Thursday, December 31, 2015

Should there be a referendum on PR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GOP's worst nightmare, a brokered convention

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

This El Niño could be the worst ever

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

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

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

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

Weather happens, but customer service ...

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Falwell U allows guns in dorms

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Libs to repeal spanking law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agrabah. Seriously?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What is going on at CHCH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the ORPP voluntary, or enhance the CPP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Boy did I dial a wrong number!

I'm still surprised by the results:

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

My fearless prediction for Decision 2015

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

Liberals 143
Conservatives 132
NDP 55
Bloc 7
Green 1

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2015


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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to vote, how to vote ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Look who we're dealing with in the TPP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

About those shared cost programs ...

In last night's final debate, Tom Mulcair said if he's elected, then Quebec - and only that province - would get the option to opt out of new shared cost programs, including his $15 per diem child care program.

I realize Canada has never been totally equal on social programs. For example, every province has the right to opt out of OAS and the CPP. Quebec, so far, is the only province to get out of the latter, with the RRQ. Other provinces can, presuming reciprocity in benefits is maintained - but so far, no one has. Even the proposed Ontario plan is just an add-on, not a complete substitute.

Every province can opt out of parental benefits for UI. Quebec, too, is so far the only province to do so - but that doesn't mean, as with the case above, no other province can.

As for education? Six provinces each have their own rules, including Ontario. Only four - the Maritimes and BC - are bound by the "old" rules.

The Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords each proposed that every province should be able to opt out of social programs provided they provide a substitute program that provides a similar result and objective. I think that's a good principle to follow here in the present day. If a province - any province, or territory for that matter - can provide a better program for less cost to the consumer, or even totally free, they should be able to and not be constrained by federal rules.

Personally, I favour child-care to be means-tested. Free for people on welfare and other indigents, then on a sliding scale upwards based on accurately declared income on a family's T1s. I wouldn't mind a cap-out, but even then I don't see why anyone  - even the one percent - should pay more than 20 bucks a day per child. And of course, if a family wants to raise their pre-school kids at home, I support that too, with a much enhanced amount for child benefits to reflect the offset.

But I don't support one size fits all. After all, this is Canada. We are a real federation of ten provinces and three territories. Each province may get specific rights in the Constitution, but we are not, as is sometimes alleged, Quebec and TROC ("The Rest of Canada"). Mulcair - and the other leaders, if they are so thinking - need to be reminded of that.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What's "barbaric" exactly?

Today, the PMS campaign announced if it gets re-elected on October 19th it will introduce legislation to make illegal "barbaric" practices. On the surface, this may sound, well, sound. There are very few people in Canada who think FGM is acceptable. Other forms of torture should be illegal, and in fact already are. But how far would this go? Do animal sacrifices for religious purposes count? What about radical forms of corporal punishment, such as using a switch?

Remember Herouxville? The declaration they issued that ostensibly was about a town's values but was entirely directed at Muslims, effectively saying they weren't welcome in the rural town? I have a feeling this is nothing but an attempt to shore up the Con vote in rural Quebec, where the NDP is holding on just, and the Liberals may be finally starting to gain round.

We should all have common values. But they need to be common, not just one party's. Besides which, what one person may see as "barbaric" is perfectly acceptable to another. On top of the "old stock" comment the other week, this isn't helping anyone.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What does Harper want from our military?

Brian Stewart has a good op-ed piece on what Harper has said what he has done for Canada's military, and what has really been done. Three words: Stretched. Too. Thin.

When you appropriate $10 billion more for defence spending than what you actually intend to spend, that's not "prudence". That's telling our fine men and women in uniform they don't count for much.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Don't match donations during an election!

Maybe it's me, but it seemed like awful timing when the Cons announced last week they were going to match donations to this year's Terry Fox Run, up to a ceiling of $35 million. Today, they retracted the pledge - for now. Awful timing, of course, because we're smack in the middle of an election, indeed in the final legs.

This wasn't like the Boxing Day Tsunami, or the earthquake in Pakistan, or even the Katrina horror. In each of those cases, the feds promised to match donations on a dollar for dollar basis provided those contributions went to legitimate NGOs (such as the Red Cross) or faith based charities (like, say, the Salvation Army). We did that because it was the right thing to do, because the victims needed as much help as possible. In some cases, the match proved to be too much. If I recall one example, Oxfam which had an annual budget of around $15 million got bombarded with over $60 million just from the tsunami, and they didn't know what to do with the money.

Of course cancer research is important. I've lost a mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, so I kind of take it personally that we need to find a cure. I can't help but think if Terry Fox actually survived and finished his run, if the amount of money raised in his name in the 35 years since would be even a third of what it's turned out to be. I would hope not, of course - that actually pulling it off would have made donations go through the stratosphere.

We have every right to demand the federal government and the sub-national governments contribute what they can to sponsoring medical research, particularly in finding cures for these terrible diseases. And encouraging prevention and early intervention to stop cancer before it can spread - and quite possibly even be cured in the early stages.

But it doesn't help that the pledge was made right now. Yes, I will concede the Terry Fox Foundation made the request for funding. It has every right to, and one would expect a positive response. But the Fox family also said that this should be a multi-partisan effort and one party should not score political points over it.

Exactly right.

This reminds me of a line in the 2004 movie Head of State, starring Chris Rock. In one scene, the Republican candidate for President runs an ad emphasizing his support for breast cancer research, then drops the line that his opponent "supports breast cancer." Of course, Rock turns this around and speaks the truth about his country's serious issues and ends up winning narrowly.

Rather than trying to score points by winning favour of one of the country's most celebrated families, the parties should talk about health care. Not just research, of course. But also talking about moving from physician based care to a system where the patient and the community are key. About making drugs more affordable - including cancer drugs, which despite our strict price controls here are still far more expensive than alternate treatments like Mary Jane. (If that means Pharmacare, absolutely.) Where the call for better health is a universal value, rather than a partisan talking point.

We built our system of Medicare mainly because we saw good health as a non-partisan right; and that better off people should take care of the health of the less fortunate, and vice versa. It has major structural issues that need to be addressed, and the system overall has to be modernized. But for heaven's sake, let's not say that because one family is in agreement (or not), that makes one's party's policy better.

Bottom line - either all the parties should have agreed, or the appropriation should have waited until the new term, and properly voted on by Parliament.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Old stock???

For so many years, we in Canada have been trying to get away from the whole "we versus they" mentality. That one group of Canadians are better than another - that we are all in it together. The other night, Stephen Harper made a comment about so-called "old stock" Canadians.

What does he mean by that? To me, it suggests that true Canadians can only be those who can claim on both sides of their family an ancestry going back to les Habitants, the United Empire Loyalists or  the Patriots of the 1837 rebellions. Think pur laine or de souche, in reference to "true Quebecers", both terms of which are still used by the federalist paper La Presse.

I don't know what Harper's driving at. But for a guy who has staked his reputation and his career trying to make inroads in the immigrant community, something that used to be almost the exclusive preserve of the Liberal Party, I am not impressed.

We have a real three way race here for the first time - well, ever. No party is near the magic number of 170, in fact they are all in the range of 109 to 114 seats. We don't need distractions like this. We need to talk about the issues, and to suggest that this isn't that is, well, bizarre at the minimum.

I can only hope that Harper misspoke. This may not be a "money and the ethnic vote" moment, but as a second generation Canadian I have to say I'm spooked. Certainly, he isn't getting my vote. He wasn't anyway, but he certainly wouldn't now regardless. If Harper has had a hidden agenda all this time, he may finally tipped his hand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Don't let the refugees down

Yeah, it's been a while. But I had to take to my keyboard today because of the refugee crisis that is swamping Europe - since many of them may be headed Canada's way. And I never thought, a month into the election, that it would become a debating point, but here we are.

I have an interest in this because my father and his brother, my uncle, came to Canada as refugees - in fact, fifty years ago this year. Having defected from the former Yugoslavia, they were lucky to have the choice of several countries to go to. They rejected a couple of South American countries because of their lousy currencies. Australia offered an instant ticket out of Italy where the refugee camp was, but my Dad and uncle told me that despite the country's large ex-pat community, they were told they would have had to live in the Outback for a couple of years; they knew what that was and thought No Way. The US wanted to make them wait a year before they got their green cards. Canada - just three months. That was their choice, and I'm glad they made it their choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of migrants fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria don't have the luxury of a choice, or time. Notwithstanding any "safe third country" agreement that the EU states have amongst themselves, the refugees want to head to the wealthiest and most generous member states - Germany, France, Sweden, and Finland.

We don't need any more tragedies like the one with the cargo truck that had several dozen dead bodies in them. But there is no question we need to step up to the plate.

As I've mentioned before, Canada is quite unique among federal states in that immigration is shared between the federal and sub-national governments. (There may be a couple of others, but that's the only one I'm aware of.) Not only can provinces nominate their own regular status migrants (those with turnkey job skills), they also have a major say in how to settle refugees. (Something many states in America would only be glad to have, if only to spread migrants across the country rather than in specific regions.)

I've heard all sorts of numbers being bandied about. Ten thousand, fifty, a hundred. I personally think we should go for the higher end of the band, maybe even higher than that. We're way past the point where we once said of some ethnic groups that "one is too many". We have the resources to settle them. Let's do so.

It was suggested this past week that we should screen all potential refugees. That's a given, but in a rush like we're experiencing right now it's hard to say who is who. But that doesn't mean that one bad apple should spoil the whole bunch. Besides, do you think the originating countries, or ISIS for that matter, will provide a background check to federal and provincial immigration authorities? Exactly, they won't.

But I do have the worry about creeping Nativism. This is a perennial problem. But given that nearly all of the incoming population are Muslims, I fear a huge backlash. ("They're taking our jobs; they're using our social programs; they don't have to learn English / French, etc.) Migrants don't get a free ride. They'll have to pay taxes, especially income taxes - and that will help with our often shaky finances. And they're anything but lazy. They want to work, and there are TONS of jobs just waiting to be filled here.

From a crisis can come an opportunity. This country gave my family, and so many other families, a chance. It's time to step up again. We're better together, having all sorts of people here makes us a better society, and that's all there is to it. I'll leave it up to the provinces to figure out the numbers they're each going to absorb. But it's time, and making it a political football is simply unacceptable. Surely the three leaders can come to common ground on this then leave the rest of the campaign to other issues that matter.

But maybe that's too much to ask for.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

No notwithstanding clause on assisted suicide

In the three months since the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision on assisted suicide in Carter v. Attorney General of Canada, there has been a lot of thumb twisting about what to do. The Court gave Parliament a year to come up with something new before the law is officially taken off the books. Given a fall election, it's hard to imagine our legislators will come up with a new law in time by the deadline of February 5 of next year.

In the interim, there have been a number of groups opposed to "death with dignity" who have said the solution is simple - invoke the "notwithstanding clause" to "immunize" the law from court scrutiny.

Too simplistic, in my opinion. There are several reasons, but my opposition to that can be described in two.

First, our national history is full of egregious abuses of human rights. Think how we interned the Japanese and Italians during World War II. How Duplessis mercilessly (and totally unrepentant) persecuted Jehovah's Witnesses and trade union members. How Ontario tried to culturally genocide the francophone population of that province during World War I. And so forth.

Of course, there was no Charter of Rights at that time. The only thing that felled Duplessis, in his case, was the courts ruling he violated the rule of law - that he placed himself above the law. The other items were also rectified, but only at the cost of great embarrassment.

If the Charter of Rights had existed, all the actions above could have been "immunized" by the notwithstanding clause, and our country would have eventually become a pariah in terms of human rights. We don't want to set what would be a very dangerous precedent.

Second, a lot of the proponents of notwithstanding mistakenly believe that it is a permanent fix. It is not. It has a five year sunset clause. Which means we'd be kicking the can down the road. And given just how many people are suffering with no prospect at all of recovery, it's almost cruel that we're telling them that for the sake of expediency they can't exercise the one right able-bodied people have.

We really do need to proceed with caution on this one. But as I've mentioned before, when the rape shield law was struck down more than twenty years ago (as the Court determined it to be "void for vagueness") many women's groups advocated using the notwithstanding clause. Instead, the government took the opportunity to make the law stronger, not weaker. Every single clause of the reformed law passed muster.

Of course, we're dealing with a life and death issue here, but if we consider best practices from national and sub-national jurisdictions that have reformed their laws, we may be able to come up with something that on the one hand ensures the dignity of those who want to die when palliative care, while on the other hand guards against being bullied to commit suicide when it is not medically appropriate. And of course, we can't forget that the near unanimity of physicians will refuse to engage in such a practice, citing the ancient Hippocratic oath to "first do no harm" as well as the modern oath where doctors swear they "will not play God." In that case, what other professionals would be able to take part, and what immunities would they have if something goes wrong?

No easy answers to all that, to be sure. I don't know how to begin to make suggestions.

That said, we don't have much time. We need to get some answers as soon as possible, and hopefully with the widest possible consensus in Parliament. But using the hammer that the law is legal even though it is not legal truly would be "using a sledgehammer to squat a fruit fly".

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

You don't have to take income splitting. At least one guy hasn't ...

The income splitting option is not mandatory for those who qualify for it. Like any other tax credit, it's optional. Tax software will flag credits to make sure you get every loophole you're entitled to - problematic if you still do it manually. One guy in the 15%, a labour leader, was given the option by his software to opt out. And he did. Even though it cost him 1500 bucks. His reason: Health, education and welfare need the money more.

If just ten percent of those who qualify did the opt out too, the government might realize that it isn't such a smart idea - or at the very least, should be made available to working class families too.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A same sex marriage, 200 years ago

Is same sex marriage a recent phenomenon? Actually, it isn't. Let me explain.

On Tuesday, the odd legal team of David Boies and Ted Olsen (who opposed each other in the infamous Bush vs Gore debacle) will try to build on their previous victories in striking down Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Now, they're going for the jugular at the US Supreme Court and trying to legalize same sex marriage everywhere in America.

But for those who think this is a civil rights movement of recent vintage, it may come as a shock that the battle has been going on for more than two centuries in America. And in the early 1800s, two women actually got away with it and set the precedent. Let me explain.

In the recently published book Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves, we learn a surprising fact.

Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake used a loophole in Vermont's common-law marriage statute and lived as a married couple from 1807 to 1851. In fact, Bryant had had at least two lesbian lovers before she settled down with Drake. This is an incredibly moving and sentimental story of love at its purest by two women who were both teachers and tailors by trade, poets by hobby, and deeply religious by practice.

Remarkably, their marriage was tolerated by the community they lived in and prospered. Sadly, much of their shared correspondence was burned so we will never know the true extent of how deeply they were into each other. But the writer does specify that when Vermont formally legalized civil unions and later gay and lesbian marriage, many legislators noted Charity and Sylvia's marriage as their precedent. It was truly a surprising story for me and a delight to read.

That's right, folks, gay marriage is two hundred years old. Let's hope it becomes a permanent fixture in the States just as it is here in Canada. It doesn't bother me, and I don't can't understand why it bothers anyone.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Senate and transgenders

To my knowledge, I have never met a transgendered person in my life. That does not mean I don't have respect or compassion for those who live the sex opposite of the one they are by birth, or for those who decide to take it to its logical conclusion and have sex reassignment surgery.

Our society has generally become accepting of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, which is a mark in this country's favour. But for some reason the same isn't always true of the transgendered. Maybe it's just fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding what is going on - or in some cases, it's outright prejudice. And sadly this has led to this section of the population being the victims of criminal acts.

It goes without saying, this is just plain wrong.

How surprising it was, then, when two years ago the House of Commons, over the objections of PMS, voted to add "gender identity" as a suspect class (or aggravating circumstance) in determining whether a convicted criminal should receive an enhanced sentence, especially for hate crimes. It's been slowly working its way through the Senate. It went through first and second readings without much fuss, although some Senators argued the law might be unconstitutional since it impeded on provincial human rights codes. A debatable point, but it certainly was one worth discussing.

Two months ago, however, the Senate Justice Committee proposed a series of amendments. Two make sense - ensuring transgendereds are not subject to cyberbullying, and broadening the definition of who is a transgendered person. Fair enough, But then the committee suggested that prisons, crisis centres, and restrooms and change rooms to be exempt from the legislation. (As I write this, I have checked Parliament's website and the amendments have not been acted upon.)

Say what?

I cannot for the life of me understand why this is being brought up. People in this group have a hard enough time dealing with the prejudice of having this orientation. Certainly they have a hard time getting access to "facilities" already. Why are the Conservative Senators making life more difficult than it already is?

This scandal only affirms my belief that Senators should be directly elected, preferably by proportional representation, to get rid of the deadwood and the idiots who want to move this country forwards and not back.

The fact is that even if the Senate accepts the amendments the bill will be tossed back to the House of Commons. There is no doubt that the House would reject them, and a conference committee (extremely rare in Canadian politics although still available as an option) would probably never agree on the wording, let alone the pith and substance. And, let's face it, there just isn't enough time until the October election.

There are only two ways out. The Senate can smarten up, reject the most odious part of the committee report, pass the bill with the palatable amendments, and send it back to the Commons where it would easily get final passage. Or the winning party this fall can reintroduce the bill as part of a series of criminal law amendments.

Has it truly come to this - that we say transgenders are part of our society, but certain restrictions apply? Ethnic groups, religions, races - they didn't accept half-measures in demanding equal treatment. Why should it any different for men who want to live as or become women, and vice versa?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do we value women or don't we?

I haven't had much to say since the shootings on Parliament Hill back in October, but today's news that Jian Ghomeshi is facing three new charges, all from three new women who previously kept silent, is making me ask who we are as a society and why some people are allowed to get away with such reprehensible behaviour.

When the story broke last year, a reporter who had been following the story but hadn't gone anywhere tried to approach Ghomeshi to answer some simple yes or no questions. What he got instead was a cryptic answer that went along the lines of, "Toronto isn't that big of a city and I have a very long memory so be careful what you write." That line, you'd think, would demand immediate publication. Why the hold back? Was the Moxy Fruvous alumni really that powerful in show business that it got pushed back, until the showdown at 250 Front West?

A few weeks back, we got some insight into the two NDP MPs who claimed they were sexually harassed by two Liberal MPs and how there was an uproar when Justin Trudeau made the allegations public without naming the names of the alleged victims. Then we learn one of the women said she spent an evening with one of the accused, and something happened. All we know is, the woman says she didn't say yes but she didn't say no either. I don't think there is any ambiguity in the law on that one. The Criminal Code states only a yes is a yes, so we're talking sexual assault, not merely harassment.

They may be among the high profile cases, along with Bill Cosby, but generally this kind of thing gets ignored. And that's wrong. This isn't a progressive or a conservative issue, this is a matter of human rights. If a woman - or a man - is made to feel less human because of his or her sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, then it is discrimination, plain and simple.

The Old Boys Club (no offence to the graduates of Upper Canada College which is where we get the name) has to be smashed wide open. Men like me need to speak openly about it and say we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. If our daughters were treated like that, we'd scream bloody murder; so why is it okay when it happens to a colleague, we know about it, and say nothing? It's not. By being silent, we're being complicit.

But it's not enough for people to speak up. The process has to change so that a complaint is dealt with seriously by management and not done as a window dressing exercise. And where there is use of force, the police must be involved.

I may be stating the obvious, but there still seems to be a lack of common sense. It's a good thing men as well as women are finally having the conversation we so desperately need. But it has to be ongoing and it can't end while the criminal process is continuing. If people knew at the CBC and did nothing, they should be fired too - and that includes the anchor pool.