Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unfunded mandate galore, courtesy the Fed Cons

No surprise that the Cons reintroduced, yet again, their "omnibus" crime bill.   And no surprise, again, that the Cons refused to say how much it will cost to implement -- much less if there will be any commensurate transfers to the provinces and territories to offset that cost.   Likely not.   Which means the second order of government will be stuck with an "unfunded mandate."

Certainly there is much to be respected in the bill.   Many of the measures I can support -- especially in particular two:   One is cracking down on the black market in immigration to fly in sex trade workers under the radar.   There should be no compassion given to such evil exploiters, in fact nothing less than Supermax is acceptable for them.

The other is giving individuals the right to sue foreign corporations and even governments for sponsoring terrorism or organized crime.   I do agree with this as well; although many states will, as they do with similar laws in the US and other countries, claim "state immunity" from such suits.  For proof, look at the intrepid people in Rome and their repeated lawsuits at Radio Herod (um, Radio Vatican) for radiation outputs from their antennas anywhere from two to four times the legal limit in the EU -- radio broadcasts regularly interfere with other radio stations as well as telephone calls; rates of leukemia are six times in the state of Lazio (which includes Rome) than should be expected.   The Vatican has always responded by denying such radiation and even if such existed that the land on which the antennas are on are extraterritorial Vatican property and therefore outside Italian jurisdiction.    If Italians can't collect on communications fraud, imagine our trying to collect on sponsoring terrorism.   Exactly.

But the main point for me is the unfunded mandate, or partially funded mandate if one will.    I first wrote about this a little over a year ago.   One only has to look to health care -- it was only ever supposed to be a 50-50 cost share between the feds and the lower governments; it went down to 18 cents on the fed side but only went back up to 25 when the provinces finally mustered the will to revolt.    With this financial issue still in view especially as the first wave of the Baby Boom started collecting their Old Age Security this year, it continues to be a bane for the provinces not just in terms of who's going to pay for long term care as well as a much needed national strategy for prescription drugs, but also other new shared cost programs.    There is a general understanding that provinces can opt out of any new programs of this nature (although it's really been only Québec that has done so, and two attempts to put this principle of opt out for any province, for any program other than pensions, into the Constitution have failed) but there is also a huge backlash if the province doesn't put it its own similar program.

But on the issue of crime, there shouldn't be a dispute.    We've always had a unified criminal code but left it to the provinces to enforce that law (after consulting with the provinces on the text of the provisions, naturally).   But since provinces and territories house prisoners sentenced up to and including two years less one day it should follow that they have the adequate resources to do so.   Heck, even tax points would be acceptable to most.   But there doesn't seem to be an indication there will be movement even on this.   Originally, the Cons were saying it would cost an extra $2 billion per year.   The provinces have said $5 billion -- and this was before the "omnibus" bill introduced today, which combines nine bills in consideration before the election.   My guess would be more like $8 to 10 billion per year, ongoing.

Another thing -- what if a province has an alternate sentencing program at the provincial or community level that has proven to reduce the rate of recidivism and the feds say, sorry, can't do that anymore?   For a man who long believed in the principle that local government closer to the people should best decide these things PMS has done a complete 180 and imposed a one size fits all approach, the exact opposite of what he has long believed in.

Does this mean less half way houses in favour of larger and naturally even more violent prisons?   Maybe PMS should spend a weekend at the Maze -- um sorry, that was closed and is now being torn down as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland.   How about enforcing some of the laws that Parliament passed under Liberal governments but have never been proclaimed into force.   One was a two strikes law passed over Chrétien's objections by most backbenchers of all parties -- a mandatory seven to life sentence for a second conviction for a listed violent crime.   This was a simple one page law that could deal a serious blow to some issues that PMS thinks needs several hundred pages of clauses to resolve.   But things are never simple in politics.

Of course it's easy to be tough on crime.   It's even easier not to pay for enforcing the law.   That's why so many states in the US are going bankrupt, as is the federal government -- and why the courts have had to step in to enforce consent decrees like SCOTUS did earlier this year in California.    Are we headed that route?    If PMS wants to get tough, he'd better roll out the dough as well.   The second level of government will wait only so long before they take matters into their own hands.   Hard to imagine a constitutional crisis over something like this, but it could happen.

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