October 16, 2014 | No Comments
Income inequality, the income gap that is said to be increasing between the wealthiest people in society and the lower and middle classes, has become a hot topic in Canadian politics. Commentators like journalist Linda McQuaig, economists Armine Yalniziyan and Miles Corak, and think tanks like Canada 2020, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Broadbent Institute have all warned about the dangers that inequality has for Canada. These dangers include it being harder for lower-income people to get ahead in life, slower economic growth overall as people who don’t make as much money can’t afford to spend as much, growing resentment of the wealthiest “1%” of people who make the most money, and decreasing support for economic and political systems that are seen as making inequality worse.
Politically, all of these sources are left-leaning and progressive. Many of the solutions they propose to address the problem involve further government support for lower-income Canadians, and changing the tax system to take more money from sources like financial transactions and corporations. This isn’t too surprising-progressive commentators and organizations have been criticizing our current economic course for a while now.
What is surprising, though, is the number of commentators and organizations that would be more typically seen as right-leaning and conservative who are also worried about increased income inequality. The Conference Board of Canada, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Economist magazine, American bank CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney are not known for their Marxist street cred, but all of them have expressed similar concerns about inequality. Carney, especially, was critical of those politicians and economists who stubbornly clung to the ideology of what he referred to as “market fundamentalism”. More than that, many of them have also expressed support for some of the same solutions that the progressive commentators and organizations have advocated, even if they do not always agree about how far to take them.
This is not a left-versus-right issue. There’s a remarkably high level of agreement, both in Canada and elsewhere in the world, that something is clearly off with our current economic model. People and organizations who can be associated with the political left and the political right are saying many of the same things about the dangers of inequality and ways to address it.
All of this points to a need for change that incorporates the perspectives of both left- and right-leaning Canadians alike. If you listen to political discourse in Canada, it often sounds as though we can only choose to have the government or the marketplace handle things, and that choosing one means we can’t have the benefits of the other. But who says we can’t have the best of both worlds when it comes to progressive and conservative ideas, and government action and market solutions, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses?
That may prove to be the best solution to inequality in the long run.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on October 11, 2014 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141011/SAG0903/310119990.
September 4, 2014 | 1 Comment
In August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked the “liberal media and academic elites” who supposedly supported Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. He took pains to portray himself as standing up for the little guy against these supposed elites, who are supposedly out to get him.
On one level, this is nonsense. With the exception of the Toronto Star, pretty much every major media outlet in the country endorsed the Harper Conservatives in the 2011 election, and Harper himself enjoys the support of media and academic elites like Ezra Levant, John Ibbitson and Barry Cooper. The country’s media and academic elites can be just as apt to support the Conservatives as any other party, just as ordinary, hardworking Canadians who play hockey in the streets and drink Tim Hortons coffee are just as likely to support the Liberals, the NDP or the Green party as they are the Tories.
However, that perception of an arrogant, self-serving progressive elite comes from a very real source-one that represents a very real danger to progressive goals.
In her seminal book Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, reporter Robyn Doolittle talked about the “bubble” that many downtown Toronto residents lived in, and that was burst when Rob Ford was elected. Doolittle mentions how these downtowners came across as convinced of their own superiority, and looked down their noses at more suburban types who were more inclined to drive cars than take public transit, considering the latter backwards and inferior while congratulating themselves on their open-mindedness and superior, “progressive” values. Twenty years ago, in Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Canadian, Richard Gwyn described various activists and the movements for equality that they spoke for (whether based on gender, culture, sexual orientation, etc.) and their attacks on the “privileged majority” that was said to be responsible for this oppression. These activists ranged from judges to academics to various political leaders. Gwyn notes how critics of these movements could easily be denounced as bigots or oppressors, which in turn triggered a vicious backlash against the activists and their movements.
The problem is not necessarily the actual goals these movements were striving for. Indeed, in many cases the goals might have been quite worthwhile. However, the problem is the way they risk coming across-that anyone who dares to criticize them is not a fellow citizen with a legitimate point of view, but an enemy to be hated and destroyed, who are inherently discriminatory. In one notable example, a young university student asked longtime activist Naomi Klein why, if it was alright to be proud of being a woman or a person of colour, why he couldn’t also be proud of being white and male. Klein later confessed that she couldn’t think of a response.
This is what has fed the narrative of an activist elite determined to impose its own agenda, even as it demonizes anyone who dares to disagree with it. Many of the Human Rights Commissions and their excesses were textbook examples, such as a woman who sued for discrimination because her employer complained about the smell of the food she cooked for lunch, claiming that the employer was enforcing a discriminatory use of the company microwave policy against her. This type of absurdity is one of the main reasons why Ezra Levant’s activism against the HRCs has been so successful over the past several years.
These types of excesses run the serious risk of alienating people outside the movement who end up feeling as though they’re accused of being stupid, bigoted, inferior or even un-Canadian for their views, and are otherwise looked down on by the advocates of various policies. Progressive columnist Frances Russell provides a classic example:
Ekos’ polling shows that the current political landscape has shifted dramatically since the Harper majority victory of 2011 and could well be an aberration. Canada has been a blend of Red Tory/Progressive Conservative/Social Liberal/Social Gospel political culture since its birth under Red Tory Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. With its core in highly Americanized Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan, Stephen Harper’s government is an outlier, the Canadian branch plant of U.S. Republicanism.
Whether she intends to or not, Russell comes across as implying that people who support Harper, and indeed people in general who live in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as somehow un-Canadian in their views. That ties into the narrative painting Russell as an elitist who looks down on Albertans and doesn’t see them as truly Canadian, or otherwise consider them inferior. Never mind that many people voted for Harper for perfectly legitimate reasons, simply because they felt he was the best choice to manage the country out of all the options available.
These types of attitudes risk alienating Canadians who might otherwise be sympathetic to what the people expressing these attitudes might have to say. They also feed into narratives like Harper’s, that everyone with such views consider those who dare to disagree with them to be not just people with different opinions, but bigoted, misogynistic, not caring about the environment, or not even truly Canadian.
In that way, progressive goals of equality and sustainability risk being endangered by many of their very own advocates.
August 10, 2014 | 1 Comment
I recently wrote an article in my local newspaper about the serious-and disturbing-questions raised by the Harper government’s audits of various charities who have been criticizing their agenda.
Comments are both welcome and encouraged.
July 10, 2014 | 1 Comment
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 | 1 Comment
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.