost provincial revenues. You'd balance the budget right away! Better yet, listen to the province's auditor-general and get rid of the waste.

That purple box on the bottom of the return, they should just get rid of it. It hasn't worked.

Ontario needs to clean up its act. Just because they gave the Liberals a fourth term doesn't give it the right to go on a spending spree.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

First they want to ban Muslims. Now this ...

... an opinion poll shows that 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats want to bomb Agrabah, Saudi Arabia. Just one problem - it's the fictional town in Disney's Aladdin. This canard was thrown in with such serious questions as if one is evangelical and how much of a raise there should be in the minimum wage. You'd think those being polled would pay attention. Then again, I've been polled several times and I've been asked stupid questions like how much glasses of milk I drink a day ... as if that has a bearing on how I'm going to vote.

Some of the responses to the other questions were shocking. 33% of the Tea Party believes Islam should be illegal in the US, compared to 26% of mainstream GOPers (and that second one is shocking). 32% of the Tea Party said the internment of the Japanese during WWII was a good thing. And get this - remember Donald Trump saying Muslims on the Jersey shore were cheering when the Twin Towers came down? 36% of mainline Repubs believe that. It jumps to 51% for the Tea Party.

The first item was laughable. But as we get into the nitty-gritty, such as if mosques should be banned, it becomes totally unfunny. Politicians should be playing to our best hopes and not our worst fears. I'm worried it has become just the reverse.

Right now, either a Republican or a Democrat could win 2016, according to the current cycle's "Keys to the Presidency". The Climate Change agreement can be seen as a foreign policy success for the Democrats, but a lot lies on who gets the Dem nomination and if there is a third party run. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, I think it's game over. If he makes a third party run, it could be more complicated but when it comes down to the crumbs I don't think he's as a credible candidate as Ross Perot was in 1992 - a business person who actually had some practical ideas that Clinton adopted. (Balancing the budget, for one.)

I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm almost hoping Martin O'Malley picks up the pace in the Dem race - he's way more credible than Bernie Sanders and could pose a challenge to Hillary Clinton if he does well in the debates. Besides, he actually has real executive experience - he ran both Baltimore and the state of Maryland.

Agrabah. Seriously?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What is going on at CHCH?

Seriously? Has Channel 11 finally gone off the rails? This is the station that gave Canada The Party Game, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Tiny Talent Time, The Great Debate, The Party Game, Smith and Smith (which spawned The Red Green Show) ...and became the Canadian home of what used to be known as the WWF. Several celebrities got their start on the station including polka maestro Walter Ostanek and actor Martin Short.

Now CHCH has filed for bankruptcy, and has been stripped of virtually ALL of its programming. The all-day news. Sportsline. Square Off. And the evening news is now just half an hour. What's even more bizarre is that the news division was actually outsourced and not owned by Channel Zero (which owns Bloomberg Canada, Rewind, Silver Screen Classics and three "adult" channels). Some people have been there for 35 years and were told, pack up your belongings and go home.

Last year, the station celebrated 60 years on the air. But I suspected something might be up in the air for quite some time. Sometimes, it would run commercials that were weeks out of date - such as a Boxing Day sale in March.

It ran a commercial for itself , selling ads real cheap. You had to buy them in a block of a hundred, but it worked out to just $99 per pop. When networks in Canada sell prime time ads for a hundred thousand for a thirty second commercial, a business model like CHCH's is just not sustainable.

To see one of the most innovative stations in the country go to the trash heap in such a short period of time is sad. It was bad when it was an affiliate of E! Now it has nothing going for it except history.

A sidebar, if CHCH shuts down all together then the transmitter which is currently a dual stick with "Yes TV" (owned by Crossroads Ministries) will become the sole problem of the latter. The station is technically separate from 100 Huntley Street but it would be interesting to see if it decided to keep it running or just become a cable-only entity, like the late Sun News Network was forced to do when it was told to shut down its transmitters in Toronto, Hamilton, London and Ottawa (and that was nearly four years before SNN went off the air for good). It costs $30,000 per month just for the power for the stick, never mind tuning it up to make sure it still works.

The only other option is the model CHEK in Victoria has - the station is owned by its employees. That model has worked out just fine - and it can work here. It won't be easy. But it would be a big loss of ego if Hamilton lost its only commercial station. I can't say I've watched the channel lately because it is too much focused on local news and gives lip service to national and international events. But I'm still crossing my fingers.

Make the ORPP voluntary, or enhance the CPP

Kathleen Wynne seems hell bent to introduce an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan by the year 2017. The idea is if a company doesn't have a pension plan or deferred profit sharing plan of its own, it will be required to pay a payroll tax of 1.9%, to be matched by its employees from their paycheques. This would be on top of the nearly 6.7% we already pay for the CPP and EI.

I wouldn't necessarily mind paying the extra levy, provided there actually was a pension at the end of the line. There really is no guarantee that there would be.

I don't understand, however, why the plan can't be made voluntary. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a good example of this. You don't have to contribute, but you can up to $2500 per year. The caveat is that it reduces your RRSP contribution room for that year. No indication if the same would be the case for the ORPP.

Far better of an approach would be for the feds and the provinces to ensure the long term sustainability of the CPP.  In 2012, it had an unfunded liability of just over $829 billion (the last year for which we have numbers). While it is claimed the 9.9% payroll tax (split between employers and employees) is enough to make sure the plan makes future obligations, a liability of that size is enough to make one wonder.

Certainly, a plan that guarantees that you will be paid only 25% of the best five years of income isn't enough to live on. Even when you add in Old Age Security which is funded through general revenues, it's not close enough either. Many Canadians simply do not have the means to save.

I happen to think the ORPP should be voluntary. Given the right marketing, I think most people in the province would sign on regardless. But it should work more like a group RRSP rather than a pension plan. Whatever the case, it will require a team of very smart managers on the par of the Caisse de dépôt in Quebec.

But we also need to fix the CPP to make sure that there is a secure income for everyone, at least a livable one. And the cap on which contributions are collected from needs to go up - way up. Here in Canada, you stop making contributions at $51,100. In the States, FICA dues caps out at USD 118,500. This would mean people with higher incomes get higher pensions, to be sure, but it would also give the plan a much needed cushion to ensure the long term viability of the trust. I simply do not believe that the plan won't run out in 75 years, it will be much sooner than that. (It should be noted that the Wynne plan would call for payroll deductions up to $90,000 - better, but it should be aligned with improvements to the CPP rather than on a separate track.)

Would it mean higher payroll taxes? Sure it would. Is the security of our elder and disabled population a priority? You're damn right it is. If we can get this right, Wynne's plan could easily be discarded. Even she has said as much. Trudeau should sit down with the premiers and come up with something that will benefit all Canadians. The status quo just doesn't work.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Boy did I dial a wrong number!

I'm still surprised by the results:

Liberal - 184
Conservatives - 99
NDP - 44
Bloc - 10
Green - 1

Much has to do with some districts where the Lib candidate who was running in third throughout the campaign, triumphed over the other two parties. That certainly was the case in my home district of Hamilton East - Stoney Creek where Bob Bratina who was written off as a yesterday's person pulled it off. GOTV, name recognition, joining the bandwagon? Who knows? Regardless, we have the youngest PM since Joe Clark in 1979.

Congratulations to all the candidates across Canada, whether you won or not. Your stated commitment to our federation is what helps make it strong.

Monday, October 19, 2015

My fearless prediction for Decision 2015

And here it is ...remember the Magic Number is 170.

Liberals 143
Conservatives 132
NDP 55
Bloc 7
Green 1

My sense is that the Cons will do well at the expense of the NDP because large parts of Quebec are still socially conservative (especially rural areas), as well the "shy Tory" phenomenon - people who are polled simply lie about their intentions until they actually get to the polling station. But it won't be enough to catch up to the Liberals. After a couple of stumbles, it looks like Justin has the wind behind his back. This election was Tom's to lose and it looks like he has.

Barring one of those crazy, unpredictable things, I think we're looking at a left wing alliance of some sort. It won't be an outright coalition, but perhaps some of the damage that has been can be undone. Thank you for your service, Stephen, but it's time to go.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Nothing partisan, I assure you. But it's obvious that unless hell freezes over we're looking at a minority situation - no one will get the magic number of 170. This is what I think will happen Monday:

Liberals - 143
Conservatives - 135
NDP - 51
Bloc - 8
Green - 1

I simply think the Cons are much better at GOTV than any of their opponents. Plus the KISS format to the disadvantage of any party that is more progressive. I don't dispute it will be anything but a happy night but the plus side is that the NDP would have much more influence in a minority situation. They have the numbers to prop up the Libs.

Will the Cons do that well? I may owe someone I know a box of donuts or the equivalent over that. :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to vote, how to vote ...

This will be my last post on the election until it actually happens ... barring a freak of nature. I will be working as a Deputy Returning Officer (i.e. I will supervise a poll and count the ballots at night's end); and according to Elections Canada, when I inquired, their head office told me that blogging that leans towards or against one party or another could be construed as partisan activity. I've been both a DRO and a Poll Clerk on several occasions since 1993, so I found this new rule to be surprising. Since the advance polls start tomorrow, I therefore have to be totally neutral from that date. So I can get it in by the drop date, I have the following thoughts.

This started out as the most competitive race in ages ... certainly, in my lifetime. For the first time we have had three candidates with equally compelling visions for Canada, with roughly equal chances of winning. Since then, much to my surprise, the NDP has faded somewhat, and the Liberals and Conservatives are neck and neck. I can't see how either party can make it to the magic number of 170 in the next ten days. Then again, very few pundits predicted David Cameron would win a majority back in May - one of the few who got it right was John McLaughlin.

This means that more than likely, we'll see some kind of alliance with the Liberals, NDP and the Green Party. (The BQ probably won't be needed.) I doubt there will be a coalition, but there may be some kind of agreement that common policies will be adopted as well as some planks unique to each party. The leading party in the group would then get support for "supply" (i.e. appropriations) for a set period of time. This would be like the Liberal - NDP accord in Ontario in 1985, although I prefer to call such an agreement a non-aggression pact or a cabal. Calling it that may be harsh, I know; but after twenty years of nastiness in Parliament, some kind of civility would be more than welcome.

So whom am I supporting? I'm not going to tell you that. (LOL) Actually, I already voted by mail. I certainly did not vote for the Cons (but I will of course treat their scrutineers fairly on the 19th). I would have voted for the Green Party - however, the ruling party got rid of direct party subsidies some time ago. I believe that viable parties should get public financing, and a large percentage vote for Elizabeth May, say 10%, would have under the old rules provided some much needed seed money and made the Greens a real contender. It's unfortunate, because in Europe the Greens can be coalition makers or breakers - in fact, they actually are in charge of at least one state in Germany.

Frankly, I find both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau distasteful as leaders. Both are trying to be pragmatic which is necessary in Canada, but each have policy planks I have trouble with. There are too many to be detailed here. If there was a Muldeau or a Trucair, that might have been different. Suffice it to say, either would be real bland as Prime Minister. But maybe that's what we need.

So what about the local candidates? Depends where you are.

I'm in Hamilton East - Stoney Creek, as a result of a boundary change this year. The incumbent, Wayne Marston, is with the NDP and a very competent MP. I think he has it in the bag. One poll tracker has him at 75% odds, but at the beginning he was at nearly 90%. Some movement there ... and keep in mind that Lower Stoney Creek tends to skew towards the other two parties, largely because of its middle class caché. (Upper SC is in the new Flamborough - Glanbrook district, which doesn't make sense, the urbanized part of it, west of Centennial Pkwy, fits in more naturally with Hamilton Mountain.) The other part of the district is much more lower class and they cling to the NDP quite consistently. But both halves have large immigrant populations. Loyalties do depend on which party gave you your landing papers or citizenship, but that may be changing as younger voters flex their options more openly.

The Conservative - I don't even know who Diane Bubanko is, but she's running in second place, much to my surprise.

The Liberal? Bob Bratina, who was a radio DJ for 40 years, including a very long running morning talk show.  (He was known as one of the "mayors of the morning", along with the long retired but still active Paul Hanover.) He also served on city council before a very embattled single term as Mayor of this city ... a consolidated city-county that hasn't quite been that successful since the merger in 2000. He stands tall - quite literally, I met him in the receiving line at City Hall after the death of Lincoln Alexander, and he must be at least 6'4". But I think people still have a bitter taste for how he managed the city, which explains why he's running in third place. I wouldn't count him out, though ... a solid GOTV could make this a surprise.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Nice choice. But with FPTP, I had to make a choice. I did, and I'm comfortable with it. But I'd still prefer MMR, where you choose a party (for PR allocation) AND a local candidate. That's the system they use in Germany, Wales and Northern Ireland, among other places.That way, I could split my vote, and heavens knows there have been elections when I have wanted to do exactly that. To choose someone for PM, but also choose someone from a different party as my representative would be nice.

All I can say is, as a DRO, make sure you do vote. Like CBS alumnus Bob Schieffer likes to say, "Go vote ... it will make you feel big and strong.” It's your tax dollars, you should have a say in who gets to spend that money.

P.S. There are still jobs to be had on election day, if you have time to spare. DROs, poll clerks, information officers ... just go to, type in your postal code and you'll find the number for your district's office. The drawback is you'll have to vote in advance, but they'll take care of that as well. Trust me, it's fun, and you'll get to meet a lot of people ... often times, those in your own neighbourhood! (And you'll get money in your pocket for a day's work, starting at thirteen bucks per hour, depending on the position.)

P.S.S. In case you were wondering, I filled in an application online, but also asked the winning candidate from the last election - Mr Marston - to nominate me as a DRO (since the party that finished first in a district gets right of first refusal for DROs, unless the positions for all polls are not filled in by a certain date; in which case the returning officer decides, while the second place party gets that right for poll clerks). Which path I was chosen from, I won't know until my training this week, probably I don't need to know ... but I'm still glad to do what I consider a civic duty.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Look who we're dealing with in the TPP

So the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal has been initialled. I'm not prepared to discuss the merits of the agreement. But let's consider the countries that are in it, besides Canada: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan - as well as the US.

Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Japan have fairly comparable human rights records and are well established democracies. 

Peru can rightly be called a democracy, but it has faced an insurgency from Maoists for as long as I can remember. Its human rights record - not the best, although better than many in this grouping.

Mexico has its huge drug problem. When just one city – Juarez – has 17,000 murders in just one year, but the neighboring city of El Paso has just three, you know there’s a crisis. Mexico too is a democracy, but still a fragile one.

Brunei and Vietnam have appalling human rights records. Especially on the rights of LGBTs.

Singapore doesn’t allow its press to criticize its foreign policy – only those of other countries. Districts are gerrymandered to ensure the ruling party always wins, although last time they got “just” 65% of seats, compared to the usual 80 to 90. Plus, in what other country is it illegal to chew gum without a license? Seriously.

Malaysia has a somewhat better human rights record, but far from a sparkling one. Elections there tend to be rather suspect.

Gone is the concept of linkage - you get freer trade if you expand rights. I find that unacceptable.

I say no to this arrangement. With the top four countries, yes. Mexico and the US that's a done deal anyway. The others ... clean up your acts as well as your domestic security issues, then we can talk.