August 9, 2015

Bob Rae then, and Bob Rae now

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I missed when Colby Cosh started writing for the National Post a while back, and only just remembered to pick up the RSS feed for his column, so this one is nearly a month old (I’m hoping that the Post has given up on their goofy licensing idea for bloggers, which was why I stopped reading or linking to the paper when they introduced it):

Ever since May, when Alberta raised the orange flag of rebellion and keelhauled its Progressive Conservatives, we have heard much about the danger that Rachel Notley will turn out to be another Bob Rae. Every time I have heard this, I have asked myself a question: which Bob Rae?

I know they mean the callow young Rae who, as premier of Ontario, blew up the welfare rolls, fiddled with rent control and pay equity while the treasury hemorrhaged and struggled tumultuously against NAFTA. But what, I wondered, if Notley turned out to be more like Liberal-elder-statesman Bob Rae, who is often a more eloquent defender of markets than just about any Conservative politician one can name? (Fine: I’ll spot you Maxime Bernier.) The older he gets, the more explicit Rae becomes about his Damascene conversion to the primacy of economic competitiveness.

In May, Rae wrote a little-noticed article about Notley that was essentially a warning: don’t be me.

“Keeping spending on operations (health care and education in particular) in check has been the greatest challenge for social democratic governments around the world,” Rae wrote. “From the Labour government in the U.K. in the seventies, to the travails of François Hollande in France, the examples are legion. It ain’t easy.” The heavy sigh is almost audible.

“Government can’t defy gravity,” Rae added, taking what unreconstructed socialists would now call a “pro-austerity” position. “There’s a limit to what any government, of any stripe, can borrow, tax and spend.… The laws of economics are not exactly like the laws of physics, but reality has a way of rushing in.”

When it comes to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party, the truth is that Alberta, nauseated by the banana-republican habits of its PC caste, took a conscious gamble. Notley put forward an economic platform with a minimum of utopianism, and upheld the icons of relatively successful, fiscally austere prairie New Democrats: Roy Romanow, Gary Doer.

May 23, 2015

The rise of the Donair

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I first experienced a donair in Halifax in the summer of 1982. I won’t claim it was a life-changing experience, but it was a revelation that “street meat” didn’t have to be awful. At The Walrus, Omar Mouallem explains how the humble donair is on the verge of conquering the streets of Alberta:

Like shawarma and gyros, donairs are a meaty delicacy shaved from a rotisserie spit and wrapped in pitas — only spicier and sweeter. If you require further explanation, then you’re from neither the Maritimes (where they were invented, in the 1970s) nor Alberta (where they’re most consumed). Topped with a sweet, creamy sauce, they are a Canadian take on tzatziki-coated beef and lamb gyros, which themselves are a Greco-American take on centuries-old Turkish rotisserie lamb (a dish that also spawned a blander German variant called döner kebab). Adding to the cultural confusion, most donair operations are run by Lebanese immigrants such as Tawachi — or my father, Ahmed Mouallem, who introduced Athena’s product to my hometown of High Prairie, Alberta, in 1995. The town of 2,666 now supports four different restaurants that serve the food, but only three traffic lights.


No one, including John Kamoulakos, who with his brother Peter invented the street food in Halifax, is quite sure how donairs migrated from east to west. Aaron Tingley of Tony’s Meats (based in Antigonish, Nova Scotia), a supplier that purchased the Mr. Donair trademark and recipe from Kamoulakos in 2005, thinks Maritime labourers might have driven Alberta’s demand: “They want to experience a taste of home.”

That’s what Chawki El-Homeira was thinking in 1978, when he left Halifax to chase the Alberta oil patch. Only he was going to feed the workforce. The sixty-seven-year-old remembers his first encounter with the donair, in March 1976, as if it were yesterday. He’d arrived in Nova Scotia from Lebanon with neither family nor English and got a job washing dishes in a restaurant that served the delicacy. “Something attracted me to it,” he tells me. “It was close to our food: it’s pita bread and spicy, quality beef, like shawarma. I thought, someday I’m going to open my own donair shop.”

After watching Maritimers migrate to Fort McMurray, he packed his bags and followed. The timing was terrible. The oil patch dried up in 1980, before he could secure a lease (like a true Albertan, he blames Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program). So he drove a cab instead, first in Fort Mac, then in Edmonton, looking for commercial vacancies while the meter ran.

On a fellow cabbie’s tip, he purchased a submarine-sandwich shop on Whyte Avenue in 1982 (the same year Tawachi opened his) and introduced his Dartmouth recipe to Albertans one slice at a time, offering customers free samples. Word spread of “Charles Smart Donair” (his anglicized name and a poorly translated Arabic adjective), and soon he had a monopoly as a supplier to other Lebanese shop owners. Then his best customer tried to copy his technique and, he claims, sabotage his business by spreading rumours to his predominantly Muslim clientele that he, a Christian, spiked his product with pork.

If anyone knows of a good donair place in Toronto’s financial district, feel free to drop a hint in the comments…

May 7, 2015

The political landslide in Alberta

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh reflects on the sudden end to the Conservative era in Alberta:

…[i]t made me start to believe the impossible: that Alberta could really elect an NDP government, and snuff out the PCs like a cheap cigar. Even with plenty of local knowledge, it’s dangerous to model an election without some further model in your head of what your friends, neighbours and family — really, any people who don’t have non-negotiable partisan commitments — are thinking.

With the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in flames, their leader having fled not only his leadership but the Assembly seat to which he was just re-elected, there will now commence a certain amount of mythologizing of new NDP premier-designate Rachel Notley. It’s inevitable; it might even be wrong to resist it. She did what literally dozens of opposition politicians in Alberta before her could not. It’s a file of men and women stretching back through time — intelligent, sincere, often likeable people, Notley’s father among them, who spent careers trying to make holes in the great PC wall and never left a respectable dent. Even the coldest-hearted conservative crank must wish that the irresistible, gamine Pam Barrett could be here to see all this, or that Sheldon Chumir were on hand to make penetrating observations about the fate of his Liberals.

But even Notley might admit that the main difference between her and them is timing and good fortune; that this election was not really about her, or about any sudden mass affection for the NDP. By many, the New Democrats were adopted, temporarily or not, as a vehicle for retribution. The nearly unanimous sentiment of the Alberta voter on this night was: taken for granted for too long. Albertans were determined to send a message to pervasive, enduring power that had begun to resemble Philip K. Dick’s Black Iron Prison.

It’s been more than 25 years since I last visited Alberta, so I can’t even pretend to know what the average voter has been thinking over the last few months, but I can’t imagine that anyone on the political right was happy with the contrived collapse of the Wildrose Party. It showed that all the people who’d been working so hard to create a more conservative option to the Alberta PC party were either suckers or traitors. The budget the PC government brought in would have been offensive to many supporters even in less traditionally conservative provinces than Alberta (I don’t think Premier Wynne could have been re-elected in Ontario on the basis of a budget quite like that). In the wake of the Alison Redford era, the very last thing the PCs should have done is shown just that much contempt for the people who elected them.

Yet, they did.

And now they reap the just reward for their sins. And with the size of the majority they’ve handed the NDP under Premier-designate Rachel Notley, it’ll be at least five years for the conservatives to meditate on their sins … if they stick around to contest the next election, that is.

May 1, 2015

Does anyone really know what’s happening in Alberta?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The last provincial election in Alberta exposed the polling organizations’ flaws for all to see, and the self-destruction of the Wildrose party, followed almost immediately by the PC budget fiasco mean that nobody seems to have a clue what the voters will end up doing next week. Colby Cosh is right there with his finger on the political pulse, and even he’s not sure what to expect when the votes are counted:

Nobody trusts the polls. They are mostly being conducted by unfamiliar firms with no record of Alberta tea-leaf reading. But the signal that the New Democratic Party is close to a sweep in Edmonton is so strong that it cannot be ignored. Three different firms who polled the city on or about April 23 have the NDP at 56 per cent, 61 per cent and 54 per cent among decided voters.

There are many undecideds, and they may scooch toward the PCs. But … 54 per cent? 61 per cent? That is a lot of mileage to make up, even if the polls are badly out of whack. NDP Leader Rachel Notley was widely seen — right across the partisan spectrum — to have won the April 23 TV debate. Thomas Lukaszuk’s northwest Edmonton PC seat ought to be one of the safest in the city. When he endorsed the NDP’s corporate tax hike on April 21, contradicting his own party’s platform, it was a hint that internal Tory polls must look almost as bad as the published ones.


Notley will be the emerging star of the campaign even if she takes third place. During the TV debate she benefited from a tart exchange in which Premier Jim Prentice, trying to emphasize that Notley would raise provincial corporate tax rates by 20 per cent, quipped: “I know math is difficult.” He was trying to crack wise about the NDP making accounting mistakes in the original release of its budget plan. But the joke came off as “mansplaining,” which, for future readers, was a borderline capital crime in 2015.

Notley was also ready with a counter to Prentice’s actual debating point, insisting that the NDP’s fast correction of its error was an example of transparency and accountability. She also got off the best joke of the night: after Prentice mixed it up a little with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, she told the premier: “That’s not the way to talk to a donor!” This was a cheeky reminder that Jean’s Fort McMurray-based company had donated $10,000 to Prentice’s 2014 leadership campaign.

April 1, 2015

Colby Cosh on Albertan “Norwailing”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s been decades since my one trip to Alberta, so I’m far from current on what Albertans talk about when the national press aren’t paying attention, therefore it’s not much of a surprise to find that the term “Norwailing” is new to me:

The University of Alberta resource economist (and Maclean’s contributor) Andrew Leach calls it “Norwailing.” It has been a suffocatingly hot trend in print and electronic media for a while now. “Norwailing” describes a type of envious glance cast by columnists and editors at the sovereign wealth fund that Norway has built through the near-total sequestering of its oil revenues. The fund’s estimated value, as I write, is $6.94 trillion Norwegian kroner, the equivalent of $1.1 trillion Canadian. The fund is said to own about one per cent of the world’s financial equity.

Every year, the fund contributes a fraction of its value to the Norwegian public treasury. That fraction is set so that it equals the long-term expected return on investment from the fund. In short, Norway tries not to touch the principal. The idea is that the income from selling a non-renewable resource should be set aside as a permanent endowment.

There is a great deal of Norwailing inside and outside Alberta, a sheikhdom that briefly adopted a policy of setting aside oil royalties in the 1970s but abandoned it without accruing much value. The Norwailing inside Alberta is a form of self-abasement undertaken mostly, as far as one can tell, for social-signalling purposes. When oil prices drop and disorder strikes the Alberta economy, as it has this fiscal year, Albertans make a pious show of regret over “wasting” the good times.


What we Albertans are really regretting when we Norwail is that prior generations did not create a welfare program for us, at their expense. (The universities, hospitals and lines of business created with the oil money were supposed to be that, but they do not seem to count.) We stand in the same relationship to the selfish past that future generations do to us; we wish the saving had begun before we were born. That would have been convenient, assuming the money was not invested unwisely, squandered for political ends or just stolen.

Some of us are saintly enough to say that the saving should begin now. Future generations, you see, are better and more deserving than we. Future generations are always invoked in Norwailing. One cannot Norwail properly without summoning the image of a marching file of adorable hypothetical future-babies extending to infinity.

Let ’em shift for themselves. Judging from recent centuries, they are likely to be richer, healthier and more knowledgeable than us. They’ll be taller and have higher IQs. They’ll be raised better, cherished more closely, exposed to less violence, as you probably were in contrast to your own parents. They will be equipped with ever more sophisticated automata and yet will be more productive. And, yes, the planet may be warmer, but not, on any sane estimate, too warm to be incompatible with life or civilization.

February 4, 2015

Justin Trudeau – future prime minister or future punchline?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson takes a somewhat jaded look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada:

Like the fella said Stephen Harper ain’t much of a conservative but he’s what we got at the moment. In fairness the NDP isn’t doing much better. Since the Apotheosis of Jack the Canadian Left has been terrifically annoyed at Thomas Mulcair. Just as we on the Right complain about the Tories’ Leftward drift, so the Left complains about Angry Tom’s Rightward drift. Jean Charest’s former Minister of the Environment is easily the most conservative figure ever to lead the NDP. I suspect that there isn’t that much real ideological difference between Stephen and Tom. Had the political winds been blowing a bit differently in the 1980s both men might have wound up caucus colleagues in the federal Liberal Party. There but by the grace of Pierre Trudeau go them.

Speaking of entitled sons of privilege we move onto the Liberal Party as it is today. Having been boldly lead into the political basement in 2011 by Lord Iggy of Harvard, so much for the value of a good education, in desperation the Party looked for a Messiah. Luckily he’d spent the last decade kinda just bumming around waiting for the right moment. Or perhaps he was just bumming around. Always hard to tell with the Eldest Son of Pierre and Margaret. Whatever you think of him Justin, or his entourage, he matters. At least for now.

Silly though it sounds these are the ballot questions in 2015: Is the undeniably adorable but quite likely stupid Justin Trudeau fit to be Prime Minister? If not then do we elect the angry guy with the beard or the less angry guy without the beard?

Monetary policy? Deficits? Terrorism? Health Care? Pensions? Just boring stuff. No need to concern yourself with such trivia. Wait! Is there a bouncing baby on the way? Yes!

So what are we to make of Justin? The man, the myth and the pending disaster. The short version, occasionally I do short versions, Justin is essentially a stalking horse for the Canadian far Left, much like his own father was half a century ago. Pierre Le Grande was elected to save Canada from Quebec independence. He did that and en passant remade the country along the fashionable Leftist lines of the era.

Today Quebec independence is an economic, demographic and political dead letter. Canada faces no serious existential threats. This makes it hard for Leftists to find a political hook. Thus the need for Justin’s luscious locks to distract people’s attention. A straight forward statist pitch would fall flat. The old political tag team of the NDP and the Liberals no longer works. The Dippers demand some crazy socialist scheme, the Liberals sensibly propose a less crazy socialist scheme and Tories follow along after some perfunctory remarks about the needs of business and international competition. This is how the Left advanced it’s agenda for decades. It doesn’t work anymore because the Liberal Party doesn’t work anymore. The dirty secret of the modern Liberal Party is that there is no there there.


Stephen Harper has proven that a majority government can be formed without Quebec. The West is now big enough that it can do a deal with Ontario. Despite the paranoid ranting of downtown Toronto Leftists most Ontarians actually like the West. The Redneck slanders that emanate from Trinity-Upon-the-Spadina-St. Paul are directed at pretty much anyone west of Etobicoke. Since the rise of Rob Ford they also include Etobicoke. The Toronto Sprawlands have a lot in common with the sprawlands of Calgary-Edmonton. We don’t agree on everything but enough so that we can do business.

The Rise of the West makes the Liberal Party obsolete. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. Public schools have been obsolete for some time. They’re not going anywhere. Baring a political miracle neither are the Grits. If they can no longer be the Quebec Party that everyone else can tolerate, they’ll be the party of Hype and Hope. The political train wreck that was the Martin-Dion-Iggy Years was the product of the Liberal Party no longer making sense. To question the absurdity of the career of Justin Trudeau misses the greater absurdity that is the party he leads.

January 17, 2015

Alberta to introduce a provincial sales tax?

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why this is unlikely, at least in the short term:

Yeah, look, guys. I realize that Jim Prentice is talking about the possibility of a provincial sales tax for Alberta. I think he’s just trying to make sure he has our FULL ATTENTION before he passes a very austere budget, because I do not see a clear path toward us actually having a PST.

Under current Alberta statute — the Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act (ATPA) — Albertans would have to vote “yes” in a province-wide referendum before a PST could be introduced. The government gets to write the referendum question, which as we all know is a big advantage, but the economists who support a PST have not done anything like the necessary public outreach and education to soften up superstitious, PST-averse voters. The PCs are obviously hell-bent on a spring election, and spring seems far too soon for that sort of gamble, although the referendum could be held on the date of the general election.

It is more likely that if Prentice sincerely wanted a sales tax, he would try for repeal of the ATPA without an official referendum. Prentice could make that a centrepiece of the upcoming election campaign — a “no me without a PST” kinda offer — but then opposition parties and troublemaking journalists might ask why there is no formal referendum being held in parallel with the election. The whole point of the ATPA was to prevent premiers from forcing package deals of that sort onto voters.

And, of course, Albertans might actually take the “no me” option, rejecting a Conservative government in favour of … Stop laughing! It could totally happen!

August 16, 2014

“Alberta politics have never been more interesting”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:06

In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh explains why the recent Auditor-General’s special report has been unusually newsworthy:

The fireworks that accompanied last week’s special report by Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher were, at first blush, a little mysterious. The A-G’s report into disgraced premier Alison Redford’s bizarre use of government aircraft had already been partially leaked, and did not contain much that had not already been reported. But it was greeted with remarkable excitement — broken down, line by line, on social media as if someone were tweeting the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Even a political commentator born in Social Credit Alberta needed a little time to realize why. It wasn’t that Redford and her daughter had been allowed to treat Alberta government aircraft like theme-park rides. It wasn’t that the premier had tried to build a secret downtown crash pad in a government building in the capital. It was that an independent officer of the Alberta legislature was pointing it all out, harshly, in plain English, with no fudge.

Such characters—departmental ombudsmen, freedom-of-information (FOI) commissioners, and the like—have usually been very tame creatures in Alberta, often doing more to make scandals disappear than they do to rectify them. (The Edmonton Journal observed in July that over the past 20 years, two-thirds of Alberta FOI requests for provincial records yielded no documents whatsoever.)

However, scandal or no scandal, it would be rash to predict a sudden end to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives no matter how much dirt is evident:

Alberta’s privileged classes thus have a sort of unspoken deal with the PCs, and it is this deal the PCs are counting on as they try to hustle Prentice to the podium in September. But the 2011 election results and the current polls show Albertans wondering whether Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party could not manage things at least as competently as Ed Stelmach or as ethically as Alison Redford. The province’s labour markets remain tight, and oil prices are buoyant, but the treasury is borrowing. Young liberal urbanites who were stampeded into voting PC in 2011 will not be so easy to terrorize a second time.

In short, Alberta politics have never been more interesting. Yet it is worth remembering that both Stelmach and Redford won enormous election victories, and that the PCs have survived in power through a 150 per cent increase in the province’s population. Four decades’ work is not undone overnight.

August 7, 2014

Alison Redford’s political exit

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Colby Cosh bids adieu to the former Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta:

What will Alison Redford’s premiership be remembered for? She summarized her own legacy in the statement she released when resigning from the Alberta Legislative Assembly Wednesday. And it is a little sad.


Can the Alberta PC dynasty survive calling the cops on one of its own leaders? Most Alberta voters, I suspect, will go over the events and revelations of the last year and think: “Are we turning into British Columbia or what?” Redford fell from power because she appeared to be foul-tempered and paranoid as well as ethically dubious, but if we are being honest, her scandals are at least as much a matter of evolving standards as they are worsening behaviour.

Under Redford, the Progressive Conservatives have gotten caught taking dozens of donations for the party war chest from municipalities, counties, learning institutions, government agencies and contractors, and the Treasury Branches. Some of this happened before Redford became Premier, which is worth remembering as the party tries to pin everything on the discarded bad apple. None of the people who engineered those kickbacks showed any awareness that they were obviously wrong or even unlawful, which tells us just how long the PCs have been doing that sort of thing. Because disclosure laws have evolved, and Google exists, we find out about it now. (Not all of Redford’s problems over expenses were ferreted out by reporters following up tips with FOI filings: some came up simply because Alberta government expense disclosure is now public, online, and frequent.)

There is a strong case that the PCs need some time on the sideline as a matter of hygiene — that, irrespective of ideology, 43 consecutive years of majority government is as unhealthy as 43 consecutive days wearing the same underwear. But it is easy to forget that Albertans have good reasons for their apparently congenital reluctance to change. The province’s resource economy has been managed, to a degree few others can boast, for the benefit of what used to be called “the working class”. The market power of skilled and unskilled industrial labour is probably as enormous, here and now, as it has been anywhere in history.

Ontarians in particular may want to put down any fragile objects and get the kids out of the room before reading the next two paragraphs…

And political power follows, if only because the trades are so large as a proportion of the populace in Alberta. If you need proof, just look at the virtually unified clamour against the federal government’s neutering of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. In Alberta, TFW is popular because it functions as a guarantee that oilpatch and construction workers will continue to enjoy cheap food, hospitality, daycare, and entertainment while their own wages skyrocket.

There is a little-noticed irony in the Canadian left’s contempt for Alberta: to a truly awesome degree, Alberta has, through managed capitalism, fulfilled the wildest dreams for industrial workers ever dreamed up by Marx and Lenin. This self-evidently has not much to do with labour unions. (What labour unions?) When Albertans talk about TFW, it is often observed that young people exiting high school here are not obligated to fill brainless service jobs, because it is so easy for them to go buy a pair of steel-toes and land a fairly enormous salary in a matter of hours. It is important that people outside Alberta understand: this is a complaint! It’s a common one!

July 29, 2014

Will Alberta lead the way on legalization?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:28

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells discusses the (rather amazing) fact that support for marijuana legalization in Alberta just went over 50%:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hitting hard at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s advocacy of marijuana legalization for about a year now. Really hard: I don’t think the extent of the radio, TV and paper campaign against Trudeau and pot has yet been tallied. Here’s one early effort of mine to provide a partial accounting. The Conservative case against today’s Liberals, in fact, can be summed up as a general argument that they lack judgment and their leader lacks more than most; and a specific case that he’s high and wants to get your children high, too.

My own hunch, discussed at length in this column from last September, was that Harper was onto something. Advocates of pot legalization are a loud and self-impressed bunch, I wrote, but they’re balanced by other people in other parts of the country who still greatly fear the demon weed — and outnumbered by many others who don’t care about the disposition of the law and won’t vote for a party just because of its views on pot.

But views change. One suggestion that they’re changing in Canada comes from Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College, who’s done several waves of public-opinion polling in Alberta on social issues. In 2013, for the first time, Ellis and his colleagues found majority support [PDF] in Alberta for decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. Support for liberalized laws on recreational pot had grown by more than 10 points in only two years. In Alberta.


I’m not sure how marijuana will play in a general election, or whether it’s salient enough to make any real difference. A year’s polling on political party preferences suggests it hasn’t exactly been a magic bullet against the Trudeau Liberals. Opposition to same-sex marriage was a strong incentive to form a united Conservative party more than a decade ago and, now, that issue has just about vanished as a differentiator among political parties. That sort of thing could happen again on another issue, and Harper must worry that it is.

I’m suspecting that marijuana will turn out to be a big issue in the next federal election — if only because Harper isn’t likely to give up what he thinks is a great weapon against Justin Trudeau. However, if the trend in popular opinion toward legalization continues, that weapon might well turn in his hand.

As Colby Cosh said a few weeks back:

The consciously libertarian vote in this country is not large, but there is a larger, less intellectually coherent “leave me alone” vote — a fraction of the public that is equally tired of drug laws, overpriced cheese, green boondoggles, housing-market fiddling and all the other familiar species of unkillable state intervention. Feeding and watering the Ron Paul-ish voters would be light work for Conservatives if they weren’t so strategically devoted to exploiting soccer-mom fear of drug dealers and other baddies. Paul himself spent 30 years as a tolerated totem, almost a sort of licensed royal jester, within the Republican party.

When Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced his party’s backing for marijuana legalization, we were told by newspapermen, almost with one voice, that he would rue his radicalism. The pundits all know he is in the right on pot, but they do not trust him to articulate the right position. This might be fair, but his espousal of legalization doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the polls yet. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that is taking an awfully long while to fulfill itself.

I’m not all that pleased to see the rise of Justin Trudeau: I suspect his actual policy positions should he become PM would be informed by the “we know better than you” nanny-staters, do-gooders, and earnest interventionists. His sensible position on marijuana may indicate a latent libertarian streak, but is more likely to be a variant of the stopped-clock phenomenon.

March 21, 2014

Calgary mayor trolls reporter

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:14

Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi was asked for his reaction to the resignation of Alberta Premier Alison Redford. The conversation went in odd directions, according to the Calgary Herald‘s Jason Markusoff:

Let’s start this transcript of Calgary’s mayor reacting to Alison Redford’s resignation with the last question I threw to him, as a just-in-case query: Will you run for Alberta PC leadership?

We didn’t get the pat “no” I expected. We got Naheed Nenshi talking about “Albertans,” even though three-quarters of [them] aren’t in his jurisidiction:

    “Seriously? There will be lots and lots and lots of opportunities to talk about lots and lots and lots of different people. I can tell you regardless of whatever role I’m in personally, I will take a very serious part in this next election, always fighting for the interests of Calgarians and Albertans.”

Let’s rewind, then, to the beginning of his statement.

    Obviously what has happened tonight will be covered as a political story, and it is a political story. But I also want to remind everyone that this is also a human story.

    It’s about a real person, a good person, a person who loves this province and and has worked and made incredible sacrifices… And it’s the story of a system that takes someone like that and chews them up and spits them out. And I think that’s what we really need to remember today. Alison Redford is a good person. A good person who has tried to do great things for this province, who has had amazing dreams and amazing ideas for what we can do together as a community.

    Every one of us who goes into public service knows that it can be a tough job. Every one of us knows you’ve got to have a thick skin, sometimes people say really cruel things about you on the Internet. But I think all of us as Albertans need to really think about what has happened over the last several weeks. And what that means to how we get great people to be politicians, how we get great people to enter into public service.

    The partisanship under that dome in Edmonton is what leads to this. And I hope that whoever the new premier will think hard about how we make sure that what happens under that dome isn’t just for party and caucus, as we heard over and over again in the premier’s statement today, but it’s about people. It’s about Albertans. It’s about how we do the best for all citizens of this great province.

A follow-up post the next day indicated that perhaps Nenshi wasn’t quite ready to make a play for the premiership:

Dave Taylor of Newstalk 770 got the third kick at this question, when Nenshi made his monthly appearance on the AM station’s afternoon call-in show. I think most reasonable people will take this as a “No” from a mayor who enjoys pestering this reporter.

    I mean look. What’s real here is let’s not get into the handicapping of who’s who and what’s what. It’s way too, way too early. We’re going to have over the next months – You know what I’ve always said about party politics.

    Plus as I always say I’ve got the best job in the world at the moment, certainly in Canada. And I just got reelected to it so let’s see ow I do at it. I really don’t like by-elections. I don’t think that one should force that on people. And I got lots of work to do. Is that coy enough? I figure I have to be coy otherwise poor Jason Markusoff’s head won’t explode.

March 20, 2014

Alberta Premier resigns (just ahead of the party lynch mob)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:36

Colby Cosh on the resignation of Alberta’s Alison Redford:

It was a tearful surrender for Alison Redford Wednesday night as she gave a curiously backward resignation speech, grocery-listing the accomplishments of her government’s two years in power before announcing that she will step aside as Premier of Alberta on Sunday. Among these accomplishments, Redford trumpeted a “fully balanced” 2014 budget, which is “balanced” in an unusual sense of that term meaning “expenditures far exceed revenues, but in a nice way.”

That sort of cynical language was, it must be said, part of her problem with voters. The Alberta budget became more cryptic under Redford, and the usual accounting fictions have been stressed to the breaking point, with revenues assigned hugger-mugger to “operating” and “capital” purposes with no very clear line of demarcation between. If you think Albertans don’t pay attention to that sort of thing, you don’t know us too well.

There will be a temptation to sum up Redford’s ouster by citing her clownishly expensive December trip to South Africa to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Redford, in truth, had almost literally every kind of problem you can imagine a Westminsterian political leader having, all of them chronically. Her relationship with her caucus was dire, as became obvious to the news-reading public in the last fortnight. Any defenders she might have had were keeping pretty quiet, and no one seemed to expend much effort reading from an orchestral score of talking points. Few MLAs ventured beyond muttering “She needs to make some changes.” From some of these, it was pretty obvious that the change they had in mind was the one that happened tonight.


Redford’s resignation completes the transition of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party from unstoppable electoral force to the Sick Man of Canadian Politics. Sick men have risen from their deathbeds before, and the opposition Wildrose Party may not be ready to complete a journey to power that is following the Reform Party model. (You will recall that this involved negotiating quite a few twists and turns and a couple of avalanches and volcanos.)

March 6, 2014

Elect Tim Moen – “I want gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana plants with guns”

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:46

The Libertarian Party of Canada has risen from the dead (again). Here’s the federal candidate for the Alberta riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca:

LPC poster for Fort McMurray-Athabasca

Vincent McDermott reports for Fort McMurray Today:

Libertarian party candidate Tim Moen wants gay married couples to have the right to protect their personal marijuana plants with guns.

That’s one of the many slogans Moen, a captain with the Fort McMurray Fire Department and freelance videographer, is posting online as a federal byelection in the region approaches.

“To me, that meme is the message of classical liberalism and the philosophy of liberty,” he says.

“People should be allowed to marry whoever they want, put what they want into their bodies as long as no one is hurt, and protect themselves and their property.”

Moen is the first federal Libertarian candidate to run in the Fort McMurray-Athabasca riding.

The party advocates a platform of no government interference in Canada’s internal social and economic affairs, on the grounds that doing so violates personal liberties and freedoms.

The Libertarian Party of Canada was formed in Toronto in 1973, but has not elected a single member to the House of Commons, nor has it ever gained higher than 0.25% of the popular vote.


Late last week, the RCMP classified the CZ 858 and the Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle as “prohibited,” meaning gun owners without the proper licensing will now have to surrender the two firearms to local police without compensation.

“Now these people are criminals just because of the property they own,” says Moen.

“Gun control is not about protection, so much as it is about control. We’ve seen what happens in countries that allow these liberties to be eroded and it’s not pretty.”

It also means the party is firmly supportive of LGBTQ rights, open immigration, the legalization of drugs and prostitution — so long as it’s between consenting adults. It also views pollution as a violation of property rights.

“The memes show we care about issues the left likes and issues associated with the right. It doesn’t have to be one or the other,” says Moen. “You don’t have to stay in one group. It’s not about left versus right. It’s about bringing a message of hope.”

Moen’s platform can be viewed at votemoen.ca, or on his Facebook page, Tim Moen for Parliament.

Full disclosure: I was active in both the LPC and the Ontario Libertarian Party through the late 70s and mid-80s.

H/T to Nick Gillespie for the link.

February 12, 2014

The Beer Store’s pre-emptive strike against a competitive market in Ontario

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:22

Yesterday I got a robo-call from someone representing The Beer Store (what used to be known as the Brewer’s Retail … for my American readers, think of your local DMV crossed with a Cold War-era Soviet department store). The call was to alert me to the possibility that the Ontario government might do something to destroy the worker’s paradise we live in today and allow the total anarchy of private sales of beer, wine, and liquor. I was invited to take part in some sort of “town hall” meeting where all the interested parties would be represented … if you consider only those who are afraid of this change being introduced as being all of the interested parties.

As we all know, the Ontario government isn’t comfortable with the idea of letting go of their own vast-profit-generating booze sales machine (the LCBO), and I doubt that the current Premier and her party are actually going to break the foreign-owned oligopoly that currently controls the sale of beer in the province. In spite of that, the Beer Store and their “stakeholders” are mounting a rather hysterical counter-offensive to preserve the current status quo. As Colby Cosh points out, their success or failure will probably hinge on keeping Ontarians innocent of how a non-monopolized market works in other jurisdictions … particularly in Alberta:

It is encouraging to see so much ridicule being flung at the Beer Store’s “study” defending its role in the Soviet-flavoured Ontario liquor retailing system. The effectiveness of the Beer Store’s white paper depends on its Ontario audience knowing no practical details of freer retail schemes, particularly Alberta’s: yet, by an amusing paradox, the ur-source for the report appears to be Alberta. No one was willing to attach his name to the report itself, but it comes with a foreword by the Parkland Institute’s Greg Flanagan, who deems it a “valuable contribution”—one that, on an unrelated note, makes heavy use of Flanagan’s own past polemics against liquor privatization. What a terrible shame nobody took credit for this excellent document!

What Colby is missing is that Ontario is a unique, precious snowflake of a province, whose residents are unable to handle this so-called “freedom of choice”. Our loving government is protecting our vulnerable, weak-willed selves from the evils of a callous, uncaring, exploitative sector of the economy that ruthlessly wants to sell us more of their intoxicating poisons at lower prices. This is why we must stand firm against “free markets” and rally our shrinking moral forces!

He even admits that the destruction of Alberta’s proud, noble, and much-loved liquor monopoly has brought untold misery and ruin to literally tens, possibly even hundreds, of Albertans:

The effect of liquor-retail privatization in Alberta was to put liquor stores in many small towns that did not have them before and on darn near every block in the big cities. Most, by design, are small stores with large markups. Before privatization you had a handful of stores in the entire province, all offering strongly regulated uniform prices. But you might have to travel a long way to get the advantage of these prices; you might have to leave work early to show up before closing, particularly if you intended to load up for a weekend or a party; and you might have to stand in a queue when you arrived. (Ah, memories.) And if you didn’t compute your needs accurately and you ran out of booze at the wrong moment, you were out of luck.

After privatization, there are stores everywhere, open all the time, on every day but Christmas; and you might be charged an extra buck on a 12-pack. Go on: ask 10 Albertans who are old enough to remember the old system if they would like to go back. I’ve actually performed this exercise, and I usually get ten “hell no”s. But if you make your sample a hundred, you will certainly find a person or two in one of two categories: (1) socialists nostalgic for the days when ALCB employees were duly organized, and could shut down all liquor sales in the province by striking; (2) geriatric grouches who really don’t enjoy alcohol and don’t like its ready availability and what’s with those goddamn kids these days with the reefer and the XBox and the hey hey hey.

See? He even admits that prices went up! Proof that market failure is smeared all over Alberta! And queues are a good thing: they allow you to meet your neighbours and have long, pleasant conversations about all kinds of things! Albertans have been wantonly deprived of this wonderful balm of human contact and interaction!

No, Ontarians are not ready — and may never be ready — for the additional burden of free choice and wider selections at lower prices. We must set our hearts and minds to work against this tradition-destroying innovation and keep our booze prices high and variety minimal!

December 14, 2013

Canada edges ahead of the US in economic freedoms

Last week, the Fraser Institute published Economic Freedom of North America 2013 which illustrates the relative changes in economic freedom among US states and Canadian provinces:

Click to go to the full document

Click to go to the full document

Reason‘s J.D. Tuccille says of the report, “Canadian Provinces Suck Slightly Less Than U.S. States at Economic Freedom”:

For readers of Reason, Fraser’s definition of economic freedom is unlikely to be controversial. Fundamentally, the report says, “Individuals have economic freedom when (a) property they acquire without the use of force, fraud, or theft is protected from physical invasions by others and (b) they are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others.”

The report includes two rankings of economic freedom — one just comparing state and provincial policies, and the other incorporating the effects of national legal systems and property rights protections. Since people are subject to all aspects of the environment in which they operate, and not just locally decided rules and regulations, it’s that “world-adjusted all-government” score that matters most, and it has a big effect — especially since “gaps have widened between the scores of Canada and the United States in these areas.” The result is is that:

    [I]n the world-adjusted index the top two jurisdictions are Canadian, with Alberta in first place and Saskatchewan in second. In fact, four of the top seven jurisdictions are Canadian, with the province of Newfoundland & Labrador in sixth and British Columbia in seventh. Delaware, in third spot, is the highest ranked US state, followed by Texas and Nevada. Nonetheless, Canadian jurisdictions, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, still land in the bottom two spots, just behind New Mexico at 58th and West Virginia at 57th.

Before you assume that the nice folks at Fraser are gloating, or that you should pack your bags for a northern relocation, the authors caution that things aren’t necessarily getting better north of the border. Instead, “their economic freedom is declining more slowly than in the US states.”

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