Friday, February 12, 2010

Europe "got back" of Greece, Canada should not of States

This week the EU countries agreed to Greece's austerity measures to try to cut its deficit. It couldn't have come at a worse time – not just Greece but Spain, Portugal and Ireland have been having financial crises of their own and it has put pressure on the Euro. This past week, it dropped five cents against the greenback to about $1.36 – and the markets are still nervous. For the currency that was poised barely a year ago to become the world's new reserve currency, and I still think it has that potential, it's been quite a ride.

While the common currency has made quite good sense for business and tourism for the 16 countries that use it – perhaps 17 next year if Estonia as expected joins in – its very genius is also its Achilles' heel. Since there is one currency there is only one monetary policy; in effect, the Eurozone countries are just one country as far as the world is concerned. In the past, if one member state overheated, interest rates would be raised to slam the brakes (tightening); conversely, if a state cooled down the rates would be cut (easing).

With the current scenario all countries have to abide by the policies of Frankfurt which may not necessarily be in their individual best interests; worse if a country really gets into trouble the others may be called upon to bail out their fellow member which is politically unpopular but absolutely necessary to prevent a run on their own bonds. Not to mention other countries which may denominate some of their bonds in euros – including Canada and the United States.

Kicking a country out of the Eurozone is pretty much unthinkable – once one is in they're pretty much in, period. But the downside of integration and open borders is now pretty obvious for all to see, and why any talk of a currency union between Canada, Mexico and the United States is just a bunch of hot air. An open border, at least along the 49th, should be pursued; but I wouldn't want to bail out the US out of its huge debt mess. Let them fix it.

What I would support is a review of NAFTA, to bring it up to date with current circumstances and recognizing that money can now flow across borders with a click of a mouse – even “bonds” are now actually virtual instruments, not really negotiable notes on paper. It also has to settle once and for all the remaining irritants – including lumber, farm supports, and whatever border disputes are outstanding.

I also support closer ties to Europe as is now being negotiated provided we continue to control our own money supply until such time that we are really ready for the next huge step.

The last trade deal we signed was with four relatively small countries – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – all developed countries that generally play by the world trade rules (for the most part) and still at least one party here voted against the treaty. Does a prince from a country the size of Washington DC really pose a threat to our jobs – especially when he's finally cooperating with the rest of the West on secret bank accounts after all these years?   I mean, really.   We're having free trade with Colombia and Costa Rica -- both corrupt in certain respects -- and we're afraid of a few rich Europeans?
The Europeans may have each other's back.  But a customs union and a currency union goes too far.   We should of course maintain trade and military ties to the States, and try to make tourism easier both ways.   But they should not expect us Canadians to bail them out -- especially when they've chosen Beijing as their creditor of choice.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Canadian donations to Haiti over $113 million

With two days left before the deadline for donations to Haiti to be matched by the federal government, Canadians have donated at least $113 million. This speaks so much to our generous nature and our willingness to help the neediest and we should applaud ourselves for that. But if the feds have enough to help people in a third world country, surely they have enough to raise the supplement on Old Age Security or to increase the child supplements to raise tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beyond reason and comprehension

This is simply beyond explanation. How the commander of an air force base, a Colonel on track to getting his first star as a general, well respected by the media and J-school students -- and trusted enough to fly the official plane of the Prime Minister, according to the Canadian Press -- not to mention a double major in political science and economics, how he of all people could be accused of double murder and double rape.

What does it say about this world when "Maple Leaf One" (I presume that's the PM's callsign -- Executive One is that of POTUS when he flies commercial), who's made supporting our troops a rallying call -- one of the few things uniting Canadians even if the political undertones are misplaced -- can't even trust his or her own pilot?

Presumed innocent until proven guilty, of course. But this is a huge black mark on those who serve the duty as "officers and gentlemen / gentlewomen" and, after having their morale finally boosted after so many years, have been shot back almost to where they were before.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Theatres and LRT -- life goes on in Hamilton (not)

A couple of observations about life in The Hammer:

First, the demolition of the old Century Theatre on Mary Street is basically complete save for some minor dusting and such, after the roof caved in a couple of weeks ago.   What a pity.   This vaudeville era theatre later became a movie house -- probably the largest in Hamilton with over 2000 seats.   I remember seeing a few movies there, most notably A Passage to India, one of David Lean's best and right up there with his masterpiece Doctor Zhivago.   Well, with the consolidation of the cinema industry it and a few other theatres (including the Tivoli on James and the Avon on Ottawa) were left to rot.   Plans to renovate into condominiums just kept getting pushed back again and again.   The Odeon was abandoned for a number of years, and while it has recently been turned into the Lincoln Alexander Center (a concert hall) it's just not the same anymore.

I can't help think about Stratford, which during the 1970s and early 80s had a winter movie series at various venues across the city, including the Stratford Festival venues, that made it second only to Cannes in importance.    If Hamilton had kept its act together and bothered to spend a couple hundred thousand to restore the theatres, we could have had something that would have been as big as TIFF, the annual festival in Toronto.   Instead, once again we're a joke.

Second -- as Metrolinx gets ready to announce what form of transit Hamilton will get to upgrade the B-line buses (either bus rapid transit, or the city's preference for light rail) shopowners are already starting to complain that the proposed route will kill off businesses because of the relatively few places drivers will be able to U-turn to get to the venue of their choice.

I do think the routing from the Delta to Paradise should be along Main and not King -- or it could be made so that on the one way segments it could run on each.   But the idea that an LRT would be a business killer is not really borne by the evidence.    In fact, by freeing up buses to run on the feeder routes there would be more frequent service and more passengers, therefore more traffic to stores.     There are right and wrong ways to do this -- think of the contrast of the subways in Calgary and Edmonton, for example.

But whatever the choice, the line can't just end at McMaster in the west -- it has to go out to Dundas as present and even possibly Waterdown; and in the east there is a strong argument to extend the line from Eastgate to either the former Stoney Creek City Hall (presently a library and the Hamilton offices of the Mounties) or even Fifty Road in Winona.   I also believe there also has to be immediate movement on the A line from the harbour to the airport, and both need to be completed in time for the 2015 Toronto Pan-Am Games, since Hamilton will be hosting a number of the events (including soccer and cycling).    Things move at City Hall at a glacial pace -- compared to Peel or York Regions, where transitways are under construction; or in Ottawa where the existing dedicated express bus rights-of-way are always being extended due to popular demand and are well set up for light rail whenever that happens.

In the meantime, Hamilton gets the Presto card this fall -- the card that will eventually be used across this city and the GTA.   At least we're now finally in the early 1990s.   Twenty years late.   Like, London, Hong Kong and NYC have had that at least that long.   Dinosaurs we are -- or the government is, at least.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Six Nations asking for too much? No and yes ...

I don't know too much about this one -- I'm just sounding off so hear me out.

Last week, the Mississaugas of the New Credit, just outside of Hagersville (about a half hour drive south of downtown Hamilton) signed a tentative agreement with the feds regarding two land claims -- one to a large part of Toronto (from the Humber to Ash Ridges Bay) and the other to much of the land around Hamilton Harbour. The settlement -- about $185 million -- requires ratification but many see this as a formality.

It naturally raised the question as to why the neighbouring Six Nations can't "get its act together" and make a deal with the feds. Complicating the matter is the band is generally divided into two factions, those who support the Haudenasonee or "traditional" chiefs and those who support the elected band council and its elected chief -- who would be a mayor were it not for the fact that Ottawa can veto anything Oshweken does just as it can with any other band with which it hasn't made a "final" treaty.

The elected chief, William Montour, responded to these questions in the Hamilton Spectator with an excellent op-ed piece a few days after the New Credit deal.

The point of Chief Montour's essay is that Six Nations wouldn't be satisfied with just money. Their current reserve is just 5% of the original Haldimand Tract which stretches six miles on either side of the Grand River from its source at Dundalk to where it empties into Lake Erie at Dunnville They want more land and the ability to be self-sufficient -- but also do not want to sign away their claims to aboriginal title. That's something even I can agree on. I have also said quite a few times on this page I would like to see the matter go to binding arbitration -- and there are 27 land claims in particular the elected band wants to address.

But I have to wonder if there needs to be some reason involved. The feds under Chuck Strahl (the current czar of DIAND) has offered $27 million (give or take) to settle just one claim -- when lands were flooded in Dunnville to build the first iteration of the Welland Canal in the 1820s. Six Nations says not good enough -- they want $1 billion. Okay, I'll concede that the feds' offer lowballs what lands in that part of Haldimand and Niagara Counties are worth ... but a billion? The car parts plants and coat factories closed years ago and the only major plants left are a pickle cannery and a fertilizer factory.

In total, the elected band -- and I stress the elected band, not the Haudenasonee -- is asking for $82 billion as compensation for the land that they say was either stolen from them, or for the money that was misappropriated from trust funds when by choice or deceit the bulk of the tract was deeded back to Ontario. I can't speak for others who might think this is "blackmail" or something worse. I can only speak for myself but I have to say that were I arbitrator, I would say a much lower figure -- in a range of $5 to $10 billion.

What I think is needed is a comprehensive, province-wide agreement with all the Indian bands -- one that addresses title and land base issues and compensation and gives bands a level of self-sufficiency with a large share of income tax and GST or HST revenues (on a per capita basis) as is the case in the Yukon. (The Yukon solution basically redirects 75% of federal income tax and 95% of provincial tax to the respective authorities that manage the dozen or so global land claims -- and lets the bands keep GST collected; of course, this meant they had to give up their tax-exempt status and no doubt this would have to be a precondition for this to work in Ontario and it might not be popular at first.)

It will be expensive from the outset but giving natives a chance to contribute back to society across the board and to no longer be wards of the state would be an important step forward and would pay back dividends over the long run. Doing so will require a willingness from the feds and First Nations to be reasonable. And with all due respect to Chief Montour, the province cannot merely be a spectator -- after all, much Crown land which would have to be handed back is under provincial control. (Ontario owns 87% of the province, after all).

Perhaps a permanent mediation board, à la the Waitaingi Tribunal in New Zealand which deals with Maori grievances and tries to resolve them before court action, might be a possible way to move forward. (The Maori are also guaranteed representation in NZ's parliament, but while I like the idea of set aside seats for our First Peoples it may not go over well with some sectors of society.) I don't know what the ultimate solution should be, but the stalemate we have now is unacceptable.   Again, reason is required on both sides -- from the feds as well as the band councils.

Some from the tribes is necessary, I think -- but a heck of a lot more is needed from DIAND.   It's time to put that stupid agency out of business once and for all and to let natives, and people of all races who live in the territories, run their own show.

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