Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh Helena, why don't you just admit that you can't handle the job?

Today in the House, MP Wayne Easter (Liberal) revealed that Minister of State for the Status of Women Helena Guergis' office assistant, Jessica Craven had written letters supporting her boss to several newspapers in Ms. Guergis' riding of Simcoe-Grey. These letters were written using Ms. Craven's married name of Morgan which she does not use in her professional life. She claims that she used her married name to separate her opinions as a generic Canadian from her opinions as an assistant for Minister Guergis. In one of Ms. Craven/Morgan's letters she defends the childish actions of her boss at the Charlottetown airport in late February. She has also written other letters that both defend her boss and criticize members of opposition parties. While Ms. Craven/Morgan claims that Minister Guergis was unaware that she had written the letters, I find it hard to believe that the Minister had absolutely no knowledge of what had taken place. Is she telling us that she doesn't even read the papers in her own riding to see what issues are important to her constituents? Shades of Sarah "Can't Name a Paper or Magazine" Palin!

I hate to tell Ms. Craven, but as long as she is an office assistant for Minister Guergis, she is not a generic Canadian and, as such, her letter-writing tactics are nothing more than an infantile and amateurish attempt to sway voter opinion. A rank amateur indeed.

This story should sound familiar to readers. Back in 2001, Helena's husband Rahim Jaffer, a former Canadian Alliance MP used one of his staffers to impersonate him on a Vancouver radio show. Mr. Jaffer was forced to apologize to Parliament and was demoted to the backbenches. In light of today's revelation, don't the two of them seem so well suited to each other? Apparently they actually do spend time communicating, at least to the level where they discuss how best to dupe the sweaty masses!

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, exactly what does it take to be fired from the Harper cabinet? Apparently quite a bit.

At long last, the end of "10 percenters"

At long last, on Monday the Board of Internal Economy bowed to taxpayer pressure and has abolished the use of out-of-riding mail outs by all parliamentarians. Unfortunately, secrecy rules the day on the BIE so we'll never know exactly which parties voted for and which parties voted against funding these instruments of propaganda. The last we had heard, the Conservatives were not exactly against the use of "10 percenters" but they had flip flopped on the issue so it was hard to determine exactly what their final intention was.

Starting April 1, 2010, MPs will only be able to send out "10 percenters" within their own ridings. As well, they will be limited to a maximum of three prepaid return envelopes per mailing address in their ridings.

I'm going to save the last three "10 percenters" I got because they might be collector's items some day!

Now it will be interesting to see if our elected ones can find another loophole that will allow them to use tax money "donated" by the sweaty masses to fund another form of partisan propaganda.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Access to Information? Really?

Last week's media reports on the Afghani detainee issue often showed reporters holding heavily redacted paperwork that had been released under the Access to Information Act. Many of these pages appeared to have been very heavily censored and it appeared that most of them would be basically useless to both the public and Parliament if either party were attempting to understand what had happened in Afghanistan and the degree of complicity within the upper echelons of the Harper government.

Many countries around the world have passed legislation that allow their citizens to access government information at minimal cost. This legislation is used by both the media and private citizens to hold governments accountable for their actions and to allow citizens and the media to independently evaluate the government.

In Canada, this legislation came into existence in 1983 under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau and is called the Access to Information Act. At the same time, the Privacy Act was introduced to prevent anyone from accessing the personal information of an individual that is held by the government, for example, you can access your personal income tax and health records but someone else cannot unless you specifically give them permission.
Most of us have, at one time or another, waived the right to our privacy by signing waivers at doctors' offices so other physicians (i.e. specialists) can access our health records. With these two pieces of legislation, Canadians are protected from both excessive government secrecy and from having our personal privacy breached.

The Access to Information Act mandates what information is released and how quickly the government must respond to requests for information. In Canada, administration of the Act falls under the jurisdiction of the President of the Treasury Board, currently, Stockwell Day who was appointed Minister on January 19th, 2010 by Prime Minister Harper.

This is an example of what is released to the public under the Access to Information Act. This page is part of a spreadsheet that the government used to justify taxing Canadian Income Trusts in October 2006. The information was requested by several individuals in the financial industry to better understand how the Department of Finance justified their claims of "tax leakage" to impose taxes on Income Trusts. Notice that other than the column and row headers, nothing of any use has been released. This is the case for the first 13 pages of the 18 page report that I have seen. The government used the excuse that the redacted material was deemed to be too sensitive for public consumption since it had to be protected for reasons of "National Security". How this particular tax issue can be related to "National Security" is beyond my comprehension, rather, it seems to be a case of secrecy for the sake of secrecy. By releasing minimal useful information, the government thinks that it is protecting itself from detailed public scrutiny.

Our elected officials have long forgotten that they are employed by the people of Canada and that they can be replaced at the next general election. I can understand that secrecy is necessary in selected political areas but today there is entirely too much secrecy at all levels of government. If this example is what passes for "access to information" it would be far cheaper for taxpayers if we went back to complete secrecy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Canada's Political Grand Canyon

Canadians are becoming increasingly polarized about their political leanings. Those who lean to the right, are leaning further to the right and those who lean to the left may be heading toward the centre but the divide between the two sides is becoming wider. It has become a "take no hostages" landscape; there is no love lost between the two sides. Just read the comments section on any Canadian media website. There is no room for compromise and the concept of a "win-win" agreement on any issue has completely vanished.

Politicians in Canada today do not debate. They harass, mock, belittle and disrespect their opponents. To show any sign of compromise with a political opponent could be interpreted as weakness rather than strength of character. Instead of having the best interests of Canadians at heart, they have only their own personal or party interests at heart. They use political rhetoric to distract Canadians of all political persuasions from the issues that they have been elected to resolve. This is Canada's loss and most importantly, our loss as well-intentioned Canadian individuals.

I remember when Canada had politicians that were gentlemen first and politicians second. Think of Lester B. Pearson, Robert Stanfield, John Turner and Joe Clark. I doubt that any of them would survive in Canada's political system today but they were exemplary statesmen in their time. I rather doubt that we'll be able to say the same about today's crop of politicians. In 40 years, they will be insignificant blips on the overall political history of Canada.

Canada is incubating the same political atmosphere that has existed in the United States since George the Second took office in 2000. His ascent to the throne was guaranteed by the Christian right (leaning hard to the right), a group that held marginal power until the very late 1990s. The political polarity in the United States has become very evident under the Obama administration with the formation of the Tea Party movement, another hard right-leaning populist movement with figures like Sarah Palin as high profile adherents. It is this right - left polarity that created great discord when Obama presented his healthcare agenda. His opponents argued against all aspects of the agenda based on polarity of political principle rather than on the basis of what was really right for Americans. I admire President Obama for meeting with Republican Members of Congress in an attempt to reach a compromise. I doubt that such a meeting would happen in Canada.

I wish that Canada's political leaders would show strength of character and act in the best interests of the Canadian electorate. We must not allow our politicians to brainwash us with their partisan rhetoric and drag us into their pointless debates with the sole purpose of dividing and conquering Canadians. We must not let them drag us down to their level. We must be discerning consumers of all brands of political propaganda.

What is Mikey I. thinking?

With yesterday's debacle in the House of Commons, it is likely that Ignatieff's leadership will continue to be seen as weak and directionless by the Canadian public. Unless the Liberals send a message of change (i.e. a new leader), the very best they can hope for is a continuing series of minority governments and the worst they might see would be banishment to the political wilderness for years to come.

Why is it that every time Michael Ignatieff builds up a bit of political capital with the Canadian public, he tosses it to the wind? It's like he just doesn't understand the political process.

The Liberals polling numbers were looking good in mid-January ago when, likely due to the electorate's dissatisfaction with Harper's prorogation of Parliament, they were essentially tied with the Conservatives among decided voters. By the latest poll undertaken in mid-March, the Ekos poll shows that the Liberals were trailing the Conservatives by 5.6 percentage points with the Liberals getting approval from only 27.7% of decided voters.

In late October, Peter Donolo was brought on as Ignatieff's new chief of staff. Donolo was brought on board because he is a savvy political veteran having served as director of communications for Jean Cretien until 1999. The Liberal party hoped that Donolo's input would help "pretty up" Ignatieff's image with the Canadian public and help raise their support among Canadian voters. For a time (a very short time) that appeared to work.

Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Liberals raised a motion that was attempting to drive a wedge into the Harper government's maternal health initiative. The Liberals had hoped to divide and conquer the Conservative caucus. Most unfortunately for the Liberals, three of their own members voted against their own motion and other Liberals were absent from the House. This resulted in the Liberals defeating their own motion. Rather than driving a wedge into the Conservatives, the Liberals now look like buffoons. While Ignatieff has taken the blame for this debacle, he has done nothing to help his growing reputation as a leader that is out of touch with the machinations of Parliament and his own party.

I suggest that the Liberals need a new leader....now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is the Hydro Quebec - PEI Power Deal Dead?

It was announced this morning that the deal which would have seen Hydro-Quebec purchase assets of NB Power, a New Brunswick Crown Corporation, for $3.2 billion is dead. After due diligence was done, changes to the deal by both parties have resulted in cancellation of the agreement.

For several months, the Ghiz government has been negotiating a deal with Hydro-Quebec. It was rumoured that, with the deal, Islanders would have seen electricity rates drop by 20 to 25% over a five year time-frame. It will be interesting to see if these negotiations are now off the table with cancellation of the purchase of NB Power.

Maritime Electric and Fortis must be rubbing their hands together with delight because they can now continue to charge Islanders the highest rate for electricity in Canada with no interference from politicians.


Monday, March 22, 2010

How Needy Are Canada's Politicians?

Who do you think needs your financial assistance more, a registered charity or a national political party? Your elected officials think that they need your donation more and they have used tax laws to enforce it.

In this posting, I'm going to compare the Federal tax credit for a $1000 donation to a federal political party versus donating the same amount to a registered charity.

1.) For federal political contributions of $1000.00:

Federal tax credit on first $400 is 75% = $300.00
Federal tax credit on the next $250 is 50% = $175.00
Federal tax credit on the next $250 is 33.33% = $83.33
Total Federal tax credit = $558.33

2.) For registered charitable contributions of $1000.00:

Federal tax credit on first $200 is 15% = $30.00
Federal tax credit on remaining $800 is 29% = $232.00
Total Federal tax credit = $262.00

There is a $296.33 tax advantage to every Canadian taxpayer that elects to donate $1000 to a federal political party rather than to a registered charity. This is a very significant difference. Fortunately, most Canadians are philanthropic and would prefer to donate to charities that truly serve the needy of Canada rather than donating to federal political parties that serve the needs of very few.

While I like nothing more than to minimize the amount of tax that I have to remit to the government, it seems morally wrong that it is far more advantageous, for me personally, to donate money to a Canadian political party than it is for me to donate the same amount to a legitimate charity. Control of this tax advantage lies in the hands of those we have elected and it is time that politicians of all parties work to reduce the tax credit for political party donations and raise the tax credit for charitable donations. This rebalancing could be done to encourage increased donations to registered charities and should result in no loss of revenue to the federal treasury.

It is time for our politicians to stop using Canada's tax system to their own advantage.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Justification for "10 percenters"

Here are some quotes from letter I received from Guy Luzon, National Conservative Caucus Chair and MP (Conservative) for the Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry riding in eastern Ontario. This was sent to me after I had sent emails to several Conservative MPs about "10 percenters" I had received back in 2009. Apparently, I ruffled some feathers!

"Part of being effective members of Parliament is communicating with people from across the country. All parties in the House of Commons engage in distributing mail-outs and all members are permitted to do so. The opposition employs this practice and they too express their specific political opinions."

"Everything that the Conservative Party and its members distribute to Canadians is in keeping with the rules established by the House of Commons. It is out of their budget that members send you these mail-outs."

"As the party that Canadians elected into government, it is our responsibility to represent all Canadians and not just the people who reside in a Conservative riding."

Notice how he justifies the use of "10 percenters" as a means of communicating with ALL Canadians, not just those in Conservative ridings. He also justifies the practice by informing me that ALL parties employ this means of communication (although he neglects to mention that the Conservative MPs send out well more than half of the "10 percenters").

Apparently, he didn't listen when his mother admonished him that "...just because everyone else jumps into a lake, doesn't mean you have to jump too..."! Nothing like sticking to the Party line about "10 percenters" no matter whether the practice is right or wrong.

Friday, March 19, 2010

So Close Yet So Far

On Wednesday, Canadian taxpayers almost got rid of the "10 percenters".

Liberal MP Wayne Easter introduced a motion that would put an end to out-of-riding "10 percenters". The motion passed by the narrowest of margins, 140 to 137, and the matter is to be sent to the Board of Internal Economy for review. The Board of Internal Economy consists of the Commons Speaker (Chairman), Party Whips and House leaders from all 4 parties. The Liberal Party announced that they would immediately cease distribution of "10 percenters" outside MP's ridings and the NDP announced that they would abide by the decision of the Board.

The Conservatives voted against the motion. In Parliament, Stephen Harper then announced that "...the cancellation of the program is a good idea", completely contradicting the direction his party had voted. The Prime Minister's Office then announced that the vote was non-binding and that they would continue using the "10 percenter" program. Lastly, Dimitri Soudas, the PM's press secretary announced that Conservatives agreed that they would cease to send out-of-riding "10 percenters" if it applied to all parties and that that they would abide by the decision made by the Board of Internal Economy. The Conservatives then sent Pierre Poilievre (Conservative), the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary (also known as Harper's lapdog), to debate with Joe Comartin (NDP) and Wayne Easter (Liberal) on CTV's Power Play. He agreed that the Conservatives would support the motion to cease "10 percenters" only if the Opposition Parties agreed to end the taxpayer subsidies to political parties.

I have no problem ending taxpayer subsidies to political parties but that is a discussion for another day. In this case, Parliament voted to pass the motion banning the fliers and no party has the authority to make an end-run around that decision. Once again, the Conservatives have shown how quickly they can flip-flop on an issue and how consistently they disregard the democratic processes of Parliament.

A bit of additional information - Conservative MPs averaged $49,680 in printing costs funded by taxpayers, NDP MPs averaged $33,825 and Liberal MPs averaged $18,500.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Great Excitement!

Today was a big day in my household. I got another "10 percenter"! It doesn't get any better than getting new reading material for the bathroom. This time it was generously sent to my humble abode all the way from the riding of Regina - Lumsden Lake in Saskatchewan where Tom Lukiwski, Conservative MP lives. Here I thought they had forgotten all about me!

This "10 percenter" focussed on how unpatriotic Michael Ignatieff is and how "he's just in it (politics) for himself", not for all Canadians. Not only was it most informative, it was pure partisan politics at its very best.

We all know that every altruistic Conservative MP on Parliament Hill only has the best interests of Canada at heart. Their 2009 base pay of $157,738, annual expense allowance of $25,500 and annual allocation of 64 free return airline tickets would have absolutely nothing with their desire to serve Canadians!

I've sent Mr. Lukiwski my standard email questioning the use of millions of taxpayers dollars to fund the "10 percenter" Conservative election campaign. Let's just say I'm not holding my breath waiting for a response.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The Prince Edward Island political scene needs to be driven by a new grassroots movement whose objective is the formation of a viable, electable, responsible alternative to the existing Conservative and Liberal parties. The leader must not be a Larry McGuire-type who has a personal issue with Premier Ghiz, it must be a leader that is palatable to the electorate, a leader that does not have a personal grudge, a leader that wants to lead because they see that it is time for change. It must also be a party with integrity and vision for change.

In 1944, Tommy Douglas, the first CCF/NDP Premier of Saskatchewan and founder of Canada's universal health care system gave his famous "Mouseland" speech. Historically, Saskatchewan had been governed by a succession of Liberal and Conservative/Progressive-led governments that did not necessarily have the best interests of Saskatchewan residents at heart. In brief, Tommy Douglas describes a place called Mouseland where the mice had a parliament where they elected big, fat, black cats every year.

The cats weren't all that bad. They passed good laws, well, they were good laws if you were a cat! Eventually, things became so difficult for the mice that they had no choice but to vote out the black cats and vote in the white cats. The white cats promised change and change came. Things got even better for the white cats and worse for the mice. As time went on, the mice voted time and time again, replacing white cats with black cats ad nauseum. Finally, they realized that their problem wasn't the colour of the cat, the problem was that they were governed by cats who had only cat interests at heart. The mice had an idea. They realized that they needed to elect a government made up of mice. A government comprised of cats of any colour was never going to look out for the interests of the mouse population.

On Prince Edward Island, we have a similar political situation. We have been governed by a succession of Conservative and Liberal governments for the past 137 years. While these parties repeatedly campaign on platforms that stress their differences (for example, the Liberal Party of PEI used the slogan "Islanders First...For A Change" during the 2007 election campaign), in fact, it is readily apparent that the differences are superficial at best. This became apparent during the recent Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) where immigrant investors invest money in PEI businesses to expedite processing of their immigration requests. This program commenced under the Binns Conservative government and continued under the Ghiz Liberal government. It appears that under both governments, PNP units were allocated to politicians, their families or to those well connected to the party that was in power at the time. What a surprise - the cats weren't looking after the mice who elected them. They were too busy looking after the cat population!

I named this blog "Viable Opposition" because it is something that has been on my mind for the past two years. Prince Edward Island politics have been dominated by a two party system since it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1873. This has resulted in an unhealthy democracy. The two parties are similar to the black and white cats of Tommy Douglas's "Mouseland". As the electorate, we can only choose cats, there are no other viable options. Canadian history has shown that grassroots driven, third party alternatives are viable and are necessary to balance political power in a two party state. We need look no further than the rise of the CCF/NDP in Saskatchewan during the 1930's and 1940's. We have another great example in Alberta with the recent rise of the Wildrose Alliance Party under Danielle Smith where grassroots dissatisfaction with Premier Ed Stelmach has led to the birth of a new and viable alternative. As well, the early history of the Reform Party in the 1980s under Preston Manning was driven by Western Canadian alienation under both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative federal rule.

It is time for the mice to take charge of "Mouseland". It's time for "Viable Opposition" on Prince Edward Island.


These links will take you to the history and written versions of Tommy Douglas's "Mouseland" speech as well as an audio file of the speech. I would urge you to read or listen to this amazing speech.

This link shows the results of Prince Edward Island elections since 1873.

This link discusses formation of the new Island Party.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Avastin - now only 140,000 Canadians with no coverage!

In November 2009, then Prince Edward Island Health Minister Doug Currie announced that PEI could not afford to cover the cancer drug Avastin and that it would not be added to the provincial formulary. Prince Edward Island is now the only province that does not cover this drug. Avastin was approved for use by Health Canada in 2005, however, the governments of each province must decide for themselves whether to cover the cost for their residents. In the case of Prince Edward Island, Minister Currie estimated that, if Avastin was covered, the cost to the province would be approximately $600,000 per year and that it was unaffordable.

Avastin works to stop the formation of new blood vessels in tumours thus preventing further growth. It is often used in combination with other drugs to treat cases of advanced (metastatic) colorectal cancer. It is also used to treat certain breast and lung cancers as well as wet macular degeneration. Avastin is an extremely expensive drug with an 8 month round of treatment estimated to cost approximately $40,000. This is well beyond what most Islanders can afford.

I find it difficult to imagine that the manufacturer of the drug, Roche the world's largest biotech company, can morally justify charging $40,000 for a round of treatment. It is far more immoral that the Ghiz government has put a price on the lives of Islanders. This is particularly irritating when our elected Liberal MLAs voted to spend $1 million on the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, gave $600,000 to Cavendish Farms for "employee re-training" and granted $400,000 to the Liberal promoters of the failed Alanis Morissette concert in 2008 among other questionable expenditures.

What is particularly devasting is that many Islanders may be surprised to find that they are not covered for Avastin with their supplemental health coverage through Medavie Blue Cross. Most unfortunately, it seems that no matter how well we plan for our futures, in this case, we are forced to rely on our government to look after our needs.

I urge you to contact our new Health and Wellness Minister Carolyn Bertram by email at cibertram@gov.pe.ca or by telephone at 368-5250 and strongly request that she act without delay to add Avastin to the provincial drug formulary before it is too late for even one more Islander.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

...and this is equal justice for all?

Here's an idea. Take a car, any car. Drive north of Toronto, say in the riding of Simcoe - Grey. Have a couple of drinks first and make sure you put that coke in your glove compartment or trunk. If you're feeling really confident, just leave a little on the seat beside you. Now, speed up to twice the posted speed limit and let yourself get pulled over by the Ontario Provincial Police. Get yourself charged with driving under the influence, possession of a cocaine and speeding. After protesting your innocence to the media, go and hire yourself a really good lawyer by the name of Howard Ruble . When the Crown Prosecutor comes calling, tell them you'll "cop a plea" to a reduced charge of dangerous driving and pay a $500 fine.

See how that works out for you.

Here's a quote from the Star website today:

"I’m sure you can recognize a break when you see one,” Justice Doug Maund told Jaffer in court after the Crown announced it was dropping the other charges.

Outside the courthouse, Jaffer admitted, “I should have been more careful. I’m sorry. I know this is a serious matter.”

Wearing a dark suit, with his hair gelled, a confident Jaffer was flanked by family and his lawyer, Howard Ruble, as he spoke briefly before being whisked away in an SUV."

ps - Did I remember to mention that you should change your name to Rahim and have held the position of MP for Edmonton - Strathcona for the Conservative Party?

pps - Did I also remember to mention that you should also have a wife who is a Federal Cabinet Minister?

ppps - It is most fortunate for Mr. Jaffer that he wasn't subjected to the justice system on Prince Edward Island (referred to as "this hellhole" by his wife Minister Helena Guergis)!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Minority, Minority Government

It is interesting to look back at the statistics from the 2008 Canadian election. We all know that there was a record low turnout at the polls with only 58.8% of registered electors taking the time to cast a ballot. It is most unfortunate that Canadians are becoming increasingly disillusioned and disconnected from the political process in Canada. It is this disconnect that allows our Prime Minister to comment that Canadians are not concerned about the most recent prorogation of Parliament.

The Elections Canada website is a goldmine of data about all Canadian elections. From their data I have extracted the following statistics for the 2008 Canadian election:

Total number of registered voters: 23,677,639
Total number of votes cast: 13,929,093
Average % voter turnout: 58.8%
Highest % Provincial turnout: Prince Edward Island at 69%
Lowest % Provincial turnout: Nfld and Labrador at 47.7%
Number of votes cast for the Conservative Party: 5,209,069
Number of votes cast for the Liberal Party: 3,633,185
Conservative % of total votes cast: 37.4%
Conservative % of total registered voters: 22%

Let's compare this to the September 1984 election:

Total number of registered voters: 16,774,941
Total number of votes cast: 12,638,424
Average % voter turnout: 75.3%

It is interesting to note that there were only 1.3 million fewer voters in the 1984 election even though there were nearly 7 million fewer registered voters than in the 2008 election. Average voter turnout dropped by 16 percentage points.

From the results of the 2008 general election, it becomes quickly apparent that it is rather amazing that the Conservative Party, which garnered only 37.4% of the total votes cast, is governing Canada albeit in a minority capacity. As well, because of the record low voter turnout, they are governing with only 22% approval of all eligible voters. That is why I refer to this government as a "minority, minority".

Canadians are becoming increasingly disenfranchised with and disengaged from our politicians and our political system. We are becoming increasingly apathetic toward our system of government because many Canadians do not believe that our elected officials have the interests of the electorate at heart. We feel that many of our politicians are more interested in re-election than they are in public service.

While we cannot control the quality, qualifications, effectiveness and honesty of our politicians, we must demand changes to the electoral system to encourage voter participation from a much higher percentage of Canadian voters. We must all feel that we are well represented in Ottawa. We must feel good about voting.


Elections Canada Website with statistics from the 2008 Election
(expand the "Tables" button on the left side of the page to see the raw data)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In All Thy Oops Command!

It turns out the Harper Government has, once again, “misunderestimated” (to borrow a word from the great George W.) the unwashed masses of the Canadian electorate.

It seems that for decades, we were ignorant of the fact that we had been insulted by the use of the gender-specific word “sons” in the third line of our national anthem. But not to worry, the Harper Government was coming to our rescue.

They took an extended prorogue holiday from the hallowed halls of Parliament to thoroughly re-examine policy and refocus on the economy. Upon their return to Parliament on March 3rd, 2010, they released the results of their retooling with the Speech from the Throne. One of their new obligations to the Canadian electorate would be to relieve us of the great “...in all thy sons...” burden that we had been carrying for over 100 years. This was going to be great, at least according to the “bobbing heads” on the 24 hour news cycle. It was all they could talk about until the budget was released the next day.

It turns out that, this time, the idea to change the word “sons” to a less offensive, gender-neutral alternative, germinated in the mind of Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth who was appointed to the Senate in 2005. You have to give Senator Ruth credit, at least she’s making an effort to earn her $130,000 a year base salary. I quote Ms. Ruth:

“I urge Parliament to act promptly on the speech from the throne and to recommend that the English version of O Canada be restored to include women and girls"

“The national anthem in English should reflect our constitution and the role that women and girls play in Canada today, not the prejudices of the past."

Unfortunately for Ms. Ruth, Canada’s uneducated, ill-informed and sweaty masses had finally memorized the “sons” version and were reluctant to have to learn a whole new word. Some polls even had the gumption to show that over 95% of Canadians wanted the national anthem left just as it was.

On March 5th, 2010, 2 days after announcing the review of “O Canada” during the speech from the Throne, the Prime Ministers Office announced that:

"We offered to hear from Canadians on this issue and they have already spoken loud and clear. They overwhelmingly do not want to open the issue. The government will not proceed any further to change our national anthem."

More the pity. Now Senator Ruth is forced to take up another cause that she deems offensive to Canadians. She really wants to earn that $130,000 a year base salary. Perhaps she could re-examine the colours used on the Canadian flag. Wouldn’t it be more inclusive to have one of the borders blue so that the flag was inclusive of both Liberal red and Conservative blue? Wait a minute, that’s a great idea! I think I’ll keep that one for myself and work at getting Mike Duffy’s $130,000 a year base salary when he retires from the Senate in 7 years!

We are so fortunate to have MPs and Senators that have only our deepest needs foremost on their minds. At least they aren't wasting all of their time putting hundreds of thousands of unemployed Canadians back to work!

ps - Did I remember to mention that the base salary for Canada’s Senators is $130,000 a year?

pps - Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that the word “prorogue” contains the word “rogue” as in “Sarah Palin “wrote” a book called “Going Rogue”"?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Paper Waste

In a previous blog, I discussed the use of "10 percenters" by our MPs in Ottawa. When I discuss "10 percenters" with some of my friends, they get a blank look on their faces and have no idea what I'm talking about. Here is an example of a "10 percenter" that I got in mid-February. I live in a riding (Malpeque) that the Conservatives see as "vulnerable" so I tend to get a lot of these in the mail. Each "10 percenter" has a return addressee on it, in my case, it's always a Conservative MP somewhere in Canada. In this particular case, David Anderson MP (Conservative) from the riding of Cypress Hills - Grassland in Saskatchewan was so kind as to send this propaganda all the way to my home in humble Prince Edward Island. I'm certain it was at his own, personal expense and that no taxpayer funding was involved! I've been sending him emails asking him that question (and several others about the program) but, for some reason, he's been unresponsive thus far.

In 2008, between 30 and 50 million of these 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheets of paper were sent to Canadian households. A breakdown of these mail outs will put the amount of waste into perspective.

A ream of 20 pound 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper contains 500 sheets and weighs 5 pounds. If we take a midpoint number of 40 million sheets being used in 2008, that's 80,000 reams of paper for a total weight of 400,000 pounds or 200 tons of paper. If you go to your local Staples or Business Depot, you'll see cases of paper containing 10 reams each. Canada's MPs used at least 8,000 of those cases to mail propaganda to your house in 2008!

Several questions. Did you or anyone in your household or, for that matter, anyone you know read any of the "10 percenters" that came to your household? Do you think that this is a colossal waste of both paper and your tax dollars? Do you think that it is moral that your tax dollars are being used by the Conservative (primarily) and Liberal Parties to campaign for the next election that hasn't even been called?

As I suggested before, mail your "10 percenters" back to the Prime Minister's Office. I just mailed a collection of them to Mr. Harper with an accompanying letter. I also make it a point to contact the MP on the return address by email.

As a reminder, the address for the PMO is:

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Postage is free!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Some Really Scary Numbers

This evening, Prince Edward Island Provincial Treasurer Wes Sheridan appeared on CBC's Compass to discuss the Federal Budget released late this afternoon by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. In an interview with Bruce Rainnie, Minister Sheridan discussed the financial state of our Island's economy. He stated that for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the Provincial Treasury was running a deficit of $85 million. As well, Minister Sheridan informed us that transfer payments from the Federal Government that were expected to grow from $340 million this fiscal year to $356 million have, in fact, been capped at $330 million this fiscal year resulting in an additional shortfall of $26 million. When the deficit and the transfer payment shortfall are added, our Island will be running a deficit of $111 million for the 2009 - 2010 fiscal year.

Prince Edward Island had an estimated population of 139,400 in 2008. The Provincial Treasury's deficit of $111 million is a deficit of nearly $800 for every man, woman and child on the Island. Every week during the last fiscal year, PEI's debt grew by over $2 million. As well, according to the CFIB, by the end of this fiscal year, PEI's provincial debt will reach $1.6 billion. That's a provincial debt of $11,500 for every man, woman and child on the Island. Yes, that includes the babies born today at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown!

Unfortunately, Minister Sheridan and the Provincial Treasury find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to balancing the budget. Islanders already pay the second highest marginal income tax rate (at most income levels) in Canada. Since our personal income taxes are no longer linked to Federal tax rates (for example our Dividend Tax Credit is lower), we are actually taxed more onerously than we think. At an effective rate of 10.5%, we already pay the highest sales tax of any jurisdiction in Canada. As a consequence, Minister Sheridan's ability to balance the budget by increasing either personal or sales taxes is severely limited. Minister Sheridan's ability to cut spending by freezing or rolling back public sector pay is also severely restricted. Memories run deeply on this Island and the 7.5% public sector pay cut dished out by the previous Liberal administration nearly 15 years ago is still very fresh in the minds of the electorate. Most importantly, Prince Edward Island's next provincial election is scheduled to be held on October 3rd, 2011. It would be political suicide to raise taxes or cut/freeze public sector pay at this juncture.

What is particularly frightening is the looming spectre of further cuts to transfer payments and increases in interest rates. In today's budget, Minister Flaherty projects that the federal deficit for 2010 - 2011 will be $49.2 billion and this is projected to decrease markedly to $27.6 billion for fiscal 2011 -2012. How this drop of $21.6 billion in one year will be achieved is uncertain. Deep spending cuts will have to be made and these cuts may include further cuts to transfer payments. If the economic expansion stalls and the economy does not grow as projected (and in light of the huge deficit/debt issues with our major trading partner to the south that is not a remote possibility), all bets are off. Another wildcard in this scenario are interest rates. If, as expected, interest rates increase by as little as 2 to 4 percentage points, all bets are off for deficit projections at both the federal and provincial levels.

After reading Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's fascinating Fiscal Sustainability Report dated February 18th, 2010, I am more certain than ever that Prince Edward Island, in particular, is now in a position of having a structural deficit. No matter how much the economy grows, the government will be unable to balance its books. This is particularly frightening when one takes into account our aging demographic and our growing need for social programs to assist the elderly.

It is most unfortunate that our elected officials expend so much energy placating the public over the short term so they can be re-elected and so little time looking at what impact their actions have on the more distant future.


Report from Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page

Best Before Date for Canadian Politicians

The long-time Liberal MP for the Malpeque federal riding where I am resident is Wayne Easter. Mr. Easter was first elected to Parliament in 1993 and has run successfully in the 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections. It has been my personal experience that for the past number of years, he has done very little for the average constituent in the Malpeque riding. In 5 elections, he has not once appeared at my door when he is canvassing and when contacted about an issue of importance, he is either unresponsive or chooses not to intervene on behalf of his constituents in a meaningful manner.

Although Mr. Easter has gone well past his best before date, Liberals in this riding have little choice but to nominate him time and time again. It is standard procedure to nominate (i.e. rubber stamp) the incumbent MP at pre-election nomination meetings rather than letting democracy rule. If our sitting MPs were truly interested in democracy, they would encourage other nominees to step forward prior to the pre-election nomination meetings. By encouraging competition, we would ensure that our MPs do not become stale and that they are forced, by implicit threat of losing the nomination, to do the best job that they can while they represent us in Ottawa (or Charlottetown or other provincial capitals for that matter).

I would suggest the following:

1.) Canadian politicians should be limited to a 3 term maximum. Time and time again, I have seen that once politicians of all levels reach their third term of "public service", they lose their efficacy as a result of ambivalence, arrogance or a combination of the two. As well, if a politician hasn't achieved their goals for their constituents within their first 3 terms of service, they are unlikely to do so during additional terms. As an added benefit, by limiting the number of years of service, Canadians will also be limiting our growing MP/MLA/MPP pension liability.

2.) Pre-election nomination meetings for both provincial and federal elections should be open to candidates that are interested in running against the incumbent to ensure that the best and most motivated candidate runs for office. This will ensure that the incumbent does not become complacent, knowing that they will have to work hard on behalf of the grassroots members of their party to regain the nomination.

As an aside, I believe that many politicians need to reacquaint themselves with the "real world". The "Disneyland" on Parliament Hill does not in any way resemble the reality that 99.99% of Canadians face on a daily basis. So many of our politicians have spent the majority of their working careers either as politicians or associated with the political process. Their relatively limited real life experience skews how they deal with constituents, their leaders and how they handle policy related issues.

We need change now; the best before date for many of our Canadian politicians has long passed!