Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Seeking Some Substance - Part 1

In yesterday's Star, Christopher Hume had occasion to call Prime Minister Trudeau the princeling practitioner of the politics of appearance. In light of an alarming shortfall in revenues that is crippling our services thanks to the government's anemic corporate tax policies, that struck me as a particularly apt description.

Indeed, that element of his persona was very much on display for the world to see last week at Davos, where Mr. Trudeau had some stirring words :
"Too many corporations have put the pursuit of profit before the well-being of their workers … but that approach won't cut it any more," Mr. Trudeau told the elite gathering at the chic ski resort of Davos. "We are in a new age of doing business – you need to give back."
Apparently, however, that sternness of tone seemed more designed for public consumption than real-world application. If that is not the case, one has to wonder why Canada appears to be very soft in the corporate taxation department:
In a joint investigation with Corporate Knights magazine, the Star last month revealed the government has never collected a lower proportion of its taxes from corporations than it does now.

In 2016, Ottawa collected $3.50 in income tax from individuals for every $1 it collected from businesses.
The foregone tax revenue is significant:
The Star/Corporate Knights investigation revealed that Canada’s 102 largest corporations collectively avoided $62.9 billion in income taxes over the past six years. On average, that’s $10.5 billion less per year than if they paid the official corporate tax rate.

It’s also an average of $100 million missing from the public purse per company, per year.
So what is to be done about it?

Well, first off, they can start by emulating other countries that have thus far recovered $500 million in unpaid taxes thanks to revelations from the Panama Papers.
The Panama Papers have proved a treasure trove for some countries, with Spain recovering the most unpaid tax so far. Its national revenue agency announced in November a $156-million windfall from taxpayers with hidden funds. Most of that — $128.4 million — came from voluntary disclosures, where the taxpayers came forward themselves following the leak to declare previously unreported income.

The Australian Tax Office said last month it has collected $49 million thus far as a result of the Panama Papers revelations. Australian tax officials snapped to action following the leak, executing 18 search warrants in just a one-week span in September 2016, at one point seizing 170 kilograms of silver bullion and coins.

Even Ecuador, which historically has had problems collecting tax from its citizens, says it has recouped $82.6 million.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Canada has recovered nothing:
The Canada Revenue Agency maintains it will be at least another 2½ years before it will have an idea of how much it might recoup.

The stark contrast is fuelling criticism of the CRA's effectiveness at catching offshore tax cheats, and comes in the wake of a CBC investigation last month that found few, if any, of the criminal convictions the agency cites in defence of its record actually have anything to do with offshore tax evasion.
In fact, that investigation revealed that small businesses are the most likely targets of CRA wrath:
... Canadians convicted of tax evasion over the past two years are far more likely to be tax protesters or small business people who failed to declare all of their income.
And to make their statistics look better than they are, the CRA
counted each article of the law as a separate conviction.

For example, in the case of New Brunswick-based George's Heating and Plumbing, the agency counted two charges against the business as separate convictions, in addition to the convictions of five employees for having treated personal expenses as business expenses. While they were all part of the same case with the same court file number, on the CRA's list they counted as seven of the 78 convictions.
There is every reason to believe that the hands-off approach to corporate malfeasance, perfected during the Harper years and instilled as an operating ethos in the CRA, is alive and well; the current government apparently has no intention of changing that.

More evidence of this mindset, as well as the ongoing offshore tax evasion being widely practised by Canadian corporations, and what can be done about it, will be addressed in Part 2 of this post.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

UPDATED: Infrastructure Crisis

While I think it is widely known here that Canada has a massive infrastructure deficit to the tune of $123 billion, people are perhaps less aware of the dire situation in the United States, where over 54,000 bridges are literally crumbling.

Why is this newsworthy? Well, in addition to the very real daily risk of injury or death, the American problem also offers a massive opportunity for the notorious public-private partnerships that, while lining the pockets of investors, rarely accrues to the benefit of the tax-paying public.

First take a look at this news report:

A dire situation, no doubt, but one which the Trump administration apparently sees as rife with opportunity:
As President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address Tuesday, pay close attention to his next big priority—an infrastructure plan—which, over time, could eclipse the trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich in the GOP’s just-passed tax plan.

“[The GOP-passed] tax cuts have slowly opened the door to Wall Street, construction giants, and global water companies, who see enormous potential for profits,” wrote Donald Cohen, president of In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization advocacy group. “Some states and local governments have turned to expensive private financing, a.k.a., ‘public-private partnerships,’ and learned the hard way. Private financing often means higher tolls, parking rates, or water fees, lower labor standards, and less public control over decision-making once a project is up and running.”
Informed sources suggest that the Trump will reduce infrastructure budgeting:
... the plan will all but force states and local governments to privatize or even sell off infrastructure. Tax cuts have slowly opened the door to Wall Street, construction giants, and global water companies, who see enormous potential for profits. Some states and local governments have turned to expensive private financing, a.k.a., “public-private partnerships,” and learned the hard way. Private financing often means higher tolls, parking rates, or water fees, lower labor standards, and less public control over decision-making once a project is up and running.
And of course there is no guarantee that any of the private money will be directed toward the crumbling bridges where, unless tolls are imposed, profits would be hard to come by. Schools, water infrastructure and roads offer much greater opportunity.

Lest Canadians feel smug, remember the study that has been commissioned by the Trudeau government into privatization of our major airports.

The virus of neoliberalism is resilient and continues to spread. Unfortunately, there appears no vaccine on the horizon to rid it from our political systems.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a penetrating analysis of the scam about to be perpetrated by Trump. Here is a brief excerpt:
Let’s be clear on what this kind of public-private partnership isn’t. In normal circumstances, the government decides it needs a new bridge, so it hires Joe’s Construction to build it. But the bridge still belongs to the government; we just have to pay maintenance costs. In the kind of “partnership” the Trump administration wants more of, the government decides it needs a new bridge, so it gives PriveCo Equity Partners a gigantic tax incentive to build the bridge, which the company now owns — and which will charge tolls on in perpetuity. Taxpayers could shell out nearly as much in tax incentives to the private company as we would have spent to just build the bridge, and then on top of that you’ll have to pay tolls to cross it — forever.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Robert Reich On The Universal Basic Income

More and more jobs are fated to disappear, thanks to monoliths like Amazon squeezing out other retail, thanks to autonomous vehicles close to becoming part of the mainstream, and for a host of other reasons. Economist Robert Reich offers a partial answer to those losses, one that I doubt will ever be implemented in the United States:

Be Careful What You Wish For

As you likely know, Jeff Bezos is currently searching for a second headquarters for his company, Amazon. And much to the delight of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory, Toronto has made the final cut of 20 cities being considered. Whoever lands the company is promised upwards of 50,000 well-paying jobs as well as bragging rights as a destination city. However, there is a dark side to this ostensible corporate munificence.

Recently, John Starkman wrote a cautionary piece:
Amazon derives its success because of its deliberate Darwinian culture that encourages combativeness and pits employees against each other. It is a fundamentally ruthless and predatory company.
Indeed, if you click on the link embedded in the above excerpt, you will wonder whether the term 'cutthroat environment' does justice in describing the working conditions at Amazon.

It would seem that Amazon cares only about Amazon. It also appears to be a very bad corporate citizen:
The IRS is pursuing the company for allegedly owing $1.5 billion in unpaid taxes, the European Union in October hit the company with a $294 million tax bill, and last month Amazon had to pay $118 million to settle an Italian tax probe.
In response to this article, the always thoughtful Star readers have offered their own insights, two of which I reproduce here:
Thank you, Eric Starkman, for speaking the unspeakable. No, we definitely don’t want Amazon in Canada. The jobs it might bring are not respectful to workers and Jeff Bezos has made it clear he’s not interested in paying taxes and contributing to the communities in which he makes his billions — $2.8 billion in one day and a net worth of more than $100 billion.

His contributions to charities, which only came after public shaming, are a pittance compared to the amount of money he is putting in his own pocket and hiding in offshore accounts.

He has made public statements that “the mission of Amazon is to become not the number-one retailer in the world, but the only retailer in the world. Imagine what that would do to small business. Yes, we would still be able to buy products, all from Jeff, but it would change the fabric of our society. What would our streets be like if there were no small businesses? No more storefront windows to look at, no opportunity to browse, no way to touch the clothes before you buy, no advice from someone who is knowledgeable?

And what would happen to all the people who no longer had an opportunity to put their creativity into their livelihood? I believe this is a greater threat than Walmart and other big-box stores, which have already had a huge negative impact on small business.

And do we really want to put all that power in one individual? Remember, we all vote with our pocketbooks and how we vote makes a difference. I for one am going to think long and hard before I put any more money in Jeff Bezos’s pocket. I hope you do the same.

Robin Alter, Toronto

The history of Amazon’s rise as a powerful online monopoly and its practices are largely unknown to people. What the average person knows about Amazon is an internet retailer that provides cheap goods with fast delivery. However, cheapness and speed come at a cost.

Amazon is not a retailer like any other we have seen before. It is a vast 21st-century digital monopoly that has skilfully manoeuvred around the U.S. antitrust laws and, with a predatory pricing system, spread its tentacles far and deep. Amazon accounts for more than 40 per cent of online retail sales in the U.S., with more revenue than the next top 10 online retailers combined.

Any move that Amazon makes has a long-term strategic element, with the idea of extending its power with little regard to the interest of citizens of the community. No city like Toronto, with caring neighbourhoods and communities, should want an Amazon headquarters in its backyard. The interests of those who advocate for an Amazon headquarters in Toronto are not necessarily the same as the interests of ordinary Torontonians and businesses. People of Toronto should carefully study both sides of the argument and decide.

Ali Orang, Richmond Hill
The allure of a wealth of high-paying jobs is a siren call few can resist. However, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Given what is now known about Amazon, it is advice apparently well-worth heeding.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

More Empty Rhetoric

Those of us capable of casting a critical eye on the Prime Minister are well aware of his capacity for rhetorical flourish. Unfortunately, that flourish is often an end in itself. Concrete action and legislative initiatives rarely follow. And frequently that rhetorical capacity escapes him when he has no answer to the question. There were several examples of this last week in Davos. Today's post deals with one of them.
At a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Trudeau suggested that laid-off Sears workers, many of whom had counted on their company pensions for their retirement, fall back on employment insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.

Asked by Globe and Mail bureau chief Bob Fife what his government would do about the fact Sears left its pensions underfunded while doling out millions in bonuses to execs, Trudeau gave a vague response.

"Canada continues to support people going through difficult times," Trudeau said. "Obviously pensioners who face uncertainty need to be supported, need to be reassured. That's why Canada has measures like the Canada Pension Plan, like employment insurance benefits — a broad range of ways we can support people who are facing unexpected downturns or layoffs."

"So nothing is going to happen to Sears," Fife responded.
A followup question was posed, which you can watch below starting at about the 2:25 mark:

The Prime Minister says that the Sears situation doesn't have any easy answers. How about a legislative fix to provide pension protection during bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Trudeau, so that this sad situation doesn't happen again and again and again?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Vision From Hell

While safe injection sites are not the ultimate answer to the opioid crisis engulfing increasing numbers of people, they at least save lives. Canada has stepped up to the plate in this palliative measure, while the U.S., where the problem is proportionally much greater, lags far behind. Now comes a report that Philadelphia, inspired by the Canadian model, is about to embrace the concept.

The report that follows portrays a hellish existence and makes me realize that people of the middle class like me have little or no conception of the lives of the desperate in our midst.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

An Update On The Fraser Institute's Essay Contest

Last week, I posted about the deplorable essay-writing contest sponsored by the notorious Fraser Institute in which students were invited to write about why increasing the minimum wage is bad public policy. The flyer promoting the neoliberal contest was circulated by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

Now, thanks to the tireless efforts of PressProgress, that board has pulled the contest from its schools:
Following complaints from parents, school trustees announced Wednesday that the Fraser Institute’s essay writing contest will no longer be promoted in Ottawa-area high school classrooms.

Bay Ward trustee Theresa Kavanagh announced Wednesday that OCDSB trustees “spoke loud and clear to staff,” calling the Fraser Institute’s contest “unacceptable.”
The outcry, once it was made public by PressProgress, must have been deafening, A statement from trustee Theresa Kavanagh says a great deal:
“OCDSB trustees were made aware of this contest being circulated in our schools through the media. We spoke out loud and clear to staff that this was unacceptable. Our Director of Education agreed as proper authorization to distribute the contest information was not given. It did not meet our Board’s standards because of the bias contained in the question. The resource materials should have made this contest ineligible. We are pleased to report that the distribution has been stopped and withdrawn.”
A small victory, perhaps, but any win over the neoliberalism undermining our society is something to be truly savored.

Is There A Fusion Reactor In Our Near-Future?

Because of our intractable and frequently selfish natures, humans look for the fabled deus ex machina to bail us out of our climate-change problems. Rather than alter our profligate habits, we pine for a technology that will save us from ourselves. Of course, that is a forlorn hope, given that climate change is only one part of the trifecta of our woes. As friend Mound frequently points out, one cannot isolate that problem from two others: overpopulation and massive overconsumption of our finite resources.

Nonetheless, there appears on the horizon something that could at least buy us a little more time: a workable fusion reactor. While there are still many hurdles to be overcome, some are predicating that as early as 2030 could see a workable one:

You can read more about the technology here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Egregious Hypocrisy Of Evangelicals

I often post about evangelicals. Their arrant hypocrisy is something I cannot abide. Another example of that hypocrisy has some people steaming mad:
Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele blasted Family Research Council president Tony Perkins for giving President Donald Trump a “mulligan” on paying hush money to former adult film star Stormy Daniels.

“I have very simple admonition: just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again,” Steele suggested.

“After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, just shut up!” Steele blasted.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lagging Far Behind

While people love to hear our sunny Prime Minister reassure us with his rosy rhetoric, it is becoming increasingly evident that his words mean little when it comes to climate change. And the most shocking revelation, as reported by The National Observer, is that those notorious climate-change laggards, the Americans, are well ahead of us in their reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Since 1990, Americans have cleaned up their climate pollution — per person — twice as fast as Canadians. Americans have come from well behind in the climate race to catch up and current estimates show they have probably passed us already.

According to the most recent official inventory reports, the Americans pulled into a virtual tie with Canadians in 2015, at just over 20 tonnes of CO2 (tCO2) per person.

And according to recent estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, America's emissions fell another 1.7 per cent in 2016. They project a further decline in 2017. If so, Americans are now below the twenty tonne mark per person.
So what's going on here?
The reason the Yanks are beating us is that we have been dragging our feet for decades. Since 1990, Canadians have reduced our climate pollution by just 10 per cent per person while Americans cleaned up by 20 per cent; Europeans by 30 per cent; and the British by 40 per cent.

At this rate it will take 150 years before our climate pollution per person falls to the amount that Europeans emit now.
The reason for Canada's poor results are to be found in the usual suspects, oil and gas production and thee transportation sector.
Combined, these two sectors now emit 10 tCO2 per Canadian — that's more than Europeans, Chinese or Indians emit for everything.

The second key message is that these two sectors have become even more climate polluting — per Canadian — since 1990. That's wiped out much of the gains made elsewhere.
Our addiction to oil, our government thralldom to the fossil fuel sector, and our own heedless purchases of trucks and SUVs are all factors in poor showing.

A recent poll by Environics Research revealed that increasing numbers of Canadians think reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be a “guiding principle” in developing natural resources.
An overwhelming majority of respondents supported renewable energy sources, such as solar (93 per cent), hydro electricity (91 per cent) and wind projects (86 per cent). Support for non-renewable energy, such as oil (63 per cent) and nuclear power (45 per cent), was considerably weaker.
However, the Liberals' avidity for a second pipeline that will only further promote greenhouse gas emissions is perhaps suggested by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr's spokesperson, Alexandre Deslongchamps:
“We are in the midst of an energy transformation that will require all sources of energy to ensure Canada is a global leader in the low-carbon economy”.
Huh? All sources? Really?

Actions always speak louder than words, and the actions thus far coming from this government suggest little other than a bit of window dressing (low carbon taxes) while the world continues to burn.

In other words, it's business as usual.

Monday, January 22, 2018

An Ever-Widening Disparity

The Mound had a post today on the ever-widening disparity between the earth's wealthiest and the rest of the world. The statistics are shocking: 82% of the global wealth generated last year went to 1% of the world's population, while the poorest received nothing.

The following is intended as a video supplement to his post:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

All The Better To Serve The Lord

That can be the only possible explanation for the purchase of a Gulfstream V jet that evangelist Kenneth Copeland (a.k.a Kenneth Copeland Ministries) bought with his donors' money.

The specs on the private jet, the type flown by celebs like John Travolta and Jim Carrey, are impressive:
It can travel up to 6,000 miles without refueling. It is also fast. But the speed and range come with a pricetag, the GV can start with a base price of $3,700,000, but custom upgrades cost in the tens of millions.

The most popular GV carries 14 passengers comfortably, that has club style seatingfor 4 in the front, 2 more club seats and a couch in the middle and then four more seats in a 'conference' set up in the rear of the plane.

This configuration also carries a crew of four.
But equally priceless is the glee with which Copeland received his bounty:

Rumours are that the inaugural flight featured that rousing spiritual, Nearer, My God, To Thee.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

What Trump Has Wrought

The divisiveness of the toddler-in-chief is never more evident than in this brief clip. As well, his supporters clearly will not tolerate a dissenting view as they react rather than reflect.

The following video might take a moment to load:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Now This Is Truly, Deeply Deplorable

I think most people have heard of the right-wing Fraser Institute, the 'non-partisan' think tank that receives charitable tax status while promoting a largely neoliberal agenda. Well, they now seem to have reached a new low in their propaganda efforts:

PressProgress reports that
the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board recently circulated materials promoting an “essay contest” organized by the right-wing Fraser Institute to principals and office administrators at high schools across Ottawa.

According to contest guidelines, high school students are being offered prizes up to $1,500 for essays exploring why “increasing the minimum wage” is a “bad policy”.
Lest you think this is an honest exploration of ideas, consider this:
The promotional document encourages students to visit where the Fraser Institute portrays “the idea of raising the minimum wage” as a “contentious topic” and claims minimum wage increases primarily harm “young people and immigrants.”

The Fraser Institute also supplies students with anti-minimum wage talking points from a discredited Fraser Institute report that falsely portrays minimum wage earners as “young adults,” who are mostly “living with their parents or other relatives.”
Typical of the 'facts' espoused by the Institute, the above information is erroneous:
Statistics Canada data shows that among Canadians earning less than $15 per hour – in other words, people who would see an immediate raise following a $15/hr minimum wage increase – the vast majority of low-wage workers (59%) are actually 25 years or older.
Today, more than ever, critical thinking is of paramount importance. school boards, which at least in theory are dedicated to the cultivation of such a crucial skill. Is it not a little ironic that they should be so easily hoodwinked by an egregious attempt, not to foster such thinking, but to reflect and inculcate corporate group-think and ideology?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Have You Signed Yet?

Despite all of his sanctimonious talk about tax fairness, there is little evidence thus far that Justin Trudeau is committed to anything more than indulging in his standard soaring rhetoric. Now, there is a a petition being circulated on that seeks to change that.

As reported in today's Star, the petition
was launched by advocacy group Democracy Watch after the Star, in partnership with Corporate Knights magazine, published an investigation last month that showed how individuals pay three-and-a-half times more income tax than corporations.
An excerpt from the petition offers these disquieting statistics:
Canada's official corporate tax rate is now 26.6% but, on average, Canadian big businesses paid only 17.7% from 2011-2016 -- one of the lowest rates of all G7 countries.

Canada's Big Banks paid a tax rate of only 16% over the past 6 years -- lower than banks in other G7 countries. They are the biggest tax evaders of all Canadian big businesses and, not surprisingly, also the most profitable. They made a record $42.3 billion in profits in 2017.
And that lost tax money could have been used to accomplish so much good:
If Canada's big businesses and banks paid the official tax rate from 2011-2016, governments across Canada would have almost $64 billion more to spend on making hospitals, schools, housing, public transit and roads better, and on other things Canadians need.
Given the sociopathic nature of corporations, they will never pay any more than they have too. Their much vaunted 'fudiciary responsibility to shareholders' is the tenet by which they justify their efforts at tax avoidance and cheating others out of their rightful due.

Consider, for example, Sears Canada. Francine Kopun writes:
Handsome dividends paid to Sears Canada shareholders even as the company was faltering and its employee pension fund was running a deficit are being reviewed by the court-appointed monitor handling the company’s insolvency.

The transactions of interest, according to the monitor, include a dividend of $102 million paid to Sears Canada shareholders on Dec. 21, 2012, and $509 million paid on Dec. 6, 2013.
The problem is, Sears was already seriously bleeding cash when the dividend was issued, and guess who paid the price? The Sears pension plan.
The pension deficit was $307 million in 2010 and $133 million in 2013.

When the company sought creditor protection in June, the pension fund had a deficit of $270 million, potentially leaving retirees with reduced incomes.

“Certainly from our standpoint, we felt that the payments of dividends, when the company was not making money and there was no investment in the company and there was a debt to the pension plan, were inappropriate,” said Ken Eady, a spokesperson for Sears Canada retirees.
Companies will never act with integrity on their own. That is why the role of government is essential in moderating their greed.

Please give serious consideration to signing the petition at

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A New McCarthyism

We all knew them growing up - the kid who would do anything to curry favour with the teacher, the one we knew variously as 'the brown-noser,' the 'suck-up' or by any number of similarly unflattering terms. This kid did it, presumably, to curry favour, to gain some kind of imagined classroom status that his or her fevered mind craved.

Unfortunately, some kids never grow up.

In the above photo, the one on the left of the toddler-in-chief is Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House Majority Leader. He apparently learned his lessons well in boyhood. The following, I think, suggests the fulll measure of the boy-man:
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy were alone in the presidential suite on Air Force One, flying east toward Washington in early October, when the president reached for a handful of Starbursts, the fruit-flavored, box-shaped chewy candies.

But instead of unwrapping all of the treats, the president was careful to pluck out and eat two particular flavours: cherry and strawberry, McCarthy noticed.

“We’re there, having a little dessert, and he offers me some,” McCarthy recalled in an interview. “Just the red and the pink. A bit later, a couple of his aides saw me with those colours and told me, ‘Those are the president’s favourites.’ ”

Days later, the No. 2 Republican in the House — known for his relentless cultivation of political alliances — bought a plentiful supply of Starbursts and asked a staffer to sort through the pile, placing only those two flavours in a jar. McCarthy made sure his name was on the side of the gift, which was delivered to a grinning Trump, according to a White House official.
While the motivation for such obsequious behaviour would be obvious to normal people, Trump is, both literally and figuratively, eating it up:
Trump has showcased the relationship and appears to enjoy the fidelity of a high-ranking GOP leader. Before having dinner together Sunday at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., Trump took questions from reporters under the club portico’s ornate arches, with McCarthy standing beside him.
McCarthy seems to understand Trump's severe limitations:
While at Camp David earlier this month, McCarthy took up the task of explaining the obstacles facing Republicans ahead of the midterm elections in November, walking through the financial hurdles and bleak prospects in various races.

According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy’s use of pictures and charts rather than a memo.
So why is this at all important, other than as an illustration of gross sycophancy and political pandering?
Critics of McCarthy privately grouse that he is an operator who is most concerned with improving his standing in the House by aligning himself with the Republican base’s standard-bearer. There are worries, too, that McCarthy’s ingratiation could enable Trump rather than contain him.

“I don’t think being a Trump sycophant is going to do much in the long run for the party or holding the majority,” said Republican consultant Mike Murphy. “It doesn’t change Trump’s behaviour, which is imperiling the party, and we’re getting to a place where challenging him is an imperative.”
The Republican Party has been in a downward spiral for quite some time. With standard bearers like Kevin McCarthy, it is not difficult to understand why.

Thought For The Day

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Double Double, Toil And Trouble: Star Readers On Tim Hortons And The Minimum Wage Hike

As always, the letters from Star readers do not disappoint:
I am really finding it difficult to empathize with businesses like Tim Hortons crying over the minimum-wage increase. The fact that these businesses are paying minimum wage in the first place demonstrates a corporate greed that supersedes any dignity and respect for their employees that serve the coffee and make the sandwiches that generate billions in earnings. Tim Hortons is no longer Canadian and I feel we shouldn’t be as loyal to a brand that does not project Canadian values. Were businesses expecting the minimum wage to stay the same forever?

Brad Globe, Whitby

I would gladly pay more for my coffee and doughnut to make possible the continued care of Tim Hortons’ fine staff – as they have cared for me and my family and friends for so many years and in so many places.

I don’t want to leave Tim’s comfort and kindness for some cold and trendy café staffed by constantly changing temps. Tim’s is one of my homes, where I always feel welcome and safe.

Please find a way to reward these wonderful workers for their dedication and loyal service, and you can count on my continued and loyal patronage.

Susan McMaster, Ottawa

Pick a fight with me Mr. Joyce, not workers; and Small business owners are not the bullies here, Opinion, Jan. 7

We strongly disagree with Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, when he suggests the minimum-wage hike is about “election optics.”

Small businesses are the backbone of Ontario’s economy and therefore a powerful political base. Thus, if Premier Kathleen Wynne is indeed “shaming” small businesses, she is actually risking political suicide. We applaud her for courageously putting the quality of life of everyday Ontarians above the Liberals’ political gains.

As small business owners for 34 years, we have always paid our employees well above minimum wage. In profitable years, we have rewarded them with year-end bonuses. As Wynne aptly argues, “it’s the right thing to do.” Profiting from those who struggle to make ends meet is not good business, it is abuse.

For those small-business owners who truly cannot afford to pay a living wage, you have our sympathy. It takes courage to accept the risks inherent with starting a business. However, if your success depends on the failure of your employees to make ends meet, then you cannot be truly successful.

For those small-business owners who are financially able to but refuse to pay their employees a living wage, shame on you.

Mr. Kelly, as “courageous” business owners, we would indeed love to tell the premier what her $15 minimum-wage plan means for our future and the future of our employees: business as usual.

Gerald and Shelley Grieve, Gerald Grieve Landscape Group

Friday, January 12, 2018

Two Faces Of Appeasement

The first picture you will recognize as Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minster sufficiently deluded to believe that he had a deal with Adolph Hitler that could keep his country out of the war. The claim that the pact meant "Peace in our time" is consigned to the annals of history as highly ironic.

The second picture, of course, is that of Justin Trudeau who, you may think, has nothing in common with Chamberlain. In that assumption you would be quite wrong.

The rest of the world has issued condemnation of Donald Trump's most recent demonstration of his racism:

However, instead of taking the principled stand required, our prime minster, Justin the Gormless or, if you prefer, Justin the Lesser, had this to say:

Some would laud this as diplomatic.

I call it moral cowardice.

A Timely Message For Mr. Trump And His Fellow Travellers

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trudeau Town Halls: Baubles Of Distraction, Not Questions Of Substance

Prime-Minister-For-A-Day Kim Campbell is probably best remembered for saying, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” She might just as well have been talking about town halls, particularly the kind our Prime Minister is currently in the midst of.

Justin Trudeau's meet-and-greet will undoubtedly constitute a public-relations success. That success, however, will be thanks to two things: Trudeau's ease in front of large crowds, and the profound colloquialism and ignorance of the people attending these sessions. It is the latter I wish to address today.

In theory, town halls, being somewhat unscripted, are an opportunity to put the convener on the hot seat. Unfortunately, the topics thus far brought up have been tritely predictable and easily defused, no doubt because they are exactly what the PMO has prepared Mr. Trudeau for. Consider, for example, what was asked at his Sackville gathering. While the questions may be important to the posers, they lack, shall I say, a certain concern for national and international issues that the government is, in my view, badly fumbling. Here are two examples:
Abdoul Abdi’s sister Fatouma Alyaan asked ‘Why are you deporting my brother?...My question to you is if it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?’
And this one:
Why do we have medical doctors who come here from different countries who are unable to integrate into the system?
To be sure, he was also asked about his visit to the Aga Khan's private island retreat, for which Trudeau has been rebuked by outgoing ethics watchdog Mary Dawson, but again, this was a predictable and easily-handled question for which I am sure the Prime Minster was well-prepared.

The questions at yesterday's session in Hamilton were similarly trite and predicable:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a woman heckling him about Omar Khadr during a town hall in Hamilton that he, too, is angry about the multimillion-dollar settlement the former Guantanamo Bay inmate received from the government.

“The anger that some people feel, and that a lot of people feel about the payment the government made to Omar Khadr is real and quite frankly — this might surprise you — but I share that anger and frustration,” he said.
Score another one for good preparation.

Yet I can't help but wonder how Mr. Trudeau would respond if truly important questions were asked of him. Questions like the following:

Why does your government insist on protecting the rights of multi-nationals to sue our government over legislation that might interfere with their profits?

Known as investor-state dispute settlement, it is a mainstay of NAFTA and eagerly sought for the TPP. So far, Canada has been sued five times under NAFTA provisions for trying to protect the environment.

Another question well-worth posing would pertain to the government's continuing support for the immoral Saudi arms deal, arms that have been shown, in contravention of the deal, to have been used against Saudi citizens.
In July, after The Globe and Mail's reporting of conflict in Awamiyah, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement saying she was "deeply concerned" and announced a probe of the incident.

The Trudeau government has never released the results of this investigation nor has it explained to Canadians what happened.
These are the questions I would ask on this issue:

Why have you refused to release the report, and why is your government now trying to quash the most recent legal challenge to the deal, an attempt that a federal court judge has rejected?

Finally, I would ask about the Trudeau government' attitude toward tax cheats using offshore havens:
A dozen governments around the world say they've recovered a combined $500 million in unpaid taxes so far thanks to the Panama Papers leak of tax-haven financial records in 2016.

But not a penny of that is destined for Canadian government coffers. The Canada Revenue Agency maintains it will be at least another 2½ years before it will have an idea of how much it might recoup.
When other governments are enjoying considerable success in recovering tax money thanks to the Panama and Paradise papers, why is your government and the Canada Revenue Agency so reluctant to aggressively pursue them?

So those are some of the questions that will likely not be asked at the town halls. God forbid that this government should actually have to make an honest accounting of itself to the Canadian people.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Simply Horrifying

How many times do catastrophes like this have to happen before we cast aside our hubris and realize that we are nothing in the face of nature?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

UPDATED: Despite The Hysteria The Sky Will Not Fall

In an op-ed piece the other day, Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, wrote of the economic Armageddon awaiting Ontario businesses thanks to the recently-hiked Ontario hourly minimum wage to $14, to be increased to $15 next year.

While no one can fault Kelly for pandering to the interests of his constituents, his arguments apparently carry little weight with the larger public, who see nothing but good coming from paying a living wage to the people who make profits possible for our titans of business.

Star letter writer Tom Doris of Toronto offers his response:
Dan Kelly has the misguided attitude that any business creating jobs must be considered a successful business and be left alone by government despite poverty wages, denied tips and no job security for its workers.

Indeed, his arguments lead me to conclude that his membership has not the capability to create vibrant, living-wage jobs. As well, he appears to be insistent that workers in this province should be thankful for any position no matter the wage, treatment or security.

By contrast, jurisdictions throughout the western world have thriving small businesses that pay living wages (not just a sham attempt at such). He and his membership need to learn how to be successful without exploiting workers.
Meanwhile Ken Fitzsimmons of Toronto has a clear-headed suggestion that that could quell Mr. Kelly's rising hysteria:
Dan Kelly doesn’t get much sympathy from me.

His examples of businesses that are paying the price for the increase in the minimum wage are dry cleaners, coffee shops and mechanics. Seriously? That’s ridiculous. All these shops have to do to cover the increased expense is to raise their prices. Now, don’t try to tell me that this will make them uncompetitive. All their competitors are in the same situation and will have to raise their prices as well. The people that will actually bear the cost are the customers themselves and that is as it should be. It is a small burden to pay so that all employees can have at least a half-decent wage. The extra cost would be minimal as it is spread out among the general public, not the business owners.

Having said that, there are businesses that will suffer and I do feel sorry for them and they should be given some consideration. They are businesses such as retailers that compete with online business that don’t have the same employee expenses. It’s also tough to compete with low wages from other countries, but that doesn’t give employers the right to keep wages low in Ontario. There are other ways to combat unfair labour practices abroad.

Sure there are problems to be resolved, but this outcry from a lot of business groups that the sky is falling is mostly just nonsense.
One line from the above letter bears special emphasis: The people that will actually bear the cost are the customers themselves and that is as it should be. It is a small burden to pay so that all employees can have at least a half-decent wage.

Anyone taking issue with that sentiment should at least be honest enough with themselves to admit they prefer that some toil away in economic enslavement so they don't have to pay a little more for the things they want and need in life.

UPDATE: For those interested in making their voices heard over some of the despicable retaliatory practices being enacted by business, I just got this notice from LabourStart Canada:

On the heels of the $15 and Fairness campaign victory in Ontario that saw the minimum wage rise to $14/hr a number of Tim Horton's shops are cutting worker benefits, breaks and other entitlements. Employers are preserving their profits by making workers pay for the increase.

But you know this because you read our news pages and follow our social media feeds. So let's cut to the chase.

If you live in Southern Ontario then on Wednesday you have 3 demos in support of the Timmy's workers to choose from (OK, there may be more by the time you read this so contact your local Labour Council. If there isn't one near you suggest it):

COBOURG: 5pm @ the Timmy's at 970 Division St, Cobourg, Ontario K9A 5Y5.

DUNDAS: 5pm @ the Timmy's at 38 York Road, Dundas. L9H 1L4

WEST TORONTO: 8am @ the Tim's at 1094 Bloor West M6H 1M5

If you are at the Cobourg demo look for me. I'll be wearing an Australian union toque and scarf. I'll buy you a coffee if we can find a place. :-)

Not an Ontario resident? Wish us luck because, unless you live in Alberta where the rate has already gone up, you'll be facing the same, soon. If we can win this it might just be a little easier for everyone else.

In Solidarity,

Derek Blackadder
LabourStart Canada

Monday, January 8, 2018

UPDATED: You Get What You Pay For

That fundamental truth is grasped by two small-scale entrepreneurs, much to the shame of much larger entities like Tim Hortons which, as widely reported, are taking out their outrage and venality on their employees.

Gilleen Witkowski, who operates a dog-walking business in Toronto, has this to say:
“I’m a millennial and my whole working life, the minimum wage was frozen or close to frozen. That’s my context,” says the 32-year-old co-founder of Walk My Dog.

“I’ve seen people attempt and fail to make a living on just minimum wage, and watched people struggle in the new economy to get good jobs with their degrees.”

Her decent work strategy, she says, has proved a success.

“I totally understand the concerns around cost because I am a small business now. But I think the benefits outweigh the cost. The loyalty I’ve seen from my staff is incredible.”

“It’s doing the right thing, but there are tangible benefits and that is my low turnover,” she added.
Those truths were something that took Damin Starr longer to discover. Originally employed by his hard-nosed father, who taught him that the bottom line is the only thing that really matters, Starr eventually started his own company, PreLine Processing, and retained his father's chief tenet,
leaning heavily on minimum wage temp agency workers.

The epiphany, he says, came when he returned from Toronto having secured a $40,000 contract, only to find $10,000 worth of mistakes on his shop floor in Lincoln, Ont.

“I was working all sorts of extra hours because I had inexperienced workers making mistakes,” he says. “I’m not blaming the workers. I blame myself. What a miserable environment I had.”
After sitting down with his permanent employees, Starr made some 'radical' changes:
... [H]e dumped temp agencies and ramped up wages. Together with his employees, he calculated a living wage for his region — which in 2012, he figured to be $15 an hour.

“We decided that you couldn’t work for us for less,” he said, noting his base rate is now more than $17 an hour.

“People were thrilled with the fact that there was a commitment to ensure that nobody wouldn’t be able to pay their bills at the end of the day,” he added.

“Something occurred during that time that made me proud of the business and proud of the staff.”
Change is never easy. However, despite the loud protestations of some businesses, it seems that treating one's workers with respect and dignity is not the money-losing proposition the reactionary right would have us believe.

UPDATE: Still not convinced? Take a look at what Ivan Gedz is doing in Ottawa for his restaurant employees:
A Centretown restaurant is boosting base wages for its kitchen crew to $16 an hour, a move that will affect half-a-dozen staff while making a “negligible” difference in prices for customers, its co-owner says.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Corporate Crocodile Tears: A Guest Post

In response to my post yesterday about CBC bias in its reporting on Ontario's minimum wage increase, the Mound wrote a detailed commentary that I am featuring today as a guest post. Following his piece I reproduce a letter from a Star reader pillorying corporate hypocrisy.
"Government should function on the expectation that corporations will act in their own economic self-interest." That point is inarguable. The corporate self-interest, however, has to be subordinated somewhat to the public interest. The political caste is elected to represent the public who voted them into power and those voters who preferred someone else. They are not elected to put corporate interests ahead of the public interest but to balance the conflicting needs of labour and capital recognizing, as Lincoln said, that "labour is by far the superior."

That principle, stated by Lincoln, is especially relevant today in this era of early-onset automation that is going to become a more dominant factor in our industrial economy. Galbraith addresses this in "The Predator State."

Ours is a consumer economy and there's really nothing else we can substitute for that. The corporate sector collapses without access to markets sufficiently large to purchase and consume their wares. Henry Ford knew that it was essential that his workers earned enough to be able to afford to buy his cars.

Commerce today engages in nihilistic pursuit of unsustainable profits at the expense of even its own mid- and long-term interests. Executive compensation is based on what the company takes in today, not how it may be positioned to fare in the next decade or the one after that.

A month before the Republican tax cuts were passed, corporations were gearing up for the anticipated windfall. They weren't hiring new employees or adding additional machinery, they were organizing share buy backs. They were using the newfound money to buy back outstanding shares sending share prices soaring, hence increasing executive compensation. And the US government is funding this nihilism with an additional 1.5 trillion in borrowings. Call it "the art of the deal."

In the era of globalism our neoliberal political caste thought they could finally wash their hands of responsibility for the balancing of public and private interests, delegating this fundamental responsibility to "the invisible hand of the marketplace." Only that hand no longer works as they fantasize.

We think fondly of the era of Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, the vision they brought to our country. That began to wane under Mulroney and Chretien but it was crushed under Harper and, sadly, now Trudeau the lesser. Now when we desperately need leaders of vision again, leaders who can navigate us through these enormous challenges of the day, that quality is no longer on offer.

And from Robert Bahlieda of Newmarket:
Starting salary for top CEOs? $2,489 an hour, Wells, Jan. 2

Kudos to Jennifer Wells for exposing the other side of the coin. The sadness of the headline is that we have all accepted and internalized the bizarre logic of capitalism and can see no way out. We read the article and then move on.

The logic of a free market is to convince everyone that extreme wealth is good and necessary, so extreme relative poverty must be its alternative. But even here, there is deception. This is reflected in the salaries of CEOs and of the minimum wage for workers. The $14 minimum wage is held out as either a pariah or a godsend.

The business community warns of job losses while it pays its CEOs handsome salaries and perks. But if paying a living wage is that critical, businesses that are stretched so thin should close their doors. The whole point of business is not to create wealth for the business but also a good quality of life for workers. If businesses cannot pay good living wages, health care, pensions and other basic aspects of daily living, they should not be in business. It’s a false capitalist logic to say we can only operate on minimum wages while profits are booming and the senior suite is golden.

CEO salaries are the same. They have increased every year for the past 40 years while workers’ wages have remained stagnant. Everyone knows this lie. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report (2016) noted that the top 1 per cent owned more than half of the worlds’ assets and the bottom half owned virtually nothing.

The real irony is that taxpayers are paying for the minimum wage and CEO increases. The federal government is cutting small-business taxes by 0.5 per cent immediately and another 1 per cent cut is coming. They have also modified the corporate tax penalty on small business to make it non-existent. Provincial governments have chipped in cash to ease the transition as well.

But still the wailing and gnashing of teeth goes on in the business community. So stop the whining and change the system.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


I will be the first to admit that I get only modest amounts of my news from television. However, due to the severe cold we have been experiencing for too long here in Ontario, I have been doing very little walking, usually a mainstay of my daily routine. To compensate, I have been spending some time downstairs where I have a small treadmill and other exercise equipment. Because of exercise's intrinsically boring nature, I have taken to watching CBC News Network. Because I am not a regular viewer of such news sources, please bear in mind that the following is only my impression and may, in fact, be a distorted perception of what the network is offering.

My sense is that there is a real effort on the part of the network to placate the right-wing. Two stories, although perhaps too small a sampling to demonstrate a genuine pattern, suggest this. The first, an interview also placed on the CBC's website, examines the impact of minimum wage increases that took effect in Ontario on January 1.
Farmer Kevin Howe of Howe Family Farms in Aylmer, Ont., a small business that has been in operation for five generations, said he's already reducing the amount of crops he plans to plant this year, and fears he won't need as many workers because consumers won't be willing to pay the higher prices he'll have to charge to cover wage increases.

"Costs are always going up and we need to be able to pass these costs on to stay in business," he told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

Some summers he hires up to 400 people to pick his strawberry crop, but this year there will be far fewer hours available as the farm has reduced its strawberry acreage by 30 per cent as a precaution. "It's definitely going to impact the amount of work available," he said. "It's going to make for shorter days [and is] definitely not going to be good for the community."

While Andrew Nichols certainly offered a sympathetic ear to young Kevin Howe, notably absent was any offer of a countervailing view by Nichols, for example, the fact that most economists seen the increase as ultimately yielding a net benefit to business because of the increased buying power customers will have. The host, instead, seemed content with feeding Howe leading questions that bolstered his position.

Not yet convinced that this is anything more than a particular host's handling of an issue? Then take a look at the following, in which Diane Buckner interviews Ian Lee, a professor at the Sprott School of Business. Start at about the 2:12mark, when they begin to duscuss the disgraceful behaviour of Coburg's Tim Hortons, bullying behaviour that now appears to be spreading.

You will note that while Buckner gamely sets up the story with a context that might provoke some anger at the franchisees' mean-spirited actions, and attempts to provide balance throughout the interview, Lee's sympathies clearly lie with the owners and their massive profits. For him, the costs entailed by labour seem to be one of those unfortunate and dirty realities to be lamented as loudly as possible. Indeed, he even goes so far as to claim, at the end of the piece, that the wage increase will result in 60,000 layoffs, an absolute misrepresentation of the Bank of Canada report. Clearly, the CBC knew what they were getting when they hired Ian Lee to occupy a pundit's perch.

My final evidence for CBC bias is an opinion piece by
Robyn Urback, a columnist for the National Post who was hired in 2016 to write and produce for the CBC's Opinion section. Entitled Of course businesses would act like businesses in wake of minimum wage hikes her view is also one of total sympathy for business owners.
Businesses exist to make money. Government should function on the expectation that corporations will act in their own economic self-interest. Instead, in the case of Ontario, officials feign shock and outrage when a business tries to maximize profits, and release silly statements like the one Premier Kathleen Wynne did Thursday afternoon, accusing one of the vacationing Tim Hortons heirs of being a "bully" for eliminating paid breaks and other benefits.

Sure, eliminating paid breaks is not very nice. But what, exactly, did the premier think was going to happen? Employers would just absorb the added costs? Dip into their own personal profits? OK, and maybe my prom dress still fits, too?
The article goes on in a similar vein for some time, but I imagine you get the flavour of it from that excerpt.

So is our national broadcaster providing fair and balanced coverage of a crucial social and economic issue? My guess would be it is not. For that, you may wish to go to this piece entitled Relax, Ontario’s minimum wage increase will not lead to massive job losses, found on the Vice website, or this thoughtful essay by Michael Coren entitled Why Tim Hortons doesn’t deserve your sympathy, on the TVO website.

UPDATED: The Hamilton Spectator's Deidre Pike also has an interesting reflection on minimum wage increases.

Friday, January 5, 2018

What Humanity Has Wrought

Only moronic literalists (a.k.a.Trump and those who are similarly incapacitated) will see this current deep freeze as a refutation of global warming. The rest will see it as part of an increasingly obvious pattern and, hopefully, weep.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Dirty Job

But Bill Nye is up for it as he continues his often thankless crusade against abysmal ignorance. Hmm, I wonder if the evangelicals, who generally fall into the latter category, are tempted to practice voodoo on him when he demonstrates that science trumps stupidity.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

An Object Lesson For Canada

Since the avowed aim of legalizing recreational cannabis is to keep the product out of the hands of kids by driving out the black market, our federal and provincial governments would do well not to get too high anticipating huge tax revenues from its sale. The trick, of course, is to find the sweet spot, one that the black market will have a hard time combating.
The country’s finance ministers have agreed on a marijuana excise tax of 10 per cent of the product price, or $1 per gram, whichever is higher.

Sales taxes, ranging from 5 per cent to 15 per cent across provinces, will also be applied. The federal government has agreed to hand over at least 75 per cent of excise tax revenue to provinces for the first two years after legalization.
Whether that is a reasonable level remains to be seen, but I doubt there can be too much disagreement about the massive mistake unfolding in California, where recreational cannabis became legal on January 1.

In today's Globe and Mail, Andre Picard breaks down California's taxation regime this way:
... the in-store price – about $50, similar to the street value – of an eighth-ounce (3.5 grams) of top-quality product will reach $65 after taxes. Canada is looking at a minimum price of $8 to $10 a gram, plus a $1 a gram excise tax and federal and provincial sales taxes.
Given that the black market has thrived for many years in California and elsewhere, it is likely the onerous tax regime imposed on California will have to be reduced; otherwise, it seems hard to believe the majority would choose to pay so much more for their pot simply because stores offer more convenient shopping opportunities.

Marijuana, I read, is not an addictive drug. Let's hope that in Canada, our governments do not become addicted to the tax profits legalization will provide.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year Offers New Opportunities

One of the reasons that a new year excites people, I suppose, is that it offers a psychological opportunity to start anew. Our personal world beckons with a fresh slate awaiting our new and improved imprint.

The truth, however, is that despite our seeming addiction to redefining ourselves through resolutions, the majority of them are quickly discarded as the realization dawns that we have either been too ambitious or insufficiently motivated to bring our goals to fruition. New diets and exercise regimens are often among the first causalities.

The city of Montreal, however, begins today with a law that shows what is possible when we have both the personal and the political will and the courage to act for the common good. Although it will barely put at dent in the worldwide scourge of plastic pollution, it is a good start and should inspire all of us.

Happy New Year.