July 10, 2014 | No Comments
As part of my annual Reflections On Canada Day, I have written a new article at Vive Le Canada about Canadian history and how it has shaped, and continues to shape, Canadian issues today.
I have also written an article in my local newspaper discussing how the fallout over the Northern Gateway pipeline shows that a new approach is needed in engaging people on natural resource development.
Comments on both articles are welcome and encouraged.
June 4, 2014 | No Comments
It is a bit of an inside joke in Canadian politics, the idea of the “progressive conservative”. Seemingly a paradox, its existence is more an accident of history than actual political philosophy. Few today would accuse the Ontario conservatives of having a progressive streak, but surprising as it may be, there currently exist progressive conservatives in Ontario politics. However, they do not wear Tory blue; they wear Green. Whether it comes to lowering payroll taxes, a sane energy program or even beer, the Green Party offers a platform that any progressive conservative should love.
The Green Party have trumpeted their desire to “liberate local beer”. Currently, 90% of Ontario beer sales are processed through a government-backed foreign cartel, The Beer Store, with the government-owned Liquor Store making up the bulk of the remainder of the market. Before the election, the Tories floated the idea of privatizing alcohol sales, but quickly backed off once the campaign kicked in. In this vacuum, the Green Party has proposed to open up the distribution and sale of local craft breweries.
They nabbed a principled conservative policy just as the “Progressive Conservatives” abandoned it (and, perhaps, their principles).
While this policy helps to introduce a tiny bit of the free market into the beer industry, it is measured and focused exclusively on local craft breweries. The policy walks the fine balance of conservatism (liberating the market) and progressivism (focusing on empowering small local businesses against multinational corporations).
When it comes to education, the Green blend of progressivism and conservatism shines through. The party promises to merge all local public school boards, French and English, secular and Roman Catholic. The policy undoubtedly addresses quintessential progressive issues—inequality and egalitarianism—but this progressivism is neatly balanced by the ability to achieve two major conservative aims. First, it eliminates public funding of certain private, personal choices, thus playing no favourites. In addition, the Green Party is promoting the amalgamation of the various school boards as a way to eliminate waste and duplication within the provision of public education. The promotion of the cost efficiencies is pure fiscal conservatism.
Even when it comes to the Green Party’s defining issue, the environment, the progressive conservative nature of the party emerges. The conservatives, along with the other parties, seek to buy our votes with subsidized hydro. The conservatives claim this interference in the hydro market will create 40,000 new jobs. Such a claim is up for debate, but we can be certain that there is no conservative principle that supports meddling in the market in such a way. It’s a giveaway, a bribe.
Compounding the issue, this government largesse isn’t even means-tested—traditionally, a prerequisite for any conservative assistance program—it is a gift to each resident of the province, regardless of how wealthy he or she may be. But as the Tories promise government handouts and market interference, the Green Party preaches the wisdom of markets and the value of price signals. As Ottawa Centre Green Party candidate Kevin O’Donnell tweeted in response to promises of subsidized hydro:
… then you can afford it. Meanwhile, I personally will pay full price because I have a job and PRICE SIGNALS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.— Kevin O'Donnell (@ODonnell_K) May 22, 2014
This is what we have been waiting for. Ontario’s Green Party is a progressive movement that has grown up. They have eschewed dogmatism for growth, and ideology for understanding. Merely a fringe party a few elections ago, the party has expanded their policies, developed a necessary understanding of markets and economics, and developed a platform that should appeal to a wide swath of voters.
Especially progressive conservatives.
June 2, 2014 | No Comments
In watching the Ontario provincial election from the outside, I’m surprised that none of the party leaders has dared to raise a potential issue that could potentially be a winner for whoever claims it…
…namely, the de-amalgamation of Toronto.
With Rob Ford having dominated the news for almost two years now, you’d think that there’d be more support for this. Indeed, the problems of Toronto’s governance run much deeper than Ford-the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, writing on the tenth anniversary of the amalgamation, quotes a variety of Torontonians who feel that the city has become more dysfunctional and less responsive. Note that this was written in 2008, long before Ford ever moved into the Mayor’s office.
The C.D. Howe Institute provides a much longer commentary from public administration and economics professor Robert Bish discussing municipal amalgamation. Analyzing everything from the quality of citizen representation to the efficiency of government services, Professor Bish shows how many smaller communities may in fact be more effective in a variety of fields than a single super-entity, particularly when it’s forcibly imposed from the top-down the way Toronto’s amalgamation was:
Metropolitan areas composed of a multiplicity of local governments and production arrangements
are more responsive to residents’ needs and generally provide local government services at less cost than
monolithic amalgamations. The superior performance of such a polycentric structure for local
government stems from rivalry among governments and from their use of a variety of production
relationships with organizations of various scales, including cooperation with one another. In addition,
multiple local governments are no hindrance to economic growth — indeed, some of the fastest-growing
metropolitan areas are also among the most governmentally fragmented. Amalgamation, on the other
hand, tends to eliminates the very characteristics of local government that are critical to the most
successful and least costly systems.
I’m an Albertan, so take my observations with as much salt as you like. However, the issues these commentaries discuss are hardly limited to Ontario-they have larger implications for municipal and regional governance as a whole.
May 22, 2014 | No Comments
I recently published an article in my local newspaper describing the changes in the provincial Wildrose Alliance party of Alberta, and how it ties into Alberta’s very Canadian tradition of political centrism.
Comments and questions are of course welcome.
May 11, 2014 | No Comments
As Ontario politicos traipse around the province looking
to buy your votes earnestly win your support, here are some quick thoughts on this election–an election that should repulse us all:
1. Andrea Horwath was right to trigger the election. That budget that the Liberals put forth was absolutely horrible, and there was no way for her to support it in good conscience. Now, it may not be the best move, politically, for the NDP (I could easily see them losing a bunch of seats this election), but it was the right thing for the province.
2. As it stands, voting for the Liberals is indefensible. Look, I get that people get all tribal about politics. They’ve always voted red and they certainly couldn’t start voting blue, orange or green, but choosing the leaders of our province on such a metric is irresponsible and shameful. The Liberals have destroyed the public finances, they’ve nannied us to death and they appear to have participated in some criminal activity. Oh and that budget–that was a legitimate attempt at governance; they were just trolling us. There are other choices to be had, and they don’t have quite as much baggage as the Liberals. Sure, you might not like the other options, but no one with an ounce of integrity can particularly like Liberals.
3. Tim Hudak is still the leader of the Tories. What on earth is wrong the PCs? Hudak has actually proposed some solid policies (privatizing liquor sales, for instance), but he’s still Tim Hudak. Granted, he’s not spewing xenophobic vile this time around, but his whole promise of ONE MILLION JOBS (not to mention six-figure job cuts) demonstrates that he still doesn’t quite get it.
4. The NDP are still the NDP. You know, I’ve tried to like the NDP. For about 75 seconds in 2011, I thought I might even vote for them. Of course, their policies are still the warmed-over nonsense that’s been discredited for decades. Once they begin taking policy seriously, rather than just a mixture of populism and sops to special interest, I might be able to try again. Oh yeah, they also want to pay you to destroy the environment. No thanks.
5. The Greens are the only serious political party in Ontario. Okay, that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The Greens certainly have their problems, but they’ve matured greatly in the past decade. No longer is their platform just Environment Environment Environment. They actually have some nuanced positions. They also seem to have the greatest understanding of incentives and economics. Seriously, it’s weird. The Green Party is where the grown ups are. I don’t think any of us ever anticipated that.
So, that’s sort of how things stand. A lot can change during the course of the campaign…but a lot probably can’t. The Liberals are still a failure of an incumbent. The NDP are still wallowing in 70s nostalgia. The Green Party doesn’t have to try to buy your votes.
Oh, and Tim Hudak will probably still be Tim Hudak.
May 8, 2014 | No Comments
Everyone is talking about how the federal budget is supposedly going to be balanced next year, and how we’re supposedly going to have a surplus.
I recently posted an article on Vive Le Canada analyzing the Conservative fiscal record since Stephen Harper took power in 2006, discussing among other things the likelihood of a surplus and the Harper government’s cuts to spending.
Comments are both welcome and encouraged.
April 17, 2014 | No Comments
Is it really in Ontario’s best interest to hand a monopoly (and the vast fortune associated with it) over to a consortium of foreign businesses so that they can lie to us and treat us like idiots? I’m guessing most residents of the province would say no, but, of course, they would be wrong.
Ontario has granted a monopoly (and all the fortune associated with it) to a consortium of foreign-based mega-corporations. The result is The Beer Store–the only legal retailer of beer in the province (other than a little carve-out for the LCBO). The Beer Store extracts tremendous rents from this government-enforced privilege, and it is us, the consumers, who are forced to continuously stuff dollar bills into the pockets of these Rich Uncle Penny Bags.
When corporations are backed into a corner, their monopoly status threatened, what might you expect them to do? You’re answer should be “to lie”, and if it was, you can’t help but be pleased with the Twitter account @ONBeerFacts. An perfect exercise in Poe’s Law and display of rent-seeking if there ever was.
The masterminds behind The Beer Store created this account to present the “facts”, but as National Post reports, it didn’t really go as planned:
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association wants the ability to sell booze at corner stores and gas stations. But the Beer Store’s campaign, called Ontario Beer Facts, has been met an online army of critics saying the foreign-owned Beer Store is just trying to protect its Ontario quasi-monopoly.
But the latest ad, which has been called “fear mongering” and “propaganda” by critics, unleashed a new level of mockery on social media against the Beer Store’s campaign.
Newton, however, referred to the backlash as “public dialogue.”
Yes, ridicule and derision (in response to contempt and dishonesty) is “public dialogue”. And these are the people who have decided to anoint themselves as the arbiters of facts.
Take this little back-and-forth:
— Ontario Beer Facts (@ONBeerFacts) April 17, 2014
There’s absolutely no way to deny the fact that convenience stores will be open tomorrow, but in its attempt to counter this rather indisputable fact, @ONBeerFacts plays fast and loose with definitions and lumps convenience stores in with agency stores (agency stores are retailers who have a special license to sell booze because the LCBO can’t be bothered to put a store in their locale).
You’d think The Beer Store would want to refrain from drawing attention to agency stores, since agency stores are the loophole the LCBO created to get around the problem of the unwillingness of a state-sponsored monopolist to actually put sufficient stores in the province to meet the desires of the citizen consumers.
Having waited in a long line at The Beer Store this evening because there is no other location in or near my densely-packed, central urban neighbourhood, and if I wanted to enjoy a taste this evening while blogging, I was stuck at the mercy of The Beer Store.
Of course, the massive inconvenience and general contempt that this sort of monopolist shows for customers won’t ever appear as a “Beer Fact”.
No, instead The Beer Store will just re-invent Reeder Madness:
In the end, this is actually a really nice move by The Beer Store. Their candidate assessment of the people around Ontario (liars, degenerates and, what, demonic teenagers?) demonstrates the sheer vacuity of their position. There is so little ground on which the monopolists can stand that the Premiere has even begun the tiniest (incredibly insufficient and, in the end, even more insulting) step in opening up our liquor sales–allowing a handful of grocery stores in the province to begin selling booze.
Tory leader Tim Hudak claims to be all for privatizing the LCBO. And if The Beer Store continues to push its luck, this could possibly become an issue that puts a bit of wind in the PC’s sails.
March 31, 2014 | No Comments
I recently published a new article at Vive Le Canada about the potential costs of Quebec separation.
Oh, and I’m not talking about the consequences for Quebec itself-I’m talking about the consequences for all of Canada.
Recently it’s become trendy in some circles to say that Canada should kick Quebec out of the country. The people who advocate this apparently haven’t considered the consequences for all of Canada as a whole, and how we would all lose if Quebec were to leave Canada.
Like the title says, they should be careful what they wish for.
March 18, 2014 | 2 Comments
I have no opinion on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s resignation.
March 18, 2014 | 5 Comments
The Ontario Progressive Conservatives seem a bit lost. At a time when they should be capitalizing on the stumbles and scandals of the current Liberal government, the Tories just can’t seem to do much right. They have flip-flopped on right-to-work policy (did many people really even care about the issue?); their white paper on traffic and infrastructure, Building Great Cities, is a mess; and on Thursday, three of their candidates showed up in Ottawa to completely bungle a photo-op*
Meanwhile, the Liberals introduced sensible and necessary changes to the Highway Traffic Act, yesterday. While the Tories are flailing, the Liberals are actually taking time to govern.
There was a time in my youth and young adulthood that conservatives viewed themselves as the grownups in politics. For a while, they had a point. A lot of conservative policy were focused on balancing difficult choices, recognizing externalities and taking into account unintended consequences. But no more. We’ve seen the way politicking has infected U.S. conservatism, and this virus seems to have crossed the border.
The Liberal government deserves to lose the next election. Of course, they deserved to lose the last election, but the Tories were just too inept to capitalize. We need them to grow up, start thinking seriously about issues and demonstrate that they are prepared to run this province.
*How badly did they screw up? They called Highway 174 “Highway 147″, talked about the wrong bridge that comes into the city and they couldn’t find a quiet place to hold their press conference because of the drilling of the LRT–and the press conference was focused on the lack of transit infrastructure!