Saturday, September 17, 2005

From one who knows

The man who's studied the Canadian health care system more thoroughly than anybody else in the past few years has stepped forward to give his view on Chaoulli - and it's tough to disagree with any of what he had to say:
In a hard-hitting speech in Toronto yesterday, (Roy Romanow) accused the four-judge majority in the Chaoulli case — which many see as opening the door to two-tier health care — of meddling in social policy decisions better left to elected politicians.

"The net legal effect of the Chaoulli decision is that, in grappling with medicare, the court has ventured beyond constitutional and legal principles and into complex social policy, an area that has traditionally been in the domain of elected lawmakers," said Romanow, who was speaking at a legal forum on the implications of the June ruling, organized by the University of Toronto's faculty of law...

The ruling flies in the face of what Canadians told him they want in their health-care system, he said.

"The implied conclusion that timely access to health-care services will be improved with the establishment of a parallel private scheme flies in the face of all the evidence with which I grappled for 18 months as a royal commissioner," he said.

There can be little doubt that the Supreme Court went through large amounts of evidence as well, but toward a much more narrow end, examining only the position of one person within a complex system rather than the underpinnings of that system itself. Hopefully a future look at health care, on Charter grounds and with both a full SCC panel and a more balanced set of intervener submissions, will lead to a result that better accounts for the society-wide impact. And if not, then Romanow and his report offer forceful arguments as to why saving health care is one of the few areas where use of the notwithstanding clause could be entirely justified.

Friday, September 16, 2005

How to lose the blame game

According to the AP, the need for a scapegoat after Katrina has led the federal government to start searching for reason to blame environmental movements:
The Clarion-Ledger said Friday it obtained an internal Justice Department e-mail sent out this week to U.S. attorneys that asks: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation."...

The newspaper quoted unidentified federal officials as saying the query was prompted by a congressional inquiry.

The Justice Department apparently refused to comment on the source of the e-mail, so it's not entirely clear whether the finger-pointing started in the White House or Congress. (Not that either can be seen as anything but a fund-raising and patronage arm of the GOP the way Bushco is set up.)

Either way, this should be a nice little tidbit for the press to throw back at Scott McLellan next time he talks about avoiding blame. Assuming, that is, that his talking points don't already include a new wave of finger-pointing.

Reversing trends

For those wondering whether there's any merit to trying to fight global warming when it's already gone this far, the example of the ozone layer should remind us that concerted action can help to reverse environmental decline:
The hole in the ozone layer this year will probably be slightly smaller than the all-time largest of 2003, in line with the general trend of a gradual healing of the ozone layer's depletion, a UN agency said Friday...

Mr. Braathen said agencies such as his must continue to closely monitor the ozone layer via satellites and ground stations. Signatories to the anti-CFC treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, particularly developing countries that had looser phase-out schedules, should respect the accord, he stressed.

More than 180 countries have signed the Montreal Protocol, which took effect in 1997.

Based on this example, it's clear that nobody can expect instant results: for a few years after the Montreal Protocol was signed, the cumulative impact of previous CFC use still made the hole worse than it had been before. But once a determined global effort takes hold, we can see quantifiable positive results.

It's already happening with regard to the ozone layer, despite the negative impact that global warming itself may have on the ability of the layer to repair itself. The next step is to get the world's largest economies to agree to recognize global warming as an equally important priority. With enough cooperation, we may yet be able to point to similar results on global warming within the next decade.

Making connections

The provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta have finally reached an agreement to complete a road between La Loche and Fort McMurray:
The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan announced Thursday that the $45-million La Loche Road will be completed within the next three years, cutting travel time between La Loche and Fort McMurray from 10 hours to less than two.

With up to 15,000 new jobs expected to be created by the massive oil sands projects in northern Alberta, La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois believes the road will open up new opportunities for residents of northern communities such as Buffalo Narrows, Ile-a-La-Crosse and her own village.

Note that it was Alberta that dragged its feet on completing the road: despite Alberta's recent budget surpluses, Saskatchewan has been waiting for years since completing the road on its side of the border.

Fortunately, the waiting will soon be over, and both sides stand to benefit. Alberta will have easier access to labour for the tar sands and will probably also see increased retail sales now that Saskatchewan residents can get to larger shopping facilities, while Saskatchewan should see both increased tourism and access to better jobs. Such an obvious win-win shouldn't have taken this long, but at least it's going to get done.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Empty gestures

Not surprisingly, PMPM is much more willing to give symbolic support to CBC workers than to actually deal with the underlying problems. Martin has declared that no cabinet minister will cross a CBC picket line for Michaelle Jean's swearing-in. Which in and of itself is a reasonable enough show of support for the workers, were it not for this:

Even in absolute dollars, CBC funding still hasn't caught up to where it was in the early '90s. Think that might play a role in management needing to cut costs by eliminating the benefits of secure full-time work?

Mind you, the chart ends a few years ago. And there's a chance that now that the deficit isn't the concern that it used to be, the situation is better, right? Not so, according to this:
Canadians should be outraged at the manipulative way this government has dealt with our national public broadcaster. Not one additional cent for Canadian programming, but for the 5th year in a row the Liberals have trotted out the same $60 million in extra one-year funding. This creates the public impression of giving the CBC an increase without actually doing so...

The CBC has repeatedly begged the government to add that $60 million to its base budget so it can be used for program production commitments that have to be made a year or two in advance. But the Liberals clearly relish dangling the money in front of CBC supporters every year as if it were something new.

It's well and good not to cross the picket line. But it was Martin's cuts that put the CBC in dire straits in the first place, and it's his political games that are preventing it from being confident of even stable funding for now.

As soon as Martin reverses the choices of the last decade, then he can claim to be looking out for the interests of CBC's workers (not to mention the millions of Canadians who enjoy CBC's programming). Until that happens, PMPM deserves at least as big a target on his back as does Robert Rabinovitch. Both sides of the dispute know this; the general public needs to as well.

The war on ignorance

I'm amazed it took Paul Martin to point out the utter disgrace that was Pervez Musharraf's comment on rape victims in Pakistan:
Musharraf, speaking to the Washington Post newspaper earlier this week, questioned the motives of rape victims in Pakistan who now want to emigrate to Canada and other western countries for their safety.

"You must understand the environment in Pakistan...This has become a money-making concern," the Post quoted Musharraf saying in a long interview.

"A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped."

There may be more noted issues in play at the U.N., but for sheer detachment from reality it's awfully hard to top a claim that the likes of Mukhtar Mai are greedy for wanting to escape Pakistan alive. Of course, making that part of official Pakistani policy may well do the trick, and Musharraf managed that already before being shouted down.

On the other hand, maybe Musharraf's constructive solution to deal with rape is to have the victims follow through on Nazish Ashgar's threat of self-immolation following a gang-rape. Or perhaps to follow through with the charge of "loose morals" that was leveled at Ashgar after her rape.

Yet another option would be the action taken toward Shazia Khalid, who was forced out of Pakistan through repeated death threats. The apparent message from Musharraf on this one: here's your homicidal mob, what's your hurry?

Meanwhile, Musharraf feels unfairly singled out on the basis that rape happens everywhere. The latter fact is unfortunately true, but most governments at least have the sense not to actively vilify the victim, or accuse her of seeking to be raped for profit. And until Musharraf gets in line on that point, no other state with any respect for human rights should be putting large amounts of trust in Musharraf.

Neglecting the obvious

The Globe and Mail presents a poll showing a pessimistic outlook as to future of Canadian health care. Which in and of itself is fair enough - but wouldn't it behoove the Globe to at least mention the main cause for concern?
A poll released Thursday by the Canadian Medical Association and Ipsos-Reid found that on the one-year anniversary of the plan, 54 per cent of Canadians are less hopeful about the future of health care services in their community than they were in 2004...

Many of those surveyed in Thursday's poll, however, said they did believe that the 2004 first ministers' accord, worth $41-billion, could help rebuild the system. But they did not feel that the federal and provincial governments would live up to the ten-year deadline.

Nowhere does the article bother mentioning the Chaoulli decision...or for that matter the ensuing barrage of "single-payer health care is dead!" alarmism, to which the CMA has contributed extensively. Instead, it sounds from the article as if the new pessimism is purely a question of trust in governments rather than a matter of both a rather significant court decision, and an extended PR campaign to try to make privatization inevitable. (Incidentally, if talk of a multiple-payer system leads to less confidence in health care, that should say a great deal about what people ultimately think of privatization.)

The CMA is right to point out that there's a long way to go in making sure that the health care accord leads to definite results, and to call attention to the urgency of the issue. But it could help matters greatly by not doing so much to undermine the system it claims to want to improve. And any fair report on the CMA's activity should make mention of the contradiction.


More evidence comes out showing that while Canada's economy is growing, it's leaving an awful lot of people behind in the process:
Inequality and homelessness are rising in Canada despite a sustained economic boom and repeated federal promises to cut poverty, says an international study.

Poverty is rising among children and new immigrants, the middle class is finding it increasingly difficult to afford education and housing, and there are 250,000 Canadians living on the streets, says the study by Social Watch, a coalition of 400 non-government organizations from 50 countries...(which) was founded to monitor commitments made at 1995 U.N. social summits in Copenhagen and Beijing...

More than 1.7 million households live on less than $20,000 a year, and most are precariously housed. They do not own their homes and spend more than 30 per cent of income on rent.

With the economy growing and corporate profits booming, it's reasonable enough to expect some period where inequality would least until wages catch up to profits, assuming that's allowed.

But two other factors do thoroughly undercut any claim that the Liberals are an even remotely progressive party: first, the precipitous drop in the federal government's role, and second, the absolute increases in poverty in the face of a generally booming economy.

That's not to say that government involvement is inherently good. But there's an obvious correlation between the lessened federal role and the increase in poverty - and an even more obvious set of ways in which the federal government could reduce that poverty by spending just a tiny fraction of the percentage amount cut over the past 12 years.

Unfortunately, it seems the Liberals are more interested in pushing toward even further inequality and poverty than in remembering this particular promise. And it'll take a lot more monitoring efforts, by Social Watch and by other groups concerned with poverty, before the issue will even register on the political scene.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On credibility

The U.S., having figured out that two permanent members aren't interested in buying its claims, seems to have given up on attacking Iran's nuclear program through the U.N. Security Council:
Apparently lacking the votes to win, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated Wednesday President George W. Bush's administration is prepared to delay again a showdown with Iran over its nuclear weapons program...

Rice last week appealed openly to China, Russia, India and other countries to support threatening Iran with sanctions for refusing to halt its nuclear program...

But Russia quickly registered its opposition to trying to impose sanctions now on Iran in the UN Security Council and the White House acknowledged Wednesday that Bush was unable to obtain a commitment from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

As far as I can tell, the stand by Russia and China should close the door on any military diversion in Iran. The tactic of crippling a state with sanctions made the Iraq invasion a lot easier, but without that weapon in its arsenal the U.S. can't expect to easily take out the Iranian regime without bringing out the nukes, and that's simply not feasible in an administration already trusted as little as this one is.

Rice spoke of trying to send a "political message" to Iran instead, but the true message here was sent by Putin and Hu: the U.S. has lost the benefit of any doubt on the Security Council, at least as long as Bushco remains in charge. And that'll remain true no matter how determined the U.S. is to ignore any exculpatory evidence or lack of immediate risk.

To the neocons, the position of China and Russia will be taken as evidence of the U.N.'s stubbornness and irrelevance. But to most of the rest of the world, it's evidence that the veto is doing its job, ensuring that speculation and posturing can't be equated with a guilty verdict from the world. It's only a shame that the same factors were able to win some measure of Security Council approval one time too many.

On trying to keep secrets

If there's any justice at all, this announcement will result in the Arar report making a splash in the thick of the next federal election campaign. But don't count on it, even if the timing of the Gomery report is just right:
A public report on the Maher Arar affair will be delayed until next March, largely because of haggling over how much of the evidence ought to remain secret on national security grounds.

Paul Cavalluzzo, chief counsel to the inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor, said Wednesday that nobody realized, when work started last year, how arduous a task it would be to balance security concerns with the public's right to know.

"The commission had little appreciation of how much information would be subject to national security confidentiality claims," Cavalluzzo told a news conference...

O'Connor, who finished hearing the bulk of testimony this week, had hoped to deliver an interim report by the end of the year. He's now aiming at March 31, 2006.

It's not entirely clear from the article whether the change is more a result of the commission failing to anticipate how sensitive the information would be, or whether it's simply a matter of the government seeking to suppress more of it than expected. But even if all the information doesn't end up being released, at the very least the final report should give the best possible summary as to how much and what type of information has been subject to the claimed confidentiality. The mere invocation of the "war on terror" shouldn't insulate any government (including our own) from justifying its actions.

Unfortunately, it appears that it'll be possible for the Liberals to avoid most electoral consequences if they choose to do so. The story notes that the government could go to court in an attempt to challenge O'Connor's conclusions as to what information should be disclosed and what should remain public. That means that if anything in the planned report is particularly damaging to the Liberals' image, there'll be a ready means to make sure that it isn't released until after an matter how far out of his way O'Connor goes to ensure that sensitive information isn't included in the report. (On the flip side, the government can also avoid any challenge if the report exonerates the ministers responsible.)

As Cavalluzzo points out, there is a chance for public pressure to prevent any delays in the release of the report. And that pressure should be directed toward O'Connor as well, to make sure that we know just how complicit Liberal MPs were in the rendition of Canadians before the electorate decides whether they're still trusted in government.

Mandating change

It may be a few decades too late, but a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives is proposing new requirements for fuel efficiency:
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require automakers to boost the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to an average 33 miles per gallon over the coming decade from the current 25 mpg...

New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert and Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said the stricter mileage standard proposed in their legislation would save an estimated 2.6 million barrels of oil per day by 2025...

The lawmakers cited a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study which said technologies already exist to squeeze more mileage out of a gallon of gasoline, without sacrificing safety. Boehlert also noted U.S. automakers recently signed a voluntary agreement with Canada on greenhouse gas emissions that effectively raises fuel efficiency by 25 percent for vehicles sold in that country.

While it's a plus that Canada is being used as a positive example, it's a shame that we haven't yet taken a serious look at requirements similar to those which may soon be in effect in the States. As pointed out in the article, there isn't now (and hasn't been for years) a lack of technology capable of making vehicles more fuel-efficient; all that's been needed is a spur to make use of that technology. By avoiding any action until this year, and then acting only to the point of a voluntary agreement, the Liberals have deliberately avoided that spur to action.

In the end, it may turn out that Canada's fuel efficiency will improve only as a spin-off from new mandatory standards in the U.S. And given the disdain with which global warming and other environmental issues have been treated to the south, it's a truly sad position to wind up free-riding off of U.S. emissions policy.


Remember the National Post's claim that a flat tax movement was about to sweep over much of the world? Not so fast, say the voters who get to make the choice:
While Germans, battered by a weak economy and unemployment rates well above 10 per cent, at first seemed to welcome her economic-reform proposals, their enchantment ended abruptly. As soon as a 25-per-cent flat tax was mentioned last week by Ms. Merkel's outspoken economic-policy adviser and candidate for finance minister, professor Paul Kirchhof, the seemingly unassailable Christian Democrats began falling in the polls.

Yesterday, polls for the first time showed Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his left-leaning allies in a dead heat with her conservative coalition. Her colleagues turned on her yesterday, telling reporters that Mr. Kirchhof's economic ideas have poisoned the campaign...

So dramatic has been Ms. Merkel's fall from grace that tax experts are now saying that, if she loses the election on Sunday night, the flat-tax concept will effectively be dead in the Western world.

We can only hope that the experts are right on this one. But the lie peddled by the National Post (and even picked up by the Globe's headline) is laid all the more bare by the ongoing German election. The flat tax isn't a concept with substantial popular support which simply hasn't been brought onto the political scene. Rather, it's a politically toxic idea which can even torpedo the public standing of an otherwise popular party running against an unpopular incumbent. Even if Merkel manages to eke out a win, it's clear that it'll be despite the flat tax, not because of it.

As for any potential spread of the concept elsewhere, there's little that I'd like to see more than for Canada's Conservatives to try to run with an idea that will get a similar public reception. We can only hope that Harper is just that desperate in the upcoming election.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Spend, spend, spend

More bad consumer news: a CIBC economist points out that Canada's personal savings rate is at its lowest level since the 1920s:
Statistics Canada said last month that the rate plummeted to 0.5 per cent in the second quarter. In the U.S., meantime, the personal savings rate stands at minus 0.6 per cent, the lowest level on record.

While the methodology of calculating the rate may be flawed because it doesn't include asset prices, it's been compiled in the same way for decades. Ten years ago it stood at 10 per cent, 20 years ago at 20 per cent — an indication of a significant downwards trend, he said. Moreover, all age groups have seen a steady drop in their savings rate, Mr. Tal said in the report.

(W)hile financial assets, or more liquid assets, have been climbing in recent years, it's been mostly concentrated among older Canadians. At least 40 per cent of Canadian households have no financial savings outside of their personal savings and chequing accounts...

The rise in home prices is well and good, but the lack of any breadth of investment is an extremely dangerous situation which affects far too many Canadians - and a good number of the people without financial savings likely don't have much by way of home investment either. With luck, we'll avoid a '30s-style crash, but that doesn't mean the near-zero savings make for a remotely sustainable economy.

Going public

It's only a small start, but a group of former Conservative candidates is now actively calling for Harper's head:
Senior party officials dismissed the move as an insignificant push by only four Quebecers and said their leader will stay on to fight the Liberals. But the authors of a statement calling for Harper's resignation said they're tired of seeing their party competing with the NDP and the Green Party in the province.

"We will never win the next election," said the statement released Tuesday.

"Harper will resign afterward, it's certain. But why wait for the elections? Wouldn't it be better for him to leave now?

"We have ample time to find a new leader before the next election."

The statement said Harper was a good transitional leader but showed little interest in Quebec. It was signed by four people who ran as candidates and were defeated in last year's federal election.

Naturally, the Con spin has started, ranging from "if 4 candidates signed the letter against Harper then the rest must all be for him" to "blame Belinda!". And there's little doubt that this individual call won't make much difference.

But even through consistently dropping poll numbers, the one thing Harper supposedly had was the support of his own party. Now, even that's taken a very public hit...and not from anybody who seems to gain directly from his potential departure either. That doesn't look the least bit prime ministerial - which should only help to hasten Harper's exit if he can't find a way to win the next election.

A first time for everything

When I first saw the title of this post, I could only assume that it was a joke. But if it was, the joke appears to be on Bush himself:
"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said.

The president was asked whether people should be worried about the government's ability to handle another terrorist attack given failures in responding to Katrina.

"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very important question and it's in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond," Bush replied.

I'll note that I disagree with Zaphod in his interpretation of this passage: the reference to terrorism in the interview isn't a justification at all, but rather an admission of even deeper failure. The DHS, for which Bush tried to take credit as the agency capable of keeping Americans safe in response to any threat, failed miserably when it came to Katrina - and the tone of the question and response makes clear that Bush wasn't willing to back up the DHS in its ability to respond to any future terrorist attack either.

In essence, Bush has admitted that despite his constant references to 9/11, he's actually done nothing that he can point to as making people safer, and as a result everything he's done has to be questioned. Needless to say, this is a substantial shift from a man who once maintained that the only mistake in his first term was being insufficiently partisan. And in the aftermath of Katrina, there shouldn't be any lack of people willing to ask the necessary questions.

Delayed response

Apparently, the Liberals managed to remember some unfinished business last week - though it's unclear whether the reason was increased attention on natural disasters, or mere election speculation:
The federal government has given Nova Scotia another multimillion-dollar cheque to help with damage caused by provincewide flooding in March 2003.

The $6-million cheque under the disaster financial assistance program was accepted Tuesday by Ernie Fage, minister responsible for the Emergency Measures Act.

Nova Scotia has now received a total of $10 million from Ottawa for the flood damage...

The federal disaster assistance helps communities recover from the devastating effects of natural disasters.

It's downright amazing that more than half of the aid needed in response to a natural disaster would be delayed until two and a half years after the event. The delivery of the cheque this long after the fact signals one of two things on behalf of the federal Libs: a complete breakdown in response after the initial flooding, or a desire to be seen handing yet more money to provinces outside any properly defined standards. Either way, they don't deserve anything but criticism for the action.

Prevention and cooperation

In the Globe's web comment, the UN University points out the cost savings in preventing a disaster rather than dealing with its effects:
We need better, more scientifically grounded information on risks and vulnerability. We need new and improved warning systems and infrastructure, including nature's gifts of mangroves, coral reefs and wetlands. We need to prioritize professionalism and competence above partisan and personal loyalty in appointing people to responsible positions of disaster preparation and management. This means people committed to good governance and efficient delivery of services rather than ideologues who dislike government and want to starve it of cash and privatize all its functions.

Most importantly, we need to shift from a culture of reaction to one of prevention, from the local to the global. The present pattern is to spend $1 on preparedness for every $100 on relief, when in fact prevention shows a cost-benefit ratio of 10, or 15 to 1. The capacity of governments to respond to natural disasters must be strengthened and sustainable land- and resource-management practices must be promoted. And the accumulated experience and comparative advantage of the United Nations must be acknowledged and exploited...

(M)ember states have the capacity to disable decision-making and policy implementation by the UN but lack the vision and the will to empower and enable global problem-solving. The UN cannot displace the responsibility of governments (local, state, national), but it can and should be the locus of multilateral diplomacy and collective action to solve collective problems.

All of the above measures sound so sensible that it's a wonder anybody could disagree. But then it's always easy to forget the importance of disaster prevention, especially when it's working. Katrina seems to have focused the world's attention on the realities of preparedness, but it remains to be seen whether or not that focus will last.

Naturally, not all disasters can be contained preemptively. On that score the article also points out problems in the current lack of cooperation. There's been a lot of active resistance to any collective response to most problems. When a rare exception is made (as was the case with the Asian tsunami), the resulting response is far more efficient than is possible when anybody tries to go it alone. Which is something that the world would do well to keep in mind as it tries to agree on the future shape of the UN.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beyond Kyoto

Canada will soon be sitting down with most of the largest nations that refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol in an effort to make sure some that some action is taken on global warming. But according to a Canadian official (who apparently managed to remain anonymous while delivering a press briefing), there isn't much reason for optimism just yet:
"We don't expect outcomes on this at Montreal because this is the first discussion of the post-Kyoto regime," the official told a briefing.

"But what we want to do is build bridges between developing countries and industrial countries -- including the industrial countries that are not members of Kyoto -- as to the kind of regime which might exist in the future."...

Australia agreed in July to work with the United States, China, India, Japan and South Korea to curb global warming but the six countries did not set targets for emissions cuts.

In principle, if all these states are onside, there shouldn't be much reason why a serious solution can't be worked out: the U.S.' opposition has (at least on its face) always been based on concerns about China and India taking a competitive advantage, so if they're willing to come to the table there should be a chance for positive action.

But part of that solution will likely have to involve better-developed states being willing to share technology at least at a discount, though perhaps not for free as requested by India. If developed states are willing to look at this as an investment in a healthier planet, then there's a chance to put a meaningful dent in global warming. On the other hand, if developed states see the meeting as a matter of trying to push China and India into line without recognizing the global good in emissions reduction, then the potential to help the planet will go up in smoke.

The Flat Tax Society

The National Post predictably decides to argue in favour of a flat tax. But before jumping to the conclusion that there might be some data to back the Post's ideology, take a look at the examples the NP puts forward in favour of its claim.

From the article:
In most jurisdictions that have adopted flat taxes, economic activity has increased and government revenues have risen. The lower rates spur greater investment, and also encourage greater compliance with tax laws, which means government's tax take increases from both a rise in national production and a fall in cheating.

Since 1994, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine have all adopted flat taxes on personal income ranging from 12% to 19%.

Keep a very close eye on the alleged reasons for increased investment, then consider that all but three of the examples of current flat-tax countries are former Soviet-bloc states, while the other three were also completely state-owned until at least 1989. The cause and effect for those states is "legalizing investment increases investment", not "flat tax increases investment". The flat tax may have made for easier collection in a state with very little means to set up a revenue agency, but that doesn't make it a good fit for the first world.

Every other jurisdiction discussed in the article (aside from Alberta) is one which has yet to implement a flat tax - and in at least one case, even the proposal was only made by a firmly-entrenched opposition party. Judging from the standards set by the Post, the mere publication of the article makes Canada a country "considering" a flat tax, and thus evidence in favour of implementing one.

In the end, the only jurisdiction that apparently provides any meaningful support for the flat tax is one which has done well largely due to resource revenues, and which was booming long before the flat tax was implemented.

The tax system probably could stand to be a lot more simple. But as I've pointed out before, there's no need whatsoever to link tax code reform with a flat tax - regardless of the connections that the Post chooses to invent.

To nobody's surprise...

...Layton once again takes the lead in trying to make good things happen in Parliament:
"We'll have to see how the fall unfolds," NDP Leader Jack Layton told in an interview Monday.

"We took what was an unacceptable budget, made it better, and it passed," he added, suggesting that similar agreements could be worked out in the fall session, which begins Sept. 26...

Mr. Layton said in general, the topics of discussion include how to address what Canadians see as a failed leadership in terms of the federal government and trade agreement violations, especially related to the softwood lumber issue...

The NDP Leader said the party will also be discussing worries over privatization of health care and the continued environmental deterioration in Canada.

Needless to say, this is an excellent start to the session for Layton: it helps to shape the fall agenda, and also makes clear that any failure to get things done lies with the Liberals rather than with the NDP. My only quibble is that it would be all the better if PR were mentioned in the public lead-in, but hopefully that'll make its appearance once Parliament gets underway.

On standing for nothing

Luiza Ch. Savage's Maclean's BMD column in a nutshell: We're already under the U.S.' boot. So we'd might as well be proud to be there.

Savage rightly points out that Canada has contributed a lot more to global stability than has Australia, but that Americans are suspicious of Canada due to political disputes such as BMD and involvement in Iraq. But in pointing out Canada's moral opposition to Iraq, Savage utterly fails to ask a fairly obvious question: namely, was Canada justified in its opposition?

(Note to reader: if that answer seems to be in doubt, please stop by this blog again after all the Bushco Kool-aid is out of your system.)

The value in Savage's column is the point that Canada has continued to cooperate with the U.S. in substantive ways - some where should be proud to have done so (i.e. in Afghanistan), some where we should be much less so (i.e. tacit mission support in Iraq, participation in BMD-related activities).

The converse to Savage's position is that we need to be careful to make sure that our support abroad ultimately goes to positive ends: if the U.S. is leading others in the wrong direction, our best course of action is to reserve our cooperation for worthy goals. And the complicit involvement in BMD pointed out in the article is a solid example of that. In a world where the vast majority of states are committed to disarmament, Canada shouldn't be encouraging proliferation either directly or indirectly. And Martin should have to answer for every step he takes which has the effect of boosting BMD, even if he publicly claims to be against it.

Savage rightly points out that Canada's actions haven't always matched its rhetoric. But the problem is with actions that undercut positive goals, not with the position of opposing proliferation and invasion.

When we're right, nobody wins out if we either claim or act otherwise. Even if standing up for what's right (in both words and actions) makes Australia more popular in Rupert Murdoch's book.

Jailing democracy

Time to counterbalance this morning's good news with a terrible incident of press repression. Rabble points out that two Haitian journalists have been jailed for particularly appalling reasons - Kevin Pina for shooting factual footage of Haiti since the 2004 coup, and Jean Ristil for reporting Pina's arrest. (More details of the arrests here, where it appears both reporters were covering a police search of the church run by presidential candidate Gerard Jean-Juste.)

Between the search and the arrests, it seems all too clear that the Lavalas party's position is being deliberately silenced in advance of the upcoming election. And Canada has been offered a leading role in trying to maintain order to allow the election to proceed. As a result, Canada has a great opportunity to take up that offer, on the conditions that reporters aren't jailed for doing their job, and that the elections aren't a complete and utter sham.

Stop by Marguerite Laurent's list of Canadian contacts, and let them know that Canada shouldn't be complicit in press intimidation.

First steps

It's been a positive weekend for the flow of information from disaster zones. First, the U.S. gave up on trying to defend limited reporter access in New Orleans. Now, China has declared that the death tolls from natural disasters will be made public rather than being classified as state secrets:
"Declassification of these figures and materials is conducive to boosting our disaster prevention and relief work," said Shen Yongshe, spokesman for the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets...

China was widely accused of suppressing information about the 2003 SARS outbreak, confusing and delaying efforts to contain it before it spread to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and other countries and regions around the world.

In both cases, there's still an awfully long way to go toward breaking down a culture of secrecy. But at least the two decisions present some acknowledgement that the public interest is best served by getting the facts into the open. The next step in both cases is to try to make the same case as concerns government actions rather than natural disasters...though it's all too likely that both of the world's most powerful governments will fight that principle tooth and nail.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Choosing who to work with

It won't come as news to a lot of people that the founder of the Marijuana Party of Canada quit earlier this year to join the Liberals, concluding that the most likely path toward legalization lay with a governing party that seemed sympathetic to his cause. At that time, Marc-Boris St. Maurice said that:
"I think there is wide support for marijuana reform within the Liberal Party and I am confident that a large proportion of these silent supporters will come forward once the issue is pressed."

Think St. Maurice is regretting the decision now?
The Liberal government's controversial bill to decriminalize marijuana will be shelved until after the next election, CTV News has learned...

(O)fficials say the Liberals are content to leave marijuana reform on the backburner, which could mean it will be many more years before there is another attempt to decriminalize marijuana.

Obviously any attempts to rally support in the Liberal caucus have been utterly futile - any "silent supporters" have stayed as silent as ever. That's all the more sad since there's enough support from the NDP and the Bloc to pass a decriminalization bill if it was seriously put forward, particularly if it included a sensible amnesty. Instead, all St. Maurice won by allying himself with the Libs was a lengthy delay in his cause...and maybe worse if the Cons are able to take power in the meantime.

Interestingly, the best chance for decriminalization in the near future may come if either the Bloc or the NDP puts forward a private member's bill which the Liberals choose not to oppose. But if the Libs are determined to bury the issue (as seems likely since they wouldn't want credit going elsewhere if they're abandoning the cause themselves), then that won't be allowed to happen during the fall session either.

The moral of the story: anybody actually wanting to push forward a cause should avoid the Liberal Party at all costs. Because among the Libs, positive change is always on the backburner.

Surveying the landscape

While it's often tough to know just how much impact blogs are having, some people are making the effort to see just who's reading what and why. Stop by Grandinite's Canadian blog survey and help make sure the final results reflect your blog-reading habits.

And it begins

The Globe and Mail points out that national housing starts are entering a decline:
The seasonally adjusted annual rate fell to 201,000 units in August, led by a decline in multiple-unit construction, from 242,600 units in July, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Friday. It was the lowest level since January, 2004.

While housing starts tend to be volatile, the report comes on the back of another weaker-than-expected housing report this week. Statistics Canada said Wednesday that building permits fell for the third time in four months in July, countering expectations of a gain.

“Moderately high mortgage rates and rising prices are likely to gently cool the housing market as it heads into 2006,” said Carl Gomez, an economist at TD Bank Financial Group, in a research note. “ While he expects starts to ease to an average pace of 200,000 a month next year, they should still be “well above the demographically driven level of 175,000 units, suggesting no sign of an imminent collapse in the housing market.”...

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 230,000 starts for the month.

While Gomez points out the rise in interest rates as the main factor in the reduction, there's little reason to think that the decline will stop anytime soon when the Bank of Canada is expected to keep boosting rates. Unfortunately, the booming oil sector seems to be leading the Bank of Canada to take actions which inevitably cut into every other sector of the economy. And based on this report, the housing market is already feeling the pinch.

On locking out the world

While Bev Oda made a few ridiculous comments about the CBC last week, those at least were fairly consistent with Con party policy. But Conservative Senator Marjory Lebreton has decided to go even further off the deep end:
In a letter to an Ottawa newspaper, she cited poll numbers that suggested NDP and Liberal supporters missed regular CBC coverage the most.

“The lockout has deprived them of their biggest cheerleaders on the national scene,” Ms. LeBreton wrote in a letter published in the Sept. 12 edition of the Hill Times newspaper.

“As far as I am concerned, I hope it takes months to settle the CBC lockout.

“The thought of going through a national election campaign inconveniencing those Liberal and NDP supporters who rely on the CBC is truly something to look forward to.”

Of course, anyone trying to find coverage from the CBC's employees can still track it down. But there are two bigger issues with LeBreton's rant.

First, from a labour relations standpoint, LeBreton makes clear that perceived political gain is more important to her than a fair resolution between employer and union. Which should give a huge reason to vote against the Cons for anybody with any interest in working for (or even watching or listening to) the CBC. After all, it's not a particularly large step from "it's good not to have the CBC reporting on an election" to "let's make sure the CBC is locked out every time an election comes around".

And given the context, all public-sector workers may also have reason to worry: if political gain is more important than having a competently-run organization which resolves its labour disputes in a constructive manner, then a lot of unions could potentially be on the wrong end of staged lockouts for any number of purposes (be they budgetary or ideological). Unless Harper clearly disavows LeBreton's statement, it's tough to conclude anything but that politics come above sound management in the Conservative view.

Just one more all-too-plausible fear that the Cons have walked right into.

Granted, nobody affiliated with the CBC should be too happy with the Liberals either, in light of the government which has caused the lockout by slashing budgets. As I've noted before, the NDP should thus take a strong stance as the only party trying to preserve public broadcasting.

The second bigger issue is from a public information standpoint, as LeBreton's position demonstrates one of the fundamental differences between the right and left wings. While most progressives abhor the lack of facts presented by Fox News, the usual reaction is to point out the errors rather than to claim that it shouldn't be broadcasting in the first place. Any move to change the station's ideology is through public pressure and market forces, not by trying to suppress the existence of the network.

For the right wing, however, dissenting views are to be suppressed at all costs. In addition to the "left-wing media" rhetoric which has never been backed up by facts, that's also meant wholesale attacks on public broadcasters in both Canada and the U.S., based apparently on the idea that it's best for the public to have less information, as long as the information eliminated is contrary to one's own beliefs.

That's both reason why the left will tend to win rational debates, and reason to be very careful to make sure the frame of reference includes all the facts. The CBC is one of our means of ensuring that there's a wide range of information available to all Canadians, and unwarranted attacks against it should be seen as attacks on the public's ability to get to the truth.