Friday, December 15, 2017

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way



Should he find the federal leadership of the NDP not to his taste, I suspect that Jagmeet Singh has more than one career option to fall back on. He could, of course, return to his law practice, or he could embark upon an entirely new path and become a New Age life coach. He'd be a natural.

Consider the relentless positivity the man exudes. There was, of course, his much-viewed and much-praised response to racist heckler Jennifer Bush during a campaign rally in Brampton last September. Rather than engage her madness, Singh offered the following:
“What do we believe in? Love and courage,” he said. “We believe in an inclusive Canada where no one is left behind. We believe in building a Canada that ensures that there is economic justice for everybody.

“We welcome you. We love you. We support you … we believe in your rights,” he said, as the crowd chanted “love and courage” – a slogan used by Singh’s leadership campaign.

The encounter ended after several minutes when the woman decided to walk away.
Few except the irreparably bent would find much fault in his classy reaction. However, the fact that similar rhetoric was Singh's response to his party's defeat in four-recent byelections, as reported by Chantal Hebert, may be cause for concern:
On the morning after his party endured a quadruple byelection beating, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had this to offer on Twitter: “Each and every one of us has an inherent self worth. Nurture and grow it. Give it time and love. Build a courageous belief in your own self worth and you will have the strength to overcome any challenge you face.”
Like two warring factions, the critical thinker in me says these two examples are insufficient to constitute a pattern, while the cynic within fears they may; in which case, style and platitudinous rhetoric threaten to overwhelm principled policy, a phenomenon not unheard of in contemporary politics.

But the pity is, it doesn't have to be this way.

While on holiday last week, I took some time to catch up on my Walrus reading and came upon an article that examines contemporary socialism. Entitled Socialism Is Back. Is the NDP Listening? the piece, written by Ira Wells, argues that the party can achieve victory by returning to its principles.

Citing the resonance of Bernie Sanders' message during his run for the Democratic nomination and the very impressive electoral gains made by Britain's Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, Wells believes that the death-of-socialism narrative that has been promulgated over the years is overblown and inaccurate:
Over the past few decades, the assumed victory of laissez-faire capitalism over socialistic alternatives has been the sine qua non of Western economic policy. Austerity, de-regulation, de-unionization, trade liberalization, tax cuts—the free-market fundamentalism underlying these policies is not, we are told, a contestable ideological position, but rather economic reality. Anyone who dares challenge the essential wisdom of the market is labeled an irresponsible fantasist, unworthy of the people’s trust. In fact, partly due to Corbyn’s leadership, pollsters predicted a historic victory for the incumbent Conservatives (who were going into the election with a majority), saying that they could see their strongest electoral showing since 1979.
Far from the predicted ascension of right-wing nationalism, 2017 has seen a generational revival on the left. An increasingly educated electorate is capable of repudiating the atrocities perpetrated in the names of Marx and Lenin while also recognizing that specific, achievable goals—a livable minimum wage or guaranteed annual income, universal healthcare, reduced income inequality—are properly called socialist goals, and that their realization would enable better lives for more people.
Demographics and circumstances, Wells suggests, makes this the ideal time for the embrace of policies that truly and unapologetically serve the needs of the people:
As the dream of home ownership recedes further into the realm of fantasy, young, urban voters in Canada could be receptive to housing policy akin to Corbyn’s right-to-buy scheme, which would regulate rental markets and guarantee tenants the opportunity to buy their homes at subsidized mortgage rates. At a time when more young Canadians than ever are attending post-secondary education—and when more parents than ever are paying for that education—tuition relief policies, embraced by both Sanders and Corbyn, could also resonate here. And as the Trudeau government approves more pipelines and encourages further tar sands development, space emerges on the left for a more credible environmental policy.
The promise of Justin Trudeau's Liberals has proven to be more sham than reality. The NDP, if it is willing to bide its time and replace a lust for power with principled policies that will resonate with a wide cross-section of Canadians, it can once more become a real presence in this country.

I'm just not sure Jagmeet Singh is the person for the job.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

On Public Asset Sales



Selling off public assets that yield steady and lucrative revenue streams is rarely a good idea. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne did just that with 60% of Hydro One so she could claim a balanced budget. It is a betrayal I will never forgive her for.

As I have written previously, Justin Trudeau would like to do the same thing, for similar reasons, with our major airports. It is a very bad idea, as are most of the schemes promoted by neoliberals.

Happily, the possibility of relief from such madness is shimmering on the horizon:
A Parliamentary committee is recommending against the Liberal government’s plan to sell off Canada’s airports to raise billions in capital to be used towards other public infrastructure projects.

“Limit rising passenger and operational costs by preventing the privatization of Canadian airports,” the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, said in its report of the Pre-budget consultations in advance of the 2018 federal budget.
The committee's report, Driving Inclusive Growth: Spurring Productivity and Competitiveness in Canada
summarized the strong opposition to airport privatization by various stakeholders, including the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which believes that the sale is near-sighted and will result in significantly higher costs for airlines and passengers.

“Recent experience in such projects, for example in Australia, has resulted in costs per passenger to increase by 50% in the decade following airport privatization,” ATAC told the committee in a briefing. “To add insult to injury, the government would impose a huge new burden on our industry and its passengers while not reinvesting one penny of the billions generated back into aviation.”
Empirical evidence like this should carry much weight, but the Trudeau government is refusing to release the privatization study by Credit Suisse Group AG that it commissioned. Therefore, whether such disquieting facts were even considered is unknown. This unwholesome secrecy is opposed by the National Airlines Council of Canada, which is calling for open and public discussion around the entire issue.

I seem to recall Justin Trudeau, upon taking office, promised an open and transparent government. What a difference two years in office have made to that promise, eh?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nothing New To Report



Here is a perfect illustration of why unfettered capitalism and ethics are incompatible:
Canada’s national pension fund manager is among a group of Canadian companies that are undermining the federal government’s international anti-coal alliance by investing in new coal power plants overseas, an environmental organization says.

Friends of the Earth Canada joined with Germany’s Urgewald to release a report today looking at the top 100 private investors putting money down to expand coal-fired electricity — sometimes in places where there isn’t any coal-generated power at the moment.

The report lists six Canadian financial companies among the top 100 investors in new coal plants in the world. Together, Sun Life, Power Corporation, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife Financial and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have pledged $2.9 billion towards building new coal plants overseas.
The fact that the corporate world extols maximum profit at any cost largely limits government goals on climate change mitigation to the aspirational:
While Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is claiming to be a global leader on phasing out the dirtiest of electricity sources, private investors are “undermining that commitment,” says Friends of the Earth senior policy adviser John Bennett.

Canada and the United Kingdom last month teamed up to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance, trying to bring the rest of the world on side with a campaign pledge to phase out coal as a power source entirely by 2030 for the developed world and 2050 for everyone else.
Clearly, this post reveals nothing new, eh?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

UPDATED: An Increasingly Tattered Cloak



That would be the one Justin Trudeau wraps himself in with such rectitude whenever he attempts to convince the public of his climate-change bona fides. Increasingly, both his cloak and his rhetoric are wearing thin.

The latest example of the hollowness of his public persona comes with news that his government is doing something it shouldn't be doing, interfering in provincial rights:
The B.C. government says Ottawa is interfering in an independent review connected to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, just days after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called on Ottawa to intensify its efforts to defend the project.

"It's both a highly unusual and a highly troubling intrusion on a province's right to enforce its own permits, its own regulations and the interests of its own citizens," B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said in an interview on Wednesday. "We do not take kindly to this intervention."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced in a statement on Wednesday that Canada has filed a letter to the National Energy Board supporting a process to quickly resolve conflicts with local and provincial governments that could slow down construction on the pipeline.
It would seem that the powers to whom both Trudeau and Alberta's Rachel Notley answer are unhappy:
The NEB is hearing a complaint from Kinder Morgan, which has already begun construction, that the city of Burnaby, B.C., is blocking the project by refusing to issue four permits. The city, which opposes the project, denies any unreasonable delay.

The company – now with Ottawa's support – wants a standing panel to allow any future permit disputes to be resolved quickly.

In Calgary on Wednesday, the NEB heard Mike Davies, Trans Mountain's senior director of marine development, say the company's dealings with Burnaby have been difficult for some time.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman doesn't care that the pipeline giant has its knickers in a twist:
"The federal government should not be intruding on provincial rights and authority," he said.

"I would expect the National Energy Board, which in this case has the powers of the federal court, to understand that we as a province have a responsibility and a right to both permit and enforce our own standards. "
It would seem that Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Notley only have ears for one entity here: Kinder Morgan.

Now why does that not surprise me?

UPDATE: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has now entered the fray. Whether this is mere political opportunism or principle, only time will tell.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh slammed the Trudeau government on Wednesday for its "betrayal of the people of British Columbia" in order to support a large corporation, Texas-based multinational energy company Kinder Morgan.

Trudeau had promised during the 2015 election campaign to introduce a brand new environmental review process to assess the Kinder Morgan project. But once elected, the prime minister approved the pipeline last November based on an assessment by the National Energy Board (NEB) under controversial rules adopted by the former Harper government. Singh said that Carr's new proposal was a second "betrayal" of the west coast province.

"They’re supporting the rights of a corporation to override the decision making of an elected body, the municipality of Burnaby," Singh told reporters. "That to me is a massive concern. That is something that is very troubling and it’s the second major betrayal of the people of British Columbia."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

C'mon Bill. Just Answer The Question

The beleaguered Bill Morneau continues in his refusal to answer questions about whether he sold a whack of shares in his company, Morneau Shappell, before the government introduced changes to tax rates dropping the income tax rate for middle-class Canadians while boosting it on high-income earners. Those rates were to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, prompting financial advisers to advise high-income earners to realize capital gains in the last weeks of 2015 to avoid the coming higher tax rates.

The 680,000 shares were sold for $15 apiece. By Dec. 14, a week after the tax rate announcement, they had dropped to $13.96.

Employing a time-worn technique practised by scoundrels far and wide, Morneau is embracing moral outrage, threatening to take the Opposition to court over the impertinence of their questions:
Morneau said if the Opposition wants to make its claims outside the Commons, where MPs enjoy the legal protection afforded by parliamentary privilege, they will “absolutely be hearing how the legal system works.”
His strategy did not work:

Shortly after Question Period began, he [Pierre Poillievre] challenged the now-absent finance minister to take things outside.
“Would he commit that if I go out and repeat my question in the lobby at this moment, that the finance minister will meet me out there and answer the question?”

Poilievre then walked out, and did just that. But he was greeted by an empty lobby, as Morneau had already left to deliver a scheduled speech in Toronto.

It would seem that old Bill needs some lessons in basic poker strategy.

Lest one think this is just a nasty partisan fight between the Conservatives and the Liberals, the third party also smells some rot:
The NDP is also taking aim at Morneau over the share sale. The party's ethics critic, Nathan Cullen, has written a letter to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, requesting she investigate.

"If the finance minister used his inside knowledge to sell his shares at an advantageous time to financially profit, it would be in direct violation of the rules that prevent someone from profiting directly from their work in government," Cullen wrote in a letter that was sent Monday afternoon.

"I respectfully ask that you look into this matter as urgently as possible," the letter says.
As a political neophyte, Mr. Morneau has much to learn. He might start his lessons by checking with average Canadians about how they feel when privilege once more apparently games the system and leaves the rest of us holding the proverbial bag.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

UPDATED: A Sad Day In The House

It is indeed a sad day in public life when a worm like Pierre Poilievre can stand up in the House of Commons and seem to occupy the high moral ground as he renders ethical judgement on a minister of the Crown. Yet the government of Justin Trudeau has brought this odium on itself by harbouring Bill Morneau from the kind of standards all Canadians should expect from their politicians:



The Star reports that the sale of $10.5 million worth of shares in Morneau's company, Morneau Sheppell, occurred on Nov. 30, 2015,
a week before the Liberal government formally introduced changes to tax rates — dropping the income tax rate for middle-class Canadians while boosting it on high-income earners.

Those rates were to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, prompting financial advisers to advise high-income earners to realize capital gains in the last weeks of 2015 to avoid the coming higher tax rates.

The 680,000 shares were sold for $15 apiece. By Dec. 14, a week after the tax rate announcement, they had dropped to $13.96.

Morneau held two million shares in Morneau Sheppell and sold half of those in the fall of 2015, a source has told the Star. Profits from those sales were donated to charity. The National Post has reported that the shares sold on Nov. 30 were held by Morneau.
Liberal loyalists and apologists will no doubt assert that the fact the profits from the sale were donated to charity means this is a non-issue. To argue thus, however, is to miss two key points:

The donation itself would have afforded Morneau a very handsome tax benefit.

That insider trading was committed by the Minister of Finance (that he refused to exonerate himself by answering the question suggests his guilt) renders him unfit for public office. How can Canadians believe the government has its best interests at heart if it shields such egregiously unethical behaviour?

Morneau should be compelled to answer the question. If the answer is what I think it is, he should finally do something honourable and resign.

UPDATE:
Democracy Watch has a Government Ethics Campaign you may want to check out. It has already sent out over 170,000 letters about this issue.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Note To Justin And Rachel



Please explain again why your insistence that we need to build more pipelines is valid, given these facts:
A new world record price for electricity set earlier this month signals a radical disruption in global energy markets — and Canada, whose economy was once powered by some of the world's cheapest electricity, will not escape the effects.

The new price, described by the news site Electrek as the cheapest electricity on the planet, was less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour, "part of a pattern marching to 1 cent per kWh bids that are coming in 2019 (or sooner)," the site declared.

The record was not set in a place where energy is traditionally cheap. Nor is it from a traditional electricity source.

But the fact the power will come from solar is only one part of a series of profound changes, including mass battery storage, that is in the process of shaking up the world energy market.

[The University of Calgary's Blake] Shaffer says that in order to be effective in an integrated power network with backup systems like gas and hydro, intermittent power sources like wind only have to fall below the price of the of the cheapest alternative. Carbon pricing gives wind an even greater advantage over gas.

"It seems like at these prices, and that's what's really amazing about how low we're getting in solar, is that, yeah, it can compete, even though battery technology is expensive these days," says Shaffer. "You can out-compete coal and natural gas at these levels."
Given that 65% of the world's electrical power is currently generated by fossil fuels but is destined to fall with this new reality, I guess I just don't understand your pipeline passion, Justin and Rachel, especially given your seemingly contradictory position that we must move away from fossil fuels to mitigate climate change.

I await being enlightened on this issue.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Responding To The Outrage



Yesterday, I posted about the outrageous treatment graduate student Lindsay Shepherd experienced at the hands of the Wilfrid Laurier University thought police. As usual, Toronto Star readers had much to say about this shameful episode, and in the interest of balance, I am reprinting not only those who condemn what Shepherd was subjected to, but also the lone letter of support defending the process, which you will see as the first response.

First, however, is Shepherd talking about the timehonoured principles of teaching she tried to practise, and the charge of 'transphobia' that was leveled against her:



Now here are but a few of the letters revealing what Star readers think:
I am an academic working as an independent researcher and full-time faculty at George Brown College. I have an MA and PhD from the University of Toronto. I am writing to express my disappointment and concern with your coverage of recent incidents involving Wilfrid Laurier University Prof. Nathan Rambukkana and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd.

Under the guise of protecting free speech, you published content that bullied Prof. Rambukkana, as well as the university at large, into apologizing for an act of intervention that was neither unfair nor unwarranted. Instead of taking a stand against hate speech, you have given dangerous credence to the views of (University of Toronto Prof.) Jordan Peterson and his supporters, flying in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As the leaked recording of their meeting shows, Prof. Rambukkana did not attack or endanger Shepherd’s right to hold an opinion. Rather, he challenged her decision to represent that opinion in class without a critical acknowledgment of its social impact.

As recognized by federal law and nearly all progressive social institutions, gender pronouns are a basic site of self-representation. Peterson’s brazen disdain for these protections is a violation of the human rights of students with non-normative identities.

When Shepherd was reported for showing the video, Prof. Rambukkana acted as he should have: by challenging her pedagogy and working to make his classroom safer.

Instead of highlighting this incident as a reasonable defence of human rights in the face of reactionary ideology, you have fuelled the fire of Peterson and his supporters. This sets an extremely destructive precedent at a time when white supremacist and patriarchal logics are gaining traction in mainstream political discourse. Publishing think-pieces and editorials that rationalize thinly veiled prejudice calls into question the mission of your publication and the intentions of your leadership.

I urge you to reconsider your position on this matter and demonstrate public support for Prof. Rambukkana and his brave stance against hate speech in the classroom.

Griffin Epstein, George Brown College, Toronto
The majority of letter writers did not share Griffen Epstein's view, however:
The so-called apology from Wilfrid Laurier officials to Lindsay Shepherd, most particularly the equivocal tone from Prof. Nathan Rambukkana, borders on satire. You can almost imagine the brass at the school winking while they created it. These folks aren’t sorry at all about the shameful way they treated Ms. Shepherd; they’re sorry about getting caught.

The timing of this episode makes it even worse, in my mind, as this is the month where we offer our thanks to the brave men and women who have served and died over the years to protect our freedoms.

Yet here we have the latest example of progressive bullies trying to shut down a fellow academic for daring to posit a view that differs from the zeitgeist. For those struggling to understand why U.S. President Donald Trump appeals to many people sick of the scourge of identity politics, this is a clear example.

Jeff Barker, Mississauga

Despite the extensive coverage given to the case of Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, I have yet to see anyone say the obvious: that the university treated her in exactly the same manner as they wrongly accused her of treating her students.

She was told she had made people uncomfortable and had created a toxic environment, an environment in which she had the advantage of power and position.

Imagine that Shepherd really did make people in her class feel uncomfortable, and when they objected she took advantage of her position in a power relationship by berating them, invoking Hitler, and making them cry. The university rightfully would have sanctioned her, or perhaps removed her from her position.

This leaves one to wonder, apologies aside, just what sanctions are being administered to the two professors, as well as the school official whose sole function appears to be to make sure people are treated equitably, sensitively and fairly.

Len Bulmer, Aurora

I would hope that respect for transgender people — or for any individual — and respect for freedom of debate and confrontation of ideas are compatible.

But the actions of Wilfrid Laurier University show there is no respect for ideas, for debate or for discussion; that students are encouraged to spy on each other, on instructors and on professors; and that they are encouraged to report any thought that is deviant from the inculcated dogma. The spying remains anonymous, inviting all sorts of abuses.

The inquisitors who interrogated the young woman demonstrated they were incredibly obtuse ideologues without even a basic understanding of the nature of intellectual debate or intellectual freedom.

This little secret process was shameful in almost every respect and does not serve the interests of transgender people or anyone else.

The inquisitors and the university showed no awareness of the basic tenets of freedom. If we create a society consisting of an amalgam of snitches and victims, and a cult of eternal victimhood, then we create a society of puppets and slaves, easy victims for any demagogue who comes along, from the right or left.

Gilbert Reid, Toronto
It is perhaps obvious to observe, in closing, the irony of an institution of higher learning acting and thinking in such a retrograde and untutored manner. Scratch the surface of a person and what you see, at least in this case, is the rapid unwinding of our evolution.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Modern Witch Hunt


Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.
-The Trial, by Franz Kafka

Thus begins one of the most disturbing and compelling novels I have ever read. It centres around a man who, even those he is arrested, is never told what the charge is, nor is he incarcerated, although he does have to appear before strange tribunals throughout the novel. His punishment is meted out only at the end of the story.

A number of interpretations have been advanced over the years; one that has a certain currency is that the novel is a foretelling of the rise of the fascist state. If you get the chance, read it and form your own conclusions.

That we live in the age of surveillance should come as a surprise to no one. What some might find shocking, however, is that it has now infected academic institutions, supposed bastions of free thought, free expression and critical thinking.

You may have read about the profoundly disturbing 'trial' at Wilfred Laurier University of Lindsay Shepherd. If you haven't, here is a brief synopsis of her 'crime'.
Shepherd is a graduate student and teaching assistant. Her sin was to show a first-year communications class a video snippet from TV Ontario of two professors debating grammar.

Some transsexual people prefer that they be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “ze” rather than “he” or “she.” That, in turn, has led some universities to adopt gender-neutral pronoun policies.

All of which is to say that when Shepherd ran her five-minute TVO clip featuring pronoun traditionalist Jordan Peterson debating another professor, she unleashed a storm.
Peterson’s views on pronouns are viewed by some as transphobic. So when Shepherd dared air the TVO segment featuring him, someone complained.

The teaching assistant was hauled before a three-person panel made up of her supervisor and boss, Nathan Rambukkana, another professor named Herbert Pimlott, and Adria Joel, Laurier’s acting manager of gendered violence prevention and support.
Fortunately Ms. Shepherd had the presence of mind to tape the 40-minute interrogation, which can be heard here. As well, you can read a transcript here.

It was, in fact, her recording of this kangaroo court that brought her situation to the nation's attention, something I'm sure the powers-that-be at WLU are apoplectic about, inasmuch as they tarnished the university's reputation, faced national censure, and had to apologize to Shepherd.

While The Toronto Star has lauded this apology as an opportunity for the renewal of academic freedom, the cynic in me says that the university's about-face is only because their hypocrisy was exposed, and other such incidents of free speech suppression may well occur far into the future.

Heather Mallick has an excellent piece in today's Star that, I think, does greater justice to the entire imbroglio:
The use of anonymity — in other words, cowardice — was one of the worst aspects of Wilfrid Laurier University’s ritual humiliation of a bright and thoughtful teaching assistant for the crime of WrongTeach.

So an unknown first-year student complained to Laurier about communications studies teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, though to whom and in what manner we don’t know. Then her supervisor joined an “informal” panel, including the alarmingly titled Manager of Gendered Violence and Support, to tell her that that they’d been secretly informed of her creating a “toxic” environment.
And, like Kafka's Joseph K., she was not told anything about her accuser:
Shepherd was devastated to be told about the secret complaint. “How many? Who? How many? One?” she asked. “I have no concept of how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.”
“I understand you’re upset but also confidentiality matters,” her supervisor said.

“The number of people is confidential?” Shepherd asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

It went on. Shepherd welled up again. “And I’m sorry I’m crying. I’m stressed out because this to me is wrong, so wrong.”
Who among us cannot empathize with her raging sense of injustice here?

Mallick, whose capacity for allusions from both popular culture and literature never fails to impress, aptly assesses the situation:
So Laurier is less a university than a corner on The Wire. A first-year with a scarf over his face shivs a young TA, another masked gang gathers to do the same at U of T and a posse beats down Shepherd who then produces a secret recording.

There was widespread anger, another of those civil brawls bred of an airy word, as Shakespeare so aptly put it, he’s good that way. But thanks to the posse, people grow leery of speaking too freely, of leaving the house for fear of being filmed and possibly publicly humiliated, of trusting others.
Wilfrid Laurier University has behaved with egregious dishonour and cowardice.

I hope they wear their disgrace for a long, long time.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Bill C-27: A Followup



In yesterday's post, I discussed Linda McQauig's article about the purpose of Bill C-27, the Trudeau- Morneau pension bill that would eviscerate Defined Benefit Plans for those working for the federal government and those industries that are federally regulated, including the obscenely profitable banking sector.

In today's Star, readers express sentiments that few would disagree with:
Morneau and Trudeau looking out for the rich, McQuaig, Nov. 23

Thanks to Linda McQuaig for highlighting the Liberal government’s plan to convert guaranteed pension plans to the much riskier defined plans, which guarantee nothing.

I have only read about this issue in articles about the conflict of interest issues around Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

In my opinion, people would be less outraged about Morneau if they were made aware of the pension change that could drastically change their lives.

I’m hoping that the Star will run a front-page weekend editorial about this pension issue, because I’m betting most people know nothing about the changes the Liberal government is quietly planning to pass.

We frankly have no opposition in the federal government to hold the Liberals accountable.

We should all be outraged and frankly very afraid about our financial futures.

The rich continue to get richer and the middle class poorer.

Marnie Archibald, Barrie, Ont.

It’s clear that the Trudeau government, for all its noise about the plight of the middle class, is still primarily in the service of the wealthy and the corporate elite. Why else would they follow Harper’s Tory path and try to put an end to defined pensions?

Thanks to the Star’s opinion piece by Linda McQuaig, we are reminded again of Finance Minister Morneau’s determination to maintain the priority and preferential position of corporate CEOs and shareholders over the interests of employees who thought they had a contractual retirement deal they could count on.

Of course, employers would rather have employees take their chances on retirement security. Of course, corporate officers prefer to maintain their own defined and generous pensions. But these are feudal attitudes. Our society is less and less fair, more jobs are more and more precarious and retirement security is available only to the wealthy. This is a situation that deserves far more editorial attention and the big headlines as well.

Bruce Rogers, Lindsay, Ont.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Secret Handshake



In her column in today's Star (which does not yet appear to be available online), Linda McQuaig points out the remarkable similarities between the government of Justin Trudeau and that of Stephen Harper when it comes to facilitating the erosion of defined benefit pension plans. She observes that as a consequence, it is becoming easier for the rich to get richer while ordinary citizens become poorer.
An example of this is currently being played out in Ottawa as the Trudeau government — ostensibly a “progressive” government that champions the middle class — is moving forward with legislation aimed at stripping away pension benefits from potentially hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.
The most immediate problem stems from Finance Minister Bill Morneau's Bill C-27, whose details MoneySense recently provided:
Bill C-27 is an Act to amend the long-standing Pension Benefits Standards Act. Those in favour of pure Defined Benefit (DB) pension plans have criticized Bill C-27, saying it would allow federally regulated employers to replace DB plans, which provide a guaranteed retirement income for life with no risk, with Target Benefit Plans (TBPs) which are also generous pensions but because they count on employees taking on some risk, final retirement guaranteed payments may not be as iron-glad.
Both private sector and government employees will be affected by this bill:
It would allow federally regulated private sector and Crown Corporation employers to offer a TBP to their employees, or to convert an existing DB pension plan into a TBP [Target Benefit Plans, also known as Defined Contribution Plans].
While Moneysense, with its own biases, sees this as a good change, Linda McQuaig offers a different interpretation:
... Certainly, Morneau’s legislation puts the Trudeau government fully on the side of corporate interests who, in recent decades, have been trying to take away hard-won workplace benefits that helped workers enter the ranks of the middle class in the early postwar years.

A key corporate goal has been to replace old-style workplace pensions, where workers are guaranteed specific benefits in retirement, with new-style pensions, where benefits aren’t guaranteed and can shrink if markets fall.
When this kind of change was first championed by Harper, Trudeau appeared to be on the side of the angels, as he
sided strongly with the outraged workers, denouncing Harper’s pension changes as “wrong in principle” and “unacceptable.”

But, after Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, workers were surprised when his new government quietly introduced a strikingly similar version of Harper’s pension changes.
Mr. Trudeau appears to want it both ways, his public image apparently never far from his mind:
The Trudeau government defends its proposed changes on the grounds that workers must “consent” to having their pensions converted to the new riskier format.

But this is like the “consent” given by women who get groped by a powerful boss; employers can get their unionized workers to “consent” by locking them out if they don’t agree to the pension change at the bargaining table.
To provide some penetrating perspective, McQuaig discusses banking, one of the federally-regulated industries that stands to benefit from Trudeau's 'change of heart.'
The corporate keenness to foist riskier pensions on their workers is not driven by necessity. Corporate profits have risen significantly in recent years, even as companies have switched to the stingier pensions that transfer all risk to employees.

Even fabulously rich corporations are adopting the new pensions — not because they can’t afford to pay workers fixed pension benefits like they used to, but because they’d rather not be obliged to do so.

Take the Royal Bank — with staggering profits of $10.5 billion last year. In 2011, RBC adopted the new-style pensions for all new employees.
Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. With the secret handshake that exists between government and private interests, that seems guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fighting The Good Fight

That is what Robert Reich continues to do.

Losing Our Hubris, Or The Truth, According To George Carlin

Religious belief can be a marvelous thing, It can give strength in times of trouble, comfort in times of grief, and direction in times of confusion.

It can also be the source of unspeakable hubris.

My own beliefs do not hew to the traditional, although I am convinced that what we see in the here and now is only a minuscule portion of a much greater reality. I do not believe that we are a species specially favoured by God, nor do I subscribe to the anthropomorphic notion of deity. I do believe that we live in a universe of potential, a potential expressed through the mechanism of evolution which I see as an ultimate expression of the transcendent. Sadly, it seems we have squandered that potential.

No one can know the ultimate truth, but it is those who claim such knowledge that I regard as especially dangerous. Those who see humanity as the supreme expression of creation often fail to approach that belief with humility, instead embracing a hubris suggesting that our 'dominion' (not stewardship) over the rest of nature comes with special entitlements. Consider where that has gotten us: wars, crusades, jihads, genocides, environmental degradation and destruction, overpopulation and climate change.

All of which calls for a reality check. And who better to provide it than the late, great George Carlin, an unsparing critic of arrogance, entitlement and presumption. His take on the Earth is both sobering and instructive, and should give the smug some pause, if only they come down from their certitude. I especially like his reflection on our serendipitous appearance and development on this planet.

If you are pressed for time, I recommend especially the insghts Carlin offers in the first five minutes of the following:





Sunday, November 19, 2017

That's Quite The Product Placement

As a keen observer of the crazed evangelicals who seem a permanent fixture/blight on the American television landscape, I hereby nominate ex-felon Jim Bakker as the most crazed media evangelical in the U.S. today, a worthy replacement for the increasingly doddering Pat Robertson.

I offer in evidence the following to support my nomination. You will note that as certifiable as he is, he is also quite the wily promoter:



And I do hope readers will appreciate the considerable risk I am taking by focusing on this demented 'emissary':

Saturday, November 18, 2017

On Tax Fairness



Ed Broadbent recently wrote on the need for real tax reform, calling for an end to the various favours our government bestows on the ultra rich. His thesis was compelling:
Tax avoidance and evasion by the rich ultimately undermines democracy: it starves social programs and public services, increases after tax income and wealth inequality, and further concentrates economic resources in the hands of a few. The overall message to a majority of Canadians is that the rules of the economic game are rigged against them.
He went on to excoriate the Trudeau government for its hypocritical failure to pursue real tax reform:
The Liberals promised change. In their 2015 election platform, they promised to “conduct a review of all tax expenditures to target loopholes that particularly benefit the top 1 per cent.”

But there has been no broad public review in which citizens could participate. And action to date has been limited to stopping abuse of some private corporation rules. Minister Morneau has said he will impose higher taxes on the small number of private corporations that shelter investment assets of more than about $1 million, which is an action that should be supported.
While I did not agree with all of his suggestions, I doubt there would be many who would dispute Broadbent's thesis. In today's Star, readers offer their views on his piece as well as the sickening truths made evident in the recently-released Paradise Papers. Here is but a sampling of their thoughts:
Ed Broadbent writes, “The case for taxing investment income on the same basis as employment income on the grounds that ‘a buck is a buck’ dates back to the Carter Commission of the 1960s when another Liberal government failed to act on it.”

The problem is the ultra-rich are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal friends and he prefers to run defence for them than to do what is right for the public good.

Former finance minister Allan MacEachen tried to reform the tax system under then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau but, like Carter before him, the government of the day distanced itself from any idea of true reform and let both of these truly honourable men get practically eviscerated by all the real (rich) powers. It’s all about the Golden Rule: “Them that’s got the gold makes the rules.”

Jennifer A. Temple, Welland, Ont.


After decades of tax avoidance by Canada’s wealthy, we now have the exposure in detail of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers.

Our current federal government assures Canadians it will restore the principle of tax fairness. Why should Canadians believe this promise? It is the political process and our elected MPs that preserve this economic injustice.

As the Star reported, Parliament and those who bankroll them control the law. It is highly unlikely the wealthy will forfeit their advantage simply because Canadians think it’s unfair.

Talk is cheap and the government won’t move until pushed. I challenge all Canadians to organize a Canada-wide tax boycott. Until tax fairness is achieved, we should refuse to pay any taxes owing, beginning April 2018.

And every MP should be lobbied to support an immediate tax overhaul. Tax fairness can only be achieved by law, not mealy mouthed promises by those concerned only with preserving their own self-interest to the detriment of the rest of us.

Gordon Wilson, Port Rowan, Ont.

Ed Broadbent shines a bright light on the biggest issue of our time: tax reforms that will cut through many complex aspects of our socioeconomic system.

A progressive and clearly defined tax system would address many issues we have been struggling with since the dawn of the 21st century.

We need a tax system that encourages savings and productive investments, while it shifts the tax burden from working people to the wealthy and big corporations. For many years, the middle- and lower-class have been paying taxes while the rich have been taking advantage of it.

A reformed tax system will prevent the creation of generations of wealthy individuals and corporate monopolies, which have taken advantage of societal privileges without paying their fair share. The wealthy have made their money on the backs of the working people.

The Paradise Papers show how the rich, with the help of law firms, have parked 12 per cent of the world’s wealth in offshore accounts, which does nothing to improve the economy. The sheer number and diversity of people and corporations involved in these tax havens is frightening. It is truly like discovering a galaxy of hidden money that public officials have a hand in helping hide away.

Reforming the tax system is possible if there is political will.

Ali Orang, Richmond Hill

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Political Shakespeare?



Looking back at the pleasure I always took in teaching Shakespeare's tragedies, I realize my attraction to The Bard had a great deal to do with his eerily penetrating insights into human nature, arrived at long before the advent of modern psychology. Similarly, for a non-fiction titan, I have long looked to George Orwell for his ability to pierce the patina of civility that hides what are often monstrous political realities.

On Literary Hub, Kristian Williams has published an essay discussing Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, which he wrote in 1945. Considering the fraught nature of political discourse and alliances we see today at both ends of the political spectrum, Orwell's insights, like those of Shakespeare, seem timeless.

First, Orwell defined his term:
By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly—and this is much more important—I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.
That definition alone paves the way for his theme.
Elsewhere he describes nationalism more simply as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”
In nationalism, Orwell was considering ties that go beyond state affiliation:
... “the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation. . . . It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”
Clearly, one does not have to look far in the world today to see why those can be such poisonous allegiances.
Within this framework, Orwell lists three “principal characteristics of nationalist thought”:

1. “Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” His special mission is to prove that his chosen nation is in all respects better than its rivals. Therefore, even to the outer limits of plausibility, any question may be traced back to this central issue. No detail is indifferent, no fact is neutral.

2. “Instability.” The content of the nationalist’s belief, and even the object of his devotion, is liable to change as circumstances do. “What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind”—the relentless, reductive, uncompromising fervor. The point is to keep oneself always in a frenzied state concerning vicarious contests of honor, whether indulging in spasms of rage over perceived insults or in sadistic ecstasies celebrating some new triumph. It is the single-minded intensity that matters, not the ostensible cause.

3. “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists achieve by instinct the kind of doublethink that the denizens of Airstrip One cultivated by conscious effort: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” His fundamental belief, he feels sure, must be true; therefore, the facts will have to be made to fit it.
I won't insult you by pointing out the obvious truth of these observations, but one needs only check out social media, the blogosphere and online commentary to get some quick and easy examples.

There is much, much more to essay, but I will end with this powerful paragraph, which could have been written yesterday, taken from Orwell's diary:
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgment have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting [forward] a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. . . One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless toward people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. . . . I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

UPDATED: A Pro Forma Response



While Justin Trudeau will undoubtedly be praised by some for his polite reaction to these activists, his perfunctory response tells all you need to know about the disparity between his usual soaring rhetoric and his increasingly disappointing environmental performance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked a pair of environmental protesters for their "activism" after they interrupted a press conference in Vancouver to question his commitment to fighting climate change.

Hayley Zacks, 20, and Jake Hubley, 24, rose from their seats to ask the prime minister for a "moment of his time" so that he might explain why he approved the contentious Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The prime minister let the protesters say their piece but did not defend his position on resource projects.
Zacks noted the project will run through unceded First Nations territories and said young Canadians are scared the planet will become "unlivable" because of climate change.

"The Kinder Morgan pipeline is going to increase emissions from the tarsands, it is going to poison our water, our lands, and everything that we hold dear," she said before being escorted away by security members.

"Thank you for your questions, for your activism. Keep up the activism please," Trudeau said. "It's great to see young people stepping forward and sharing their concerns and views. We certainly take those very seriously."




UPDATE: This is the kind of environmental disaster that seems inevitable, Mr. Trudeau's enthusiasm for pipelines notwithstanding:
TransCanada Corp. said its Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 795,000 litres of oil in Marshall County, S.D., just days before Nebraska is set to decide the fate of its Keystone XL pipeline.

The company said its crews shut down the Keystone pipeline system early this morning between Hardisty, Alta., and Cushing, Okla., and a line to Patoka, Ill., and that the line is expected to remain shut while it responds to the spill.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theatre Of The Absurd

Any facile defence of Roy Moore's creepy predilections has to be regarded thus. His attorney, Trenton Garmon, even tried to draw Canadian Ali Velshi into the fray.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

UPDATED:Engagement Is Always Preferable



There is a strong argument to be made for engagement rather than confrontation. Until we are willing to show at least a modicum of tolerance for the views of others, however regnant, all we are really doing is shouting at one another. However, I suspect that it is impossible to follow such a strategy when dealing with the supremely stupid, the woefully ignorant, the rancidly racist and the perniciously partisan, to name but four qualifiers.

Assign what category you will to Brandon Mosely, a writer for the Alabama Political Reporter and staunch supporter of Senate aspirant Roy Moore, whose apparent predilection for exploiting young girls is the source of the most recent ructions in the good ole U.S. of A.


UPDATE:
The New York Daily News is reporting that consummate consumer Moore was banned from the Gadsden Mall in his hometown for his, er, shopping habits:
The former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice reportedly cruised the mall for dates, both AL.com and New Yorker reported Monday.

Blake Usry said Friday and Saturday nights was prime time for Moore to visit the shopping hub.

“Like the kids did,” Usry told the Alabama paper.

A police officer named J.D. Thomas told mall employees to be on the lookout for Moore because he was “banned from the mall,” Legat said.

“If you see Moore here, tell me. I’ll take care of him,” the cop reportedly told Legat.

Police officers who spoke with the New Yorker said Moore’s presence at the mall was a problem.

“The general knowledge at the time when I moved here was that this guy is a lawyer cruising the mall for high-school dates,” one of the officers said.

“I was told by a girl who worked at the mall that he’d been run off from there, from a number of stores,” another cop recalled.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Impossible To Ignore

I have noticed a shift lately on the part of the ultra-right. Instead of denying climate change, increasing numbers are 'admitting' that the climate may be changing, but they have no idea why.

The following may help to open the eyes of such willfully ignorant souls:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sounds About Right



I don't suppose it should surprise anyone that an egregiously incompetent President Trump has nominated as a federal court judge for Alabama the egregiously unqualified Brett J. Talley. He
has never tried a case, was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.
The Senate judiciary committee has approved his nomination.

Sounds about right.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Seeing The Light

This is nothing like a reformed evangelical who has seen the light:
Appearing on MSNBC’s AM Joy, former evangelical – and son a a famous pastor — angrily tore into the Republican party for backing “rape, child molesting and neo-Nazis,” in a furious broadside.

Speaking with host Joy Reid, former Christian evangelical Frank Schaeffer was clearly enraged at the continued candidacy of Judge Roy Moore who has been accused of sexually assaulting four women when they were in their teens and he was in his thirties.


Canadians React To The Paradise Papers



If you aren't yet outraged over recent revelations, check your pulse to make sure you are still amongst the living.

Happily, signs of life are plentiful among Toronto Star readers:
Liberal Party fundraisers held family millions in offshore trust, Nov. 6

Coverage of the Paradise Papers’ celebrity tax evaders has tended to revolve around the potential illegality of their actions. For example: how “blind” the offshore trusts of Stephen Bronfman and Leo Kolber actually are. I imagine most Canadians could care less whether Bronfman’s $60-million, tax-free snowball is being managed from home or from offshore. The real issue is, why is it legal in the first place?

The answer, which these leaks are revealing, is that our federal leaders are so beholden to Canada’s richest men — their chief fundraisers — that substantive crackdowns on these schemes are being prorogued. [Emphasis added]

These tax evasions are a spit in the eye to the Liberals’ fabled “middle class,” let alone to the 12 million Canadians who collectively own less than our richest 100 families.

Jeremy Withers, PhD student, University of Toronto

Thank you again for enlightening us on the machinations of the 1 per cent to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. An outstanding editorial. Surely, I am not the only one thinking of voting for the NDP in the next federal election.

Norma Martinez, Toronto


One of the main reasons for U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory was the snail-pace change to the status quo. People are fed up with the failure of governments to act. Whether the Paradise Papers news is based on legal or illegal actions of wealthy people or organizations is irrelevant. We must find ways to finance the needs of the populace and it is evident that this must come from those who have. Unless the current government acts decisively to outlaw these types of actions, Canadians, too, will either not vote or seek alternative populist methods. Justin Trudeau, be warned. [Emphasis added]

Harry Coupland, Etobicoke

This four-page article about offshore tax havens proves the point of American billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley, who famously said: “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes.”

It seems that democracy is on sale. The rich families finance politicians to fight elections and, as a quid pro quo, politicians protect their wealth through favourable legislation.

The article shows how Leo Kolber, a wealthy man who had accounts in offshore money centres, was appointed senator and then became chairman of the Senate’s powerful banking committee. He held back proposed unfavourable legislation on offshore trusts for 14 years.

These multimillionaires are not paying their share of taxes, forcing government to cut back on social services, health care, education, affordable housing, etc. It is estimated that the Canadian government is losing $6 to $8 billion per year in tax revenue. [Emphasis added]

Is it too difficult to force countries like Panama and British protectorates like Grand Cayman, Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands to stop hiding money for wealthy Canadians.

Anis Zuberi, Mississauga

It is in the public’s interest to take tax avoidance seriously because we now know this is not a one-shot deal carried out by the odd, cunning billionaire, but rather a widespread scheme common among the wealthy.

We can no longer consider tax dodging and offshore accounts to be trivial, when everyone from the Queen to U.S. President Donald Trump’s cabinet are benefitting from them.

It is especially important for lower- and median-income households to care about this epidemic because it is they who suffer from the increased taxation and lack of public funding caused by the millions lost in tax revenue from offshore holdings. [Emphasis added]

It is the vulnerable and the poor who get the short end after this game is played out and it is time they force this issue into the public sphere and demand it be made a talking point.

Benjamin Rawlings, Ottawa

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Point Is



In her latest iPolitics article, Kady O'Maley offers the view that the revelations of The Paradise Papers do not constitute a scandal for Justin Trudeau and his government. And while the Scheer-led Opposition is making every predictable effort to connect non-existent dots, few are suggesting that Trudeau had any personal knowledge of the alleged offences committed by chief fundraiser Stephen Bronfman, who has stoutly denied any wrongdoing.

However, to assert Trudeau's blamelessness in all of this is to look only at the immediate situation, one that Justin undoubtedly made worse with his unseemly and ready acceptance of Bronfman's innocence, about which I posted last evening. The larger implications of the ease with which the ultra rich transfer their money to jurisdictions beyond the reach of the tax man constitute the real threat to our democracy and our way of life.

Recently, I wrote this:
The revelations now in the public arena thanks to the collective efforts of hardworking journalists reinforce a perception that many, many people have held for a long time: the tax system is gamed, and talk of tax fairness is simply convenient posturing that ultimately means nothing. This perception/reality is very damaging to public morale; those who believe in paying their taxes are now being shown that they are, in fact, the patsies for their betters.

Nothing could be worse for those who believe in a society where all of us pay to maintain a social safety net, programs to help the disadvantaged, and a public medical system where no one is turned away because their wallet is too thin. Just more fodder for the rabid right wing, and governments have no one but themselves to blame.
It is a sentiment recently echoed by Thomas Walkom:
... tax havens have proved so embarrassing that they put the entire government revenue-raising machine at risk.

The cost to Canada’s federal treasury of offshore tax havens is estimated at between $6 billion and $8 billion a year. While that may seem a lot of money, when compared to the roughly $300 billion that Ottawa pulls in each year, it is relatively small.

Most tax revenue comes from the broad middle-classes — people who are willing to pay as long as they deem the system fair. Revelations, like those in the Paradise Papers, which detail at an individual level how the wealthy and well-connected get special treatment, break that trust. This threatens the entire fiscal basis of the state.
Put succinctly, no one wants to be played for a fool. And it is that fact that makes the cossetting of the utra rich by governments so dangerous.

In its editorial today, The Star offers this:
The latest revelations from the leak of the Paradise Papers raise troubling questions, not only about government’s failure to collect what’s owed, but also about the power of money to subvert our democracy.

They serve as a reminder that those who can afford to hide income from the taxman can also afford to hire the very best lobbyists to help ensure that, whatever the public interest, governments don’t close the loopholes that allow tax avoiders to get away with it.
There is, of course, a solution to all of this, one that I am not holding my breath waiting for:
The Paradise Papers are doing nothing to soothe those who worry about the unseemly intertwining of money and power in politics or about the extent to which the economy is rigged by the few against the many. The government can do something about that. It can, for instance, close unfair and ineffective tax loopholes and collect what’s owed. Or it can sit back, defend the current arrangements and watch the cynicism grow.
It would be nice to believe that The Paradise Papers will lance the massive carbuncle of complicity that exists between government and business, but like its predecessor, The Panama Papers, it will likely last only for a few more news cycles before being replaced by a feat of political legerdemain that suggests we just move along, as there is nothing to see here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Not Good Enough

PM Justin Trudeau says he's satisfied with Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman's explanation of his ties to offshore accounts, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer calls those remarks inappropriate.

The Prime Minister is either tone deaf, intellectually challenged, or truly and inextricably linked to the values represented by the world of the Bronfmans that he can so facilely accept the reassurance of scion Stephen that everything is above board.

Surely the Conservative Opposition, which I loathe, has a valid point here:


Nothing to see here, indeed.

A Change Of Pace

With all of the tawdry tales of corruption, tax avoidance and tax evasion going on right now thanks to the Paradise Papers, I feel like lightening the mood a bit. I hope you enjoy these, especially if you have ever been fortunate enough to share companionship with a dog:



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Behind The Curtain



Ah, Star letter writers rarely disappoint. Truth, rather than political spin, always improves my mood.
Liberal Party fundraisers held family millions in offshore trust, Nov. 6

From Panama to Paradise, we have a tiny glimpse into the realities dictating our lives: aristocrats and power brokers taking aim at record profits while burying the booty in faraway jurisdictions. I remember voting for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, drinking his Kool-Aid about helping us commoners. Meantime, Trudeau’s friends in high places helped the multi-generational political star with the winning script.

The truth matters not in politics, at least when it comes to speeches. We’re fed lines about a political spectrum, then we are asked to pick a team. The problem is that the rhetoric is irrelevant, it exists only to grease a discourse designed to secure votes. Once power is secured, anything is possible for the people that backed the winners. I’m now of the opinion our prime minister was born into a scheme, his life part of a plan to milk the system.

Mike Johnston, Peterborough, Ont.

The revelations of the Paradise Papers strike deep into the machinations of those corporations and individuals seeking to avoid taxation in Canada. It is estimated that billions per year are lost to the Canadian economy through these tax dodges. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has to close the loopholes that allow this drain of wealth to happen.

There are so many areas of the Canadian social and economic infrastructure that would benefit from the end of these tax dodges. Now is the time for federal and provincial governments to close the loopholes and bring back Canadian money to Canada.

Don Kossick, Saskatoon, Sask.

First, we had the Panama Papers. Now the Paradise Papers. What we need is the Purgatory Papers: a public list of tax monies recovered and fines levied from persons nefariously using offshore trusts for tax evasion. Otherwise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of tax fairness is simply hollow electioneering.

Peter Pinch, Toronto

Monday, November 6, 2017

Paradise Lost

“We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
-Leona Helmsley

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
- Mark 10:25



This morning's Star gives comprehensive and very comprehensible coverage of the latest peak behind the tax curtain controlled by the ultra wealthy, and it is not a pretty picture, unless you think that greed and tax evasion make for a pleasing tableau.

Distilled to its essence, if I understand the situation correctly, the Bronfman family, through trusted consigliere Leon Kolber, established an offshore trust in the Cayman Islands in Kolber's name. All monies sent were deemed to be 'loans' by the Bronfmans, thereby allowing them to invest in Israeli interests tax free. Kolber's son Charles, now a citizen of Israel, handled things from that end and was rewarded lavishly for those efforts through trust disbursements.

Some will insist, as do the Bronfman lawyers, that there was nothing illegal about this but merely an astute use of extant tax loopholes. However, that explanation doesn't wash because the decisions about the trust (i.e., investment decisions) were made in Canada, not the Caymans, and thus should have been taxed as a Canadian trust.

Why should any of this matter to us? Well, the obvious reason is that our federal coffers were denied much-needed tax revenue, but unfortunately the implications of this scheme, no doubt practised by many of Canada's elite, go well beyond lost tax revenue. What the Paradise Papers essentially show is that the days of the Family Compact are far from over, and that the real levers of power are still being exercised behind closed doors.

To get a sense of that power, one has to go back to the nineties, when Edgar Bronfman was allowed to take $2 billion out of Canada tax free:
...a controversial tax ruling by Revenue Canada in 1991 ... allowed the Bronfmans to move more than $2 billion worth of Seagram Co. stock, held in two family trusts, to the United States without paying capital gains tax. The decision allowed the family to avoid as much as $700 million in taxes.
If you go to the 39-minute mark on last night's National, the disturbing mechanics behind this scandalous ruling are revealed, as Revenue Canada's efforts to block the deal gave way to pressure from the Bronfmans, who threatened to "go over their heads." The stench of political interference and corruption by the Mulroney government of the day is hard to ignore:



The revelations now in the public arena thanks to the collective efforts of hardworking journalists reinforce a perception that many, many people have held for a long time: the tax system is gamed, and talk of tax fairness is simply convenient posturing that ultimately means nothing. This perception/reality is very damaging to public morale; those who believe in paying their taxes are now being shown that they are, in fact, the patsies for their betters.

Nothing could be worse for those who believe in a society where all of us pay to maintain a social safety net, programs to help the disadvantaged, and a public medical system where no one is turned away because their wallet is too thin. Just more fodder for the rabid right wing, and governments have no one but themselves to blame.

I began this post with two quotes. The one by Leona Helmsley encapsulates something far too common amongst the monied: an abject contempt for the larger society within which they prosper, and a complete absence of any sense of obligation toward that society. They really believe that they are our betters.

The second quote, from The Bible, is reflective of the distance that great wealth can create from "the kingdom of God," that kingdom, in my interpretation, being a state of spiritual attunement with our fellow human beings. If we are not aligned with other people and have a sense of shared humanity, we cannot hope to have access to transcendent reality, whatever it ultimately is.

The ultra rich may have great wealth, but in other ways they are deeply and fatally impoverished.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Spectacular!

This is what real journalism looks like:




The Paradise Papers



The prospect of real tax reform in Canada just got a lot dimmer. Today's release of the Paradise Papers suggests why.

CBC News is reporting this about Justin Trudeau's chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman:
In the early summer of 2015, Justin Trudeau was the star attraction at a private fundraiser in Montreal hosted by philanthropist and financier Stephen Bronfman.

Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram family fortune and a close Trudeau family friend, was revenue chair of the Liberal Party. That day, according to news reports, the two men raised $250,000 in under two hours.

Within weeks, the Liberals would launch their federal election campaign, sweeping to power on a "Real Change" platform that focused on the middle class and a promise to tax the rich.

"Our government has long known — indeed, we got elected — on a promise to make sure that people were paying their fair share of taxes," Trudeau said shortly after his election victory. "Tax avoidance, tax evasion is something we take very seriously."

But an investigation by the CBC, Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star has found that Bronfman and his Montreal-based investment company, Claridge Inc., were key players linked to a $60-million US offshore trust in the Cayman Islands that may have cost Canadians millions in unpaid taxes.

It's a 24-year paper trail of confidential memos and private records involving two prominent families with Liberal Party ties that experts say appear to show exploitation of legal tax loopholes, disguised payments and possible "sham" transactions.
You can read much more at the above links.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Governor General To Be Proud Of

While the traditional role of the Governor General is to play the mute on any issues that may upset some, smile engagingly at state functions and mouth sanctimonious platitudes upon demand, Julie Payette has a different take on her function. I applaud her for it.

It is difficult to understand how, in the 21st century, we are supposed to acknowledge the importance of science, yet refrain from any scientific references that may offend those who are doctrinally obstinate, adhere to junk science, or demand that religious tenets be taken literally. Truths may be unpalatable to some, but they are still truths.

For that reason I am having a hard time understanding the outrage that Julie Payette's comments in the above video have provoked.

In a CBC essay, opinion columnist Robyn Urback, while agreeing with the truths Payette uttered, finds them wholly inappropriate:
This is a column, rather, on whether the Queen's representative in Canada — someone who is supposed to be uncontroversial and apolitical in her role as steward of the functioning of the government of Canada — should be deriding people for their beliefs on issues like climate change, religion and alternative medicine.
Urback's justification for polite silence goes beyond the impartial role the Governor General has historically played:
The role of the Governor General is apolitical by design; as a representative of the Crown, she is expected to use her executive powers in the interest of Canada, and not a single party, or group or administration. The integrity of the role falls apart if the governor general is perceived to be of one camp or another.

For that reason, some will argue that the Governor General should never weigh in on topics that are even remotely political. They argue that while some people have decided that, for example, the science is settled on climate change, the very fact that debate still exists on the topic should preclude the Governor General from inserting herself in the conversation, lest she appear to be of a certain allegiance.
The fact that Payette's comments can in any way be construed as political says perhaps more than we would like to admit about the state of discourse today. Have we now descended to being influenced by the lowest denominator, the schoolboy bully or the one who threatens to inform on us to the teacher? Those afflicted with benighted thinking may be offended; but that possibility must surely not be the determinant of what is considered fit for public consumption.

A race to the bottom is an easy one to win. Coming in last takes real effort, courage and integrity.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Sickness Unto Death



Cognitive dissonance might be one way to describe how we conduct our lives in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. Willful ignorance might be another. Or, perhaps most damning of all, willful self-indulgence, in which we exult our passion for convenience and comfort over their cost to the larger society, and the world, around us.

Any way you define it, the picture is grim.

It is clear why our governments make only token gestures to mitigate the damage we are doing to the world. Real action would require sacrifice, a virtue that seems to have largely disappeared from our modern age. Any politician who tries to do what must be done would pay a very heavy price indeed. And despite new reports about the dire health impacts already underway due to climate change, dealt with in today's Star and in a post by The Mound the other day, I think we all know that there will be no restorative measures pursued by our 'leaders.'

That inaction provides for all of us a convenient shield from an inconvenient and very unpalatable truth: our collective refusal to act as individuals (I hope that's not an oxymoron) to slow the pace of our rapidly deteriorating world. I know that sounds like a massive over generalization, and that in fact many individuals and groups are dedicated to doing what they can in the face of the existential crisis we have created. But their efforts, as noble as they are, seem to fork little lightning among the general populace, who seem hellbent on continuing their wasteful and destructive ways.

If you want an illustration of this, you need look no further than the massive popularity that coffee pods, and to a lesser extent, tea pods, enjoy. An extremely wasteful and expensive technology unless you live on your own and drink one cup a day, the majority of these pods are not even compostable, something Ontario PC MPP Norm Miller is trying to do something about via a private member's bill:
He’s pushing for all parties at Queens’ Park to support a law requiring every single-use coffee pods sold in Ontario to be compostable within four years so they can be tossed into the green bin as soon as the cup of Joe is brewed.

The goal is to keep more of the 1.5 billion pods used annually in Canada out of garbage dumps.

“Ontario has a waste problem,” said Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka) Wednesday before presenting his private members’ bill. He cited a recent warning from the province’s environmental commissioner.

While some companies, including Loblaw, McDonald’s and Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co., sell java in compostable Keurig-style pods, the majority of pods sold in Ontario are made elsewhere and are not recyclable or compostable, Miller said.
However, there is that pesky problem of the consumer's addiction to convenience, which limits even recycling of the pods:
Recyclable pods are “finicky” to deal with because the cap must be torn off and the coffee grounds rinsed out and the plastic cup thrown in the blue bin, Miller said.
Precisely the reason I suspect that Miller's initiative is doomed to failure. Imagine the 'extra' effort putting compostable pods into a green bin would entail for the harried and selfish consumer.

What is my point here? Clearly, non-compostable coffee pods are not the worst environmental problem we face today. Their massive popularity, however, is a symptom of the larger problem fueling our increasingly debased planet. As Walt Kelly in his famous comic strip Pogo wrote:

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”