Monthly Archives: July 2014

All hail our towering examples of public service

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We are, in every way on every day, blessed in this country to count among our citizenry the finest class of politicians and civic leaders humanity has ever seen fit to produce. Of course, we dare not stare too long at their like, lest these glittering specimens of probity and circumspection blind us where we stand.

Perhaps, then, only a glance or two will suffice.

What say you Rob Ford, Lord High Mayor of yon Hog Town? When last we checked your calendar, you were just emerging from several weeks of. . .ahem. . .well-deserved rest, having spent several years working overtime to become habitually. . .well, let’s just say. . .tired and emotional.

According to the Globe and Mail this week, hizzoner says it is “irrelevant whether or not his family firm does business with a large U.S. printing company he and his brother opened doors for at city hall, arguing the Ford’s company has too many clients for him to declare a conflict on every one.”

In fact, the mayor’s exact words were: “People come with ideas to save the city money. I’ll be the first one to bring them in, bring the managers and say, here’s some ideas. If thats a conflict, I’m going to have to declare a conflict with almost every business or person in this city. I guess I am in a conflict.”

That said, Mr. Ford trundled off for a photo-op at a new playground in the GTA’s North York borough. There, he joined some kids on the monkey bars and exclaimed his abiding support for the new space and others like it across the city. Which was strange, because, as the Toronto Star reported, “he was the only member of council to vote against a proposal to let the city use $140,000 in private money to build the park. The proposal passed 34-1.”

Again, according to the Star, “Local resident and advocate Talisha Ramsaroop, 21, said Ford told her and two other young people at the ceremony that he has done more for low-income communities than any other mayor – and that he ‘started’ the park project. ‘Those were his exact words: ‘I started this,’’ Ramsaroop said.

“In fact, the park, Reading Sprouts Garden, was (an). . .initiative of local councillor Maria Augimeri. Ramsaroop said she was ‘really upset’ when she was informed later of Ford’s opposing vote. ‘To be quite’honest, I didn’t know that politicians were allowed to lie to your face,’ Ramsaroop said. “Like, I know this sounds really optimistic, but I was completely unaware that politicians were allowed to lie to the face of the people.’”

Elsewhere in Oz, the Senate of Canada was debating whether or not to sanction one of its members for some such misdemeanour.

Nope, it wasn’t mighty Mike Duffy, rumoured to be from Kensington, Prince Edward Island, now facing 31 counts of fraud and breach of trust. Neither was it his colleague Pamela Wallin who’s still facing the RCMP’s music.

It was the heretofore all-but-unknown Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Conservative senator who got his wrists slapped for hiring his girlfriend. As a Star piece noted, “A Senate committee is debating what – if any – sanction to level against a Quebec Conservative who was found to have breached parts of the upper chamber’s conflict-of-interest code.

“Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu got a chance Monday to testify behind closed doors about why he continued to employ his girlfriend as an assistant, even though it violated Senate guidelines.

“Boisvenu renewed a job contract for his girlfriend twice, and tried to ensure a two-week special leave for her as she moved from one job to another in Senate administration. . .Boisvenu was found to have acted inappropriately by not only renewing the contract but also by lobbying Senate leadership over how time off Lapointe had taken was to be counted.”

Meanwhile the Upper Chamber’s ethics commissioner, Lyse Ricard, is recommending that no sanctioned be leveled against the former victims’ rights advocate as he didn’t mean to break the Senate’s rules. His “error of judgement,” she said, was “made in good faith.”

But of course – among the political class, aren’t they all?

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Ducking the dreaded ‘B-word’ in New Brunswick

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Those who maintain that in the absence of a global depression governments and the jurisdictions they administer do not go bankrupt – not, at least, in the barrel-wearing, down-and- out sort of way – do not remember Argentina.

In a 2008 edition of Der Spiegel, the magazine reported, “The signs of looming national bankruptcy are plentiful, and bankers in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo know them well. In late 2001, they were the first to see the coming crash in Argentina. Men traveled across the Rio de la Plata, from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, carrying suitcases filled with US dollars. They stood in long lines at the city’s banks, depositing the contents of their suitcases into accounts and safe deposit boxes there. Uruguay is South America’s Switzerland, a safe haven for money in times of crisis. No one asks about where the millions come from.”

The article continued: “Once the Argentine businessmen had transferred their dollars abroad, the second phase of the collapse began. The Argentine government froze all bank accounts, capping the maximum amount an accountholder could withdraw at only $250 (€198) a week. Small investors, those who had left their money in the banks, were the hardest hit. Tens of thousands of desperate citizens stormed the banks, and many spent nights sleeping in front of the automated teller machines.”

Finally came the denouement of that country’s humiliation: “The last phase of the downturn began in the Buenos Aires suburbs. After consumption had dropped by 60 per cent, young men began looting supermarkets. In December 2001, 40,000 people gathered on Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. There, they banged pots and pans together day and night, until an unnerved President Fernando de la Rúa fled by helicopter.”

Reach back even farther into history, if closer to home (at least culturally), and we may recall the economic wreckage of post-World War II Britain, which had to borrow the equivalent in today’s dollars of $150 billion from the United States just to keep the lights on, cops on the payroll and hospitals open. The Brits have only just paid back the Yanks the final installment of the loan.

In fact, national bankruptcies are a far more common occurrence in the modern world than many suspect – made all the more chilling by the thorough devastation they wreak on the afflicted economies.

Money’s not worth a plug nickel for anyone (except, perhaps, for those who had the foresight to move their cash to offshore, safe havens before the collapse). Schools and emergency rooms shut down with alarming speed. As for public pensions, you can forget about them altogether.

And because societies are vastly more complex and intra-dependent than are individuals, a jurisdiction can take years, even decades, to crawl back to some semblance of solvency.

Anyone who has endured a personal bankruptcy knows what it’s like to have a trustee like Price Waterhouse tethered to his ankle. But these guys are guardian angels compared to the dark minions who ply their trade at the International Monetary Fund.

It’s lamentable (though not surprising) that, in this run-up to the September 22 New Brunswick election, almost no one has uttered the ‘B-word’ in relation to the province’s dreadful fiscal shape.

It appears we live in a perpetual state of denial, expecting to make no hard choices, to undertake no risky business (can you spell s-h-a-l-e gas?) that might replenish our collective coffers, and yet always expecting fine, fat, grass-fed chickens in our pots at the end of the day.

The New Brunswick Business Council – a collection of demonstrably successful heavy-hitters, whose membership roster includes names like Oland, McCain and Ganong – made headlines this week by challenging the province’s political parties to drop their usual talking points and talk plainly to citizens. What, it demanded, are these political hopefuls going to do to clean up the mess that is New Brunswick’s financial condition?

The Council suggests a temporary hike in the HST and radical surgery on the spending side of the ledger. To be sure, the measures it prescribes aren’t nice, comfortable or easy. But the alternative is obviously far worse.

At least these folks remember Argentina.

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Ducking the dreaded ‘B-word’ in New Brunswick

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Those who maintain that in the absence of a global depression governments and the jurisdictions they administer do not go bankrupt – not, at least, in the barrel-wearing, down-and- out sort of way – do not remember Argentina.

In a 2008 edition of Der Spiegel, the magazine reported, “The signs of looming national bankruptcy are plentiful, and bankers in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo know them well. In late 2001, they were the first to see the coming crash in Argentina. Men traveled across the Rio de la Plata, from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, carrying suitcases filled with US dollars. They stood in long lines at the city’s banks, depositing the contents of their suitcases into accounts and safe deposit boxes there. Uruguay is South America’s Switzerland, a safe haven for money in times of crisis. No one asks about where the millions come from.”

The article continued: “Once the Argentine businessmen had transferred their dollars abroad, the second phase of the collapse began. The Argentine government froze all bank accounts, capping the maximum amount an accountholder could withdraw at only $250 (€198) a week. Small investors, those who had left their money in the banks, were the hardest hit. Tens of thousands of desperate citizens stormed the banks, and many spent nights sleeping in front of the automated teller machines.”

Finally came the denouement of that country’s humiliation: “The last phase of the downturn began in the Buenos Aires suburbs. After consumption had dropped by 60 per cent, young men began looting supermarkets. In December 2001, 40,000 people gathered on Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. There, they banged pots and pans together day and night, until an unnerved President Fernando de la Rúa fled by helicopter.”

Reach back even farther into history, if closer to home (at least culturally), and we may recall the economic wreckage of post-World War II Britain, which had to borrow the equivalent in today’s dollars of $150 billion from the United States just to keep the lights on, cops on the payroll and hospitals open. The Brits have only just paid back the Yanks the final installment of the loan.

In fact, national bankruptcies are a far more common occurrence in the modern world than many suspect – made all the more chilling by the thorough devastation they wreak on the afflicted economies.

Money’s not worth a plug nickel for anyone (except, perhaps, for those who had the foresight to move their cash to offshore, safe havens before the collapse). Schools and emergency rooms shut down with alarming speed. As for public pensions, you can forget about them altogether.

And because societies are vastly more complex and intra-dependent than are individuals, a jurisdiction can take years, even decades, to crawl back to some semblance of solvency.

Anyone who has endured a personal bankruptcy knows what it’s like to have a trustee like Price Waterhouse tethered to his ankle. But these guys are guardian angels compared to the dark minions who ply their trade at the International Monetary Fund.

It’s lamentable (though not surprising) that, in this run-up to the September 22 New Brunswick election, almost no one has uttered the ‘B-word’ in relation to the province’s dreadful fiscal shape.

It appears we live in a perpetual state of denial, expecting to make no hard choices, to undertake no risky business (can you spell s-h-a-l-e gas?) that might replenish our collective coffers, and yet always expecting fine, fat, grass-fed chickens in our pots at the end of the day.

The New Brunswick Business Council – a collection of demonstrably successful heavy-hitters, whose membership roster includes names like Oland, McCain and Ganong – made headlines this week by challenging the province’s political parties to drop their usual talking points and talk plainly to citizens. What, it demanded, are these political hopefuls going to do to clean up the mess that is New Brunswick’s financial condition?

The Council suggests a temporary hike in the HST and radical surgery on the spending side of the ledger. To be sure, the measures it prescribes aren’t nice, comfortable or easy. But the alternative is obviously far worse.

At least these folks remember Argentina.

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George Orwell would be proud to call this tax man Big Brother

When the rock is a hard place, it's usually government thinking it's a friggin' balloon

When the rock is a hard place, it’s usually government thinking it’s a friggin’ balloon

Big Brother arrived in Canada last week – late by 30 years, if we are inclined to set our time pieces according to the schedule predicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984– and finally started unpacking his bags.

Ho do we know? It’s not by the creepy rise of the surveillance state as manifested by Communications Security Establishment Canada (this country’s version of the U.S. National Security Agency). It’s not by the uptick of moral priggishness and the desire of mostly conservative politicians to throw just about everyone who ever smoked a joint into jail.

Nope, confused citizen, it’s by the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) full, official embrace of “doublethink”, thanks greatly to the federal government’s determination to root out and defund political activities among national charities – especially those that have been critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s social agenda or, more accurately, lack of one.

You may understand “doublethink” as the “act of ordinary people simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.” That Wikipedia definition is as almost good as any. The only one better was unwittingly expressed in a Canadian Press (CP) story late last week. To wit:

“The Canada Revenue Agency has told a charity that it can no longer try to prevent poverty around the world, it can only alleviate poverty – because preventing poverty might benefit people who are already not poor.”

The CP item also characterized the spat between CRA and Oxfam Canada as a “bizarre bureaucratic brawl”, which it most certainly is.

Obviously, the best way to alleviate poverty is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The same logic applies to every other deleterious eventuality in life.

The best way of alleviating mental anguish or physical suffering is to prevent disease. The best way of alleviating the effects of bankruptcy is to prevent the accumulation of unsustainable debt. The best way of alleviating social inequality is to prevent the proliferation of sub-standard public education.

Still, prevention is oftentimes an overtly political act. Conversely, alleviation amounts in most cases to a hand out – and, generally, too little too late. That, it seems, is perfectly fine with certain office-holders in Ottawa.

It’s okay to throw a man a fish when he’s starving, but not to teach him how to secure his own catch of the day (all of which, incidentally, runs counter to Christ’s own teachings – a rather ironic twist given the overt religiosity of this government’s cherished voting base).

The doublethink in this case is, itself, a unique twist of the standard model. It does not force you to hold as equally valid two diametrically opposite conclusions; it demands that you consider two obviously joined concepts as inextricably separate.

“Relieving poverty is charitable, but preventing it is not,” the CRA finds in one of the most ludicrous. anti-humanitarian pronouncements any branch of government in this country has ever issued. “Preventing poverty could mean providing for a class of beneficiaries that are (sic) not poor.”

Huh? How exactly would that work? Please, pray tell.

Would Oxfam or any other tax-exempt charity in the poverty-reduction biz conduct an audit of millionaires who are in danger of suddenly losing their shirts, watch them shed said garments and then, and only then, swoop in with bags of basmati and powdered skim milk to “alleviate” their now straightened condition?

The whole thing is, as Oxfam Canada’s executive director told the CP, absurd. “Our mission statement still indicates we’re committed to ending poverty, but our charitable (purposes) do not use the word ‘end’ or ‘prevent’,” he said. “They use the word ‘alleviate.’”

Okay. . .New plan. Oxfam can effectively clean up the language of its mission statement to reflect the new sensitivities. But what prevents it from conducting its real business in precisely the same way as it always has?

Does the charities directorate of the Canada Revenues Agency have the budget in these artificially engineered austere times to track every “political activity” of every charity in Canada to ascertain the degrees of their compliance to Big Brother’s edicts?

Under the ridiculous circumstances, it’s best not to over-think these things.

Keep calm and carry on, good ladies and gentlemen.

A tale of two debt loads

Mountain of debt...maybe we grow accustomed to its face...

Mountain of debt…maybe we grow accustomed to its face…

Implementing prudent fiscal policy is, for finance ministers, like threading a needle with a tightrope. Just ask Ottawa’s Joe Oliver or Fredericton’s Blaine Higgs who are, for very different reasons, attempting to execute that particular circus trick.

In the wake of a C.D. Howe Institute report that calls for the federal government to loosen up on its avowed purpose to balance the national budget by 2015 come what may, Mr. Oliver thunders like a Calvinist preacher: “Our government will not open the taps on reckless spending. We will not go down that well-trod and irresponsible path to economic decline.”

Still, economist William Scarth is adamant. “The federal government should delay its final stage of deficit reduction by three years,” he writes in his report for C.D. Howe. “If its deficit-to-GDP ratio is held at one-half of one percentage point for three years before reducing it to zero, it is estimated that the nation’s unemployment rate would be four-tenths of one percentage point lower during this three-year period (the equivalent of 75,000 new jobs).”

He’s not alone in this thinking.

A recent Canadian Press piece quotes several noted experts – some of whom are not partisan word warriors – who point out that the Canadian economy is not, in fact, in especially good shape. Over the past 12 months, only Alberta has created any jobs –  and even there, 72,000 new positions are not enough to boost the flagging fortunes of Ontario, Quebec or, for that matter, New Brunswick.

“Balancing the budget is a political imperative not an economic one,” NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen says. “It’s like balancing the family budget and not feeding the kids.”

Meanwhile, Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale writes in a recent editorial, “For months on end, (the Harper government) dismiss weak employment numbers like the ones recently reported by Statistics Canada for the month of June – as just ‘monthly volatility’.  But it keeps recurring, month after month. One might ask, at what point does that so-called ‘volatility’ become an undeniable trend in the wrong direction. Or to put it another way, when will Mr. Harper pull his head out of the sand?”

Then, there’s David Dodge, a former Bank of Canada Governor whose Spring 2014 Economic Outlook for the law firm Bennett Jones observes: “It is. . .important to realize that in the current environment of low long-term interest rates, fiscal prudence does not require bringing the annual budget balance to zero almost immediately. Small increases in borrowing requirements to finance infrastructure investment would still lead to declines in the debt-to-GDP ratio. Moreover, with low interest rates, it is the right time for governments and the private sector to invest in infrastructure.”

Finally, the CP taps Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter for his views. Says he: “The market is not crying out for a tighter fiscal policy at the federal level. If the government wheeled out a significant medium-term infrastructure program, I don’t think I’d have a big problem with it they can borrow very cheaply and there’s a pretty good case to be made that there’s lots of demand for infrastructure.”

Move eastward to New Brunswick and witness a whole different tale of woe. Here, Finance Minister Higgs would give his left pinky to own Mr. Oliver’s set of problems, i.e., to spend or not to spend.

According to the latest audited financial statements, the province finished fiscal 2013-14 with a deficit of $500 million (about $20 million more that anticipated) on a long-tern debt of $11.6 billion.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick’s population of 755,464 people continues to age, making a quick return to fiscal health about as likely as a late-July nor’easter.

Still, plucky Premier David Alward enthuses, “We are turning the corner and we see revenue projections on target or actually a bit ahead of target from what we are projecting.”

Of course, to do that, Telegraph-Journal reporter Chris Morris notes “additional revenues of $1.129 billion, a 14 per cent increase over 2014-2015, must be achieved.”

Not even on his very best day would Mr. Oliver walk that tightrope for Mr. Higgs.

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Why does Ottawa hate charity?

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I thank God Almighty that I am not a tax-exempt Canadian charity. The way I like to run my chops whilst simultaneously poking the bear that is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government virtually guarantees that the eternal vigilance of the Canada Revenue Agency would focus exclusively on me for the rest of my days.

PEN Canada’s president Philip Slayton knows what I mean. His organization represents about 1,000, mostly mouthy, writers. Their mission statement goes as follows: “PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. (It) promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.”

Occasionally, the group issues news releases like this one in May:

“The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act (Bill C-13), currently being discussed at the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights, would provide telecom companies with criminal and civil immunity for disclosing subscriber information to government agencies.

“According to information published following an access to information request by University of Ottawa Law professor Michael Geist, in 2011, nine of Canada’s major telecom providers and social media sites received 1.2 million data requests from government agencies. The companies complied in 784,756 cases. The total number of requests and disclosures from all telecom companies is likely higher.

“‘These figures give an idea of the government’s unsettling predilection for surveillance,’ said PEN Canada National Affairs Committee Chair William Kowalski. ‘If information has been volunteered this readily, then privacy would vanish if these practices became law.’”

So, perhaps, would any expectation of freedom of expression, which is kind of ironic, given PEN’s current straights. Earlier this week, two tax auditors arrived on the Toronto-based organization’s doorstep, demanding to be shown what The Canadian Press describes as “a wide range of internal documents.”

This was not exactly unexpected. Back in 2012, the Harper government announced that it was cracking down on so-called charities that pursue political “activities”, particularly those that it suspected of breaking the ten per cent rule – the proportion of time an organization can spend advocating outside the boundaries of is mandate and mission without compromising its charitable status.

Since then, The Canadian Press has uncovered more than 50 “political-activities” audits underway against a wide variety of groups, including Amnesty International Canada, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada Without Poverty, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

The common thread is fairly plain. All are progressive, liberal, politically aware and archly critical of the current office-holders in Ottawa.

CRA officials, of course, deny any connection to operatives in government. This is, they say, just business as usual. “The process for identifying which charities will be audited, for any reason, is handled by the charities directorate itself and is not subject to political direction.” Cathy Hawara informed the Canadian Bar Association this spring, according to CP.

Maybe, but it does seem oddly coincidental. As for Mr. Slayton, he’s cooperating with the authorities, but he’s none too happy about it. “I refuse to let it have a chilling effect on us,” he to CP. “We are not going to have some kind of fear – about having our charitable status questioned by authorities – stop us speaking out on issues.”

Indeed, he said, “If it means you have to live in fear of the revenue authorities, and if it means that there are things you want to say, you feel you should say, but you feel you cannot because of the rules, well then, what price charitable registration?”

It’s a good question. And it’s worth pondering, awhile, how the federal government sets its priorities. Real fraudsters, con men and criminals ship their ill-gotten booty to tax havens all over the world. Somehow, though, politically active charities deserve the tax man’s vigilant eye.

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Canadians say ‘ho hum’ to federal priorities

 

Sleeping giants, like the electorate, wake up...don't they?

Sleeping giants, like the electorate, wake up…don’t they?

Certain enclaves of the federal government have long suspected that Canadians are far less enamoured of their cherished policies than they have otherwise propagandized. 

Their buoyant rhetoric about the nation’s proud military tradition, bolstered by tens of millions of dollars for war memorials and stagy commemorations, have struck many citizens as crass testimonials to a certain prime minister’s preoccupation with battlefield derring do. 

Meanwhile, thousands of veterans needlessly do without – victims of red tape, official neglect and outright disinterest among corps of bureaucrats whose members have never, and likely never will, lace up an army boot.

Equally, Canadians are, in increasing numbers, dissatisfied with Ottawa’s leadership (or lack, thereof) on education – both pre-school and K through 12. Public school is properly the purview of the provinces, but a sense of national purpose is sorely lacking – a fact manifested in the hodgepodge of early education, primary and secondary programs across the country.

And then there’s health care, another provincial responsibility that could use some sage advice from federal policy makers and office holders. Still, Ottawa’s diffidence regarding long wait times for several medical procedures and widely divergent catastrophic coverage regimes virtually guarantees the nation’s mediocrity in this crucial service on the developed world stage.

In fact, in almost every way, the Government of Canada’s ‘jails and jobs’ agenda has failed to impress the general public. 

The wholesale flight of the feds away from things Canadians actually care about – the environment, hard science, and, of course, the social safety net – to things that merely bewilder them – fighting crime at a time when crime rates are at historic lows; taking credit for creating jobs while repeatedly reminding everyone that only the private sector can and should generate new employment opportunities – has conjured an atmosphere of ennui from coast to coast.

Now, some research commissioned by the federal Department of Finance confirms officialdom’s worst suspicions. 

According to a Canadian Press story this week, public opinion surveys conducted last winter, “suggest key government policies are out of step with Canadians’ priorities, including the Northern Gateway project. . .Members of focus groups. . .had ‘little enthusiasm’ for the proposed bitumen pipeline to the British Columbia coast – even those who said they support the controversial project. . .Rather the groups spontaneously raised education, health care, pensions, and veterans as their key issues.”

The operative word there is “spontaneously”. That indicates that participants weren’t prompted or even asked forthrightly about their feelings. They just blurted their concerns with a degree of unanimity that should truly worry a government that’s running second in the polls, behind the third-party Liberals, and preparing to head into a national election. 

As for western oil and gas, the report, itself – prepared by NRG Research Group – states that “detractors worry about the environmental consequences in the event of a spill, particularly as a result of a tanker accident off the B.C. coast. . .There is an appreciation that increased access to oil will be economically beneficial, but there is still a desire to do so in a more environmentally safe manner.”

A report like this is, of course, exactly why governments employ professional spin doctors. When I was one, back before the federal Grits suffered their political Waterloo at the hands of Stephen Harper’s bayonetted storm troopers, I might have prepared a statement that read something like this: “Naturally, Canadians care about the environment. So does this government. To suggest otherwise shamefully underestimates the intelligence of the electorate, which, need it be said, gave this government the mandate it now takes with great seriousness.”

See how that works? Wait for it; we’ve still got it in store.

In the meantime, however, we might do well to ruminate on what it means to live in a democracy where the government of the day – Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green, Republican, Democratic, Rhinoceronian – brooks no criticism, takes no advice, considers no alternatives to its various hobby horses, and prosecutes its “mandate” with a perpetual scowl on its face. 

We might legitimately question whether this political machinery constitutes a democracy at all.

Then again, if we have decided that our rage against the machine will keep us home on voting day, we already have our answer.

 

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Economy and environment are not mutually exclusive

 

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For many, if not most, New Brunswick’s peripatetic Green Party Leader David Coon whistles past the graveyard of the province’s economy when he insists that we, in this struggling part of Canada, must strive to break our addiction to fossil fuels.

It’s no good, he says – a rum thing that can only bring us and our our planet more misery. In one of his blog posts in early June, he wrote, “The Green Party will create new jobs in a new economy, powered by. . .green buildings, renewable energy, local food, information technology, smart grid, electric vehicles, local business, public transit, health education, and sustainable farming and forestry; this is the Green Party’s vision of our future, not the old pollution-based economy the other parties are trying to resuscitate.”

Last week, he reiterated his message while campaigning in the province in what is certainly another doomed stab at political relevance, come September’s general election. 

But is he as defiantly deluded as his detractors claim?

Traditionalists – a group that includes most of us – contend that economic development simply can’t proceed in any meaningful way without the heavy use of oil and gas. After all, that’s how we built our job-generating, tax-producing industries under the long shadows of our various industrial revolutions. 

How else would we have invented plastic bottles, plasma TVs, rayon? Without the cheap, accessible energy afforded by fossil fuels the world would be devoid of super-conducting metals, which give us the integrated circuits that power our smart phones. 

By God, how would we cope?

The corollary argument, of course, is that true environmental stewardship is anathema to economic development, both practically and on principle. It requires a degree of tree-hugging and hair-shirt-wearing that stifles innovation and turns entire segments of the populace into Whole Earth Catalogue readers.

If these mantras hold true, then one would guess that the richest, most successful economies the world necessarily post the worst track records on the environment.

Well, dear reader, guess again.

The ninth most-affluent nation on Earth is Switzerland. It also happens to be the greenest country on the planet. Luxembourg is the second-wealthiest nation, and the also the second-most environmentally circumspect.

According to recent economic research aggregated by the popular website, top10thebest.com, “Switzerland, a rich nation in the European continent, is among the most prosperous countries in the world. It boasts (a) diverse and stable economy, and it has managed to maintain its excellent record in terms of. . .GDP. What makes Switzerland one of the wealthiest countries is its extensive sources of income, such as agriculture, tourism and banking. It is also known as the leading exporter and maker of the finest watches, and well-off individuals consider the country as a financial haven to increase their money.”

Meanwhile, swissworld.org reports, “At the end of 2009 the (country’s) Federal Council decided to continue with the SwissEnergy Action Plan until 2020. SwissEnergy is the main national platform for economical and intelligent energy use and the use of renewable energy. Energy-saving measures are implemented by SwissEnergy in partnership with the cantons, municipalities, business and environmental organisations.”

As for Luxembourg, top10thebest.com says that nation “is among the most prosperous countries (and) also recognized as a tax heaven. In fact, several billionaires from other parts of the world choose to live in this nation to free themselves of expensive taxes in their native countries. . .The sources of income (in) Luxembourg include telecommunications and steel.”

And yet, referencing a 2010 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report, a Wikipedia entry states, “Despite its growing GDP and population, Luxembourg has made progress in decoupling environmental pressures from economic growth and has developed a National Plan for Sustainable Development. The annual vehicle tax is now calculated as a function of CO2 emissions. A National Plan for Energy Efficiency has been introduced, together with economic incentives targeted at the construction industry. A national body has been created to provide information and advice on energy savings and renewable energy.”

All of which suggests that Mr. Coon is on to something. We who think him deluded may, in fact, be the deranged ones.

 

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The curious case of Mike Duffy and the 31 counts

 

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

And then there was one.

Like pins on a bowling alley, they’re toppling: Retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb, Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, and now that most tele-charismatic of them all, Tory Senator Mike Duffy who, last week, learned that the RCMP had charged him with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Only Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin (suspended like her colleagues, Messrs. Brazeau and Duffy) remains under police investigation for alleged fiduciary misdeeds.

But it is on Mr. Duffy that all eyes are focussed. That’s because it is thanks to Mr. Duffy that a government could fall and the edifice of the Conservative Party of Canada could crumble. 

If either of those scenarios play out over the next several months, it would make history; marking the first time a journalist (former or active) in this country played a role anything more substantial than gadfly to established power. And you can just bet he’s itching to scratch that substantial epidermis.

“The court process will allow Canadians to hear all of the facts,” he told reporters outside his home in Kensington, P.E.I., on the weekend. “They will then understand that I have not violated the Criminal Code.”

Looking almost relaxed for a man who has had two heart surgeries since his fat hit the flames several moons ago – when news erupted that he may have run afoul of Senate residency rules, expense protocols and the acceptable limit and circumstances for receiving. . .um. . .“donations” from “friends” to settle his debts to the Upper Chamber – Mr. Duffy promised to say nothing more to the media whilst his case is before the judicial system. 

Still, he intimated, his day in court promises to be a day of reckoning for everyone who ever thought of crossing him. His message to The Centre: “I’m coming for you.”

It’s not an idle threat. 

Legal experts wonder whether federal prosecutors can prove that the $90,000 “gift” to Mr. Duffy, from former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to settle his account for improper senatorial spending, does, in fact, amount to receiving a bribe. After all, how can the recipient be charged if the ‘gifter’ gets off Scot free? To date, the RCMP has refused to charge Mr. Wright with any wrongdoing.

In a Canadian Press story, Queen’s University law professor Don Stuart put it this way:

“It seems unclear what the courts have made of the word corruption (in the relevant statute). Normally speaking you don’t have to prove a motive, but in (the Duffy) case you might have to, because of the use of the word corruption. . .They (the prosecution) will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his (Mr. Duffy’s) intention was a corrupt intention.”

But, then, that would amount to blackmail. And, by all accounts so far, that word does not appear in any of the indictments against the suspended senator. 

At this point, a multitude of questions become salient. 

If Mr. Wright, with all the best intentions (though possibly career-ending poor judgement), merely wanted to settle the matter of Mr. Duffy’s expenses privately without further burdening taxpayers, is it possible that certain government operatives, unbeknownst to Mr. Wright, appended a coercive codicil to the deal that required Mr. Duffy to extend, in return for the booty, certain favours to his political masters or, alternatively, instruct him to keep his mouth shut about certain, past wrongdoings of which all were intimately familiar?

Again, would that amount to bribery or blackmail?

Naturally, it’s all speculation. Still. . .

“If the matter goes to full trial and potentially involves the sitting prime minister of the country in connection with matters of the Senate, we will see a mix of politics and law that will be one of the outstanding trials in our history,” Rob Walsh, former law clerk to Parliament, told the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper. “If it comes to that.” 

Anyway you cut it, that’s bad news for the current government. It hardly matters when Mr. Duffy’s trial embarks. The scandal has already tainted the Tory regime and the Senate, where further investigations of other standing members are, we are told, underway.

And then there were none.

 

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Rothesay mayor finds crow perfectly digestible

 

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Everyone deserves a second chance or, at least, a second helping of one’s own words, refried, re-seasoned and finally made palatable, if only just.

So it was last week when Rothesay, New Brunswick, Mayor Bill Bishop all but retracted his comments about the dreaded Funky Monkey Sandwich Shop, a food truck from nearby Quispamsis. 

Lest we forget, the Bishop of Rothesay characterized his community thusly: “You have to know Rothesay, it is not your regular community. We people here have been here for decades and they (I, perchance?) have very firm beliefs, and needs and wants and the word change in Rothesay is not a welcome word.”

As the CBC reported, “Bishop said he has nothing against Dan Landry, the Funky Monkey’s owner, but a mobile restaurant is ‘not the type of enterprise that we welcome in Rothesay.’”

What a difference a day and social media makes. No sooner had hizzoner expressed his inner thoughts with his outer voice, the chocolate mousse hit the fan. Facebook and Twitter (themselves, vectors of dreaded “change”) erupted with heaping doses of ridicule, topped with thick dollops of derision. 

Apparently, this inspired the following mea culpa from Rothesay’s first citizen (again, on Facebook and Twitter):

“I have received many calls and emails regarding my comments on the Funky Monkey Food Truck and I have also seen the considerable debate this has generated in social media. Clearly, I chose my words poorly and I apologize to those I offended, and in particular to the owners of the Funky Monkey. . .My concern was ensuring that mobile food establishments fit appropriately within municipal regulations and operate fairly with other restaurants. We welcome entrepreneurs to our community and we are grateful to any business, such as the Funky Monkey, that enhances the quality of life in Rothesay.”

Still, I can’t help wonder if Mr. Bishop would have been as effusive in his praise for an establishment that, only 24 hours before, he effectively derided had instant electronic communications never been invented. 

Indeed, the phrase, “It’s too late, now, pal,” comes to mind. 

Four years ago, Darren Cahr, a partner in the Chicago law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP observed on his blog, Legally Social, “We are entering a new age of transparency – for you. Everyone will know more about you, and your secrets, and every detail of your private existence.”

In fact, he wrote, “Nearly every technological development over the past several years has been devoted to capturing data. Document management systems and data mining, e-mail archives and browser cookies – all of these things and so many more are devoted to finding and maintaining data. But if the growth of electronic media has resulted in the dawn of an age where nothing is ever forgotten, it is suddenly becoming apparent that a lot of folks miss that option. People want to have their mistakes erased, they want to be able to step away from that drunk moment on Twitter. But they can’t.  Individuals are becoming like flies caught in amber, a series of embarrassing moments frozen in time forever.”

 All of which is just one way of saying that the social media – the realm where nothing is ever forgotten – is also a place where nothing is ever forgiven.  

According to a CBC report, various Facebookers were having none of what the mayor offered to serve. 

“I should like to hear the mayor comment on what he actually said, instead of eating crow and commenting on something he did not say,” posted one Thomas Littlewood. “His Worship’s original statement suggests that Rothesay is too elitist to support something like a food truck; now he just wants to make sure that it fits with municipal by-laws? Which is it?”

Added Marlyn Isaac in her post: “The horse is already out of the barn.”

As for Funky Monkey’s tireless proprietor Dan Landry, he’s holding up. Reports from the front lines of the food truck skirmish suggest that he’s having to turn thronging admirers away.  

“At this time, we’re not as worried as we were a couple of days ago,” he told the CBC. “But, yes, there is still a concern that there’s a negative force working against us.” 

Oh, puh-leeze! With enemies like Mayor Bishop, who needs friends?

 

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