Quotulatiousness

August 26, 2015

Harper’s “boutique” tax credits

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

Colby Cosh explains why Stephen Harper is so fond of certain kinds of tax system distortions (tl;dr — they work … politically if not economically):

On Sunday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that his government, if re-elected, would introduce a tax credit for memberships in service clubs like the Canadian Legion or the Kiwanis. This modest measure — and Harper himself emphasized its modesty — is already being greeted with some derision. Apparently this is because a tax break for service clubs is an absurd, baroque complication of the tax code, unfit to stand alongside sensible traditions like the Prince Edward Island aerospace tax credit, the Nova Scotia digital media tax credit, the British Columbia book publishing tax credit, the Ontario computer animation tax credit, the Manitoba odour control tax credit for farms, Quebec’s tax credit “for the modernization of a tourist accommodation establishment” or the various items exempted almost randomly from the GST, such as condominium fees and music lessons.

One senses that the Canadian media have decided, curiously late in the country’s history, that tax-code wrinkles introduced with the aim of social engineering are ridiculous, if the aims thereof are conservative ones. Furthermore, we have concluded that lifting taxes on Elks or Knights of Columbus memberships, and thus putting them on more or less the same footing as religious tithes, is especially ridiculous.

The Conservative party will be awfully disappointed if the press does not engage in some snickering here. The work of the Kinsmen or Rotary is not especially visible if you never cross Eglinton Avenue; the very names of these groups have a rustic flavour on the tongue, carry a whiff of old-school WASP dominance and gray-flannel respectability. Break out into the smaller cities, if you dare, and the traces become somewhat clearer: a seniors’ centre here, an air-ambulance fundraiser there. In smaller towns, service clubs are often practically synonymous with capital-S Society. Laugh at the idea of a tax break for the Legion, but make sure you are still laughing on election night.

August 12, 2015

“… premiers look to Ottawa for one reason and one reason only: To beat the Prime Minister … over the head with their begging bowls”

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

Richard Anderson explains why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is upset with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

It is a time honoured tradition that premiers look to Ottawa for one reason and one reason only: To beat the Prime Minister of the day over the head with their begging bowls. What Kathleen Wynne is looking for is not a “partnership” but a ceaseless no-strings-attached flow of federal money. Like a petulant teenager the sextuagenarian premier always wants more and offers little in return. Prime Minister Harper has wisely refused to play her game.

[…]

Now imagine that you’re Kathleen Wynne — please try to subdue the gag reflex — and billions of dollars now flow into the provincial coffers from this de facto payroll tax. Perhaps the money gets tossed into general revenues. Queen’s Park then turns arounds and issues IOUs to the “arm’s length board” in the form of increasingly worthless provincial bonds. The pension would for actuarial purposes be “fully funded” but as a practical matter one pocket of government is borrowing from the other.

But perhaps the Wynnesters are a tad more clever than all that. The revenues from this payroll tax go directly to the allegedly “arms length” investment board. Nothing goes into general revenues and the Liberals allow themselves a patina of fair dealing. The board, however, will almost certainly have its investment guidelines laid out by the government. Those guidelines, by the strangest coincidence, will likely have an “invest in Ontario” component.

Some of the money will get used to buy up provincial bonds, lowering the government’s cost of borrowing at a time when capital markets are getting skittish about Ontario debentures. Quite a lot of the rest will be used to fund infrastructure projects, private-public sector partnerships and other initiatives that will, mysteriously, favour Liberal allies. The Chretien era Adscam scandal will seem like chump change in comparison.

August 8, 2015

Election issue – the Netflix tax, “much ado about nothing?”

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

Michael Geist looks at the major federal party leaders’ reactions to discussion of a “Netflix tax”:

As part of the digital strategy discussion, I stated that questions abound, including “are new regulations over services such as Netflix on the horizon?”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed that question yesterday with a video and tweet in which he pledged that the Conservatives will never tax digital streaming services like Netflix and Youtube. Harper added that the Liberals and NDP have left the door open to a Netflix tax, but that he is 100% opposed, “always has been, always will be.” Both opposition parties quickly responded with the NDP saying they have not proposed a Netflix tax and the Liberals saying they have never supported a Netflix tax and do not support a Netflix tax.

So is this much ado about nothing?

Not exactly. First, there are groups and provincial governments that support a Netflix tax or mandated contribution to fund the creation of Canadian content. These include the Ontario and Quebec governments along with many creator groups. Earlier this year, I obtained documents under the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that showed that the Ontario government spent months working toward a recommendation to expand the regulation of new media, including Canadian content requirements and increased regulation of foreign online video providers.

Second, while the Liberals and NDP have not proposed a Netflix tax, they have called for requirements that online video providers disclose revenues, Canadian content availability, and subscriber numbers to Canadian regulators. This is a very soft form of regulation that Netflix and Google have rejected as beyond the power of the Broadcasting Act. Providing information to allow for more informed regulatory analysis does not seem particularly unreasonable, but the companies unsurprisingly fear that that analysis could ultimately lead to calls for more regulation or payments.

Third, the real Netflix tax is the prospect of a levying sales taxes on digital products such as music downloads or online video services. It was the Conservatives that raised this possibility in the 2014 budget, launching a consultation on the issue that garnered supportive comments from companies such as Rogers, which noted that Canadian-based online video services such as Shomi operate at a disadvantage since they collect GST/HST, but Netflix does not. With many countries moving toward some form of digital taxation (as I noted in a January 2015 column on the issue, the real challenge lies in the cost of implementation), it seems inevitable that Canada will do the same in order to level the playing field and recoup a growing source of revenue. The Conservatives would presumably seek to differentiate between a generally applicable sales tax and a tax or fee targeting online streaming services, though many may feel it is a distinction without a difference.

August 7, 2015

Canada to hold longest election campaign in living memory

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

For those of you not familiar with Canadian politics — and unless you’re a Canadian why would you be? — the longest election campaign since the 19th century kicked off on Sunday, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to the Governor General’s office to request that parliament be dissolved. This is going to be a long, long, gruelling political death-march. Eleven whole weeks of politicians bloviating, TV talking heads pretending to interpret every twitch in the polls, political candidates of all shades from light pink to deepest red popping up at every possible gathering of more than three people to beg for votes … it’s going to be awful.

Over at Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson provides the early scorecard on the leaders of the major federal parties:

In his infinite cruelty the PM has imposed upon the Canadian people, who never did him any harm, a formal eleven week election campaign. The longest since 1872. Much of Canada still wasn’t part of Canada in 1872. After eleven weeks of politicking those regions might be thinking of leaving. British Columbia we will miss you dearly. Newfoundland much the same.

Lest we complain the status quo remains. As Ronald Reagan once observed status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in. Our particular mess has a dull and worthy quality befitting our national character. This brings us to the vital question: What is Election 2015 about?

Is it about Justin Trudeau’s fitness to rule the nation? No, because nobody in their right mind thinks the Dauphin is fit to rule. He’s a front man for those shrewder than himself. If current polls are to be trusted it appears that Canadians are not keen on a Gerald Butts government.

Perhaps it’s about Thomas Mulcair and his ability to lead. Can you, the good and sensible people of our fair Dominion, imagine yet another Quebec lawyer as ruler of all the Canadas? And if you can hold that mental picture, while still holding your lunch, have you thought carefully about who is part of Team Mulcair? However astute and moderate a PM Tommy might turn out to be he will need build a cabinet. Have you seen the timbers of the NDP caucus lately? […]

Canadians, it is understood, are creatures of habit. We likes what we likes. There is a tendency for the electorate to plunk for the bank manager candidate. The safe pair of hands who won’t screw things up too much. As a people we generally avoid Messiahs or Rabble Rousers. It offends our sense of proportion. We want someone clever enough to deal with basic problems but sensible enough not to wreck the place between elections. In our long national history we have deviated from this common sense approach just once. Way back in 1968 we took a wild and daring risk. The result was fifteen years of Pierre Trudeau.

Bill Davis, perhaps the most quintessential of Ontario politicians, famously attributed his success to a simple formula: Bland works. Stephen Harper is our bland candidate. Beneath the bad hair cut the enormous brain continues to plot. It plotted the Canadian Right out of the political wilderness. It plotted Canada away from the disaster of an Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition. Nimbly has it darted us through the shoals of the world economy. He ain’t great but he’s better than what else is on offer.

This October my fellow Canadians let us be boring. Let us be sensible. Let us be bland. It’s what we do best and why, whatever happens over the next eleven weeks, Stephen Harper will probably still be running the joint for years to come. All hail the new Mackenzie King.

July 30, 2015

Perfect political imagery – the Senate as “our great constitutional appendix”

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

Richard Anderson explains why unlike most mature countries, Canada is unable to amend the constitution:

The Senate is our great constitutional appendix. It gets a bit inflamed from time to time but, a hundred and fifty years in, we’ve generally come to the conclusion that it’s too much of a hassle to get rid of. In other countries, normal nation states, amending a constitution is just one of those things. There’s a convention, people argue about it and eventually some words get swapped in and out of the country’s basic law. The Americans might go so far as to fight a civil war over such things, but for most countries it’s routine stuff.

Having successfully avoided civil wars, insurrections, coup d’etats and other assorted public disturbances, the Canadian project has retained one bizarre character flaw: Our inability to amend the constitution in anything like a sensible manner. For those old enough to have lived through the constitutional wars of the 1970s and 1980s the very mention of the C-word induces terrible flashbacks. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see Joe Clark talking about amending formulas. In those moments I question the existence of a merciful God.

The latest idea to drift out of the PMO is that Stephen Harper will stop appointing Senators. This is actually quite similar to how the PM approaches maintenance on 24 Sussex Drive. The official residence is almost as old as Canada itself. Unfortunately so is much of the plumbing. The building is literally falling to bits and requires millions in renovations. Being a politician first and a government tenant second, Stephen Harper knows that doing more than the bare minimum to keep up his Ottawa home will provoke shrieks of outrage from the Opposition. Only when the building finally collapses will anything really be done. And at three times the original price.

This same logic will now be applied to the Senate. The PM will stop appointing senators until there is no more Senate. Sounds neat, eh? Except that the Senate is ensconced into the bedrock of our constitutional order. If the number of living breathing Senators drops below quorum the Supreme Court, the real rulers of our fair Dominion, will order the PM to appoint more. Then the PM of the day, perhaps Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair, will shrug their shoulders and do as their bosses tell them.

The only way to get rid of the Senate is to amend the constitution. Like going to the dentist this would be both painful and expensive. Unlike going to the dentist it would also be interminable. Dentists, you see, have golf games. Constitutional lawyers don’t play golf. It would interrupt from their fascinating work of discussing whether or not the power of disallowance is genuinely obsolete. If you don’t understand what that means don’t worry neither do they.

July 20, 2015

Canada’s international reputation

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on yet another of those meaningless “polls” that Canadian media latch on to because they somehow show that Canada matters … to someone outside Canada:

How are you feeling about Hungary these days? Earthy, mitteleuropäische old country, redolent of paprika, graced by the meandering Danube, nice vacation getaway, maybe? I would totally get that. Me, I’m leery about the place these days because its prime minister, Viktor Orban, is a bit of a mess, governing in a country where anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiment are spiking, scrupulous journalists are on the outs, and Vladimir Putin is warmly greeted.

But that’s just me. You have to be fairly well-read on international news to have caught most of that stuff about Orban, and you need to be obtusely focused on high politics to let any of that taint your view of what is, after all, largely the same Hungary this year as five years ago or five years from now.

Much the same point could be made about Canada, which shone this week in two new international rankings. Portland’s “Soft Power 30,” a measure of international influence, ranks Canada fifth — ahead of Japan, Brazil and China to list only the most surprising few. And the Reputation Institute’s 2015 Country RepTrak, which measures “the reputation of 55 countries based on levels of trust, esteem, admiration and respect,” has Canada in first place.

This news aligns poorly with a certain current of thought in foreign-policy circles to the effect that the Harper government has shattered Canada’s reputation and that the world snickers behind our back as we drag our knuckles around like a bunch of baboons. I am hardly even paraphrasing.

[…]

The last question was about what I thought Canada’s reputation in the world is these days. I said, approximately, that it would depend who you ask. If you ask career diplomats from Canada, many would say the current gang have pushed our once-proud nation off a cliff for giggles. Career diplomats from other countries would note, sometimes with dismay, divergences from long-held positions on climate change, Israel and several other questions. But if you stop a stranger on the street in Frankfurt or Rio or Cape Town, you’d probably get a distracted and reasonably familiar opinion: that Canada remains a country of relative fairness and welcome, whose people don’t fuss much and can usually be relied on to help when asked. The Harper government, like its predecessors, has affected this vague impression mostly around the edges. And sometimes for the good — as, indeed, when its embassy staff refused to push some kids into the Kyiv streets out of excessive regard for neutrality while an obnoxious regime was busy collapsing onto the slag heap of history early last year.

Mostly Canada is a big country whose direction any government can nudge, but not much more. A big, generous country — a little too generously bestowed with a compulsion toward anxious self-regard perhaps, but on the scale of human weakness, that’s far from the worst after all.

March 10, 2015

Magna Carta in the modern world

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Mark Steyn talks about the decline in state observance (and in David Cameron’s case, even awareness) of the significance of Magna Carta:

Real rights are like Magna Carta: restraints on state power. Too many people today understand the word “rights” to mean baubles and trinkets a gracious sovereign bestows on his subjects — “free” health care, “free” community college, “safe spaces” from anyone saying anything beastly — all of which require a massive, coercive state regulatory regime to enforce.

But, to give it is full name, Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics – I don’t think they had ’em back then) gets it the right way round. It was in some respects a happy accident. In 1215, a bunch of chippy barons were getting fed up with King John. In those days, in such circumstances, the malcontents would usually replace the sovereign with a pliable prince who’d be more attentive to their grievances. But, having no such prince to hand, the barons were forced to be more inventive, and so they wound up replacing the King with an idea, and the most important idea of all — that even the King is subject to the law.

In this 800th anniversary year, that’s a lesson worth re-learning. Restraints on state power are increasingly unfashionable among the heirs to Magna Carta: in America, King Barack decides when he wakes up of a morning what clauses of ObamaCare or US immigration law he’s willing to observe or waive according to royal whim; his heir, Queen Hillary, operates on the principle that laws are for the other 300 million Americans, not her. In the birthplace of Magna Carta, a few miles from that meadow at Runnymede, David Cameron’s constabulary leans on newsagents to cough up the names and addresses of troublesome citizens who’ve committed the crime of purchasing Charlie Hebdo.

The symbolism was almost too perfect when Mr Cameron went on TV with David Letterman, and was obliged to admit that he had no idea what the words “Magna Carta” meant. Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of Liberty. I’m happy to say Mr Cameron’s Commonwealth cousins across the Atlantic in Ottawa are more on top of things: One of the modestly heartening innovations of Stephen Harper’s ministry is that, when immigrants to Canada take the oath of citizenship, they’re given among other things a copy of Magna Carta.

Why? Because everything flows therefrom — from England’s Glorious Revolution to the US Constitution and beyond. It’s part of the reason why the English-speaking world, in contrast to Continental Europe, has managed to sustain its freedoms across the generations.

On the topic of Cameron’s inability to say what Magna Carta translates to in English, Richard Anderson is convinced it was a deliberate ploy by Cameron to downplay his (expensive) educational background:

A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a graduate of Eton and Brasenose no less, no more forgets stuff like this then he forgets his wife’s name or his archenemy’s personal weaknesses. He flubbed it on purpose. Boris Johnson, the rather eccentric Tory mayor of London, figured out Davy pretty much from the start:

    Johnson, a classics scholar, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means. It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

A bit of context is required here. Since the Roman Empire went the way of all flesh Latin has been the language of the European elite. At first this was for practical purposes. For centuries any useful knowledge that had survived after the fall of the Empire in the west was in either in Latin or Greek. But long after Gutenberg, whose revolution made the vernacular languages of Europe important stores of knowledge, Latin remained the mark of a gentleman.

[…]

Mr Cameron is a graduate of Eton, an Old Etonian as they say. What is Eton? It makes Upper Canada College look like a cheap poseur. It is a super private high school that has produced nineteen of Britain’s fifty-three Prime Ministers. Harvard has produced a mere eight American Presidents. The University of Toronto a corporal’s guard of four Canadian PMs. Harold Macmillan, Britain’s snottiest modern PM, once derisively quipped that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet had more Estonians than Etonians. A meritocratic break from an aristocratic past. At least it seemed at the time. Cameron’s particular team of rivals is decidedly Toff heavy. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a descendant of Henry III and his father was a baronet.

And what distinguishes the education of a Toff, even in these fallen times, is a sprinkling of Latin. Two millennia after the Romans decided the British Isles, or at least the warmer bits of it, were worth conquering the language of Cicero is still the mark of the Great and Good. Boris Johnson was perfectly correct. David Cameron almost certainly knew what Magna Carta meant. He was pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending not to know.

But knowing the meaning of the name of the foundational document of British liberty, and by extension the liberty of the English speaking peoples, isn’t quite like being able to translate Virgil from the original into the Greek. It’s not specialized knowledge and should never be seen as such. This is what every schoolboy should and did know until the day before yesterday. That the Prime Minister of the day should think it politically advantageous to pretend not to know basic historical information is a chilling thought. That he was pandering was disgraceful but hardly shocking. That such pandering would be successful is a condemnation of modern Britain as severe as anything found in the works of Anthony Daniels.

There is stooping to conquer and then there is surrendering to the modern Vandals. David Cameron is the man holding the gate wide open.

February 6, 2015

Baird makes for the exit

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

Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:

This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.

But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]

Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”

But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.

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 6, 2015

When Stephen met Kathleen

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:40

Paul Wells explains why, despite all the blather from Harper “supporters”, the PM finally got around to meeting with the premier of Ontario. It has to do with a number … a very large number:

The “readout” is a term of art, one I’ve actually only learned in the past couple of years, for a summary of a conversation between two political leaders. It’s usually perfunctory, often designed to obscure as much as it reveals. The readout supplied by the Ontario premier’s office after Kathleen Wynne’s meeting with Stephen Harper is athletically happy-happy. Deleting the details actually clarifies the tone. I’m not making this excerpt up. Everyone make friends!:

    “Today’s meeting with the Prime Minister is a positive step forward… The Prime Minister and I agreed… Today, the Prime Minister and I had a good discussion… we agreed that, going forward, our governments will work together … I am pleased that Prime Minister Harper and I agreed today to continue working together… agreed to deepen our collaboration… I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership. The Prime Minister and I agreed to continue…”‎‎

But what’s striking is that though the PMO sent out no readout that I’ve received, it did publish a photo of the blessed event. And it’s also a flattering pic of both of them.

Okay, so what is the big number of significance here?

One scrap of data for you: in the 2011 federal election, there were 951,156 more Ontario voters who voted for the Harper Conservatives than there were Ontario voters who voted for the Hudak Conservatives in the 2014 Ontario election.

That’s not quite a million Ontario voters who didn’t vote for Hudak, but whom Harper needs to vote for him if he’s to hold his majority. That’s what political moderation looks like. Harper needs the votes of a hell of a lot of Ontarians who basically have no problem with Kathleen Wynne. Realizing that, and acting on it, is an election-year instinct. It’s the same instinct that made him campaign with old Bill Davis in 2006 after excoriating the former Red Tory premier in print. It’s the instinct that has his PMO send out photos of Harper with Jean Chrétien and Harper with Barack Obama every time the PM nears those men. His base can’t stand Chrétien, Obama or Wynne. He needs more than his base. On Monday, he came back from vacation and sucked it up.

December 26, 2014

The skillful part of polling is how you phrase the questions

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

Richard Anderson rightly pours scorn on a recent poll on the upcoming 2015 federal election:

This isn’t a push poll, it’s a shove off the cliff and tell me where you land poll.

Let me put it another way:

    If you were forced to choose between vanilla ice cream that’s slightly melted, or a new type of calorie free ice cream that has the great taste of chocolate flavoured orgasms, which would you prefer?

The amazing thing is that the poll still gives the Harper Tories 40% of the vote. So for those of you keeping track at home when forced to choose between a real alternative and the fever dreams of the Canadian Left, the Tories still win. This isn’t a news story this is a sad desperate plea for Justin and Tom to get hitched.

This will never happen. Thomas Mulcair is a seasoned politician who leads the official opposition. The odds are between zero and nothing that he would ever consent to sharing political power, before an election is even held, with a neophyte playing guitar in the Gerald Butts Travelling Show. After years of slobbering media coverage the Once and Future Prime Minister is still being beaten in the polls by a dull bank manager with a terrible haircut. Wait just six months for when the Tory War Room gets fully fired up.

They turned Michael Ignatieff into a mound of excessively self-analyzed jelly. While Justin is more politically adept he is also far less substantive. The Liberal Party has to hope against hope they can spend the next ten months showing pictures of Justin’s adorable family before people figure out that when it comes to Justin there is no there there.

Now some of the embittered cynics in the backrow will counter that Barack Obama, an empty suit’s empty suit, was able to capture the Presidency twice. This is certainly true. Thing is that Barry of Chicago had two powerful trump cards: He is black (sort of) and wasn’t Geroge W Bush.

December 19, 2014

In Stephen Harper’s Canada, politics beats economics every time

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

Stephen Harper gets a lot of criticism for being an ideological hard-liner, but he gets nearly as much flak from small-government conservatives for being no better — and in some cases, much worse — than Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Earlier this month in Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon explained some of the reasons for Harper’s political and economic actions:

Politics, not economics, has also determined [Harper’s] strategy for achieving this goal [a smaller government-spending-to-GDP ratio]. If you asked an economist for the best way of reducing revenues, she’d probably prepare a list with the taxes that are the most harmful to the economy at the top, and the taxes that are the least harmful at the bottom. The GST would rank at or near the bottom of that list. (Here is a representative reaction to the Conservatives’ 2005 campaign promise to reduce the GST; here is an explanation for why economists think the GST is a good idea.) In economic terms, reducing the GST was probably the worst possible option available to the Conservatives.

But as far as politics goes, it was an inspired choice. It helped win the election, and — perhaps even more importantly — reducing the GST has made it that much harder for any future government to reverse the trend to lower spending. If the Liberals and the NDP were to ask an economist to provide a list of ways of generating the most revenues at the least economic cost, increasing the GST would be at or near the top of the list. But those two GST points are not going to come back to fill federal coffers in the foreseeable future. Both the Liberals and the NDP have campaigned at some point on anti-GST platforms, and history has not been kind to provincial governments that have raised the HST without an electoral mandate to do so. (The NDP’s proposal to increase corporate tax rates is the doppelgänger of the Conservatives’ GST cut. In economic terms, an increase in corporate taxes is probably the worst possible choice for generating revenues, but it’s a potential vote-winner. Maybe it will work for them as well as it did for the CPC.)

[…]

This brings us to the “starve the beast strategy” described in detail here: the reduction in revenues is now a justification for reducing expenditures. But, once again, the strategy is driven by politics, not economics. The elements are as follows (see also here and, most recently, here):

  1. Let transfer payments to individuals grow at the rate of GDP.
  2. Let transfer payments to provinces grow at the rate of GDP.
  3. Hold nominal direct program spending constant.

These elements have been in place in every budget since 2010. The economics of this approach are very dodgy: the economically efficient way to approach the problem of reducing spending is to perform a cost-benefit analysis and eliminate the programs that don’t pass the test. But the politics are something else. Cuts in transfer payments directly affect peoples’ personal finances, and could be reversed at no political cost. The same is true for cuts in transfer payments to the provinces; much of the Jean Chrétien-era cuts to the provinces were rescinded a few year later. The path of least political resistance is through direct program spending: the cost of paying federal public servants’ wages.

November 24, 2014

QotD: “… a modern Tory version of Mackenzie King”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Harper is now the 6th longest serving PM in Canadian history having just surpassed Borden and Mulroney. The former fought a major war and the later revolutionized international trade policy. Harper? He abolished the Wheat Board. A sensible thing really. Not a big thing. This is not a government of big things, it is a government of small things. Harper is, as Lord Black has pointed out, a modern Tory version of Mackenzie King.

Now King did fight the Second World War. Sort of. He thought the whole thing rather a bother, getting in the way of his equivocating and crystal ball polishing. The general impression in Ottawa during the early Forties was that CD Howe was running the country. The only time in Canadian history when an engineer was given real power. I neither condemn or condone that fact, I simply point it out.

Harper would, of course, never delegate any important authority. Even the late Big Jim Flaherty was kept on a shorter leash than Paul Martin. A modern day CD Howe, assuming he could get elected, would never last five minutes in the Harper cabinet. Big Prime Ministers breed small cabinet ministers.

This leads to one of the essential problems of quasi-Presidential Prime Ministers. When the King falters so does the Kingdom. The Pearson government bungled along for five remarkably influential years. Mike had little idea of what was going on but with one of the strongest cabinets in Canadian history the business of government carried on.

If the PM doesn’t have any new ideas there are plenty of competent ministers more than willing to fill the gap. This is how men like Macdonald and King survived for political eons. How great Dynasties like those of the Tories in Ontario and Alberta were forged. If the King falters there is no shortage of Princes to carry the load.

Richard Anderson, “Steam Punk”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-11-18.

November 16, 2014

Breaking: Stephen Harper installed in quiet coup by CIA!

Filed under: Cancon, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

It was such a quiet coup that even the media failed to see it! Mark Taliano screams to us Canuckian sheeple that it’s time to wake up!

The biggest threat to Canada’s national security is internal. It is the offshoot of an extraordinarily successful quiet coup that imposed itself on the country with the federal election of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in 2006, and solidified its impacts with the election of a Conservative majority in 2011.

Author, poet, academic, and former Canadian diplomat Prof. Peter Dale Scott recently disclosed a WikiLeaks cable indicating that the International Republican Institute (IRI), an off-shoot of the CIA, and a subsidiary of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), helped install Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister. This was the coup.

Point 12 of the cable explains that In addition to the campaign schools, IRI will be bringing in consultants who specialize in party renovation to discuss case studies of political parties in Germany, Spain, and Canada which successfully carried out the process”

My GOD! Canadian political parties bringing in American advisors? This must be resisted! We won’t stand for filthy imperialistic Yankee scum polluting our pristine and uncorrupted political sphere!! Oh, wait … Justin has American advisors too? Oh. Move along: nothing to see here. Move along.

Dr. Anthony James Hall, Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, explains the genesis of the Harper Conservative assault on the “Red Tory” traditions of Canada’s indigenous conservative party in Flanagan’s Last Stand?:

    The assault by the Harper-Flanagan juggernaut on the generally friendly orientation of Canadian conservatism towards the state, towards Indigenous peoples, and towards the institutions of Crown sovereignty helped clear aside obstacles to the importation from United States of the Republican Party’s jihad on managed capitalism. Flanagan and Harper took charge of the Canadian version of the Reagan Revolution aimed at transforming the social welfare state into the stock market state.

I’d love to say this was just a parody, but I think at least some people on the left really do believe all of this.

November 2, 2014

Harper – “We will not be intimidated”. Reality? We’re intimidated.

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

The recent fatal attacks on Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil provoked a strong verbal reaction from the PM. Yet the actions of military commanders directly contradict what Mr. Harper said:

After the recent Islamist outrage in Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated.”

[…]

Over in Canada after the latest atrocity, military personnel have been requested “to restrict movement in uniform as much as possible.” That request came from Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.

So the Canadian military’s response to Islamist aggression in Canada is to instruct military personnel to take off their uniforms. Is that defending our Western way of life? How is it “not being intimidated” when you are afraid to walk your own streets in your country’s uniform?

If Prime Minister Harper meant what he said about “not being intimidated”, was this not precisely the time to insist that Canadian values be respected by all citizens? As the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn commented:

“If we have to have dress codes on the streets of free societies, I’d rather see more men like Corporal Cirillo (the murdered Canadian soldier) in the uniform of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders — and fewer women in head-to-toe black body bags. — I’m tired of being told that we have to change to accommodate them.”

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