Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Complex Reasons Why This Tory Is Voting For Justin

People who are fortunate enough to know me personally understand that I am a Tory. I'm not a social conservative; I left many of those views in the dustbin many years ago. I don't believe in any god, I don't think homosexuality is anything other than a natural sexual orientation, and I don't consider cells multiplying in protoplasm a baby. That said, I think that governments everywhere spend money on all sorts of things that they shouldn't. I don't mean to say that the government doesn't have a role to play in the economy and society. But there are a lot of things that people can do for themselves, and the spending of money on boutique programs and credits results in the bread and butter of education and infrastructure being woefully underfunded.

The Canadian election of 2015 has been an exhaustive exercise in futility for many electors. All of the parties have attacked each other. All have offered bribes to voters. None have articulated a vision for Canada in the post-oil era. Canada is an export-based economy. Oil, wheat, nickel, lumber. A huge part of that equation is oil. The left in Canada conveniently ignore how much Canada's economy has come to rely on oil, and Alberta oil in particular. It amounts to, and I enjoy inconvenient truth.

The right, on the other hand, ignore or even dispute the 99% consensus of the scientific community that CO2 is helping to cause climate change. And yes, I know...surface temperatures have remained unchanged for 20 years now. But ocean temperatures have not. Mother nature has also seemed to have developed a notable anger that wasn't there before. That's not a coincidence. Furthermore, it seems rather serendipitous that when you reduce particulate you also tend to reduce CO2. And I don't know anybody who is against clean air, clean water and clean soil. So, as you see, Canada is in a pickle. We have an economy that relies on an industry that is helping to kill the planet. Not that Canada alone is causing it or even contributing to it in any significant way. Climate change isn't caused by the use of fossil fuels. It's caused by 7 billion people using fossil fuels instead of, say, 4 billion.

But how do you get to 4 billion? This is another argument. And it reinforces why I'm not a social conservative, and why I generally dislike religion. You can only solve the problem of climate change in one of two ways. Either you must reduce CO2 emissions to a degree that would cause a global depression or you urgently reject religion and rapidly empower women everywhere on Earth. By empower I mean give them control over their bodies, their reproductive rights and their futures. You know, those things that religion won't do. I mean give them a say in public policy. I mean educate them. I mean treat them as equal to men. Globally. Now. Domestically we can start by admitting that a cultural practise that requires women to cover their faces is awful. Indoctrination from birth that showing your adult face violates you isn't a fashion choice. It's subjugation. It should be frowned upon, even if not made illegal in a citizenship ceremony.

Locally, Canada has choices to make. Ultimately that's what elections are about. Canada has to choose between social conservatives that spend like shopping addicts or social liberals that spend like shopping addicts. Nobody, as I said, is articulating a vision for Canada in the post-oil era. It's as if the assumption is that the Saudis will run out of money and the price of oil will go back up to $100 a barrel and the good times will resume. I admit that's possible. But it is equally likely that the Saudis can save themselves by only restricting the flow of oil enough to raise the price to THEIR profit margin, but below the cost of production in the USA, Canada, and Russia. That's in the $55-$60 a barrel range. It costs North American industry $60-$80 a barrel to produce. Beyond that, the world is moving towards green technologies. Cars are much more efficient than 20 years ago. Electric and hybrids are all the rage. Solar panels and going "off grid" are popular. The writing is on the wall.

So what choice is a Canadian to make in this election? Since all of the parties have a selection of boutique programs and tax credits, let's call that square. The meat and potatoes of party selection always, ALWAYS revolves around the big policy changes. How many campaign promises do leaders make that never see the light of day? As a voter I have to make the assumption that many of the little things will never happen. So what about the big things?

I don't believe for a second that the Liberals or NDP would have managed economic issues better than the Conservatives have in the past 10 years. Harper has, in this regard, been an extension of Chretien. Low taxes, trade deals, low interest rates, spending on stimulus. Spending on pet projects. Spending on boutique items. Canada, for a long time, was the envy of the G20. It no longer is. That is not, however, Stephen Harper's fault. It is the fault of every Canadian Prime Minister of the last 20 years and every Premier. Canada simply believed that the good times with oil would never end. The ONLY reason why Canada isn't going gangbusters even though Europe is broke is because oil crashed. So the big issue is what do bloody well DO about it!

I believe that the Liberal plan to borrow to invest in Canadian infrastructure makes a lot of sense considering the tight spot Canada is in. You cannot diversify without infrastructure. The other aspect of that is education, which is a provincial matter. The second part to the plan is a tax cut for the middle class of 1.5 points while increasing taxes on those over $200k by 4 points. This is where they gain revenue for some of the spending they want. Some of that spending is of that boutique variety that I hate, but you just cannot have a prosperous society without a middle class. Wherever you see third world countries you see no middle class. Wherever you see prosperous societies you see a thriving middle class. The effort to ensure that Canada's middle class stays alive and healthy is life support for a changing economy. The next step is where all parties have fallen short.

I can't post this blog with a clear conscience without first discussing why, as a Tory, I've fallen off the bandwagon. I mean, the Conservatives do have a low tax policy. And, as I've already admitted, I doubt that anybody could have done much better with Canada's economy. So why the switch from blue to red in this election? Well, some of that has been discussed. The Conservatives have done nothing substantial environmentally and shown no effort to diversify Canada's economy. But it goes further than that. A lot further.

Even if our economy is in ship shape, it doesn't mean a damned thing if our democracy is sick. And Stephen Harper hasn't just made our democracy less well, he has deviated from one of the core principles of the Conservative movement that all of us thought was the best aspect of the Reform Party: accountability. Under Stephen Harper our government has become more secretive. Our Parliament less open. Our judiciary under attack. Our elections less trustworthy. None of this was supposed to happen. Electoral fraud. Senate scandals. The line between government and governing party swept away. The civil liberties of Canadians ignored. The committees of Parliament kept in the dark or lied to. Government scientists silenced. Research funding cut. The census hobbled. It goes on and on.

I just can't reward bad behaviour. I can't reward betrayal. I can't. I won't.

Finally, I've had some try to tell me that our society will be riddled with intoxicated drivers and drug addicts if pot gets legalized. But in every aspect of that issue the Conservatives have lied. Prohibition has done nothing but make it easier for children to get drugs, cartels and biker gangs to get rich, and real issues of safety to be overlooked. Justin Trudeau's pledge to legalize pot makes sense, even to people like me who have no interest in ever consuming it. The war on drugs is lost. Stephen Harper's pandering to social conservatives makes me even more mad at him. If we make things illegal because they are bad for us or dangerous, then maybe we should make KFC, McDonald's and Wendy's illegal. After all, the top 3 causes of death in Canada are cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Not drug overdoses or drug influences car crashes. Take it from one who found out 25 years ago: prohibition makes drug access easier, not not difficult.

This Tory, this time, is voting Liberal.

But that's just the way I see it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Beware The Dangers Of Over-Socialism

There seems to be a movement, especially here in Canada, to turn away from conservative political movements. In Ontario it didn't matter how awful the Dalton McGuinty Liberals were that party was re-elected with a new leader. In Alberta the NDP has won power and the Progressive Conservatives now sit in the wilderness. In fact, there isn't a real conservative government in a Province in Canada. Federally the Harper Conservatives can't seem to get ahead of the left-wing competition. What's telling is that Stephen Harper should be kicking the crap out of the Justin Trudeaus and Tom Mulcairs of the world, but he's not. In the US they are gearing up for election season with Hillary Clinton the front-runner. The Republicans are struggling to put forth a candidate that might beat her. So after 7 years of Barak Obama's directionless leadership the Democrats look poised to retain the White House.

So while we lurch to the left and leave conservatives to re-invent themselves as something that isn't anti-gay, patriarchal, or parental, let's remind ourselves of the dangers of embracing the left too much, shall we? Yes, we shall.

There was, for a little while, a political mode in North America that prescribed that deficits were bad, raising taxes was verboten, and free trade was advantageous. That fashion seems to have passed. That's really too bad. Just take a look at what's happening in Europe and you can get an idea of how bad overspending and borrowing can get. Those of us trying to save for retirement are seeing our savings stagnate thanks to what this European crisis is doing to the market. Overspending and debt has had a disastrous effect on the global economy. While the Europeans strutted with their noses in the air claiming that they cared so much about the working class and the poor, they were, in fact, helping to destroy the global middle class.

The current crisis involving the Greeks is a despicable mess. Greece's debt is now over $378 Billion USD, which is approaching 200% of their GDP. In Canada, where debt to GDP sits just short of 40%, we panicked in the early 1990's when it was approaching 80%. The Chretien/Martin Liberals managed to sort that out by cutting spending. In Europe, citizens riot when governments talk about austerity measures. They want their cake and to eat it too. Here in Canada we should learn the lessons and not be like that (are you listening Quebec students???).

What huge amounts of government debt can do is put extreme pressure on central banking agencies to keep interest rates low. In the USA, where debt to GDP is now well over 100%, they pay 7% of their budget ($224 Billion) in interest payments. In Canada we will pay over $25 Billion in debt charges this fiscal year. To their credit, the Harper government has stopped the bleeding and presented a balanced budget. To do so that had to cut spending. But the austerity measures in the early 1990s combined with the low tax policies of both Chretien and Harper have put Canada in an enviable position. No other G7 country has a balanced budget. Within Canada, Ontario is a sore point. Ontario's debt is approaching $300 billion! That's almost $12 Billion in interest payments per year. Even a 1% increase in interest rates would have major budgetary implications for governments. In Europe an interest rate hike could cause insolvency for some governments.

So before you go praising the left's "big heart" take a look at the ramifications of policies that have high taxes and high spending as their central principles. Low interest rates have inflated housing costs, pushing many young people either out of the housing market or into unsustainable levels of debt. Those low rates have made saving for retirement much more difficult. High debt rates have caused huge amounts of government spending that might otherwise go towards education or health instead being spent on debt servicing costs. Then, to try to pay for unsustainable levels of spending governments borrow even more (and then the banks get vilified) or they raise taxes on "the rich". You know what? I never got a job from a poor guy. Rich people aren't evil. They invest and that creates jobs. Corporations also create jobs. And the idea that corporations don't leave anything behind is nonsense. 60% of Canadians work for what can be classified as a corporation. That's a lot of wages left behind. That's a lot of infrastructure. That's jobs. And a majority of Canadians have investments. It's not just the "rich".

Let's think twice about what kind of country and world we want. There are some things that people can bloody well do for themselves. Countries like Greece, France, The USA ad others will have to learn that they can't have it all on the credit card forever. The sooner this correction happens, the better. There is no possibility of this happening under a left-wing regime. When it comes to socialism, moderation is a wise policy.

But that's just the way I see it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The First Three Weeks Of NDP Aren't Encouraging

It's been three weeks since the Alberta election. Oh...sorry...the historic Alberta election. **rolls eyes** Sorry...I've heard enough of that.

What I've seen in the last three weeks isn't encouraging. I know that politicians like to sell hope, but what people ultimately want is professional government. The first three weeks look like amateur hour to me.

To be fair, the Alberta NDP haven't ever formed government. They have no knowledge base except that available to them from the legislature apparatus. But what I want and expect from an elected political leader is intelligence. I'm seeing things that make me second guess my initial rosy assessment of Rachel Notley.

1. Vet Your Candidates

Sure, Ms. Notley didn't expect to win when she set out on the campaign trail. That doesn't excuse her or her party from vetting candidates properly. How the left in this province howled over the improper vetting done by the Wildrose in 2012. What's good for the goose.....

2. A Small Cabinet makes No Sense

Perhaps Ms. Notley doesn't see a depth of talent on her team (see point #1). Perhaps she really does believe that she can save the taxpayer some money by having fewer ministers. But those of us who follow politics closely know how badly rookie ministers can struggle to find their legs. Ms. Notley is now giving untested, inexperienced MLAs not one, but two or three portfolios to wrestle with. This is a recipe for a disastrous first year. I also have to wonder what the thinking is behind deliberately putting people in portfolios that don't match their experience. David Eggen knows healthcare, yet gets Education. Sarah Hoffman knows Education but gets Health. Lori Sigurdson has no elected experience and gets two of the biggest ministries in government at once in Advanced Education and Labour. Maybe she should ask Stephen Khan how that turned out for him. None of this makes sense.

3. No Budget Until The Fall

The Prentice budget was never passed. The fiscal year began April 1. So we'll have to wait until half way through the fiscal year before we know what's what fiscally. In the mean time school boards and post secondaries have no idea what to do for September. Nobody has a clue what they can count on for a budget. I can get not throwing something together in three weeks. But it seems that Ms. Notley has a pretty good idea what she wants to do. Why wait 4 months? It's not responsible.

People can stand out in the sun cheering like these politicians are rockstars if they want. And it is great to see young people engaged and hopeful. But life has a way of being real. Ms. Notley will, as a matter of course, disappoint many of those young hipsters. She's not going to give them everything they want. And in time she will will be the one vilified and accused of being in bed with oil companies and corporations. Fair or not, it will happen. This is politics. Bank on it. After all, why would voters or partisan politicos be fair? That would mean accepting reality and paying attention to the details. Complaining is much more fun.

But that's just the way I see it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

5 Random Things To Remember For Summer 2015

Those of you who routinely read the drivel I write on this blog understand that I like to make short lists regarding subjects that I find interesting. Today I'm going to share with you lucky people the top 5 things to remember as we head into summer. This well thought out list will be sure to be helpful to you this year. After all, there is so much wackiness in our lives these days that we all need someone to help keep us on track. Today, I am that someone for you.

1. Politicians Don't Control The Weather

While part of me relishes the opportunity to watch Rachel Notley become the person who gets vilified for not giving everyone everything they want, I just know I'm going to sympathize with her. This summer she gets to try to put together a plan that delivers on the promises she made during a campaign nobody expected her to win. The nice thing about thinking you're going to lose is that you can promise a lot of everything. But people tend to think that elected officials can make everything all better all the time with a click of their heels. Just watch. They'll want Notley to magically make oil clean. After all, a local sports owner thinks that Mayor Don Iveson can do his negotiating for him. Why not have Don serve the over priced beer too? I think maybe Iveson would rather be drinking it after two years in the magic chair.

2. Summer May Mean Fewer Clothes, But It Still Requires Personal Hygiene

I have lost track of how many times I've lamented the fact that so many people will fuss over their hair, makeup or clothing but then wear open toed shoes or sandals with the snarliest unkempt nails possible. Seriously, what the hell are people thinking? Get your crap together before going out. I don't care who you are, guys, only a douchebag walks around without his shirt on. And remember that hot weather leads to sweat, which doesn't smell like tulips. Use deodorant, people. And wash your hands after using that port-a-potty at the (insert summer festival/activity/concert).

3. Generously Sharing Your Music From Your Car Impresses Nobody

I know that you just want others to be able to enjoy the tunes you're rocking in your car. But quite often rolling down your window and cranking the overdone car music system just makes you look like a creep. Most of us are wondering, "how the hell can that dude stand to be in that car?" But you must really think that you look cool with your cliche backwards ball cap, oversized sport shades and tank top with the OOTSA-OOTSA-OOTSA blasting. Piss off, douchebag!

4. That Cheap Rate At The All Inclusive Makes No Sense

Everybody should take a vacation every year. But if your idea is to escape the 30 degree heat to go where it's 30 degrees during the rainy season, then I seriously question your judgement. There's a reason why it's cheap to go to an all inclusive in the summer. It's because it makes no sense. But enjoy those memories! I'll be there when it's -30 here.

5. 30 Degree Heat And 15 Ounces Of Tequila Can Cause Vomiting

Yeah. Lesson learned last summer. Word to the wise: booze doesn't make you more attractive, funny, stronger or a better driver. Don't drink and drive. And don't puke on your wife's aunt's lawn. That can haunt your a long time.

Have a great summer everyone!

But that's just the way I see it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why Conservatives Are Losing In Canada

Progressive Conservative. Wildrose. Conservative. Call it what you want, conservatives in Canada are losing ground. I even read a poll today that put the federal NDP ahead of both the Conservative Party and the Liberals. What is causing such a problem in conservative parties in Canada? There are several smaller symptoms that point to a much larger one, and it's all very simple, really.

1. They don't listen.

Conservative parties have gained a well deserved reputation for not listening to the public. The federal Conservative Party has gained it's own reputation for not even listening to Parliament. In fact, their distain for our democratic house is the one thing that has been loud and clear from them. They have miscalculated that Canadians won't notice. In fact, even conservative voters are made very uncomfortable by the disregard for Parliament and public opinion.

In Alberta, the Progressive Conservative government under Jim Prentice even did an extensive survey of Albertans, and then ignored the results. Voters, finally having had enough of such behaviour voted against them. **Note to Rachel Notley: they voted against Jim, not FOR you.**

Voter after voter complained to the Alberta government regarding their handling of Gay-Straight Alliances. Instead of being magnanimous and supporting Laurie Blakeman's bill, they killed it and presented the "we'll allow Catholics to discriminate against gays and lesbians" bill. Big mistake.

In Ottawa, Stephen Harper doesn't seem to be learning from what happened in Alberta. Counting on Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau to self-destruct isn't a good campaign strategy. It's arrogant. Start listening or pay the price!

2. They're not transparent.

What's the power bill going to be like for the Alberta Legislature? All those shredders working overtime. Government documents being destroyed makes it look like there's something to hide. 44 Years of rule must have caused there to be some skeletons. And they wonder why they lost the election.

In Ottawa the Harper government's reputation for muzzling dissent and opposition makes Canadians queazy. Silencing scientists because you back the oil industry isn't what's best for Canada. Behaviour that isn't consistent with a freedom-loving country will make voters panic. They value their freedom. When governments act this shady Canadians worry that they're next.

3. They're out of step with voters.

If you were at a train station and you were waiting for the trains to gay marriage, abortion, public health insurance and public education I would have to tell you that those trains had already left the station.

There are always people fighting for the future and people fighting for the past. Inevitably those fighting for the past lose. If your party, its candidates or volunteers are fixated on things like "family values" or "climate change skepticism" then you're going to lose the left and the centre. 98% of all scientists in the world agree that climate change is real and influenced by human behaviour. That train has left the station. A majority of voters also believe that either gays and lesbians are born that way or at the very least that it doesn't matter a hill of beans one way or the other. That train has left the station.

Sticking to the past makes you look bigoted or stupid. Quite often its true.

The BIG Symptom

The bigger symptom that seems to be causing all of this is quite simple. When you peel away the onion's outer layer and get to the layer that smells and makes you cry you find problem. It's the motivation. The politicians, the advisors, the sycophants, the win-at-all-costs power brokers. In conservative parties in Canada they have shown themselves to be one thing consistently:


Mean spirited, arrogant, uncaring and devoid of purpose other than to win and crush enemies with vitriol.

It's one thing to get bad advice from someone who means well. It's quite another to get advice from someone who doesn't have the bests interests of your country or province or city at heart. It causes politicians to stop listening. It causes politicians to become secretive. It causes politicians to lose touch with the public they represent and swear to serve.

This is where conservatives in Canada find themselves. If they want to get back on track they need to get back to basics. If you believe in smaller government, then explain why and give evidence to support your case. Don't do what the Alberta PCs did and say that Alberta's post-secondary system is "unsustainable" after cutting grants in real terms by 10% over 5 years. Don't claim you care about smaller government and do what the federal Tories have done and spend with vigour and attack the Parliamentary Budget Officer for sounding the alarm on false claims.

In Alberta people voted in the NDP. In Canada the Conservatives have put themselves in the position to lose later this year. Is this a good thing for Canada beyond the replacement of people we don't like? What abut the policies? Do we want apprenticeship training to be politicized and done by unions or by post-secondaries? Do we want to be fiscally responsible or do we want to throw cash at problems and not find real solutions and efficiencies?

Canadian voters are centrist. In Alberta. In Ontario. In BC. Everywhere. When when the left looks risky and the right looks evil, they'll go with risky. Conservatives have work within the parameters of public health insurance, public education, the reality of climate change and the fact that sexual orientations are not evil. If they cannot do that then Canada will cease to benefit from the things that they bring to the table that DO make sense.

Voters are increasingly willing to take chances on risky policies simply because conservatives have worn out their welcome with their own behaviour.

But that's just the way I see it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

3 Things I'm Hoping For From Our New NDP Government

I suspect that many people stand with me in admitting that they broke a long standing promise to themselves on Tuesday and voted NDP. I'm usually a reliable Tory voter, being the red Tory that I am. But for reasons spelled out on this blog several times I just couldn't continue to support them. Now that Ms. Notley has been elected Premier, there are 3 things I am hoping she has the courage to do.

1. Bring In The Auditors

Not a few auditors. An army of auditors. It's high time that all of the backroom deals and misspent money get exposed. It's also time to figure out why we spend so much on health care and get such shoddy results. More money isn't going to necessarily fix our health care problems. More often than not you see unions go on strike after chucks of funding are dolled out. It ends up as wages rather than hospital beds. Please, Ms. Notley, bring in the auditors. Get out the hard bristled broom and start sweeping! Don't back down from the push back you get in the departments.

2. Refocus Alberta on Higher Learning

How many years have we heard about how important economic diversification is? Yet grants from the Province for post-secondary institutions have eroded under the Progressive Conservatives. Fund the schools, but make it conditional on full financial disclosure and proof that they are spending the money wisely. Our two big universities spend less than 40 cents of every dollar they get in revenue on instruction and non-sponsored research, yet spend over $100 million each on administration. Not good enough. When it comes to tuition don't freeze it. Fix it. There are disparities between schools of the same type, and what Alberta needs is long term predictability in tuition. So instead of fixing increases to inflation, which is historically volatile, fix increases to the rolling 25 year average of inflation.

3. Be Smart With Taxes

There really is no moral justification for charging people a greater percentage in tax because they make more money. At the same rate you pay more if you make more nominally. That said, the NDP believe in progressive taxation in spite of it's inherent punishment of achievement. I would hope that they don't go too far, don't implement a sales tax, which is regressive, and don't chicken out on a royalty review. Those oil companies aren't going anywhere. I would also hope that their increase in corporate taxes gets reduced from 12% to 11.5%, which would keep the Alberta Advantage while generating more revenue.

So I wish Ms. Notley all the best. She seems smart, savvy, and more moderate than what we're used to from the NDP. I hope she doesn't get distracted by some of the nonsense that is sure to come about from having a caucus with so many who are so young and inexperienced. Hell, when I was 20 years old I would have been a rotten MLA. In the social media age, there are going to be some issues. Bank on it. But Ms. Notley should get past those issues swiftly and surely.

Let's see what they can do before we start claiming that the sky is falling.

But that's just the way I see it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Alberta Does Not Have The Lowest Taxes In Canada!

I wonder how many people have bothered to run the numbers on taxes in Canada. I doubt that many have. A lot of people take it on faith that Alberta, at a 10% flat rate, has the lowest taxes in Canada. The fact is, though, that Alberta doesn't rank #1 in any income group. It ranks #1 if you are a corporation, but only #4 of you are a small business.

Here is how Alberta ranks in terms of having the lowest taxes on Canada:

Personal exemption: #1

Small business: #4

Corporations: Tied for #1 with BC and New Brunswick

Income levels
$30k: #5

$50k: #6

$75k: #6

$100k: #5

$200k: #2

Sales Tax: Tied for #1 with NWT, Nunavut and Yukon

When Jim Prentice brings back health care premiums in his budget on March 26, he will make Alberta nowhere near the lowest taxed jurisdiction in Canada. And of course, the middle class will hurt the most, as usual. Will royalty rates be touched? Nope. Corporate taxes? Nope.

But hey, its the people of Alberta who matter, right?

But that's just the way I see it.