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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Some Random Thoughts on the Federal Election

  • The pollsters were more accurate than I thought. I'm used to the NDP getting a surge of support during a campaign, only to have it disappear on election night. However, the collapse of the BQ and the Liberals was so substantial that the NDP filled the vacuum. I guess somebody had to take the seats.
  • The hatchet job on Ignatieff that the Conservatives undertook since he assumed the Liberal mantle finally bore fruit last night. A more thorough effort of vilification and ad hominem attacks I cannot remember in federal politics. [Stéphane Dion was just a warm-up.] It's been an appalling display by Harper's Tories, but perfectly consistent, of course, with the anti-democratic spirit shown by a party that was held in contempt of Parliament.
  • There continues to be talk about a merger between the federal NDP and Liberals, though most Liberals are apparently against it. If I were a Liberal, I'd be against it too. After four years of an extremist Conservative majority and/or four years of an inexperienced NDP opposition, I think the Liberals will be in a good position to absorb disaffected voters... in spite of themselves, their arrogance and their debt. I predict a big Liberal comeback in 2015.
  • Much was made last night by the corporate media of a certain NDP candidate winning her seat while vacationing in Las Vegas, and ignoring the demands of an election campaign. Of course, much the same can be said of many Conservative candidates in BC who were largely absent from public meetings, debates and even media interviews. In a couple of ridings, the nomination process for the Conservative candidate appeared rigged. But that didn't stop these Tories from winning large majorities last night. At the very least, it proves my "goat theory" about Fraser Valley ridings: the Conservatives can run a goat and still win. They did, and they did.
  • In the end, the only really important story was that the Conservatives won a majority. Time will tell if the hard-right social conservatives in the party have the power that many fear, and if Harper is part of that group.
Posted by Colin Welch at 6:05 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, May 04, 2011 7:57 PM
Categories: Canadian Politics

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More anti-Conservative links!

Making the rounds is a humourous attack on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives (but mostly Stephen Harper); it's the aptly-named website shitharperdid.ca. It covers some of the same ground as my own list, but it does add a few new whoppers. The art work and slide show format are things I can't compete with! :-)

Another interesting story examines the "corporate income tax cut = productivity" myth that I've been talking about. A Globe and Mail analysis found that, lo and behold, corporate income tax cuts in the last decade have not led to the land of milk and honey.

The key passage is the following:

[A]n analysis of Statistics Canada figures by The Globe and Mail reveals that the rate of investment in machinery and equipment has declined in lockstep with falling corporate tax rates over the past decade. At the same time, the analysis shows, businesses have added $83-billion to their cash reserves since the onset of the recession in 2008.

This conclusion isn't new, of course. Many sources, including corporate entities like the TD Bank, have examined the disconnect between open-ended tax cuts and investment. Nevertheless, the neo-liberals keep holding onto the theory - such is the power of self-interest in trickle-down economics.

One of the interesting by-products of the current electoral debate is that the Liberals are leading the charge to raise the tax, even though they were the ones who started it under Chretien and Martin.

Posted by Colin Welch at 7:31 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 5:22 PM
Categories: Canadian Politics, The Economy

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sun Media Brings Fox News to Canada

This is almost hilarious. It must be the most absurd media promo I've ever seen - as if it's a parody made by the people at The Colbert Report or The Onion. Unfortunately, these yahoos are serious.

Posted by Colin Welch at 8:21 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 5:20 PM
Categories: American Politics, Canadian Politics, Humour, Language, The Media

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Why I Would Never Vote for Harper's Conservatives: A List

Sometimes you need a list to keep yourself organized, or at least to remember all the things you don’t want to forget. With this in mind, I’ve decided to create a list of all the reasons why I would never vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Prorogation: The cynicism of Stephen Harper was never more apparent when he used prorogation to avoid a non-confidence vote in 2008. [http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/547336]
  2. The Coalition Redux: Harper must be staggeringly contemptuous of Canadians to decry a possible Liberal-led coalition when he championed a Conservative-led coalition in 2004. [http://news.sympatico.ctv.ca/canada/text_of_harpers_2004_letter_with_ndp_bloc/d270517f]
  3. Inequality: Harper’s tax cuts (following the Chretien and Martin Liberals) have, as usual, benefited the richest in our country, and have led to a growing gap between the richest 20% and everyone else. [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/the-economists/were-ignoring-inequality-at-our-peril/article1820187/] [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-rich-really-are-getting-richer/article1819803/]
  4. Tax Cuts and Productivity: In the last decade, corporate tax cuts have been promoted as a means to improve productivity. The result? Canada’s productivity is actually worse, and the lost revenue has gone elsewhere, presumably to amplify corporate profits and shareholder dividends, boost mergers and acquisitions, and increase CEO bonuses. (See # 3 above.) [http://www.td.com/economics/special/ab0610_productivity.pdf] [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/the-economists/five-reasons-to-say-no-to-more-corporate-tax-cuts/article1886449]
  5. Unemployment and the Middling Economic Recovery: While much has been made about Canada's economic superiority relative to the United States, the truth is that our economic performance is ambiguous at best. The biggest problem is unemployment. The rate sits at 7.8% (as of March 2010), and hasn't moved much in the last two years. In the meantime, most new jobs are temporary and those on EI insurance are staying longer than usual. (See # 3 above.) The stimulus program that we see on thousands of signs still has not addressed our municipal infrastructure deficit, and GDP growth is decidedly mediocre compared to most other developed countries. To be sure, we continue to benefit from Asian demand for our resources, and from the relatively strict regulations of the banking industry instituted by the Liberals, but neither can be claimed as victories by the Conservatives. [http://www.hrmguide.net/canada/jobmarket/canadian-unemployment.htm] [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/not-exactly-an-economic-gold-medal/article1962041/]
  6. The F-35 Fiasco: Who in their right mind would support a multi-billion dollar contract that is not subject to a competitive bid process? And which favours an extremely expensive single-engine aircraft for a country that has always needed a two-engine aircraft for patrolling the Arctic? [http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2011/03/10/354228/canada-f-35-cost-estimate-soars-66-report.htm]
  7. Senate Appointments: For a man who (rightly) derided the Liberal’s abuse of Senate appointments, and who has said repeatedly he would not appoint senators, Harper’s never-ending Senate appointments are "obscene". [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/article729200.ece]
  8. Speaking of the Senate, what about Harper's ill-conceived scheme to allow Senate elections? On the face of it, elections sound very democratic. However, there is no talk about redistributing the seat allocation, which is heavily skewed against western Canada (and most particularly British Columbia). Therefore, merely promoting elections would be a disaster for the West. [http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2006/12/13/harper-senators.html]
  9. Bill C-393: One of the most egregious failures in the last Parliament involved a bill that would send generic Canadian drugs to Africa to combat diseases like AIDS and TB. The bill passed in the House of Commons (with the support of 26 Tories), but was blocked by a Conservative majority in the Canadian Senate (see #6 above). The ridiculuousness of appointed senators subverting a democratically-supported bill in the House was matched by the sad confirmation that poor people mattered less to the Tories than Canada’s major pharmaceutical companies. [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/gerald-caplan/how-can-conservative-senators-look-at-themselves-in-the-mirror/article1967459]
  10. Research and Development Fiasco: The Conservative's Research and Development Tax Credit program has been a disaster, with billions being wasted on questionable recipients and consultant’s fees. And even the “government’s own studies have found the program generates almost no economic benefits”. [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/flawed-rd-scheme-costs-taxpayers-billions/article1939418]

  11. Corruption and Arrogance: This last one requires a list all of its own. In the last six months, the Tories have been wracked with never-ending revelations of corrupt officials and arrogant politicians. They make the Liberals appear almost benign. Almost.

a. The “in and out” financing scheme skirted the rules about national spending; the Tories used local money for national campaigning, and now four Conservatives (including two senators) have been charged under Election Canada rules. Even two former Tory MP’s have spoken out about the chicanery. [http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Tory+scheme+violated+Elections+Appeal+Court/4368357/story.htm] [http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/mobile/former-tory-mps-speak-out-against-conservative-in-and-out-scheme-117368283.htm]

b. Bev Oda thought that politically-inspired alteration of documents, and avoiding responsibility for the alteration, were just fine. [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/speaker-rebukes-bev-oda-over-document-in-kairos-case/article1903110]

c. When the Tory government refused to disclose the full cost of its crime bill legislation, even though it was directed to by a Parliamentary Committee, the Speaker of the House was compelled to find the government in contempt of Parliament. As Speaker Milliken said, “This is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House’s undoubted role in holding the government to account." [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/speakers-contempt-rulings-add-ammunition-to-election-minded-opposition/article1935375]

d. Jason Kenney’s office used the official government letterhead for partisan fundraising purposes. [http://www.canada.com/news/Jason+Kenney+apologizes+staffer+quits+over+fundraising+letter/4380193/story.htm]

e. The Government of Canada is now the “Harper Government”. [http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/948436--tories-rebrand-government-of-canada-as-harper-government]

f. The newly appointed Vice-President of the CRTC has no telecommunications experience, but is tied closely to the upper echelons of the Conservative Party of Canada. [http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2011/03/23/pol-crtc-pentefountas.htm]

g. As diplomat Richard Colvin discovered, honesty regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan will only gain you enemies in the Conservative government. [http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/afghanmission/article/728906--richard-colvin-portrait-of-a-whistleblower]


I’m sure there are other things to remember. Do you have any suggestions?

Add to the list of scandals the mess with Bruce Carson. Apparently Harper didn't know he had 5 criminal convictions. He thought he only had a couple. So it is okay to let a convicted criminal into the PM's office, but only if he's only got a couple of convictions.
But let's go back to the first days of "the Harper Government." This was a party coming in on a platform of openness and accountability and what was one of the first things they did? They appointed an un-elected person (Fortier) to cabinet. Where's the accountability in that? Harper cut back on the media's access to him. Where's the openness in that? He bribed David Emerson to jump from the Liberals just weeks after the election with the offer of a cabinet position. Where's the accountability in that? More recently, he eliminated the long form census and in the process eliminated data that can and should be used as the basis for policy decisions. Where's the accountability in that? Let's not forget his maximum five question rule for the media and his dodging their questions about why an open government would limit the number of questions the media can ask. Open? Accountable? I don't think so.
Let's move on to the fact that they are running a scare campaign trying to tell Canadians that Liberal are a tax and spend party that will drive us deeper into debt. Do Canadians honestly forget that the Liberals left with a balanced budget and Harper turned that into a massive deficit and ballooned our debt? And what do we have to show for it? Nothing of substance.
I could go on all day. These guys provide more ammunition than FOX News give Jon Stewart.

Posted by Colin Welch at 11:24 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 06, 2011 9:06 PM
Categories: Canadian Politics, The Good, The Bad, and the Stupid

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hypocrisy reigns

Now that the federal Conservatives have fallen after a litany of ethical and legal transgressions, it looks like they are using the bogeyman of a coalition against their opponents. This 2004 letter is all you need for a response:


September 9, 2004

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson,

C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.

Governor General

Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A1


As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government's program.

We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.

Your attention to this matter is appreciated.


Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

Gilles Duceppe, M.P.
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois

Jack Layton, M.P.
Leader of the New Democratic Party




Posted by Colin Welch at 7:20 PM
Edited on: Friday, March 25, 2011 7:33 PM
Categories: Canadian Politics, The Good, The Bad, and the Stupid

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Discussion of George Grant

As I've mentioned before, I think TVO is one of the best broadcasters in Canada [I started watching it when I lived in Toronto during grad school] and I wish we had more of this sort of broadcasting on our local Knowledge Network station. A case in point is a recent panel discussion [see below] of George Grant on Steve Paikin's The Agenda. Grant was a Canadian philosopher best known for his Lament for a Nation. The occasion was the 45th anniversary of Lament.

Other than a few who were occasionally shilling for their candidates, the panelists seemed like a thoughtful and representative group from both the left and right, and from both academia and the media. The initial point about Grant's old Toryism being unrecognized today certainly resonates with my own experience. Even my sharper students are always surprised to hear about a Conservatism - Red Toryism - that appears to have no bearing on today's politics. Like most philosophies, one has to be careful of conservatism's historical character. It's sort of like talking about pre- and post-1991 Russia: one has to be mindful of Canadian conservatism before and after its seismic shift of the 60's and 70's. It also reminds me of the belief that Charles Dickens' Hard Times is a socialist critique of capitalist industrialization; it is, however, a very Tory lament for the sclerotisation of society during the Industrial Revolution.

I found it interesting that many of the panelists emphasized Grant's religious convictions. I remember distinctly, as an 18 year old just out of 1st year college, that when I first read Lament it felt a lot like Roberston Davies, whose novels I had started reading around the same time. I felt the old high Anglican, Loyalist spirit in both. But I was surprised by the notion, as some of the panelists contended, that Grant's religious convictions (as on abortion) would trump all else, and that Grant supported Brian Mulroney even with the latter's continentalism. In a recent discussion with Ron Dart, a noted George Grant specialist from UFV, Dart disputes this contention. According to Dart, Grant's concern with continentalism could not allow Grant to side with the newer "Blue Tories", and that Grant, in fact, supported John Turner's (belated) economic nationalism.

One thing I never found convincing about Grant's thesis was his equation of technology with liberal American capitalism, and I agreed with the point in the panel discussion that technology shows its alienating effects in a number of different socio-economic melieus. I guess it has something to do with coming of political age in the early 1980's, when the scary post-war, liberal bureaucratic machine had become a punch line for the neo-conservative counter-revolution. As with Daniel Bell's "end of ideology" thesis, the threat of liberal bureaucracy, and the technological empire it apparently constructed, seemed - dare I say - obsolete. I'm more appreciative of the issue now, to be sure, but it wasn't my lament back in the 80's.

In any case, the Red Tory doctrine is a fascinating part of Canada's philosophical tradition, and has tremendous impact on other traditions, like Canadian socialism. It's also affected Canadian politicians, including R.B. Bennett, John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark. It is an important aspect of our Canadian political heritage, and deserves our attention.

Posted by Colin Welch at 1:27 PM
Edited on: Sunday, January 30, 2011 2:52 PM
Categories: Canadian Politics, In a Philosophical Mood

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ben Levin's thoughts on education

The presentation below, by Ontario professor Ben Levin, makes some interesting points about modern education.

The first point is that many of the elements that differentiate the education systems of Canada and the USA - and lead to better PISA results in Canada - are macro-factors outside the control of individual teachers. Levin points to political differences, such as strong provincial governments versus weak state governments, that retard the consistent implementation of programs in America. He also points to financial inequities between American school districts that are much less pronounced in Canada. [He might have added that the USA is one of the most unequal societies in the western world.] Levin points out that countries with strong test scores closely correlate with strong teacher unions; strong unions succeed in winning good pay, benefits and working conditions, and this in turn attracts better candidates to the teaching profession. In many American school districts, where teachers are lucky to make $30,000 a year, the most capable young people generally go elsewhere to start their careers.

Levin's second major point refers to a problem that I have witnessed since the start of my education career: innovation for the sake of innovation. Usually caused by certain educators wishing to advance their careers, the constant cycle of innovation produces exhaustion and cynicism. Even if a new program has merit, it will most assuredly be dropped within five years. At most. No discussion about the past is allowed - that would embarrass those in power and expose an endless cycle of change - while we move on to the "latest and greatest". And there's an almost Orwellian air to professional development discussions; we must pretend that the old programs never existed. Levin's final conclusions on this topic should be a key lesson for all administrators: spend much more time on implementation than innovation. If he had supported the idea that brand new programs must be supported for at least, say, 8 years, then I would be in full agreement.

Levin's last major point is somewhat more problematic. To be sure, he argues that teachers must be respected and convinced to employ best practices, rather than be used and bullied. I have no problem with that! But I do have a problem with his assumption that there is one best way to accomplish a certain goal (like improving reading scores) or manage a classroom. In my experience, education is not analogous to flying a plane or designing a bridge. I often find that there are many ways to reach a common pedagogical goal or be a successful educator. These different paths often correlate with the many different personalities and temperaments that we find in a school's staff. Unfortunately, those differences are often seen as threats to the innovators, and older teachers (especially) are compelled to withdraw to their classrooms, lest their wisdom and experience provide a path away from the latest changes - and make them a target.

Improvement, Not Innovation, is the Key to Greater Equity from CEA ACE on Vimeo.

Posted by Colin Welch at 8:07 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 6:50 PM
Categories: American Politics, BC Politics, Canadian Politics, Education

Friday, December 24, 2010

Gabor Maté: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

One of my favourite books of 2010 is Dr. Gabor Maté's In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

The following is a series of interviews with Maté, a Vancouver doctor who treats drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. The interviews are conducted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now:

Posted by Colin Welch at 5:40 PM
Edited on: Friday, December 24, 2010 6:03 PM
Categories: Books, Canadian Politics, Education, In a Philosophical Mood

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Another Fraser Institute Joke

I'm pleased to see that Craig McInnes of the Vancouver Sun doesn't take the Fraser Institute’s latest salvo against Canada's surgical wait lists too seriously. A 16% return rate on a voluntary survey makes a mockery of any official conclusions. Little wonder that the report's authors fail to mention the response rate in their section on methodology, though one can locate the number in the corner of a chart on p. 40.

It reminds me of the Institute’s refusal to include apprenticeship data in its high school report, data which favours public schools over private schools.

In both cases, a barely-disguised ideological agenda overrides any concern for credibility.

Posted by Colin Welch at 5:12 PM
Edited on: Thursday, December 09, 2010 5:44 PM
Categories: BC Politics, Canadian Politics, The Good, The Bad, and the Stupid

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Carole James Requiem

It was another eventful day in B.C. politics. Carole James mercifully stepped down as the leader of the BC NDP party, and soon the spin was thick and saucy, with a hint of bovine dung.

James, of course, cast the 13 dissident MLA's as "bullies" and unity-wreckers, and herself as the innocent, hard-working victim who was - shades of Mike Harcourt - taking one for the team. She portrayed herself as an "excuse" for the dissidents to stop working for the party. And she repeatedly implied that unity was a virtue in itself, rather than the result of a proper democratic process.

The possibility that she was the problem never came up in her speech. The possibility that a two-time electoral loser should step aside was never mentioned. As I discussed in my April 29, 2009 entry, her refusal to make jobs and the economy her absolute priority has been a huge anchor for the NDP; this refusal was, of course, also ignored.

It certainly didn't help that, according to NDP stalwart, Corky Evans, James forced the dissidents out in the open and into a corner. According to Evans, the 13 dissident MLA's sent a confidential letter to James, asking her to resign. But instead of keeping it in-house, James and her supporters decided to make the rift public and expose her detractors to the media. At a November 20 party meeting, yellow scarves were used to identify those who were team players and those who were not. Evans explained it this way to the Georgia Straight:

"As we walked into the hotel the morning of the Provincial Council meeting, staff members stood in the hallway outside the meeting room and gave yellow scarves to everyone EXCEPT the folks they knew had signed or delivered the letter, and a few of the rest of us they figured might support the 13 signatories," Evans maintains. "The result was surreal."

He claims it was "the most divisive thing I have ever witnessed" in the NDP.

If this is true - and no one from the James' camp has denied or minimized the very public result - then James clearly has to shoulder much of the blame for the current fiasco. "Outing" dissenters in the hope of quashing their opposition is a very dangerous gambit. You often turn those who were quietly dissenting into betrayed and vocal critics. This certainly seems to be the case for Jenny Kwan, who really hadn't said much publicly until the "scarf meeting".


Another interesting point that arises from James' resignation is the power of the caucus. Even though the party membership or party leaders might select a party leader, in the end it is the parliamentary caucus that holds power. If the caucus - in whole or in part - can no longer support the leader, the leader is finished. It's just another example of how party leadership is removed from the electorate, and how parliamentary power is a matter of confidence for both a party as a whole and a leader in particular. This is the most potent example of a "check and balance" in the parliamentary system.

Posted by Colin Welch at 7:38 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, December 07, 2010 6:44 PM
Categories: BC Politics, Canadian Politics