Thursday, November 30, 2006

If your gay marriage breaks down, don't think about running with the kids

There's been a potential complication in the struggle of right-wing groups in the United States to stop gay and lesbian marriages and even civil unions. A court in of all places Virginia have said it doesn't matter whether they're illegal in that state; if a couple got united in another state Virginia must still honour that union as being valid and everything that flows from that -- including custody disputes from failed unions. This can only be seen as a huge defeat for the religious right and other socially conservative groups. Many states where the issue has been debated -- such issue mostly pushed by the right = have passed amendments to the state constitutions which not only ban such unions but also prohibit state courts from recognizing unions formed in other states.

Such laws, to be blunt, are a throwback to a time when most Southern States made it illegal for people of different races to marry. They too refused to recognize the legitimacy of interrace marriages from other states, so it was technically against the law for a black-white couple in, say New York, from going on vacation in Florida. The US Supreme Court said nearly forty years ago in Loving v Virginia ruled such laws violated the "Full Faith and Credit" section of the US Constitution. (This was a case where a Virginia couple got married in the District of Columbia, went back to live in Virginia, were arrested and ordered banished from the state for twenty-five years.) Article IV, Section 1 says a state court must recognize as valid a decision implemented by a court in another state. So if an arrest warrant is issued in, say, Kentucky, it's also valid in Tennessee and everywhere else in America. As far as marriage goes, "full faith and credit" means if you're married in one state, you're married in all fifty.

Fast forward to this week. WaPo reports that the Virginia Court of Appeals ordered the state to recognize as valid a child custody order emanating from the breakdown of a civil union in Vermont. The biological mother defied a ruling that said her partner in the failed lesbian partnership had equal rights as a parent and fled to Virginia -- a state which, as noted above, bans gay marriage -- hoping that would give her refuge. It did not, of course; and the court has ruled correctly that not only must the Commonwealth of Virginia force the natural mother to share custody with her former partner, but also the federal kidnappng law is applicable in this case since it makes no distinction between straight or gay parents.

This should serve as a reminder to gay and lesbian couples everywhere: If you want marriage, fine -- but you have to accept the responsibilities that come with it. A gay divorce is the same as a straight-sex divorce and you will not be able to forum shop. No doubt this is bound to be an issue as such marriages break down in Canada and our courts will have to sort out custody issues as well. The laws of equity should dictate in this case everyone gets fair treatment; but what must also be remembered is that the interests of kids from broken marriages must always take precedence over the selfishness of the parents -- regardess of what sex they are.

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Remember Bill S-7?

I'm going to try to do something different from many of my fellow bloggers and not talk about what's going on at the Liberal Convention -- until after a new leader is chosen. There is, after all, a whole world out there. There are a few things on my mind, though; and after watching former Vice-President Al Gore last night on Leno promoting the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth, I think we need to remember something the Reform Party did a few years ago that might explain a big part of their current anti-environment agenda today.

The year was 1995. One of the things the Chrétien Administration promised was they'd give private members' bills a greater chance of being heard on the floor. That's a promise that was kept; by my count an average of a half-dozen or so per year were passed over and above the pro forma acts which inevitably do pass regarding changing the name of an electoral district. One of those was a bill presented by the Senate. Bill S-7, which managed to get through both Houses of Parliament and was enacted as Chapter 20 of the 1995 Statutes, committed the federal government to come up with a plan to get the executive branch to use its purchasing power to buy or lease alternate fuel vehicles. The reasoning being, leadership comes from the top and if one creates the market for such fleet purchases, it will drive down the prices for everyone else including consumers.

The target set was 75% of all government and Crown Corporation cars and trucks -- very ambitious but not totally unreasonable. The Liberals were persuaded, as were the NDP, the Bloc and the rump Progressive Conservatives (both of them). Guess who voted against final passage? That's right, the Reform Party.

One can only explain such a vote by presuming the lions' share of political contributions from corporations out West went to Team Manning and the MPs from a party that chose Green as its official colour were bleeding oil and not blood. After all, Alberta but also to a lesser extent the other Western provinces rely on energy royalties and they would not want to been as shooting themselves in the foot by not getting as much money as possible from gas-guzzling vehicles. However, this was a complete about-face for Reform and a total betrayal of their Blue Book promise to be the environmental "conscience" of Canada.

I don't know if the feds ever managed to meet the 75% alternate fuel vehicles target. But I can only imagine what things would be like right now if Stephen Harper had a majority. Kyoto really would be dead in the water. As it stands right now, a pro-Kyoto bill -- also a private members' bill -- is now before the House Environment Committee and has a good chance of getting final approval.

Then I watched Leno last night and saw Gore imitating Schwarzenegger and his promise earlier this year to "get rid of his 'ummer." At least Ahnold did, and he gets it when it comes to the environment and alternate fuels. Why won't the Conservative Party of Canada? To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, we don't know what we have until it's gone forever. And sooner or later the oil will run out.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

So they found polonium on planes ... what else?

Late word today was that Polonium-210, the rare element (remember, it's #84 on the periodic table) that killed Alexander Litvinenko, was found on two British Airways planes. This raises the spectre that it was in fact imported illicitly into the UK for the purposes of getting rid of those working against Vladimir Putin from abroad.

Not sure what to make of it, but the fact is that the bi-partisan Freedom House downgraded Russia to a "not free" country quite some time ago, in the same class as Zimbabwe and most Arab states. It just makes me wonder what the Russian Government is trying to prove by endangering the lives of civilians like that, let alone committing murder. It's not like they haven't been up to no good before. From 1962 to 1979, the Soviets beamed what became known the "Moscow Signal" at the US Embassy at levels of radiation far below what the Politburo deemed safe (which, it should be pointed out, was a standard that was also 10,000 times safer than the US safe level) but it was a deliberate attempt to spy on the US Ambassador. At least two, maybe three, who served in Moscow later died from cancer in an operation that might be more commonly known as Project Pandora.

And pretty much every Canadian knows who Igor Guzenko was. His bombshell revelation that the Soviets had been spying on the West for years, even before World War II, sparked the Cold War. Legend has it that the Canadians, worried about having the identity of his family leaked, ran his 1982 funeral down a major expressway so no one could catch them. Even now, spies are regularly rounded up although now the concern isn't so much government intelligence as it is technology transfers of our top corporations.

It's not like our hands are clean either, but at least we're trying to promote a sense of democracy and goodwill. Speaking truth to power is counter to everything Putin believes in. The jig may be up, and I'm wondering if the current detente will degenerate into a new round of sniping and high tensions. Given the situation in the Middle East, we actually need Russia on our side but alienating us won't do anyone any good.

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Three things I hope for from Leadership 2006

The Liberal Convention begins today, and for the second time in two years it picks a new nominee for the Prime Ministership of Canada; although this time it won't be automatic, the new leader will actually have to win an election. What will happen over the next four days. I am not in Montréal so will have to rely on the reports of those of my fellow bloggers at ProgBlogs and LibLogs, among ohers, who are on the ground.

There are a few things that I hope will come out of it. First, the campaign really hasn't generated the kind of national spark that some past classic conventions did, such as the 1983 Progressive Conservative battle that saw Joe Clark ousted by Brian Mulroney. So I hope the Liberal Party will emerge not just with a new leader but also a new sense of itself, which it needs desperately after being so rightly hung out to dry by Sponsorgate. We need policies that show us to be pro-business and pro-environment but also differentiate ourselves from the other parties -- and that does include the Greens which can no longer be seen as just a fringe group.

Second, the party has to become more democratic and bottom up. The delegate selection process introduced some time back has made the process more transparent but it still operates as a US style caucus or closed primary. I'm hopeful the party moves to either one member, one vote or some kind of weighted system that gives some power to the regions of the country; but still takes out the ultimate decision away from the party insiders. For, let's face it, it's those ex officios or "superdelegates" who will ultimately decide who leads on the first ballot this Saturday, and maybe wins the entire convention.

Third, we need to come out united and support who wins no matter who he or she is. This is stating the obvious, for sure, but we've seen too many situatons where a party comes out of a convention totally bruised and still at odds. They either lose the coming election, or the winner purges out the runner-up, or the person who comes up short just quits and joins another party. This must not happen now. We need to get rid of Stephen Harper, and we're only as strong as we are united.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Contempt of court finding against co-called "eyeglass dispensary"

One of the stupidest things the current Ontario Liberal Government did was end funding for eye examinations. Fortunately, I still don't have to pay for my biennial exams as I have a standing referral from my general practitioner. But having to pay sixty bucks a pop for an exam has led some people to leave their eyes unchecked for potentially harmful conditions like glaucoma and cataracts -- the latter of which my father had surgery for a couple of years ago.

The law in Ontario stipulates eyeglasses or contact lenses must be dispensed by an optician, after getting a prescription from a physician, optometrist or opthamologist. That ensures a patient gets the right Rx for his or her current condition. Tell that to Bruce Bergez of the Great Glasses chain. He's the only licensed optician in his chain of 17 stores, and has been claiming for the last few years that he can do eye exams using a computer analysis method not recognized anywhere. The College of Optometrists and the College of Opticians both cried foul, and got a restraining order. Bergez refused to comply. So yesterday, Judge David Crane said enough and fined Bergez $1 million, the largest contempt of court fine in Canadian history -- plus $50,000 a day each day he does not get into compliance herein. If he doesn't, he and his wife Joanne who co-owns the chain are going to prison. (PDF of the decision is here.)

In addition, the other day the College of Opticians suspended Bergez' licence and pending a further investigation he may be ordered out of the business all together.

Bergez has said he's going to appeal. Good luck with that, pal.

Frankly, I can't afford laser surgery. And I don't like the idea of contacts, so I'm stuck with my high-index glasses for now. But I've always gone to a reputable chain store, for regardless of the cost I want to make sure it's done right and my spectacles made for me -- as do most people for theirs. I'd rather pay a high price for one pair of quality corrective lenses than peanuts for three pairs that are crap. Bergez should either get with the program or get out of the business. We don't need people playing with other people's emotions claiming they "don't need an eye exam" or they can get one for free.

For his part, Dalton McGuinty should just bite the bullet and start paying for eye exams again. They are medically necessary procedures after all -- and if he had done so all this time we would never have had sleaze like Bergez to put up with. True, he was playing fast and hard by the rules before McGuinty when the restraining order first took effect, but Pointy Head made it worse.

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(no name)04/12/2006 9:48:32 PM
This cat was doing free exams before deinsurance. He still advertises free exams on his website. He's a lunatic. He takes his inspiration from a film called Boiler Room. He actually makes it mandatory that his staff sits through this film to better understand his motivation.

Eight minutes of ads are enough -- and DON'T mess with time-shifting!

The Canadian networks are at the CRTC right now for yet another round of hearings. This time, they're talking about advertising rules. The nets want more than the twelve minutes per hour of commercials that are currently allowed.

That seems to be fine by the CBC, who has a mandate to broadcast across the country and to do so is forced to run those expensive Low-Power Relay Transmitters (LPRTs) which carry distant signals from far away; and running them eats up a big part of their budget. People up in the Greenstone communities of Beardmore and Geraldtown, for instance, must still wonder why they must put up with news and commercials from CBC Toronto; and who might prefer getting information and community events from a closer regional source -- say, Sault Sainte Marie or Thunder Bay. CBC, which like the other networks are facing massive conversion costs for HDTV, would rather have just 40 transmitters, strategically located in the largest population centres, and have the rest of their viewers get their signals by digital cable or satellite, which most do anyway. That would free up some of their money to actually do quality programs and late local news again -- and with less commercials.

The private networks, however, are crying poverty. They're clobbering CBC and they're still crying poor. Why? Well, for one thing, among those twelve minutes per hour include promotions for upcoming shows, which they say shouldn't count. For another, they say local cable companies don't pay to carry their signals. The CRTC's position has always been that's the price they have to pay -- zero -- in exchange for their preferred positions on the dial, way down. Cable channels, most of which are higher up, charge subscriber fees for being higher up and as a consequence having lower commercial rates and fewer viewers.

It's hard to understand the networks' position. Cable and satellite-only channels have actually been eating away at the networks for years. They've done so because they actually have good shows, not the crap the networks usually put out. I could understand it if, say, the CBC moved to a licensing system like the BBC has -- provided they got rid of commercials all together. But why should we have to pay the networks -- including the CBC, it should be pointed out, which also wants to be paid for carriage -- for signals which are free-to-air? Shouldn't people who don't have cable and get their signals by antenna only, and there are still quite a few of them out there, have to be sent a bill to make things fair, too?

Twelve minutes of commercials is plenty. Matter of fact, it's too much. Things were fine when the rules only allowed for eight minutes, and they should go back to that. And no subscriber fees to them either, at least for the local signals. Not until the CBC moves to licensing, which given the political vagrancies in this country will be never.

There is one other item, however, that could really cause a revolt. The networks are bitching cable and satellite companies aren't compensating them enough for "time shifting." This is a very nifty feature that was introduced to persuade people to switch their analogue service to digital. It allows people to get network affiliates from all five (and a half) time zones in Canada. Not only does this allow us to see our favourite programs when we want (for example, people on the West Coast can actually see Saturday Night Live in prime-time and LIVE), but also to watch local news programs "from away." We think we have problems in Southern Ontario. Wait till you watch the nightly news on CBC Yellowknife. At least one network, CTV, is planning to stop feeding their microwave signals to redistributors if they don't get more money.

That might be something where there could be a compromise, as long as the new carriage fees for out-of-market signals aren't prohibitive. But if they even think Canadians will stand to lose time-shifting, then they don't know what a revolution is.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

"Nation" resolution passes; and the race in London North Centre

So it's not just Gerard Kennedy who has a problem with Québec -- or the Québecois -- being called a "nation." Joe Volpe and Ken Dryden, who both actually sit in the House, voted against the resolution tonight (which nonetheless passed overwhelmingly, 266-16). Even more surprising was the resignation of the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Michael Chong, who wasn't even consulted by Harper before the resolution was tabled last week.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on London North Centre, with the Liberals running ahead, the Green Party in second place, and -- as I write these words -- Dianne Haskett of the Conservatives trailing quite a bit behind. Regardless of who wins tonight, this must be good news for progressives -- for people are actually looking for an alternative and the Greens appear to be it. While I am a Liberal now and hope to be for quite some time to come, it's not inconceivable anymore that one day a Red-Green coalition could govern Canada. Such pairings have existed in some European countries -- France and Germany, for instance -- and they have provided competent administration. A Cabinet with members from both parties could provide Canada with a government that is both pro-business and pro-environment.

I don't think we've seen the last of Elizabeth May ... which is a good thing. But I also think we haven't seen the last of Haskett either which is ... well, I'll let God be the judge of that one.

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NBC makes it official: It's a civil war

The White House is frowning this morning, but at long last at least one of the Big Four US networks is calling a spade a spade. This morning on the Today Show, NBC said the situation in Iraq is definitely a civil war. One of the criteria they used to come to that determination is the fact the insurgency is now self-sustaining. More significant is Gen. Barry McCaffrey's assessment that there are not just two, but three sides to the war and a Baghdad administration that refuses to take sides so as not to alienate any disaffected side -- Sunni, Shi'ite, or Kurds -- and things won't turn around until Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki actually does make his stand.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what those of us in the real world have known for nearly four years. Fighting a war isn't just about taking territory, it's also about winning the hearts and minds of people on the ground. Unless you have willing participants who can shepherd the way in, you're only setting up a situation where you don't know who's loyal and who isn't. By contrast, consider the Normandy invasion in 1944. The Allied Forces from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom were able to succeed in part because there was a well organized resistance in France but who were lying low until they got a coded message on the radio -- beamed from across the English Channel -- that the time had come. True, the casualties were extensive, but the mission succeeded because the Nazis found themselves surrounded.

It's my feeling that notwithstanding American claims about WMD (there were none), or it not being about the oil (of course it was), it's the Americans that took sides. They took a gamble and decided to side with the majority Shi'ites, in spite of the States' history with another country's regime being dominated by that particular sect of Islam (namely, Iran). When the Sunnis started fighting back, the US was trapped and suddenly had to change on the fly to a military occupation force trying to broker a peace between the two sides. Except there was no peace to keep -- in fact, it was impossible to even make the peace.

Sadly, Canada is also caught up in another civil war, the one in Afghanistan. We and the rest of NATO seem incapable of trying to strike the right balance between deterrence, defence and development. Our main focus should be on the third "D" but instead we're so busy helping facilitate the drug trade that the Taliban has gotten their second wind.

NBC got it right and It's time for the rest of the media to get rid of their semantics and tell the truth. When Canada's media refers to the October Crisis of 1970, they say Trudeau "proclaimed the War Measures Act," rather than just saying he imposed martial law. When they talk about the destruction of the Africktown section of Halifax, they talk about it being a demolition when it fact it was ethnic cleansing.

A civil war, by any other name -- including "insurgency" -- is still a civil war.

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Kennedy stands out, gets desperate

One has to admire Gerard Kennedy for taking a stand. He says he will not support the upcoming resolution saying that Quebeckers constitute a nation within a united Canada. Given the resolution now has the support of most Liberals, he's probably going to be standing out as being diferent along with a handful of MPs who say they will vote "no" -- but we do need more people, especially in Parliament, to stand on their principles. It's the same reason why I respect people currently in the legislature like Garth Turner and alumni like John Nunziata and Janice Brown.

The Liberal Convention begins in just two days in Montréal, and "Steve" Harper's bombshell announcement last week forced the Liberals to think fast on their feet.

And while I supported Kennedy at the delegate selection for reasons entirely unconnected to the "nation" stance first proposed by Michael Ignatieff earlier this year, one has to wonder how much traction he has left. His French is adequate enough for conversational tête-à-têtes, but it's not good enough for the bureaucratic and commercial French that is essential to getting things done in Ottawa. That may explain his lacklustre support in Québec. If he defies kismet and pulls off a victory, or even if he doesn't, he desperately needs to get into a crash course to get up to speed.

That being said, it takes guts to say what Kennedy has said. We kind of expect the same kind of talk from Trudeau's kids as we have heard the last week. But many associate "Trudeau" with the past. This is the present, and Kennedy may have put his finger on what might end up a tangled mess. Personally I have no problem with the resolution as currently written. But Kennedy may have found his ace in the hole, the chip that may make him kingmaker on a second or third ballot.

On the other hand, some may see it as an act of desperation. Would any potential winner be willing to accept his entreaties and at what price? Or will Kennedy just lead a charge of delegates who walk off the convention floor in disgust? Either way, Saturday's vote is far from certain now.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why I am not a member of PETA

There was a time when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals actually did good work in the United States and Canada. Some methods of harvesting animals for food and for fur truly were inhumane and uncompassionate, and they had to be stopped. In the last couple of decades, I've begun to wonder, however. I may have been put off by k.d. lang's infamous "Beef Stinks" commercial that made many people in Alberta want to run her out of town for "treason," real or imagined. But the tactics of PETA have gotten worse and worse and their commercials so bizarre that most stations don't even air them.

This animal rights group is now targeting Nativity scenes. That's right, Nativity scenes. The Associated Press reports PETA sent an e-mail to a Free Methodist congregation in Anchorage, Alaska, asking them not to use live animals in their annual Christmas pageant. The clincher is, they never have. Seems PETA got put off by the church's use of the phrase "living nativity," which to the congregation and its pastor Rev. Jason Armstrong actually means people in character standing in silent tribute to the infant Jesus.

"'No one's come by protesting or thrown bloodstained fur at us or anything,' Armstrong said. "We even use a plastic baby.'"

Truly, the lion shall dwell with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6) Unless, of course, they've all been "liberated" by PETA. Give me a break.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Where does politics end and religion begin?

When is it appropriate for a church to get involved in politics? Where does lobbying end, and social advocacy begin? For the most part, Canada's mainline churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, United) as well as a majority of the evangelical churches (I include in this group such churches as the Lutherans and the Salvation Army) know where to draw the line -- it's a fine one and ever shifting, but it's almost never crossed. Some don't, believing church and politics should be the same thing, and that's what I want to touch on today.

This weekend, perhaps not too coincidentally when the Western Christian Churches mark the feast of Christ the King, Alberta Progressive Conservatives are participating in the first round of balloting to pick the successor to "King" Ralph Klein. Most people, however, thinks it will be a showdown next weekend between Jim Dinning and Ted Morton. Whoever wins will have to try to rebrand the party as he or she prepares the party for the next provincial election, probably in 2008. And it could be much tougher than before -- although gerrymandering (intentional or not) gives overweight to rural areas the province is no longer a one party fiefdom, with both the Liberals and New Democrats having strong showings in the popular vote last time as well as the far-right Alberta Alliance, which picked up 10% of the vote and a seat in the legislature in Edmonton.

There is, however, a slight complication that could taint the final results. Seems as if our old friends at Lethbridge TV station CJIL (a.k.a. The Miracle Channel), amongst the chief exponents of the Seed of Faith heresy in this country, may be up to some new and dangerous tricks. A couple of weeks ago, Tim Thibault mentioned at his TMC monitoring website (The Miracle Channel Review) that Dick Dewert, who effectively controls TMC, sent out a mailer with this: "For all residents of Alberta, I will be sending an email in the next week regarding how you can be involved in the selection process for Alberta's next premier. Be sure to watch your email for this important information." Among the information, said Thibault, was a membership application for the Alberta PC Party; as well as "links to websites telling people who to vote for."

This could very well be a clear contravention of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rules, which allow churches and other registered charities to distribute general information about elections (such as when to vote and who the candidates are), but prohibits them from actually endorsing any one particular party or candidate. Furthermore, if a "voter information guide" is created, it must clearly state how all candidates -- not just the one they favour -- voted or would have voted on issues.

It's bad enough that money intended to keep the channel on the air is being used to send mailers which are blatantly partisan. What's clear to me, however, is that based on the views expressed on the station regarding social issues -- which fall under the convenient header "traditional family values" (meaning barefoot and messy mothers, gays and lesbians in prison, reviving the so-called "rule of thumb") the on-air personalities favour one of two candidates and them alone: Ted Morton or Lyle Olberg, and are hoping their followers in Alberta will vote in like manner.

In Canada, the "rules" have been used to strip some left-wing groups of their tax-free status, such as the Council of Canadians. (They seem to be inconsistently applied, however; Campaign 2000 takes some strong policy positions but is still a registered charity, as is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.) Few if any churches have faced similar wrath -- maybe because the vast majority do good work in the community; and do so without favour to any group and without condescension towards any group, even the ones they disagree with. Perhaps the fear is by singling out those who go too far, a widespread rumour of "persecution" will spread the land.

Maybe it's time the CRA did. Using reason and sound Biblical principles doesn't seem to persuade TMC to change its ways. Citation after citation from the CRTC doesn't seem to do the trick. Pulling tax-free status over this might. I wouldn't have minded if they had given the addresses and toll-free numbers of all the parties in Alberta. Sending information about memberships in one party alone is way over the line -- no other group in the country would be alowed to even attempt that, and I can only wonder if knowing Stephen Harper is in office is their Blessed Assurance that any further sanctions by either the CRTC or the CRA will be their salvation since the Cabinet can overrule any findings from either.

The MSM is finally starting to catch on to TMC and some of its outlandish methods -- such as this clip from CBC Saskatchewan. It's time the rest of us did and said enough is enough. People of faith in politics, yes. People using their faith to change the course of politics, no.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Flaherty's economic update: Playing the shell game

In my last post, I took to task Jim Flaherty's assertion that he could get rid of Canada's "net debt" in just 15 years, by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. I'll talk a bit more about that later in this post. First, I have a major problem with the Harper Government suddenly deciding they're no longer going to respect private sector forecasts about economic growth or contraction, which tends to be more conservative (small "c") than what the bean counters at the Finance Department come up with. From now on, it will be pie in the sky, hope for the best. This is just plain nuts. It's the same thinking the Mulroney Administration used and it's why the debt tripled under his watch.

It is true that the previous Liberal government lowballed expectations, over and over again. But that was actually smart thinking. By coming up with a worst case scenario, the executive branch was able to pay the bills. When surpluses helped pay down the debt, we Canadians got a tax break -- not a big one, but modest enough that we had more money in our pockets.

But let's presume that Flaherty is acting on good faith, and his numbers manage to stick. This includes his projection this year's surplus will be double that forecast -- from $3.6 billion to $7.2 billion once the accounts are closed next year. One would hope they do stick, because we're still the only G-7 country running an annual surplus and drawing down the accumulated deficit -- an advantage the States is far from achieving even if it froze spending at current levels today. Based on Flaherty being totally honest about the numbers, I'll go through some of the highlights of the economic statement -- what I like, what I don't.

  • The debt-to-GDP ratio, as we understand the term in its current context, is planned to be reduced to 25 percent by FY 2013, one year ahead of schedule. That's a very good thing. At 25%, we would no longer have to rely on foreign borrowing and could finance the debt solely through Canadian sources. It's possible the government would no longer even have to issue Canada Savings Bonds from that time on. It wouldn't quite put us near Australia whose debt-to-GDP ratio is about 16% right now. (We're at 38.3%, at present.) But self-reliance would be a win-win, both for our economy as well as the viewpoint of foreign investors who park their money only if know they're going to get their money back.
  • Surpluses will continue to go to debt retirement, whilst interest savings will go towards tax reductions. Big deal. That's what's happening right now -- the devil is in the details of the tax cuts. They should go towards increasing the basic personal exemption, every year. The marriage penalty should also be eliminated -- I'd do it over five years.
  • One reason why the surplus is expected to be higher is because the cap on which EI premiums are charged is going up -- $1,000 to $40,000 of employment income -- even as the premiums drop next year; and they're considered part of general revenues. The cap, frozen for the last ten years, will continue to go up with inflation. In the next couple of years, the CPP and RRQ premiums have to be reset and I expect those to go up as well and while they do go into trust funds (and are therefore "off the books") the contributions are deductible and they'll find ways to negate the value of the increased deduction.
  • The government proposes a "working income supplement." I touched on this in a post a little while back, but the idea is simply to give low to middle income Canadians more money in their pocket -- either through a monthly cheque or lower withholding taxes, on a sliding scale until they get over the official "poverty line." This could help rebuff the common criticism that tax cuts usually help the more well off. If it gets people off of welfare and back to work and paying taxes, that would be great. The best social program is a job, after all. But if the money amounts to peanuts, then those on social assistance might think they're better off staying there. We won't find out more about this until May -- and that's another thing; we're kind of used to hearing the budget before the start of the fiscal year.
  • Reducing the GST by another percent: A giveaway to the rich. Don't even think about it until after debt-to-GDP gets below 25%, which would push it back to 2013 or 2014.
  • Cutting the capital gains tax further: Why? They're already below the rates in most of the G-7. It's true more people than ever play the market, but giving wealthier Canadians even more money defeats the purpose of a progressive taxation system which is to redistribute income from richer people to the less well off.

As I mentioned yesterday, the idea of "net debt" is a joke. It's so harebrained it could have came out of Termite Terrace, the Warner Brothers unit where all the Looney Tunes were produced. As the government says in its own papers, net debt includes provincial and territorial debts and unfunded public service pension liabilities, as well as the surpluses in trust accounts such as the CPP and RRQ. Since the public pension plans are doing extremely well as of late -- thanks to mostly prudent investment decisions by the CPP Investment Board and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, respectively, not to mention an unfunded surplus in EI of about $35 billion, net debt is probably much less than the official figure of 38%. But it's not comparing apples to apples, but apples to oranges.

It's stupid math. It's crooked math. And any accountant would shoot down the concept -- as I hope the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, will.

What would I do differently is to say that each year Canada commits to reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio by a minimum of one percentage point per year. This is easily achievable -- we've averaged a reduction of about 4.1% per year over the last eight years. (On this count, John McCallum has no right to be as sanctimonious as he was yesterday -- claiming it'll take 161 years to pay off the debt. After all, he's famous for helping to orchestrate the "inverted surplus" -- when the Liberals predicted it would be $1.9 billion in FY 2004, and wound up as being actually $9.1 billion.) But by setting a target of one percent, we allow for recessions and set a more realistic goal of paying off the debt -- the federal accumulated deficit, not "net debt" -- in 38 years. Being totally debt free, however, would make Canada the envy of the world, especially the Americans -- among other things it would allow for a 20% tax cut, right across the board.

I really look forward to the day when we pay less taxes than the Americans. I really do.

One other point: Unless I missed something, there was absolutely nothing about fixing the fiscal imbalance between the national government and the 13 jurisdictions that make up the Canadian federation. This needs addressing as well -- except for Alberta, there are bills that have to paid, and the provinces and territories all bear the brunt of health care costs. People went ballistic a few years back over the infamous "Alberta firewall" letter that Stephen Harper co-signed, but it's gotten to the point where maybe Ontario should be considering withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, the maternity benefits portion of EI and collecting its own income taxes -- things which Québec all does for itself already.

The mere threat of losing all that money might be the wakeup call Harper needs to fix equalization for the next generation. It's way past time for the have-not provinces to be lifted out of their quagmires and into the kind of prosperity that people in Ontario and Alberta are accustomed to -- and British Columbia used to be.

Overall grade: C+. It would have been B-, but for Flaherty's new math.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What do they mean by "net debt" anyway?

One of the most convenient ways to try to make a surplus larger or a deficit smaller than it really is, is to "cook the books." This was a perennial complaint of finance ministers at both the federal and provincial levels, who sought to blame their fiscal woes on their predecessors' bad management. To put a stop to this, the Liberals introduced the private sector standard of accrual accounting. This means nothing more than making sure payments and receipts are recorded at the time they are deemed to have happened, not when cash changes hands. For example, when we file a tax return and expect a refund, the refund is charged to the government as of December 31st -- not when it is paid out a few months later; if we have a balance owing it's due immediately even if we post-date the cheque to April 30th. It's based on this method that we have a debt owing of $481 billion as at March 31st of this year, when the 2006 fiscal year ended.

This is prudence at its simplest. What has Jim Flaherty done today? He's thrown all that out and introduced the concept of "net debt." He claims we can pay off the debt in just fifteen years. To do this, he has subtracted the unfunded surpluses in the Canada and Québec Pension Plans and the Employment Insurance Plan, then added back in provincial fiscal debts and unfunded liabilities in the provinces' respective Workers' Compensation Boards and Criminal Injuries Compensation Boards. (For those who are interested, here is the update in PDF format -- I will try to comment on what I like and don't some more tomorrow.)

Is that prudence? No. It's bullshit, plain and simple. As is Flaherty's announcement he cut income taxes earlier this year -- actually, he raised them, a half percentage point on the lowest tier, which hits everyone rich or poor.

There are some positive announcements in today's statement, such as the prospect of a working income supplement to get people off of welfare and up to a minimum income -- sort of a negative income tax. Thing is, that's exactly what the Liberals proposed a year ago. He also seems hell bent on reducing the GST another percentage point when our health, education and welfare systems simply can't afford it.

But the bottom line is, if Flaherty wants to eliminate the debt, he should play by the rules that the private sector plays by. They're called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and they ensure that a dollar of debt or a dollar of surplus equals a dollar. No more, no less. Raising expectations like he did today is nothing short of irresponsible -- the kind of irresponsibility he showed when he created the private school tax credit in Ontario that was rightly repealed by the provincial Liberals a couple of years later.

Maybe having a snap election now isn't such a bad idea after all.

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Why the Power Workers Union is running those ads

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

The last few weeks, there's been a radio campaign going on singing the virtues of clean coal and nuclear power in the province of Ontario. Not from the usual suspects, but from CUPE Local 1000 a.k.a. the Power Workers Union.

Both are necessary evils, and given we're still too reliant on the power of the atom as well as the "dirtier" kind of coal they're going to be with us for some time to come. But one of the ads, where a rock concert suddenly shuts down due to a shortage of power is just plain silly. It's completely dismissive of photovoltaic (solar) and wind power -- even though Ontario Power Generation does use those sources for a small but not insignificant percentage of the total supply.

What this is really all about is where the new nuclear power plants are going to be situated. It's more than obvious that PWU wants it at Nanticoke, a 45 minute drive south of where I live, because Canada's largest coal power plant is already there as well as the infrastructure for transmission lines. It would be nice if they actually admitted their conflict of interest.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Harper: Québec a "nation within a united Canada"

It was quite a political shock, but Stephen Harper -- with backing from Bill Graham and Jack Layton -- introduced a resolution to declare that Québecois are a nation within a united Canada. This was quite deliberate, to undercut a resolution from Gilles Duceppe, the separatist leader in Ottawa, that Québec is a nation, period.

It seems to me that Harper has backed himself into a corner these last few weeks. Not only does he had to explain why he has chucked out the autonomy of MPs to a level of party discipline not seen in years, but also why he betrayed the oil patch with his government's announcements on income trusts. He was rapidly heading for a no-confidence vote and there's no doubt it would have passed -- whether it was a straight up motion or the vote on the Ways and Means Motion dealing with tomorrow's economic statement.

I don't think any of the federalist parties are actually ready for an election -- they need at least until the spring to get organized in a meaningful fashion. So I think what happened today is really a way of buying Steve, Jack and whoever wins the Liberal leadership next week time; time to get ready for what promises to be an even nastier round of hustings than the last one. Two things are pretty obvious to me from this: One, the Cons and the other federalist parties want the Bloc off the political map once and for all and return Parliament to an all-federalist institution. Two, Harper wants a showdown with Michael Ignatieff, who has been pushing the nationhood idea for Québec the most aggressively; so much so that the main contenders for the leadership actually had to sit down this morning to come up with a compromise position.

What is less clear is how it will play out with the people. Since the resolution has no more binding effect than the Nickle Resolution which supposedly prohibits Canadians from accepting honours from Great Britain, people in Québec will probably just give it a shrug and say, "Well, at least they realize what we have been all along," but it probably won't change the dynamic that much in provincal politics. Out West, however, where the Conservatives have their base and are actually "in" after saying for years they wanted "in," they're probably going to ask: "Is this the same Stephen Harper who fought so hard against Meech Lake and Charlottetown? Why has he suddenly become like the old boys, and so fast?"

I wrote a few weeks ago that it was my feeling that all French Canadians, regardless of the province they live in, were the real nation within Canada. But I figure, it probably won't do much harm to just state the obvious here. If the Scots are a nation within the UK, the Basques a nation within Spain, and the Tartars a nation within Russia, then what makes Québec not a nation within Canada? If it undercuts separatism, it's a good thing.

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Seven simple questions that Haskett won't answer -- so I will

The other day, a fellow ProgBlogger -- Darren McEwen -- pulled up some questions that an evangelical group in London is asking the candidates running in the vacant seat in London North Centre. He noted that Dianne Haskett, who has strong ties to the religious right, has not as yet answered those questions. So, even though I don't live in London, I'm going to take a stab at answering those questions as honestly as I can.

  • Revisting gay marriage: I think the issue has been settled and we should just move on. There's no point in rehashing a debate that tears people apart. One only has to remember how divided Parliament was when they revisited the death penalty then shot it down. Even though it was a party line vote (in that a majority in each party voted the "official" line) reinstatement was defeated after all three party leaders at the time -- Mulroney, Turner and Broadbent -- expressed their moral opposition to capital punishment in the strongest possible terms, and all vowed never to sign a death warrant. That persuaded about fifty Conservatives to change their minds and put the death penalty here in the history books once and for all. Thank God. However, it is inevitable that Parliament will vote again on the gay marriage issue -- Harper has vowed to do it in the next few weeks. If I were a member, then yes, I'd vote in favour of marriage being that of a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others; provided that existing gay and lesbian marriages were recognized and that an alternate form of partnership, be it common law marriage or civil union, was also recognized in law.
  • The ban on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide: I have a personal interest in this, given my mother died from cancer. Active euthanasia should always be illegal -- the decision to terminate life should never be made by a third party. There are other options, such as palliative care to reduce suffering. I don't really like the term "doctor-assisted suicide" as a physician is duty bound to first do no harm. However, if a patient has expressed in a continuing care power of attorney or directive (or, as it's called in Québec, a "mandate in anticipation of being incapacitated") his or her desire that no life saving measures be taken to resusitate, that should be respected. As well, if a patient expresses his or her clear will to end life, then the means should be provided to let the patient end his or her life on their own, as long as the person is proven not to be insane and can demonstrate beyond any doubt at all he or she knows what will happen as a consequence.
  • Abortion: I personally oppose abortion, but knowing a few women who have had the procedure I also know it's a decision that is never taken lightly. I also have a major problem with the fact Canada has no abortion law at all. None. The Supreme Court of Canada, when it struck down the former law nearly twenty years ago, said the state had protectable interests either at the start of the second trimester or at viability -- usually 24 weeks. So that's where I'd draw the line. Beyond that, however, Canada needs to develop tax and social policies that nurture families and ensure abortion is the absolute last resort. This includes making real enhancements to the Canada Child Tax Benefit (not the Harperbucks), more money for nutritional programs for pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five, and a day care program ensuring access for all children who want it with fees set based on the parents' ability to pay. That, and eliminating the marriage penalty, or permiting income splitting or whatever one wants to call it -- so that a woman gets equal tax treatment whether she stays at home or works in the "real world." People seem to forget that in the States, abortions actually went down during the Clinton administration and have gone back up during that of Bush Lite -- because Slick Willy increased funding for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Dubya gutted it. Another thing that would help is streamlining the adoption process for foster kids in Canada. The backlog needs to be cleared up and foreign adoptions suspended while our kids are served first.
  • Waiting periods for abortion: Like I said above, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is never taken lightly. Educate a woman about the options and alternatives, but no waiting period, period.
  • Health care workers who don't perform certain procedures based on conscience: That's their right, and I'd defend -- it with one exception: Contraception. If a woman wants the morning after pill, she should be able to get it, no questions asked.
  • Strengthening laws against child pornography: I don't know why the religious right thinks they have the monopoly on this one. Even progressives should be outraged that it even exists. I can't see how it could possibly have artistic merit. Definitely, yes: Toughen the laws, but also get ISPs to monitor the stuff more, and if they can filter it out without us having to. We also have to take a tough stand against countries that host these perverts from kilometres away and threaten trade sanctions if they don't get tough. Protecting our kids should be job number one of any civilized society.
  • Eliminating government funding of interest groups: Yes.

That wasn't so hard -- was it, Dianne?

UPDATE (Thursday 8:39AM, 1339 GMT): The original source of course was Darren McEwen at Apply Liberally, and I've updated the post accordingly.


22/11/2006 10:46:59 AM
really enjoy your articles... yet we are two different types of bloggers... lol

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Say it ain't so, Bull Moose!

Incredibly, it is; and it explains why one of my favourite diaries -- the Bull Moose Blog -- shut down last week, or as its writer said went into hibernation.

Believe it or not, Marshall Wittman, once a consultant with the Christian Coalition before he bolted and became an "independent" consultant to the Democratic Leadership Council, in fact a guy who once considered running as Chair of the Democratic National Commitee, will now -- wait for it -- be communications director for "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman.

Raw Story has the messy details.

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Stockwell Day lets US ATF make bullet announcement for him

One of the nice things about the Net is that it has allowed reporters to go beyond the constraints of a print or broadcast article and call things like they are. Many scribes have taken up their own blogs and record their thoughts about not just the stories they write but the story behind the story -- a text version of shows such as BBC Radio 4's venerable From Our Own Correspondent. The CBC's Washington Bureau chief, Henry Champ, wrote an entry in his blog yesterday that raises new questions about just how secretive "Canada's New Government" (CNG) has become. (That's another thing -- it's been almost ten months. Haven't we all had enough of the "New"?)

The gist is this: The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm and the Mounties signed a memorandum last Thursday to allow the exchange of ballistics testing data, and in addition the Canadian government has consented to an ATF field officer being posted in Toronto. Not such a bad idea, given many of the gun crimes committed in Canada are the result of bullets fired from firearms being smuggled from the States. One would think that this is something the Canadian government would want to trumpet about. Nope. Champ writes that the announcement was made through an on-line press release at the ATF's website.

Stockwell "Jet Ski" Day, who was meeting with US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Asheville, North Carolina never bothered to tell the press. He didn't even invite the press even for a post meeting photo-op, saying he'd talk to them if and only if he felt like it. Champ speculates the real reason the Ottawa Press Gallery wasn't invited on the trip was because CNG was afraid they'd asked Gonzales some very embarrassing questions about Maher Arar, the Canadian who was wrongly deported by the Americans to Syria so that country could torture him.

What bothers me about it isn't that Stockwell Day or anyone else in CNG doesn't believe in freedom of information. It's that an international treaty or at its base a simple protocol of understanding was being signed, something of interest to both countries, and the government believes somehow we don't have a right to know about that. Oh, if it's a tax treaty or an update to the extradition agreement, or even the permanent extension of NORAD, we do have the right. But not this? What else don't we have a right to know -- Day's expense account during the trip, or the cost of the flight on the offical government airplane?

Anyone need convincing now that CNG has a hidden agenda? Such as letting the contract of the new naval port in Iqaluit to an American company -- say Halliburton -- without bid? I thought the Americans don't recognize our sovereignty north of 60.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

At long last, Rupert Murdoch admits he was wrong about something

That something, of course, was the proposed book and Fox TV special, If I Did It, by Orenthal James Simpson. After over two dozen affiliates of the Fox network said they were not going to air the show and at least one book store chain said they had no intention of stockng the book on its shelves, Murdoch the self-proclaimed "billionaire tyrant" was forced to retract the concept and pulled the plug; offering a written apology to the Goldman and Brown families.

Frankly, I don't know if OJ did it or not. I lean towards not. But, that's not the point. The point here was a guy who wrote a book imagining how he might have done it. This isn't a mystery novel we're talking about. These are two real life people whose lives were cut down. They were friends ... they possibly might have had a special relationship, or just good buddies. Nicole Brown was by no means perfect (from some contemporary accounts at the time she fell in with the drug crowd), but she was also just trying to get on with her life after a pretty rocky marriage with the Juice. As for Ronald Goldman, he was totally innocent. All he was trying to do was return a pair of glasses that Nicole had left behind at a restaurant.

The criminal trial was a total disaster. Few if any remember the judges who presided over the trials of Charles Manson, Sam Berkowitz or Ted Bundy. But everyone still remembers Lance Ito; whose own wife got dragged into the sordid affair when the lead investigator, Mark Fuhrman, made some rather nasty remarks about her. In the end, Simpson got acquitted not because of his stellar legal team or the glove that didn't fit, but because the jury -- after meeting for just four hours -- were convinced his limo driver got his timing wrong about when he picked up OJ the next day. I guess that counts for reasonable doubt, but I don't think anyone thought he was going to be acquitted -- whether he was truly culpable or not.

We all know about the civil trial so I won't retread that. But here's what it comes down to. Any responsible person who was truly innocent would not exploit the murders of those he or she was accused of killing. After vindication, one would sue the government for malicious prosecution and spare no effort to find the real killers; or at least keep reminding people there was still a cold case. OJ didn't sue the LAPD, or the LA District Attorney; even though both dealt with evidence that was in part tampered with. He instead hit the golf course -- and by law his NFL pension of $25,000 a month is protected from the civil damage award levied against him. He'll only ever have to pay if he wins the jackpot in a lottery or casino and he's not that stupid.

Compare that to, say, Guy Paul Morin. After ten years, he was finally cleared of wrongdoing and eventually settled out of court for his legal expenses. The inquiry that followed revealed the cops to be truly inept in their investigation. He still appears occasionally to remind us all that the real killer of Christine Jessop is still out there. He's a real gentleman.

And for once, Rupert has proven he is one too. He actually just one time listened to the outrage of both conservatives and progressives and decided enough is enough.

OJ is not. Even if he's innocent, one doesn't just imagine how he would have killed two people. He would instead "work the refs" and try to get to the bottom of what really happened. The fact he hasn't tells me he is a freak, and people should treat him as such.

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Kissinger: Security, not democracy, in Iraq

I don't think anyone saw this one coming. Henry Kissinger, appearing yesterday on the BBC, said that the US and the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" should forget about trying to establish a stable democracy in Iraq and instead make its first priority securing the country as well as the surrounding region -- even if it means talking to Syria, Saudi Arabia and the ultimate anathema, re-establishing full diplomatic relations with Iran. (Consider the fact that Washington doesn't even recognize the right of Iran or North Korea to exist, yet Canada has posts in both despite long-standing grievances.) From where he sees it, there's no way to win in Iraq so it mght be better just to go for a stalemate.

Kissinger may not be an entirely likeable fellow, at least where I come from, but like most ex-Secretaries of State (and for what it's worth, the former National Security Advisers also) they have experience and wisdom to back up what they say. In his particular case, the experience of the Vietnam War. The word "quagmire" keeps coming up in discussions, but as Kissinger points out, Iraq is a whole lot worse. That's because South Vietnam actually had a government. A corrupt one, to be sure, but it functioned. In the case of Iraq, the West has attempted twice in fifty years to create a new government out of whole cloth, and that simply is impossible to do.

Even the United States, which seceeded from Great Britain, didn't exactly start from scratch. The colonial legislatures simply declared in 1776 that they no longer owed any loyalty to London and would take matters into their own hands. When Canada was created as a federal state, the legislatures in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia carried on as they were before, while Lower and Upper Canada were reborn as Québec and Ontario -- the only thing new was a national Parliament.

So what did the West do in Iraq? They disbanded the Army, banned the Ba'ath, and any other semblance of the government that actually operated to the people's benefit; and started all over again. Matter of fact, that's what we did in Afghanistan as well, and Canada's a part of that mission. There may be a rotten core, but as long as there is a core it can be repaired or made to work better. Get rid of it and try something else, and you don't know what you'll get. Fail to do on the ground intelligence beforehand and find out willing partners within the government who can take over on a moment's notice to start repairing the damage, and you become nothing better than a military invader and occupier.

The right wingers must be kicking themselves over losing someone like Kissinger. But he's nailed the issue. To repair the breach, one has to reach out to the enemies. And the domino effect is already starting to become evident -- Iraq could wind up being even more hostile to the West than Iran is, or worse come within the latter's shadow as a client state. Add Syria and Saudi Arabia, both of which may be reassessing their long-standing frendship with the States, and the GOP has one heck of a mess on its hands. Unintended consequences of a mission which had a pretty tenuous premise to begin with and which turned out to be not true.

Anyone want to place bets on when Jerusalem will say enough is enough and fire its nuclear weapons eastward, before the States has a chance to talk to its rivals?

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

RIP Lucille Broadbent

Not much on my mind this Sunday ... but I would like to express my condolences to Edward Broadbent, the long time former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, on the loss of his wife, Lucille. I am somewhat perplexed, however, that I write these words a certain public official here in Canada has not posted any expression of regret or sympathy on his website. I'll let you guess who.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why I could never vote for Diane Haskett

Regular readers know that while I'm opposed to gay marriage, I don't have any issue with civil unions or common-law relationships (same or opposite sex). I also support gays and lesbians being able to participate in every other aspect of life, including adoptions; and their right to lobby the government and to protest peacefully. It's in that regard that I recall how two mayors in Ontario handled the issue of Gay Pride Day during the 1990s.

Here in Hamilton, Robert Morrow, who ran the old city from 1982 to 2000 (he lost out on the bid to run the "megacity" that was formed the following year), said that he was not going to issue a proclamation in honour of the day, citing his religious beliefs. The local homosexual community took him to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It turned out to be a total public relations disaster on the part of Bob, who apologized to the HRC for any offence he had created ... nevertheless, he ended up being fined $5000 plus court costs. In response, the local city council decided the only way they could be fair to everyone was either to give proclamations to everyone who asked for one, or none at all -- and they chose the latter.

Fair enough.

Now consider what happened in London. Dianne Haskett took the same stance for the same reasons; and got a similar drubbing at the HRC and a somewhat larger fine. The local mayor's election was happening around that time -- I think it was 1997. She ran a "campaign of silence," not taking any media interviews and not campaigning, period. She ended up winning quite handily; although I think that had a lot to do with her overall operation of the city and not a tide against the gay and lesbian community. The night she won, however, she broke her mutedness and launched a tirade against her so-called "persecutors."

Since then, she's spent a lot of time in the United States, working for the radical branch of the Republican Party. Now she's back and running as a Member of Parliament in the London North seat left vacant by Joe Fontana. And true to form, she's run another campaign of silence, giving her first intervew only yesterday and affirming that if she's elected, she will vote to reban gay marriage. That's her right, and I'm not going to take that away from her. But that's not the problem.

The problem is that Canadians expect their politicians to keep an open mind, to accept all viewpoints that are presented to him or her, and to frankly discuss those ideas without any sense of contempt for those who may disagree with him or her. Shutting the door on open debate and predetermining the outcome before a discussion even begins ranges from the silly to the outrageous. For my part, a classic media and political junkie, my views have evolved on the issue as well ... for a long time, I probably would have thought of nothing of locking up people with an "alternate lifestyle." But I have modified how I feel about it as time has gone on.

People have the right to be wrong. For what it's worth, I concede I could be wrong about my current stance on same-sex relationships and am willing to keep an open mind about it. I also respect those who admit they were wrong about something ... like Mayor Bob, as we Hamiltonians still call him even though he's been out of office a long time. I have way less for those who refuse to admit even they could be -- like Haskett. So if I was living in London, there's no way I would vote for her. Or any other Conservative for that matter. After all, Dianne might want to remember some of her would-be colleagues are gay or lesbian (in the closet or not) and the caucus meetings can get quite rowdy at times.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Is Karl Rove on the way out?

One can only hope and pray. In the old days, a lot of puppet kings and queens had a secret compartment behind their thrones, where their advisors fed them what to say or do -- the real power behind the throne.

Similarly, through dirty tricks and outright manipulation of the media as well as the people, it's been Karl Rove who has been the real POTUS over the last few years, not Dubya. So what could possibly put Rove in such a huff? Well, last week's gains by the Democrats to be sure. When trendlines as early as the start of the year indicated the GOP might lose Congress, Rove still bet on his GOTV (get out the vote) machine. As he infamously smirked, "You're entitled to your numbers. I'm entitled to the numbers." Guess he didn't realize that it's taken a long time but the donkey finally figured out how to target voters who actually get out and vote rather than merely say they are going to vote.

The big problem, however, is that Bush may actually be sincere about wanting to work with the Democrats. To Rove and others now out of the picture -- Delay, Santorum, and the like -- to be a Democrat is to be exactly the same as the anti-Christ. To even speak to one is taking the mark of the beast. But the people have actually spoken. Despite all the attempts to jam voter fraud hotlines, rig the smart cards that count the vote at the non-paper trail voting screens and otherwise predetermine the outcome of the election -- what Watergate co-conspirator Donald Segretti once famously called "ratfucking" in reference to his and others' attempts to undermine the credibility of Edmund Muskie to ensure the"weenie" candidate, George McGovern, ran against Nixon in 1972 -- the progressives actually prevailed.

And like Bush who got rebuked last week, Nixon bears a lot of the blame for the series of events that led to his resignation; but at times he too was manipulated a lot by puppet strings pulled by people with even less scruples than he. Perhaps Bush sees some hope of salvaging some of his reputation -- and there would be little better way to demonstrate that than to sack Rove.

The issue isn't that Rove feels like he feels left out of the White House, the one that he built over the last six years; but rather he's no longer welcome on lobbyists' row, K Street, either. And the king of lobbyists, Jack Abramoff who's now serving time for corruption, may be about to fink Rove and others. So Rove just might want to think carefully about it ... if he leaves the executive or gets fired from it, he also loses what limited immunity from prosecution he has left.

What goes around comes around.

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Why don't they just make the dads pace the floor, too?

HT to my conservative colleague, Kathy Shaidle:

Mario Dumont, the leader of L'Action Démocratique du Québec, has flipped out over a Montréal neonatal class deciding to ban the fathers of the unborn babies so as not to "offend" the sensibilities of such groups as Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. This follows the firestorm that has erupted on the island city over some Hasidic Jewish store operators refusing to cooperate with female police officers with criminal investigations.

Dumont said, in part, that “Quebec police didn't kidnap anyone in the world to force them to come to Quebec.” He also pointed out the actions run counter to the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which promotes equality. Rather than being trying to encouage inclusion, some groups are trying to encourage the resegregation of groups. Funny that an avowed separatist would invoke the federal constitution to make his point ... and to be blunt, excluding men from birthing classes probably also violates both the provincial Charter as well as the Civil Code.

For most of history, giving birth was exclusively a womens' event, and was fraught with extreme risk. Even after it became much more sanitized and brought into hospitals, men were told to stay out of the delivery room. As a result, women were forced to go through the agony alone. But over time, those who studied bedside manners realized this was the time when women needed their husbands or boyfriends the most. Nowadays, thankfully, most hospitals are much more lenient on this and only ask the men to stay out if it is an emergency situation, such as a rush C-section. And it only makes sense: After all, it's the men that determine the sex of the baby, not the women.

Like the United States, however, there is an inherit conflict in Canada between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. We make some accomodations for religious symbols, such as crosses or menorahs on public property and teaching of religious classes in the elementary and high schools of some provinces -- stuff which would never be allowed in the States. Generally, however, we recognize that we need to govern for the good of all people whether they have a religion or not. And there is also an inherent social contract that says, we won't impose the majority religion -- Christianity -- on the minority; as long as the minority doesn't try to force their opinions on the majority. Free discussion of ideas, philosophy and values is perfectly acceptable. Coercion is out.

Years ago, a religious Christian tried to stop his wife from divorcing him on the grounds they took a vow to God to be married "until death us do part." The courts rebuffed him, saying the "death" part was a matter for religion and it would not interfere with the right of either half of a couple -- male or female -- to break the marriage contract.

Similarly, the neonatal clinic here is way out of bounds. Not just for religious but also secular reasons. If we are to survive as a society, we need kids being born. And it takes two to make a baby. If it was my kid at stake, I'd want to be there too -- it would be my moral duty to be a father from the very beginning. And I do mean the beginning, as in the conception.

When we travel overseas, we are expected to follow their rules. We should demand no less from those who come here. Sex equality, and it works both ways, should trump any religious considerations -- whether it's the beginning or the end of life, or dealing with the cops.

Sidebar: Dumont also announced yesterday if he's elected Premier he'd bring back the cash bonus for families who have three kids or more, something which Robert Bourassa introduced during the 80s but the PQ repealed in 1997. It's not a bad idea ... after all, Québec is a mostly liberal society and to deal with the strategy of conservatives to rule over the long term, by having as many kids as possible, progressives and liberals have to fight back and have just as many -- provided of course, they have the means to do so.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

So why was Ricky Williams allowed to play THIS season?

In a rather strange about-face and just days before the Grey Cup -- the national championship - the Canadian Football League has announced that it will no longer be a dumping ground for players suspended for drug or "morals clause" violations in other leagues. This is a belated reaction to the controversy over Ricky Williams spending a year in Canada to cool off while he serves a suspension in the NFL for anti-doping breaches; as well as another player in the States who was suspended after allegedly beating his wife to a pulp also found refuge north of the border.

This is certainly a welcome move by the CFL. But it's too little too late. The damage is done.

In internationally sanctioned sport, if someone serves a suspension for drugs, it applies across all sports and in all countries. In the professional ranks, drugs remains an issue for collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and even when the sports do crack down the suspensions are relatively light compared to world standards (normally they call for two years for a first offence and four for a second). If someone is caught violating the norms of personal ethics, he or she is usually shunned -- except in the pros. Anyone remember Kobe Bryant who got a standing ovation from Lakers fans, congratulating him for committing adultery? (At the time, he faced sexual assault charges which he denied but he conceded to having an affair.)

Even NASCAR which is coming to the finish line of its season has a rather lax drug policy compared to, say, Formula One. Maybe it's the "don't tread on me" mentality in drag racing's roots, the South; but I find an incongruency between the faith of the drivers -- most of whom claim to be Christians -- and some of the things they do on and off the track. Who are they kidding, pretending Jesus is their Saviour -- and thinking that gives them a licence to do whatever they want?

Stephen Harper should take some leadership on this one. He should say that if a foreign national is caught cheating in drugs or if they otherwise violate community standards, they won't be welcome in Canada either to visit or to play. And, if a Canadian does the same, they won't be permitted to compete in leagues outside of Canada; or to travel until they face justice and serve their time. Dubya might consider doing the same.

This isn't a matter for CBAs. This is common sense and making sure athletes play by the same rules as the rest of us.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Let al-Jazeera into Canada

Looking back just a couple of years, it's hard to see why there was so much fuss about allowing Fox News to broadcast in Canada. For what it's worth, it's the conservative version of Comedy Central. But it's hard to see how it could have been seen as having a potentially damaging effect on Canadian values. We don't seem to be bothered by some other quintessentially American outlets such as A&E, TLC or the Food Network.

So why does there seem to be so much opposition to allowing al-Jazeera's new English language service to be shown in Canada? Personally, I get most of my international news from the BBC World Service; but it would be interesting to see events from the perspective of the Middle East. As it is Doha, Qatar based al-Jazeera, notwithstanding its controversial nature, has been a voice of freedom for Arabs who are sick and tired of the corruption and nepotism of their slavemasters. (AJ was actually formed from the ruins of a failed Arab-language service run by the BBC, which the latter is now trying to revive.)

The CRTC should just back off, and let the marketplace decide whether there is demand for AJ. Both the Arab and English language versions. For balance, I'd also allow the news channel run by the Israelis -- if that would make people happy.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Garth Turner out of Reform Party -- officially

Not the "bombshell" that was billed, exactly, but Garth Turner announced that notwithstanding his being named by the local district association as the Conservative canddate in the next federal election, Turner's papers will not be cosigned by Stephen Harper -- meaning he can't run as a Conservative. As a result, he's quit the Con party and will sit as an independent.

He's not joining the Green Party -- not yet, anyway -- but will campaign for Green Party leader Elizabeth May in her bid for the currently vacant seat in London.

In his press conference, Garth pointed to the fact the Conservatives as they have evolved into have become the very antithesis of the bottom-up Reform movement it began as; that MPs have become party hacks rather than the representatives of their constituents. No surprise there, except it's as if those who have been with the party from the beginning forget there ever was a Blue Book.

It's one thing to flip-flop on an election promise, such as the one on income trusts, because they're sometimes made in the heat of the moment. It's quite another to abandon the core principles of your party and to govern exactly like the opponents you defeated -- in fact, become even more secretive and less accountable. If people want to know why cynicism in Canada is at an all time high, the Conservative Party of Canada only needs to look at the man in the mirror.

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Score one for YouTube: Fred Eisenberger beats Larry DiIanni

The Exempt Media in Hamilton, Ontario must be scratching their heads this morning, asking, "What the fuck happened?" Just a couple of days ago, the so-called "opinion polls" showed Larry DiIanni, the incumbent, having a huge lead over his main rival Fred Eisenberger. Last night, in what may be one of the biggest upsets in years, Eisenberger actually pulled off a win -- a plurality of just 452 votes out of roughly 123,000 votes cast. So what put him over the top?

YouTube, that's what. The 60 second web-only ad, put on by Fred's cash-strapped campaign (underfunded because he refused any corporate or union donations), was sheer brilliance. Larry's team called it an act of desperation, and Hamiltonians considered the casual dismissal of one of the Internet's most powerful tools a huge insult. Sure, DiIanni's conviction for financing irregularities owing to the last election must have hurt, but this was the last straw.

Congrats to Fred and everyone on the megacity's new council, including Brad Clark in my old stomping ground of Ward 9 (Upper Stoney Creek), who I consider a friend notwithstanding his Conservative leanings. They're going to have to work hard as well as need a heck of a lot of luck over the next four years. Residential taxes are among the highest in Canada here, owing to a shrinking commercial base; and although the opening of the Red Hill Creek Parkway next year should ease traffic pressures, the lack of both serviceable industrial land in the greenfields, contaminated brownfields as well as a defeatist and NIMBY attitude among city residents both in the urban and rural districts puts the former "Ambitious City" at a serious disadvantage. However, the city does have quite an advantage in the service sector and it should be building on that but much more aggresively.

One of the big priorities Hamilton has to address is how to introduce Bus Rapid Transit into the transportation plan. This is something that nearby cites are planning to move forward with already, including Brampton and Mississauga (which are waiting on the Harperites for funding) and which is probably the best solution for this city's gridlock, especially during the rush hour. The simple fact is that to make it work, one of two solutions will be needed. The first is that dedicated traffic lanes will have to be carved out where the routes will most likely be -- King/Main and Mohawk for East-West; Upper James and James/John for North South, with some kind of a bus interchange either at the bus/train depot on Hunter Street, or a new one at Gore Park or on Rebecca Street. The second is to use existing infrastructure but to alter traffic lights to give priority to transit vehicles along the same routes (the vertical white bar that appears in some parts of Toronto and Montréal as well as quite a few US cities).

We also have to deal with the welfare hammer, once and for all. If Hamilton is going to be part of the GTA's transportation strategy, then we should also be part of the pooling of social services. It's not fair that we pay 25% of property taxes for welfare, while just across the harbour in Burlington as well as the rest of the Golden Horseshoe right out to Bowmanville it's at 15%.

That can wait, however, for a few weeks longer. For now, I say victory is sweet. Vive le YouTube!

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's up in Garth's world?

Garth Turner, the Independent Conservative MP who recently got bounced out from the ruling party's caucus by the PMO, is scheduled to hold a news conference tomorrow in which he is about to make a "bombshell" announcement.
  • Is he going to announce he's quitting the Reform Party for the Greens?
  • Is he going to reveal something that amounts to a "smoking gun" against Stephen Harper?
  • Is he quitting politics because of "illness" (newspeak for someone inside the government got to him?)

I guess we'll have to wait and find out. But what could be so important that he felt compelled to send a letter by courier to his former boss on an "eyes only" basis? Moreover, why would three senior party bosses all feel compelled to write to him at the same time? Do they want to kiss and make up; or are they planning a coup against Harper and they need Turner's help?
There's something awfully disquieting about this ... and coming as it does today, when the people of Ontario are supposed to be voting in local elections it's yet another bizarre distraction.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

TomKat wedding hits snag

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have been so full of themselves wanting to get married in Italy this Saturday, and so full of conceit that they're actually flying in a number of their guests -- who just happen to be Scientologists -- that they've seemed to forgetten a couple of important items

First of all, since Holmes is still technically Roman Catholic -- although she's announced her intention, since she began her relationship with Cruise, to renounce the religion in favour of Scientology -- they figured they could get married in a castle in the Italian town of Bracciano. However, the priest in charge of the compound says it's a no go. There's that tricky issue raising from the fact that Cruise married two other Catholic women and it's not clear whether he or his exes got certifiable annullments. Apparently Nicole Kidman did get such a dispensation before getting hitched to Keith Urban, but the nullity may only apply to her and not Cruise. He still may be married, in the eyes of the church, to Mimi Rogers.

Second, TomKat haven't even gotten a licence to get married. I'm not exactly sure what the laws are in Italy; but if it's like most European countries, a civil wedding and a church wedding are two entirely separate things. One must get authorization from city hall or a judge in a civil ceremony then get a blessing or convalidation by a cleric. Not like in the US and Canada, where licenced ministers do both at the same time -- making a wedding both a sacred covenant and a legal contract.

Even if a church wedding is legally binding in Italy, the authorities will not recognize a wedding without the proper paperwork. And there doesn't appear to be that. Church and state were officially separated from each other in Italian life in 1984, but when it comes to the most solemn of contracts Italian officials don't mess around. And it's hard to believe the audacity of Cruise and Holmes. Most churches require at least one year's notice to plan a wedding -- this allows the standard pre-nuptual investigation that vets out people still married in the church, as well as extensive pre-marital counselling and teaching of Catholic principles to the couple; as well as how to deal with differences of faith if the couple come from different denominations or even as is the case here entirely different religions. This is called the "pre-Cana" and you just can't do it in a month.

Third, if all else fails, Cruise claims to have the fallback position of having a Scientology wedding. That would never happen in a Catholic facility, for one, at least in Italy; and for what it's worth the group founded by L Ron Hubbard is not recognized as a legitimate religious group in Italy but is seen, as in most other members of the European Union, as a cult. So the wedding would not even be valid except in the eyes of TomKat -- and California doesn't recognize common law marriages either.

They should have tried San Marino, Andorra or Liechtenstein. Small enough countries that the press doesn't even bother with them -- except as holding places for numbered bank accounts. And where the national churches within Catholicism probably wouldn't have given a damn. Heck, they should have even stayed in California and went to the parish in Palm Springs where the late Sonny Bono got married -- four times.

It doesn't so much bother me that there is Scientology at all -- there should be room, after all, for competing ideas in the marketplace -- but rather the fact that Cruise believes Catholicism and Scientology are compatible. They simply are not. The Catholic Church opposed apartheid. Hubbard supported it. The Church is working to maintain its true presence in Mainland China against the so-called "official church." Hubbard's writings harboured hostility towards the Chinese. Hubbard also didn't appear to care much for organized religion -- in fact he thought the idea of his group becoming a "church" was a matter for lawyers. (Okay, I'll give him credit -- he was a great science fiction writer, I really enjoyed reading Battlefield Earth, but that's it. Cruise should have made it a miniseries, not a two hour movie.)

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have to understand that when you're Rome, you do as the Romans do. If they want to get married, they can either get married at the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles -- or Cruise can renounce Scientology and become a Roman Catholic, or any other kind of Christian. Then and only then will he be welcome to get married within the Church. The Italians get it, and so should TomKat.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fix income trusts? Fix the AMT

I wrote a post back in March mentioning how the Alternative Minimum Tax which was meant to go after wealthier people and their tax shelters has wound up being a whammy against the middle class. With the income trust annoucement last week, one unintended consequence may be that thousands more Canadians may now be subject to the AMT as previously sheltered income sources are deductible no longer -- or to be more accurate, the distributions from flow-through entites must now be added back to income to determine if the AMT applies. Because the $40,000 exemption for the AMT has remained unchanged since its introduction in Canada in 1985, this and next year are going to be extremely nasty for seniors even with an increased age exemption.

I stand by my assertion ending the holiday on income trusts is a good idea, but I'm beginning to wonder if the Harperites could have handed the phase-out of the shelter a lot better.

It's not Canada, of course -- the AMT is especially regressive in the United States. One positive that may come out of the election of the Democrats in the States is movement, finally, on reforming the AMT there. WaPo reports today that leaders in the donkey party, who are going to take over key committee chairs in January, say that the tax savings that could come from fixing a tax unreformed since the 1970s would produce far more benefits than Bush's upper class tax cuts, which Dubya wants to make permanent beyond when they expire in 2010. It's become especially a big problem in the Blue States. In the District of Columbia and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, at least 100,000 more families will pay AMT next year than did in 2003. On average, the tax hit is about $6800 more than it would be under regular tax.

Those who get hit tend to have incomes around $100,000. Unfortunately the exemption on the AMT is actually going down next year, and those who got even modest benefits from the Bush tax cuts will see them taken away by the AMT. Meanwhile, those earning over a half million will get off xcott free since their higher income tax rate minus exemptions still means paying more tax than the AMT. In other words, the upper class tax has become the middle class tax -- and soon it will be a tax on the working class.

It's obvious the AMT has to be fixed in the States. The same applies to Canada. I'd reset the exemption at where it currently is, $40k, to where the highest tax rate kicks in -- for 2006 that's at $118,285 -- and have it indexed yearly to account for inflation as the regular tax rates are. The AMT should return to its original purpose, ensuring all people pay their fair share, rather than dumping the burden on the working and middle classes. This is not just for the benefit of seniors and other relying on trust income, but for everyone.

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