Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday night

Have a good night!

Fun with Jim Flaherty's debt lessons

Mucho chutzpah from Jim Flaherty today:
...Flaherty told the Tory blue lunch crowd that Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty’s government has doubled the debt.

Before the Liberal government came to power, the surplus was $117 million, said Flaherty, who is married to Ontario PC Deputy Leader Christine Elliott.

This year the deficit is $16 billion, he said.

In 2002-2003 the Ontario net debt was $132.6 billion and this year it is $241.2 billion.

The financial situation of the province makes it difficult to attract foreign investment, he said to a mostly Tory blue crowd.

“There are dangers in these facts,” he said.

The Liberal war room was quick to say that Flaherty is the “pot calling the kettle black” as his federal deficit tripled in July from a year earlier.
Yes, there are dangers in these facts! Namely the $5 plus billion deficit Flaherty left Ontario that he misrepresents above by claiming Ontario inherited a surplus! Yikes.

And here's a chart for Flaherty comparing Ontario's net debt and Canada's:

See the silliness Flaherty was peddling today? Remarkable. Ontario was hard hit by the recession and spent to stimulate the economy. As did Canada. Our debt levels are quite comparable and manageable compared to many leading western economies.

So do we think Flaherty has any lessons to give Ontarians? Nope. Probably about firming up the Conservative base at this point. And a reminder to the rest of Ontario that we don't need three levels of Conservative government.

Jim Flaherty giving debt lessons is like Tony Hayward conducting environmental clean up seminars...

Update (5:40 p.m.): Just saw this headline on the latest reporting of federal deficit figures, i.e., Jim Flaherty's domain: "Canada’s Budget Deficit Triples in July to C$1.6 Billion." Great timing on that one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Green energy and the last week of the campaign

As we get closer to the election, the uncertainty that is being caused by Tim Hudak's opposition to both Ontario's Green Energy Act and the Samsung deal that brings renewable energy investment to the province is getting some renewed attention. Nothing like decision day to focus the mind on what is at stake.
“The entire industry is on the edge of their seats,” said Anthony Kim, a solar-industry analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York, referring to renewable energy.
The election has affected smaller producers such as Potentia Solar Inc., a Toronto-based company launched by Conundrum Capital, a private-equity firm. Potentia plans to produce 100 megawatts of solar power within five years by installing solar arrays on rooftops of commercial buildings.

“We’ve got all the ingredients, except one, which is a politically stable environment,” said Lorne Stephenson, director of stakeholder relations. The company has been cautious in approaching new clients before the election, he said.

The Conservatives’ promise has created “tremendous uncertainty” among investors and manufacturers, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. Investors “are waiting to see what kind of market there will be for wind power in Ontario,” he said by phone. If the tariff is canceled, “that market would shrink significantly.”
It really is going to be a major turning point if Tim Hudak gets to proceed with his backwards looking promises and pulls the rug out from under the growing green energy industry in Ontario. So as election day looms and people are still mulling over the green energy issue, it's worth considering what Germany's head environmental official had to say last week when he visited Ontario. He's been involved in developing renewable energy there for about 25 years. His comments highlight what we might be at risk of throwing away:
Sharing the experiences of Germany, Lehmann said the kind of green energy program introduced in Ontario needs to operate for a few years before the economic benefits – the true vision of the initiative – become more visible. “Then it explodes,” said Lehmann, meaning in a good way.

What Lehmann brought to the discussion was the benefit of hindsight. Twenty years ago renewable-energy represented less than 1 per cent of German power production. Today this production sits at 17 per cent, and the aim is to reach 35 per cent by 2020.

As a result, according to Lehmann, Germany has 370,000 people working in the renewable-energy sector – wind, biomass and solar mostly—compared to virtually nothing in the early 1990s.
“We are talking about a huge market that’s evolving,” he said later in an interview.

“If we take seriously the data about peak oil, the hunger for energy in developing countries, climate change – each of these will lead us to a transformation of energy systems. There’s enough room for Ontario to be in the game, to be ahead of that transformation.”
That's a good column from Tyler Hamilton that is worth a read. It mentions issues with the FIT program that could be improved, including the solar tariff rate and the need to improve community buy-in by emphasizing community-based projects. "But this is a reason to improve the program, not scrap it, said Lehmann."

Stay tuned, probably lots more to come on this issue this week from many of those with a stake in this industry.

Late night

Elizabeth Warren on the debt crisis, fair taxation and the social contract. A video that's been making the rounds for about a week but worthwhile to see if you haven't yet. A liberal politician who speaks to the fact that we're all in it together and in a compelling way. Could be next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, seeking to remove the Republican who won Teddy Kennedy's seat.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chin music for months

This is a follow-up to the post last night on the witness list that has been drawn up for Commons committee hearings on the issue of the CBC's responsiveness to access to information requests. An item at Climate Progress yesterday on conservative messaging practices seemed to sum up quite nicely what it is that our Conservatives are up to, tactically, with such hearings: "The Denier Industrial Complex’s Molehill-to-Mountain Machine: How Conservatives Beat Progressives at Messaging." Republicans are seizing upon the Solyndra bankruptcy to demonize the entire clean energy industry. 
What the DIC is doing in the case of Solyndra, and what it’s doing in the case of EPA clean air regulations are worth exploring in a little more detail. The Politico reported yesterday:
CHIN MUSIC FOR MONTHS — House Republicans are planning a campaign to keep Solyndra in the news this fall, including for a busy autumn of interviews, hearings and — perhaps — more subpoenas.

They’ll start laying the groundwork this week, according to Joe Barton, who says Energy and Commerce staffers are planning to bring in “a large number of witnesses” to talk about Solyndra, including “people that are involved at various levels of this company and their contacts with various government officials.”

“Based on what the staff says,” Barton says, “we’ll decide whether they need to come before the subcommittee” for hearings.
So the key is to find some piece of a winning progressive issue that has been somewhat tarnished and repeat it to death. There’s no need to actually tell the truth since few in the media are interested in real fact checking (see “Washington Post Okays McConnell’s Lies, While Dissing Bill Clinton’s Truths“).
Technically, we'll have to await the Commons hearings to see how the Conservatives handle the issues and witnesses. But it's not really a wild guess to think that Conservatives are gearing up on access to information issues related to the CBC in order to tarnish the CBC's image in the public eye, to soften up a reservoir of public good will to pave the way for cuts or some other restructuring. We'll see. Chantal Hebert referred this afternoon to the government's early use of parliamentary committees as "star chambers for the government; places where the Conservatives come to settle partisan scores." It's hard not to read this committee agenda in that way. Here they will be keeping this minor national issue of the CBC's access to information issues in the news when - but for Sun Media's interest - it really wouldn't be. Keeping other pressing access to information issues at bay in favour of something that will enhance the Conservative cause in delegitimizing the public broadcaster.

Now that the Conservatives have a majority, there's not much you can do about such agenda setting.  But you can recognize what they're doing and adjust your response with that knowledge.

Nice platform if you can get it

Here's Brian Topp's latest blog post in the Globe: "Canada must ensure it tightens the right belts."

I'm sure his fellow leadership candidates, declared and as yet undeclared, love the fact that Topp has a national platform like this. Is there any limit on how much he can write via this blog position at the Globe? Maybe he'll write every few days. Even once a week can be enough to heighten visibility and influence in this valuable free media slot.

I guess I'm in the minority on this one. No one seems to be objecting to the fact that the NDP party president continued on with such a platform after having been elected to that position this summer. No other party presidents have regular gigs in a national media outlet. I would have thought the Globe might seek out another NDP voice to take his place once that happened. Giving a party president such a venue seemed off to me. Oh well. Wonder if it might become an issue now that he's a candidate.

Great gig for a leadership candidate! Congrats! I'm sure Tom Mulcair will be reading with great enthusiasm.

Cancelling contracts in the Ontario election

It's a theme in this election. Seen most recently in the Liberal move to cancel the power plant in Mississauga. A few points on that here...

First, it should be noted that this is not something that was cooked up 11 days before the election, as it was put in the debate last night. It was telegraphed in June that it might not go ahead: “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing and that's what we'll do,” McGuinty told reporters while visiting an elementary school in Milton on Monday."

There was also much made of the power plant cancellation in this John Ivison column yesterday. I think I'll wait to see public sources going on record about compensation costs before believing anonymous sources to the National Post though.

What's a little rich about some of what's in the Ivison column though, from Tim Hudak in particular, is the hypocrisy. Tom Adams is quoted as asking these questions: “Even if you have no interest in these arcane subjects, managing the power system by electoral district polling results should be unnerving. It begs the question, how much politics do you think is safe? What boundary lines should there be between political decisions and long-term infrastructure questions that are so important to our long-term future?” Good questions all. And those are questions that we know could also be put to Tim Hudak with his promise to tear up the Samsung agreement. So as Hudak postures on the Mississauga power plant ("Mr. Hudak issued an open letter to Mr. McGuinty asking how much Ontario families will pay for scrapping the deal, how much the Ontario government spent preparing the site and where they would “move” the plant."), he's aware that such questions apply to him and his Samsung promise that will affect jobs in Ontario for the sake of Hudak's turning it into a "political punching bag to win votes."

There are other contract cancellations that have been promised during the campaign that could cost Ontario taxpayers money, depending: Horwath promising to cancel the $120 million GO contract to a Quebec firm on September 17th; Hudak promising to cancel the $120 million GO contract to a Quebec firm on September 18th.

Voters will make what they want out of the Mississauga plant issue, whether it's a move that listens to the local community or whether it's electioneering. But it's not as if there's a lot of moral high ground to be found from the opposition parties given the politically opportunistic nature of the Hudak and Horwath contract promises that have been peddled in this election.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Conservatives make a witness list

Interesting list here, to put it mildly: "Peladeau, Von Finckenstein, Sun Media journos to testify before committee on CBC."

It's bad enough that multiple representatives who abhor public funding for the CBC will be given a platform. Why 3 of them? I count Pierre Karl Peladeau, Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant in that category. Talk about a Sun Media gang up. All flat out competitors to the CBC, their interests are clear. Here's Peladeau's call for a review of the CBC's funding by the way (no longer seems to be hosted on the Financial Post/National Post network sites).

The Conservatives with their majority government should not be promoting the interests of one broadcaster like this. That's what they're doing by giving them a platform in a Commons committee to complain about the CBC, its access to information issues, etc.

And then there's David Coletto of Abacus Data who will testify. I guess because he did that poll on people not knowing how much the CBC gets in the way of funding. Does conducting a poll on an issue related to the CBC mean that the pollster has some particular insight or knowledge about CBC funding? Not that I can tell. Are we going to see the Conservatives calling pollsters to committees now on other issues too? I think that would be wrong, we can all take note of a given poll here and there. But making pollster views part of a parliamentary record is a questionable practice.

The big kicker is this:
The Conservative’s witness list also includes Federal Court Justice Richard Boivin who ordered the CBC in 2010 to provide financial information for the information commissioner to review. However, MPs cannot compel a sitting judge to appear before a committee.
Pretty sure Justice Boivin won't be attending. But the choice to include him on a committee witness list says a lot. Even if they know MPs can't summon a sitting judge, it's wrong to have included him. We can all take note that the ruling was made and I'm sure it'll be discussed during these hearings.

But the proposition that a judge could be summoned before a committee and questioned by politicians over a decision he made...that's totally inappropriate. Judges should be free to decide knowing that they won't be so questioned by politicians. That their names won't appear on witness lists at Commons committees. His inclusion on the witness list suggests that the Conservatives feel it is appropriate to summon a judge. That's chilling.

We gloss over a lot these days. This should not be.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

About that poll

Big poll in the Star today. It polled a ton of respondents and has the Liberals and PCs at 35% apiece. NDP at 23%. Recent polls have been showing the race tightening so this seems to fit. Every election is unique and this one's undercurrents are certainly swirling.

So, lots of work to be done in the last week and a half. Particularly here in Parkdale-High Park:
The survey suggests the Liberals would win Parkdale-High Park, an NDP stronghold for dynamo Cheri Di Novo, but lose St. Catharines, a seat held since 1977 by popular Grit Jim Bradley. As well, it forecasts the Conservatives picking up Liberal-held Kitchener-Conestoga and Kitchener Centre, but falling short in Tory Elizabeth Witmer’s long-time riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. And McGuinty himself is shown as only slightly ahead in his home riding of Ottawa South, one of the most reliably Liberal ridings in the province.

“There are a few anomalies,” Bozinoff said.
Now that is interesting. I wouldn't characterize this riding as an NDP stronghold, it's more like a swing riding if you look at the history. And as the federal election showed us, you can't take anything for granted these days. (See last night's post on the Parkdale-High Park race, by the way, on the fact checking of Cheri Di Novo's debate claims.)

Have a great day out there, all you campaigners!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday night

Buy the sky and sell the sky and tell the sky and tell the sky...what is it up in the air's over, it's over...

Yep, still on R.E.M. nostalgia kick given the news this week! Two more faves. If you are looking for the usual progressive house fix, I suggest this one.

Have a good night.

The fight for Ontario in Parkdale-High Park

Parkdale-High Park Liberals have come out with a reality check this evening on some of the many claims made by sitting NDP MPP Cheri di Novo during the debates of the past week or so. I sat and watched two and lived the frustration that the piece references:
There is a line between being populist and being loose with the facts. Residents would need to have Google on tap during the Parkdale- High Park debates to fact-check a host of inaccurate public statements by the incumbent MPP.
So some of the statements have been fact checked. Here's a sample of some of the statements and then the reality:
10. Cheri and the NDP party were responsible for increasing minimum wage in Ontario.

FACT: since coming to office, Ontario Liberals have increased the minimum wage seven times. As a result, the current minimum wage is $10.25 an hour – a 50% increase over 2003 and the highest provincial rate in Canada. These increases outpaced inflation and helped make up for a nine-year freeze in Ontario’s minimum wage from 1995 through 2003.

Going forward, the Ontario Liberals want to take the politics out of setting the minimum wage to ensure Ontario never falls behind again. That’s why we will appoint a minimum wage advisory committee to provide recommended options on how to determine the minimum wage for future years. We look forward to the best advice from this committee.
11. Ontario has the highest child poverty rate in Canada

FACT: Ontario has the third lowest child poverty rate in the country[11]. In Ontario child poverty actually fell between 2008 and 2009, 14.6% down from 15.2%. That means 19,000 Ontario children and their families were moved out of poverty despite very tough times. We still have much work to do and even one child in poverty is too much. But it not true that Ontario has the highest child poverty rate.
Just amazing.

There are 10 more statements that have been fact checked at the link. 10 more! Check 'em all out.
Conclusion: Ms. Dinovo must be held responsible for providing constituents with fair and accurate information as part of the decision making process. The constituents of Parkdale-High Park deserve no less from their political representatives.
That is correct. Time for change here in Parkdale-High Park.

Environment Canada cuts expand beyond ozone monitoring

Good reporting at iPolitics this afternoon, following the trail of the government's Environment Canada cuts: "Oilsands monitoring plan threatened by cuts: experts."
The looming job cuts at Environment Canada spell trouble for the federal government’s recently unveiled oilsands monitoring plan, according to experts.

The plan was publicized with much fanfare by Environment Minister Peter Kent in July, promising increased monitoring of air quality, water quality and biodiversity. Even the Opposition agreed it was a “world-class” plan.

But since then, more than 700 Environment Canada employees have been notified that their positions may be eliminated as part of an efficiency review. Among those who received the letters are scientists in the ozone monitoring program and the aircraft division — people who carry out research that is required by Kent’s plan.

The cutbacks are “gutting” the department’s ability to monitor the oilsands, said Tom Duck, an environmental scientist at Dalhousie University.

“I don’t see how they can implement this plan,” he said.
The report goes on to include an Environment Canada spokesperson saying we should fear not, they're moving into the "implementation" phase of the program in collaboration with Alberta and are committed to the monitoring system. Their actions, as reported, suggest otherwise.

One other note on this report and some of the others this week...let's hear it for the academics like Professor Duck who offer their expertise publicly on the big issues of the day. And in doing so, provide a helpful check on the view being expressed by the government. Needed ever so more in Canada these days. 

Serious times: Harper talking recession

It appears that David Cameron's speech yesterday to Parliament made a big splash. Beyond the parts where he played up to Canada and made a case for increased trade and business friendly economies as his preferred solutions for economic growth, his words on the world's state of economic affairs and the Eurozone in particular are getting attention:
The global economy is close to "staring down the barrel" and is threatened by the failure of eurozone leaders to agree a lasting settlement to stabilise the single currency, David Cameron warned on Thursday night.

As markets tumbled around the world, amid gloomy assessments from the IMF and the World Bank, the prime minister issued his gravest warning about the global economic outlook and bluntly told eurozone leaders to stop "kicking the can down the road". "We are not quite staring down the barrel but the pattern is clear," the prime minister told the Canadian parliament in Ottawa.

"The recovery out of the recession for the advanced economies will be difficult. Growth in Europe has stalled, growth in America has stalled. The effect of the Japanese earthquake, high oil and fuel prices is creating a drag on growth. But fundamentally we are still facing the aftermath of the world financial bust and economic collapse in 2008."

Cameron's speech came as Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned world leaders that "time is of the essence" as investors took fright at politicians' failure to tackle sickly global growth and the spiralling eurozone debt crisis.
"The problems in the eurozone are now so big that they have begun to threaten the stability of the world economy," Cameron said. "Eurozone countries must act swiftly to resolve the crisis. They must implement what they have agreed and they must demonstrate they have the political will to do what is necessary to ensure the stability of the system. One way or another, they have to find a fundamental and lasting solution to the heart of the problem – the high level of indebtedness in many euro countries."
All seeming to be timed for the IMF & G20 finance ministers meetings happening in Washington this weekend. Cameron's tone was echoed by Harper, who hasn't really been speaking much about world economic affairs beyond the usual platitudes about things being fragile, maybe Canada will have to be flexible about our deficit reduction plans, etc. This seemed to be a real stepping up for him:
"Without key countries taking systemically appropriate and co-ordinated economic measures, without resistance to protectionism and acceptance of more flexible exchange rates, without fiscal consolidation [and] without a commitment by governments to cut rising deficits and reduce what are, in some cases, dangerous levels of national indebtedness - without things such as these, we will not avoid a recession," Mr. Harper said in his speech in the House of Commons. Talking to reporters, he said "uncertainty is getting to dangerous levels."
Irrespective of what you think about the substantive details of what he's saying, this new alarmist tone stands out. Raising the possibility that "...we will not avoid a recession." It's like Cameron came to town and it's a whole new ball game. For Flaherty too:
"I think matters will come to a head, quite frankly," Flaherty said during a news conference. "It's always better to get ahead of issues (or) we'll run into the kind of crisis issue that we ran into October 2008."
Some other news being made is this letter to Sarkozy, the host of the November G20 meeting that Harper, Cameron, Gillard and the leaders of Indonesia, Mexico & Korea have sent. In the UK they are noting that this could be interpreted as a real break for a British leader to have made, distancing Britain away from the Euro countries and joining with others like us, instead (Guardian link above).

Here are some of the headlines resulting out of yesterday's events:

"Cameron, Harper sound alarm amid global market panic."
"World needs to wake up to recession risk: Harper and Cameron."
"Fear of another recession drives global market carnage."
"The close: Dow, TSX plunge amid fading optimism."

Here's Christine Lagarde calling for concerted world leadership similar to that surrounding the 2008/2009 financial crisis:

All of which may have some impact on provincial elections, particularly if the headlines and bad news continue...

Hoist on his own petard

"Sources said that MacKay was lifted on a hoist from the ground into the helicopter hovering overhead and then flown to CFB Gander."

On a hoist, you say? That would look like this bit of short but handy footage (except picture a background of a fishing lodge and his pals watching):

Peter MacKay: Defence Minister by day, action man in his spare time.

Come on, people. This is all perfectly normal.

Late night

In case you missed David Cameron's address to the House of Commons earlier.

Or, just consider this one a more entertaining version.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jerky populism watch

From Horwath's announcement yesterday, this claim on hospital CEO salaries:
Horwath noted that by capping executive salaries at twice the salary of the Ontario Premier, about $80 million could be diverted to programs like these to help new mothers.
As noted here, that number seems to be in question:
ADDENDUM: This morning the NDP released a new number associated with hospital CEO salaries - $80 million. Leader Andrea Horwath announced the NDP’s breastfeeding and birthing centre commitment, and said she would pay for it “by capping the salaries of hospital CEOs at $418,000 which will free up about $80 million.” The thing is, the math is not only off, but dangerous. As per my post this morning, at best, the NDP could save $3.7 M from capping the salaries of hospital CEOs.
So which is it? $3.7 million is a far cry from $80 million.

Also on the let's-talk-real-issues front, this is getting little to no attention. Mental health:
What is a surprise, though, is that only the Liberals included a commitment to increase mental health services, particularly for children, in their election platform. The Progressive Conservatives made a passing reference to the need for “patient-centred” reforms on a variety of health-care concerns. The New Democrats said nothing.
Not sexy enough for a photo op?

Ozone monitoring cuts backlash

Let's check in on how it's going since government cuts to Canada's long time ozone monitoring program made news and the international scientific community took note.

Karen Dodds, the assistant deputy minister in the Environment department is claiming that the program can be made more efficient, redundancy can be eliminated. Where we now have two components of an ozone measuring program, there can be one:
"We're saying we don't need the same level of redundancy that we have now," Dodds said, noting that the department now has two networks monitoring different aspects of the ozone.

"So instead of doing both measurements as frequently as we have and at as many sites as we have, it is quite possible, (and) scientifically rational, to move to a system that combines the two," she said.
So they are in fact cutting the existing program. Peter Kent is using similar language to Dodds, speaking of "optimizing and streamlining." The government characterization of what they're doing is, however, directly challenged by an environmental scientist:
Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, takes issues with many of Dodds' comments and said there is "no redundancy" in the Canadian ozone monitoring system.

"I could get a lineup of scientists to tell her flat out that the statement (about redundancy) is not scientifically defensible," he says.

If there were better ways to measure ozone, Ducks says the Environment Canada scientists would already being doing it. "They are using the best tools for the job, and to suggest they should do anything else is quite strange," says Duck. "These are professionals who care about what they do, and what's more, they are at the top of their game."
 Elsewhere he explains how the two current measuring systems work:
The "Brewer" methodology measures the total amount of ozone, but doesn't work in the Arctic during winter. And the weather-balloon approach called ozone sondes measures ozone just once a week and doesn't measure ozone on the ground, he explained.

"They do very different things, they take very different measurements," Duck said. "Both of them are absolutely necessary."
The scientists within Environment Canada are not being permitted to speak to the media (Postmedia link) so it is only the external scientific community who will be speaking to this issue on a scientific basis for we the Canadian public. Given the conflicting views above, it's difficult to see how the government's word on this will settle the issue at all.

It also seems a little strange for an assistant deputy minister to be so out in front on a controversial issue like this. This is a political controversy, not sure why the assistant deputy minister is carrying the flag on this. 

Beyond the environmental file here, this is likely a template of things to come. Cuts are undertaken yet lo and behold, we're told the services or the function at issue will not be impacted. This is relayed to the public in bureaucratic platitudes about redundancies, synergies, optimizing, streamlining, finding the best mix and technological advancements. They're better than Rob Ford at the federal level, after all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Late night

So the R.E.M. era is over. Guess it's kind of been over for a few years now, really. Since it's the official break-up, thought I'd post one of theirs that is a long time fave. It's the sound, to me, of what they were early on when they were new and the band to listen to, many years ago!

Also, sorry for the lack of posts. Campaigns get going and interfere a bit with the normal routine. We are having fun here in Parkdale-High Park with canvassing, debating, rockage, etc. Carry on, all you campaigners out there!

Have a good night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A fair take on the green energy issue in the Ontario election

Hey! A reasonable newspaper column on green energy I can get behind! For the first time this campaign: " Energy flashpoints and the politics of power."
The right wing insists we can’t afford to subsidize power in this province. Funny, but this country has been subsidizing energy production almost since the invention of the light bulb — with special tax credits and allowances for oil exploration, tar sands production, nuclear development, even loan guarantees for hydro megaprojects. Not to mention our failure to impose a price on carbon, giving fossil fuels a perpetual free ride.

Are we recklessly betting the farm on green energy? The private sector takes conventional risks and often guesses wrong; sometimes governments have to backstop the bigger risks.

Some say green energy sounds good, but government can’t be trusted to get the job done. Yet big business also has its share of teething pains when rolling out big projects, so it’s hardly surprising that the government can’t flick the switch on solar and wind without blowing a few fuses.

Free market purists will always choke on the incentives Ontario is offering, just as they opposed the bailout that saved the province’s auto industry. Until we stop subsidizing the rest of the energy sector, and most of the corporate world, it makes no sense to selectively pull the rug out from under Ontario’s green economy. Unless the goal is to unplug it.
Read the whole thing, of course, for more context on the parties' particular positions. Otherwise, nothing much to add to what is a fair take on the energy issue in this election.


The fun with green energy columns continues
Another flawed attack on green energy in Ontario
On green job schemes

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday night

Have a good night.

The fun with green energy columns continues

So John Ivison had another column today criticizing the Ontario Liberal government's green energy plan: here. The column focuses on a solar energy company that Dalton McGuinty visited this week, Eclipsall Energy Corp. The upshot of the column is to suggest that the company is actually in difficulty and that this should come as an embarrassment to the Liberals, given the green energy focus of the government. Indeed, this is a focus and the Liberals have planted a flag in encouraging green energy growth in Ontario. Jobs of tomorrow, etc.

Ivison cites the production line being temporarily shut down at Eclipsall, some interviews with company officials and other factors to essentially portray the business as being in a tenuous situation. Again Ivison mentions the U.S. solar manufacturer Solyndra who filed for bankruptcy last week, as an indicator of the health of green manufacturing in North America. There is some rebuttal/context to the Solyndra bankruptcy here. There is a broader perspective required on that company's difficulties. Again, Solyndra's failure does not necessarily translate into an indictment of green jobs and government support of them.

Eclipsall has responded today to Ivison's column:
Eclipsall is a strong, young, vibrant solar PV panel manufacturer with a bright future in Ontario. We are well on our way to hiring 100 Ontario workers. Eclipsall is a made-in-Ontario success story, part of a blossoming clean energy technology sector.

Today's National Post media report makes claims that are false and misleading and based on scurrilous rumours from our competitors in a highly competitive marketplace.

Eclipsall took over a near vacant building and has been slowly building up its business and adding staff, creating Ontario jobs.

Eclipsall routinely adjusts production levels in response to the needs of our customers and our business plan. All employees remain on the payroll at these times. We were in production last Tuesday when Premier McGuinty visited the plant. And we anticipate ramping up production again next week. We currently have 85 employees and customers visiting and calling daily. Orders are coming in and we are proud of our international reputation for building quality products.

We will continue to grow our business in Ontario, hire highly skilled Ontario workers, and help keep the lights on harnessing the clean power of the sun. We continue to be strong supporters of the Feed In Tariff program and of the efforts of all concerned to grow the solar and renewable energy sector here in Ontario.
Not necessarily surprising, of course they'd respond to a piece in a national paper that took a run at them.

It's fair enough that reporters and columnists want to take a look at how the green energy industry is doing in Ontario. What I'd say is missing from some of the pieces, though, is some sense of perspective about the early stages of this industry. It's not going to be perfection in terms of getting it off the ground. It's new. Political parties all say they want to spur job creation. Here's a government that's trying to help a new industry take root. Whether conservatives like it or not, there are many industries in Canada and elsewhere that have gotten their initial boost from government support. Even the internet was born out of government funding.

So I would suggest this recent piece as a counter to the Ivison column today to give some perspective to the attack style pieces you're reading on green energy: "Ontario’s green bet and the future of manufacturing." A few short excerpts to get a sense but it's well worth the read:
...environmental technologies are not widgets. They are technologically advanced, design- and engineering-driven goods. And this is where the province’s bet is most telling. It has chosen to focus on a technologically advanced production sector, for which demand will continue to grow.
At a political level, of course, the choice is quite simple. No other policy options exist, given public resistance to the kind of framework policy (think carbon tax), that would deliver similar structural changes. As Dani Rodrik of Harvard, one of the foremost experts on economic growth, recently argued in a paper focused on structural change in the global economy: “…Structural transformation is rarely the product of unassisted market forces. It is typically the result of messy and unconventional interventions that range from public investment to subsidized credit, from domestic-content requirements to undervalued currencies.”

The argument, then, is not so much that industrial policy is needed to kick-start structural transformation of the kind Ontario is betting on with environmental technologies. It is rather that the policy needs to be nimble enough in design and implementation to distinguish between emerging and mature technologies, and to stay away from supporting those where innovation is tapped out. It is too early to tell whether Ontario’s experience will strike the right balance on this critical question. But if it does, the payoff will be substantial.
That is what part of this election is about, on the green energy issue in particular. Making choices about who that political party and leader is that can be nimble enough to take us in the right direction.

Hudak visits Toronto Star ed board

It's too bad that the Star only taped just under 3 minutes of the meeting they had with Tim Hudak. The Ottawa Citizen met with Dalton McGuinty the other day and their video shows the entire meeting, running just about an hour. So it would have been nice to see a longer video of Hudak with the Star's editorial board, to get more of a sense of the back and forth, his political sensibility, his range and depth of knowledge and his personality (we may yet get that chance with the Citizen, assuming they will be interviewing all the leaders).

Anyway, the 3 minutes is fairly revealing of his demeanour and what he has to say. You can detect a bit of defensiveness creeping in as he reacts to the questions and a change in his eye contact levels, even in this short space of time. It is only three questions that we see, after all, but it's worth a look.

Here's the Star's take on his visit with them: "Hudak comes up short on specifics."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Late night

No analogies intended. Just fun.

Hudak's public sex offender registry gambit rebuked

A Globe editorial aligns itself with the criticisms that were laid out by the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner. Hudak's proposal to make public a sex offender registry is a cheap vote getting emotional appeal that doesn't hold up:
But the proposal’s superficial appeal to voters falls apart on inspection. How would people change their behaviour if they knew where registered sex offenders live – except to drive their children further indoors, if such a thing is possible? How much would it take to terrorize people? Ten registered offenders in a neighbourhood? Three?

Few would accept living in a bunker for long. They would try to drive the sex offenders out of their homes and jobs. That is why some U.S. jurisdictions with public registries also have residency bans. Sex offenders – who may include a streaker, or a 20-year-old who had consensual sex with a teenager two weeks before her 16th birthday – are barred from living within, say, 2,500 metres of a school or playground. “In many cases, residency restrictions [in the U.S.] have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas,” says Human Rights Watch.

And what happens, then? Sex offenders, major and minor, habitual and one-time offenders, are driven into the shadows. They become isolated from family, friends and supports. Won’t they become more likely, not less, to reoffend?
In the U.S., harassment and violence (including murder) have been the predictable result of public registries available on the Internet, says Human Rights Watch. And for what? “Proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.”

Naming, shaming and giving addresses of sex offenders on the Internet is an easy grab for votes that would push people into the shadows, where they are most dangerous.
Wrong on the substance. It's no wonder that some people think better of involving themselves in the political exploitation of a serious issue.

The anti-science government at work

Great post on the Harper government's latest anti-science move: "What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us." They're axing an ozone monitoring project in the Arctic that has been in place for 45 years, providing continuous data. The international scientific community is reeling.

Anti-science's not just a U.S. phenomenon

Ear to the ground

In the news, a few headlines from today and the last 24 hours or so...

"Euro zone crisis? It’s more like Armageddon."
It is now morphing into a banking crisis, one with the potential to plunge the European and global economies into a full-blown recession or worse. Even as the problems intensify by the day, as they have since 2008, there is no credible plan to save the euro zone from debt-induced destruction.
"Europe Lending Woes Deepen."

"World economy in danger zone: Zoellick."
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on Wednesday the world had entered a new economic danger zone and Europe, Japan and the United States all needed to make hard decisions to avoid dragging down the global economy.
"French banks scramble to prove they're strong enough for debt crisis."

"Income inequality rising quickly in Canada."

"Scotiabank floats possibility of recession."

"Global uncertainty, European crisis fuel Canadian meltdown fears."


Tim Hudak, aspiring to be premier of the province with the largest economy in the country, is pledging a public sex-offender registry that the Ontario police chief says is not needed. [Update: Making the existing registry public is what the chief says is not needed.]

Carry on, Mr. Hudak...

RCMP brought into middle of PEI election

"Ottawa calls for probe of PEI immigration program." The timing of all of this is suspect:
The federal government is calling in the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to investigate allegations of fraud and bribery in a PEI immigration program that allowed hundreds of primarily Chinese nationals to buy their way into Canada.

In less than three weeks, Islanders will vote on whether to re-elect Robert Ghiz’s Liberal government. His party is leading in the polls, but has been on the defensive since 2008 because relatives of the Premier, along with cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and several MLAs, benefited financially from the immigrant investor program.

The federal Citizenship and Immigration Department referred the case to police late Wednesday after it received information from at least three former provincial public servants, including detailed allegations from one of them that, at a Marriott hotel suite in Hong Kong, would-be immigrant investors gave senior island bureaucrats cash-stuffed envelopes to have their applications approved.

“These allegations were recently brought to the attention of senior civil servants in the department. They have referred the allegations to the RCMP,” Candice Malcolm, press secretary to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wrote in an e-mail response to a question from The Globe and Mail.

A government source confirmed that the case has also been referred to the Canada Border Services Agency.

The three individuals sent the allegations to the federal department and The Globe and Mail.
To the federal department and the Globe. On allegations from 2008.

Ghiz responds:
“Although there are clear political motivations behind these allegations – which have been raised repeatedly in the past and shown to have no substance – government will co-operate fully with any formal inquiries into these matters,” Mr. Ghiz said in a statement to The Globe. “I would also note that it is not overly surprising that those making the allegations waited three years to do so, and that their actions coincide with a provincial election.”
Shades of Zaccardelli. These machinations do not look good at all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Listening to the farmers on the Wheat Board

The results of the plebiscite are in:
Tens of thousands of Western Canadian farmers have sent a clear message to Ottawa, demanding the CWB single-desk marketing system be retained.

Results of the CWB's plebiscite, released today, show a strong majority of farmers want to maintain their ability to market wheat and barley through a single-desk system. Sixty-two per cent of respondents voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat and 51 per cent voted to retain it for barley. A total of 38,261 farmers submitted mail-in ballots in the plebiscite, a participation rate of 56 per cent - on par with the last three federal elections and higher than many municipal and provincial elections.

"Farmers have spoken. Their message is loud and clear, and the government must listen," said Allen Oberg, chair of the CWB's farmer-controlled board of directors. "Western Canadian producers have voted to keep their single-desk marketing system for wheat and barley. They cannot be ignored.

"We will not sit back and watch this government steamroll over farmers. We are going to stand our ground and fight for farmers."
It's going to be quite a fight, from all appearances, now that this result has come in. The farmers are on record. While there are critics of the plebiscite, it's not clear what their issues were in terms of the process. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's reaction? "This is a non-binding survey, not a plebiscite," Ritz told CBC News Monday on the program Power & Politics with Evan Solomon. Not sure that's a big winner in the eyes of the public, splitting hairs and all. The results will carry a lot of moral suasion, despite the government's talking points.

Further, there is a Federal Court proceeding that will be going ahead on the government's decision to just do away with the legislation governing the Wheat Board without following the existing legislation. That is, without listening to the farmers via a plebiscite, as is required.

Also adding to the mix today, an op-ed in the Globe by a trade lawyer who essentially argues that the Harper government is being negligent in the way it is handling the Wheat Board's future. If the government is intent on getting rid of the Wheat Board, there are implications that should be considered under World Trade Organization and NAFTA rules. Primarily, he argues that the government has played a weak hand by not getting anything from the Americans or Europeans (who we are discussing a trade deal with). For example, he writes:
The question is, why should Canada make these changes unilaterally, largely to the benefit of international grain companies and to the applause of U.S. politicians, without negotiating some quid pro quo with the Americans? Why voluntarily give up a valuable bargaining chip that can be used with the U.S. and other trading partners without securing something in return to benefit Canadian farmers?
Additionally, he points out that it's difficult to resurrect such an institution under WTO rules once you've done away with it. Which is why Ralph Goodale would have said this yesterday: "The CWB is a farmer-controlled, $6-billion business, and if it is destroyed, it can never be restored..." The op-ed does raise some issues that undermine the government's competence on the issue and that haven't really been played up to date, so it may have some impact on the argument.

Primarily though, the fact that farmers themselves have said no to the government's plan provides the most compelling reason for the government to listen. Harper said this just a few weeks ago: "We remain the government because we maintain the confidence of the Canadian population. That involves listening to the population and involves listening to the opposition," he said. Was he listening yesterday?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Horwath weighs in

Finally addressing the big issue of week one that the NDP curiously declined to speak about:
For a week, Andrea Horwath has been reluctant to talk about the issue sucking the air out of the campaign so far – the Liberals’ plan to give employers who hire immigrants a $10,000 tax credit if they provide training.

Not her issue, she insisted. “Mr. McGuinty needs to defend his policy himself.”

But on Monday, she was the one to bring it up.

“For much of the last week, there’s been talk about a proposal to help a small number of new Canadians compete for a shrinking pool of jobs,” she said. “We can do better than that.”

Of course, that’s a cue to talk about her plan to pay companies to create new, full-time jobs “for all Ontarians.”
“I think they’re both wrong and I think Ontarians are pretty disappointed by the tenor of the conversation so far,” she said. “While they’re hurling insults at each other … everyday Ontarians are getting lost in the shuffle.”
Why Horwath waited until today to speak out against Tim Hudak's stoking of xenophobia in Ontario is a mystery. The issue caught fire and she missed it. There are leadership questions if she won't speak out against such inflammatory rhetoric as it is spread by another major party leader. It seems the NDP may have been caught up in a strategy to do a re-run of the federal campaign, that they'd sit back and let the other two parties slug it out on various issues, including this one, then step up as the alternative. But she jumped in today, on her initiative, suggesting they realize that may have been a mistake.

The second thing here, she's lumping McGuinty and Hudak together by saying "they're both wrong." Missing the point, again, on the dynamic that took hold in the campaign. McGuinty and Hudak have not been speaking the same language this past week. Hudak is speaking the language of division, evoking "foreign workers" who are going to steal Ontarians' jobs. McGuinty is speaking inclusively and has put a proposal forward to address the situation for new Canadians who can't get training. In saying "they're both wrong," she's suggesting they're equally culpable for the tenor of the debate that's fired up. And that is what her remarks seem to be focused on, the "tenor of the conversation so far," the "hurling insults." Yet there isn't equivalence at all in the tenor as between McGuinty and Hudak.

The NDP also seem to be hewing to a Hudak-like position on the issue of tax credits to businesses to hire workers. There's nothing wrong with encouraging businesses to hire workers. But the NDP are again avoiding the issue that's arisen. Does Horwath disagree that there's an issue with skilled new Canadians not being able to get training and get into the workforce? How does she propose to remedy that defect?

Challenging the politics of division - part III

This is a very clever 90 seconds. McGuinty is articulating a moral view here, of what Ontario is about and what he believes, in continued response to Tim Hudak's divisive attack on the tax credit for businesses to hire skilled new Canadians.

Just to break it down a bit here, the proposition that we are all in this together, that we want to move forward together is at the heart of what McGuinty is saying. He portrays Hudak as a divider, dividing Ontarians into different groups. He says that Tim Hudak's referencing of "foreign workers" and calling new Canadians "foreigners" is not part of our values as Canadians, that it's not in keeping with who we are. Further, that Hudak is compromising our international reputation. That we want to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the world to come to, so we can grow our economy and create jobs "for all of us." He goes on to bookend it with his statement that in Ontario there is no us and them, it's just us.

He's not getting hung up in the details of policy. It's all about a progressive moral view.

And I know people may be rolling their eyes out there and thinking this is total homer stuff. It's not really about that. It's about the language in play here and how this is a good thing to be hearing from progressive politicians in Canada.

See also:

Challenging the politics of division
Challenging the politics of division - part II

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another flawed attack on green energy in Ontario

This John Ivison column from yesterday is the latest from a Canadian pundit to attack the Ontario government's green energy efforts: "McGuinty's green bubble ready to pop." It, like the Wente column (response), relies on some questionable material that deserves some attention.

Ivison cites international experience for this proposition to be applied here in Ontario: "...involvement in the volatile renewable energy business is not for widows, orphans or governments." To support that proposition, he offers two points, neither of which really stand up on scrutiny.

1. First, the bankruptcy of a California solar producer (and others) as China emerges as a solar power:
This week, Solyndra, a California-based solar manufacturer touted as the future of green production by President Barack Obama, went bankrupt, taking with it a US$535-million loan guarantee from the U.S. government. It was the third U.S. company to file for bankruptcy in recent months, while two German companies have said they are shutting their U.S. plants. The cause is a 50% slide in solar-grade silicon prices, the result of Chinese producers ramping up production.
The Solyndra bankruptcy has received a lot of attention and is being used by right wing advocates as cause for defunding green energy initiatives. However, there is context surrounding the Solyndra bankruptcy and how the overall solar industry is doing in the U.S. that doesn't support the notion that governments should just walk away from funding such technologies.

For example, Solyndra may have gone bankrupt but "...the U.S. has a $247 million trade surplus with China when it comes to solar energy overall — even with China’s massive subsidies for its firms. Solyndra and other start-ups may have failed despite government investment, it worked for other companies, as Lacey points out on Climate Progress..." More on the success of the U.S. solar industry, even in the face of Chinese subsidies: "And even with pressure from Chinese companies, the U.S. is a $1.9 billion net exporter of solar products – proving the value that the industry provides to the U.S. economy."

Further, Solyndra itself was apparently not competitive, it may have just been a company that was bad to invest in: "Many people in the industry were critical of Solyndra even before it received a loan guarantee. While trying to scale the manufacturing of its technology too quickly, Solyndra ended up being a capital-inefficient player during a time when market forces were dramatically pushing the price of conventional PV down."

And once again, as noted in a recent Brookings Institute study, green jobs have been flourishing in the U.S., solar included, demonstrating that governments who support them are making good investments despite the occasional failure:
"...the state of California as a whole, which has gained almost 80,000 green jobs since 2003 — a 4.2% annual increase – and leads the nation in the number of clean energy jobs."
[D]uring the middle of the recession–from 2008 to 2009–the clean economy grew faster than the rest of the economy, expanding at a rate of 8.3 percent. This is likely due, in part, to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which channeled large sums of public spending towards clean energy projects through much of 2009.
So does it make sense then that the bankruptcies of three businesses in the U.S. means governments should jettison support for these technologies of tomorrow? No. Not if we want these emerging industries to help move our economies away from dependence on fossil fuels, which is where we have to go. What is it that these right wing critics are saying anyway? That western economies should cede to China on emerging industries? That's crazy and the trade numbers don't support that.

2. Ivison's second point on the international experience Ontario should learn from is out of Spain. He cites these conclusions from a Spanish study which has been debunked (below):
A study from the University of Madrid should give Ontario voters even more pause for thought. Spain experienced a state-sponsored solar bubble that was, in the words of the authors, "ter-ribly economically counterproductive." Spain was at the forefront of supporting renewable energy with billions of taxpayers' dollars, but the study found that for every green job created, massive government subsidies killed more than two jobs, principally because the higher cost of electricity affected the cost of production for energy intensive businesses. It concluded that the jobs created were few in number, mainly in construction and installation, at a cost of $775,000 each.

"These costs do not appear to be unique to Spain's approach but are instead largely inherent in schemes to promote renewable energy sources," the study concluded.
Sounds bad, again. But, this study, which is being cited frequently by right wing proponents of late has indeed been debunked by many sources. The study which reaches the conclusions he relies upon is this one from 2009 and it contains the phrasing Ivison references, "terribly economically counterproductive," in the first paragraph of the executive summary.
Spanish Study Cited By Fox Has Been Widely Discredited. LaJeunesse's claim that "Spain apparently destroyed 2 jobs for every green job it created" is based on a discredited study conducted by Gabriel Calzada from Spain's Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. The study was commissioned by an industry-funded group and has been widely criticized for its suspect methodology and unsupported conclusions. [Media Matters, 9/1/11]
Among those critical of the study, a U.S. Department of Energy white paper that concludes the Spanish study's methodology is flawed and therefore: "the primary conclusion made by the authors - policy support of renewable energy results in net job losses - is not supported by their work."

You can read on in the Media Matters item for others who are highly critical of the Spanish study: the Wall Street Journal, the Spanish government, a Spanish think tank and so on.

One other point, at the risk of this post getting way too long, Ivison quotes a solar executive as saying the death of the feed-in-tariff for solar (something both the NDP & PCs promise) will not cause their shop to close: "The [feed-in-tariff] helps but we made this investment fully realizing that it will evolve." Evolve seems to be the key word there. They may be contemplating that the FIT will evolve from its current rate to a future lower rate, etc. It's not clear at all that the opposition parties' promises to end the FIT are what is good for the future of this industry. [Clarification (5:05 p.m.): The NDP propose to end the FIT for some but not all projects.]

It's fair to say, whenever you read a column on green energy these days, be vigilant. Particularly during elections.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

About that tax credit

On the topic of the week. The tax credit to businesses to hire new Canadians is targeted at Canadian citizens here less than five years. 1,200, at that.

When skilled workers get to practice their professions, our tax base benefits. More competitive, more revenue for Ontario, i.e., health care, education, etc.

Win, win.

I found that Cohn column today interesting. He canvassed the tax credit issue with Hudak, probing how Hudak chose to handle it. In the first week of the campaign, when many just didn't know who Tim Hudak was, they sure found out.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday night

A good one from recent weeks and maybe a little bit appropriate given election mode which has set in this week!

Have a good night.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Early days but good signs

Update below (7:05 p.m.).

A poll out tonight in the Ontario race shows a Liberal lead:
A newly released Harris-Decima poll shows Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberals have an 11 point lead over Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives - the first time the governing party has bested it's main rival in many months.

The Ontario poll has the Liberals in the lead at 43 per cent, the PC's with 31 per cent, the NDP at 21 and the Green Party trailing with five per cent.

The 43 per cent support for the Liberals, if accurate, puts the party in majority government territory. The double-digit lead marks the first time the Liberals have placed before the PC's in months and may indicate a significant turnaround in the direction of the campaign. The race has been seen as Mr. Hudak's to lose for over a year.
Poll itself not released yet but has the above details and it's getting a lot of buzz.

Early going and all, to be kept in perspective.

Update (7:05 p.m.): with confirmed numbers that slightly vary from the above: "The Ontario poll has the Liberals in the lead at 40 per cent, the PC's with 29 per cent, the NDP at 24 and the Green Party trailing with six per cent."

Again...perspective! Posted this due to Liberal tendency to self-flagellate. Motivation to work hard, etc. Carry on.

Update II (Friday a.m.): Globe report on this poll.

Q & A with Tony Genco

Seems Tony Genco, PC candidate in Vaughan also shares the view that the PCs are a divided bunch:
Q: Your nomination has spurred some division within the Conservative party itself, with some critics still pointing to your Liberal roots. What are your thoughts on that?

A: "I think some of those Conservatives are Reform members. I don’t begrudge them to change and make their choices. I don’t believe that having a change of heart or change of opinion is wrong. I’ve open and transparent about my change. I have held myself to account more than others. It would have been much easier for me not to do anything. It would have been easier for me to sit on my hands and work at Rapid City Transportation and take my life forward. I did this because I believe in what Tim Hudak is doing. Critics have a right to be critical. I don’t think there’s anything I can do other than be accountable for what I do and what I say and what I mean."
What? I didn't know people still belonged to the Reform party. You learn something new every day. Perhaps Tony means of Reform heritage and therefore very right wing and they don't support his candidacy. Or perhaps he's referring to the crowd that pushed Norm Sterling out.

Whatever he means, it sounds odd and not the way to galvanize your base when in the midst of a campaign.

Canada falls from competitiveness Top 10

Noted from the Globe yesterday:
Canada has continued its slide in business competitiveness, falling to 12th place from 10th last year in a World Economic Forum ranking of countries around the globe.

The Conference Board of Canada, which prepared the data for Canada’s ranking, said Canada has slid steadily from 9th place in 2009 because other countries are improving their competitiveness while Canada’s score has remained almost identical over the past three years.

The board said Canada must place more emphasis on improving its productivity if it wants to maintain its high standard of living and quality of life.

“Canada should not be satisfied with its 12th place ranking,” said Michael Bloom, vice-president of Organizational Effectiveness and Learning at the Conference Board.

“Businesses continue to underperform in using our peoples’ skills and knowledge to generate new or improved products, processes and services. And Canadian businesses do not appear to be adapting adequately to globalization or building effective global value chains as quickly as their international competitors.”
Businesses underperforming in using our peoples' skills and knowledge...hmmm, kind of makes you think it might be a useful thing if a government were to encourage businesses to take on skilled workers who are presently not using their medical, legal, engineering or various other professional skills at all. Not using them because those people are new to the country and can't get jobs due to a lack of experience. But if they do get a little bit of experience, then maybe they can contribute to our economy and maybe bolster some of that there competitiveness thing much more than they presently are. And start paying taxes at a much higher rate than they presently do, which bolsters our tax base and funding of hospitals, education, job training programs, etc. That might be an idea. Even if it were only offered as a 1,200 person plan to begin with. Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Challenging the politics of division - part II

"Hudak’s politics of division" gets appropriately called out. First, on his hypocrisy:
New immigrants to Ontario must wonder how they suddenly went from being valued Canadians, whose skills our economy needs, to being publicly derided as “foreigners.” On day one of a provincial election campaign, no less.
The reality is that on the basic principle of helping immigrants overcome barriers that hold them back from contributing their full potential, there is little daylight between the two parties’ platforms. The Conservatives’ section vowing to “create more opportunities for newcomers to Ontario” could have written by Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty. The Liberal line that “immigration is another Ontario advantage” could fit comfortably in the PC platform.
Second, on his divisive, irresponsible rhetoric:
But the controversy that Hudak is stirring up is not about the substance of particular policies. It’s about wedge politics. On Tuesday he claimed that the tax breaks offered by the Liberals would help companies hire “anybody but you.”

That kind of language divides Ontarians into an “us” and a “them.” Creating divisions between struggling, unemployed workers and newer immigrants is dangerous to our long-term social cohesion. In Toronto, half of us were born outside Canada. There is no us versus them. They are us. And the faster we get newcomers into good jobs in the workforce and paying higher taxes the better for us all.

There’s a lot on the line during an election and parties often go a bit overboard to score points on their opponents. Hudak’s rhetoric and the PC party’s “Ontarians need not apply” ad go too far. It amounts to a thinly veiled attack on immigrants.

There may be political advantage to be had in this approach; we’ll find out on Oct. 6. But regardless of the outcome, this is the politics of division. It is angry. It is ugly. And it’s not what Ontarians are about.
And if you read the transcript the Globe has of his Q & A on this today, you have to wonder if Hudak even knows what he's talking about.

Polling on the CBC's budget

This just looks like plain old seeding of the ground for CBC budget cuts. A poll conducted by Abacus Data for QMI news agency appears in their pages today. QMI are no friends of the CBC, they have pursued thousands of access to information requests from the CBC relentlessly since the Conservatives made that change in 2007 (there are journalistic reasons for some of the reluctance on CBC's part, but this post is not really about that issue, just mentioning it as context for this QMI commissioned poll).

QMI's poll purports to demonstrate this: "Canadians want CBC budget cut." I would take issue with that conclusion, see last part below. Here's the chart (pdf) that captures the poll results.

First, to just go over the details, the poll asked whether the respondents were aware of how much funding CBC received from the federal government last year. Now do you out there know the budget of the CBC? I do since I write a political blog and I'm crazy enough to have blogged on this topic repeatedly. But I'm not that surprised at all to find out that the majority of people polled don't know the CBC got $1.1 billion dollars last year. Only 17% of the respondents knew this. The rest were way off. Way, way off. The biggest group of respondents was a 25% slice who thought the CBC gets $150 million. So what this proves is that people really have no sense at all as to how much it costs to run the CBC or even how much it should cost. And why would they?

So naturally, since they don't even know how much it costs to run the broadcaster, the next question is whether the $1.1 billion is too much (no word on whether they asked what the budget of the PMO was or whether that is too much). Oh, and there's no sense from the poll as to whether there was any comparator offered. Like, such and such other Canadian broadcaster needs this much in operating dollars. Does the CBC use too much or not enough in comparison, etc. Nope. Anyway, surprise, surprise, people generally said yes, that's too much. $1.1 billion does sound like a lot of money after all, for anything really. This breaks down along some partisan lines that are played up in the story - Conservatives are overwhelmingly of the view the CBC gets too much funding. I mean, who knew? Liberals think it's just about right, more so than the NDP, interestingly.

So that's the poll in a nutshell. Helpful? Or useless? 

The really interesting questions would be the ones that would follow from this little survey but were not asked. For example, if you think the $1.1 billion is too much in funding, what would you cut? CBC Radio? The cost of that beloved aspect of CBC could be put to people and they could decide whether it should be axed from the $1.1 billion. Or maybe the whole news department should be axed so that we no longer have CBC news or The National. Wonder if people would like that. Or, say, no more Hockey Night in Canada or Don Cherry.

I suspect that if you put those or other items to people, they'd start feeling differently about the cost of the CBC. They'd start thinking about it in terms of what they value about the CBC as a Canadian institution and how it might change if you start de-funding. That's what's missing from this little survey exercise and report. When you have that discussion, then maybe you can say Canadians want CBC's budget cut. Or, you might end up saying Canadians don't want CBC's budget cut. Until then, I think the conclusion the QMI folks (and Conservatives) would like us to reach is just not on.

Challenging the politics of division

That's a good explanation of the much discussed proposal from the last 24 hours involving job training for new Canadians. Nice to see a politician stand up to the right wing nonsense, just flat out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

More Tory hypocrisy: Dean Del Mastro version

A federal Conservative is stepping in to help Tim Hudak's PCs complete that Conservative tri-fecta they're looking for. The Ford-Hudak-Harper one. Here's what Peterborough Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro had to say this afternoon:
A senior federal Conservative is already stepping into the provincial election fray, expressing his outrage over Dalton McGuinty’s campaign pledge to provide tax credits to companies that hire immigrants.

Less than a day after the release of the Liberal election platform, Dean Del Mastro, the Peterborough MP and parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, is calling the Ontario Liberal proposal “outrageous” and “discriminatory”.
He goes on.

He should recall, however, his own federal Conservative platform that the federal Conservatives ran on just a few months ago:

Seems federal Conservatives agree with such initiatives.

Is that "outrageous" and "discriminatory" to Mr. Del Mastro? Or is it that Conservatives will just say anything for a vote now?

Hudak hypocrisy

Noted today:
The Liberals noted in a release that Hudak introduced proposed legislation in June 2010 titled Newcomers Employment Opportunities Act that included a 10 per cent wage subsidy for employers who hire skilled newcomers.

Despite that, Hudak doesn’t appear prepared to back off on what critics are calling divisive politics.
Hudak's own bill is here (h/t). That really should go a long way to undercutting his rhetoric.

What does it say about the character of a potential premier that he rails against a policy that is similar to one he was prepared to bring in himself? Particularly in the manner in which he is doing it. It's pure political opportunism by pandering to the worst kind of sentiment, us versus them.

This has brought on some more of that discontent in Ontario Toryland. Apparently John Tory is speaking out against Hudak's pandering today, good for him.


As the race begins in Ontario

The writ has still not dropped but the unofficial race is on. A few things this morning on the campaign as it begins...

The Nanos leadership numbers are back, in the form of the best premier numbers. Not a bad place to be for McGuinty at all (party poll numbers not bad as well). As we saw in the federal election, whether you like this polling focus on the leader or not, you might be able to say such numbers are gaining in importance in recent elections. Whether that's a function of media being in 24/7 mode, people's busy lives and their paying less attention or whatever your own theory is, it may be that leadership is just one of those fundamental factors that breaks through all the hullabaloo these days.

Second, a point on this John Ivison column from last night: "Don’t count Dalton McGuinty out yet." Nice that he's prepared not to count McGuinty out as we've only just begun. Anyway, one item he mentions bears some context though. He says this about the Liberal spending record:
"Perhaps, but the Liberals long lived beyond their means and the repair bill will now be borne by future generations — net debt has soared to $217-billion, more than a third of provincial GDP, at an annual cost of nearly $10-billion in interest payments."
He's raising the issue of debt, like a lot of conservative politicians, thinkers, advocates do these days. If you look for comparison's sake at the federal net debt as a percent of GDP, it's actually in the same ballpark percentage wise. Considering that Ontario was one of the hardest hit provinces during the recession and is the largest province and largest economy, it's not surprising. Further, there is that promise to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18. There is more context you could add here but we'll leave it at that for now.

Finally, the issues are beginning to be discussed in the wake of the Liberal platform's release. This endorsement might grate for some:
The Liberal platform takes a forward-looking approach to investing in educational initiatives that will pay dividends for Ontario’s young people and strengthen the economy while reinforcing the health care system. Buttressing its case, the document even quotes somewhat mischievously from former Tory premier Bill Davis, who lavishes praise on the Liberal plan for full-day kindergarten as a wise investment.
Ouch. But then, we know, these Hudak PCs are not your grandparents PCs. Nor are they really your parents PCs...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Epic win

A metaphor for good versus evil. Overcoming the stresses of life, whatever they may be. Raw survival skills at their best. The beauty of nature. Whatever you'd like to make of it. Or just lazy but fun Sunday blogging fare.


Friday, September 02, 2011

New deals

This post from Ezra Klein today is U.S. oriented, of course, but it's also applicable to the political dynamic in Canada. Thought provoking:
Much of what I'm hearing at the American Political Science Association's convention is best summed up in table form, and so doesn't make for very good blog posts. But not all of it. Yale's Stephen Skowronek, for instance, made a very provocative argument questioning whether progressives should continue to look back to the New Deal for inspiration. The left, he said, likes to think of itself as an insurgency dedicated to transforming the scope of government. But today, that mantle properly belongs to the right.

“Obama and progressive reformers were engaged in revising the scope and orientation of longstanding policy concerns in light of new challenges and conditions,” argued Skowronek. “In this regard, the project they embraced was very different from the New Deal transformation. That change was constitutional in scope and conception. It brought in a whole new set of concerns and worked to organize the government around them.”

Now compare that to the right, he continued, “which has become increasingly constitutional in scope, which challenges government-driven solutions in principle, which seeks to dislodge American government from the accumulated policy commitments and offers to establish a whole new standard for legitimate action in its place. Today's progressives may cast themselves as an insurgency to redirect government after years of conservative dominance. But the situation may be quite different. Republicans may have become a kind of permanent insurgency.”
...conservatism is better placed to turn people out into the streets, as it’s tapping into a deeper vein of unhappiness, and has to make fewer accommodations with the status quo and realities of and participants in the modern state. As Skowronek put it, Republicans “continue to tap more effectively than the Democrats into the repudiative and mobilizing power of the traditional reconstructive stance.”
Right now, the liberal dream, as embodied by ideas like the public option and universal early childhood education, is to push a bit further in the direction we're already going. The big conservative dream, as embodied by Rick Perry, is to somehow turn back the clock and undo almost a century of social-policy legislation. Where it was once the liberals who had radical ideas for what we should do with the state, it's now conservatives who are waging war on behalf of transformative policy change. That's an important shift.