March 2011 Archives
Asking Michael Ignatieff if he’s going to form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc is the wrong question.
Because even if Ignatieff loses the election (as early polls suggest), he doesn’t need a coalition to seize power. He can do what the Liberals and NDP did immediately after the 1985 provincial election in Ontario: Just grab power with an immediate non-confidence vote. No coalition needed, to hell with the voters.
The 1985 Ontario election was won by the Conservatives. They won more seats than any other party — but they still had a minority. Instead of accepting that result, Bob Rae, then leader of the NDP, phoned up David Peterson, the Liberal leader, and made a deal to grab power.
They didn’t make a formal coalition. A coalition is a specific deal where cabinet seats are divided up and more than one party becomes an integral part of the government.
The Liberals and NDP just agreed that, as soon as Ontario’s legislature met, they’d join forces to vote non-confidence in the Conservatives and propose the Liberals should rule with the NDP’s support.
Being lawyers, they called it an accord, not a coalition. But it was a deal. The Liberals promised to implement a series of NDP policies. And in return, the NDP agreed to sink the Conservatives, and keep the Liberals in power for two years.
A coalition? No. Seizing power away from the party that just placed first in a democratic election? Absolutely.
Forcing NDP policies onto the province, just days after Liberal voters thought voting for the Liberal Party meant Liberal policies? But of course.
Technically, there is nothing illegal about opposition parties ganging up on a minority government and replacing it. But mere days after an election, overriding voters for no reason other than to seize power? At the very least that must be called undemocratic. Tricky is another word that comes to mind.
It’s clearly what Ignatieff — with his lieutenant, the same Bob Rae — is plotting to do again. On the first day of the campaign, Ignatieff had a disastrous press scrum where he repeatedly refused to rule out forming a coalition.
Even the left-leaning Toronto Star and CBC weren’t buying Ignatieff’s painful ambiguity on the subject.
So that night the party’s lawyers produced a very carefully crafted document. Ignatieff now swears he “will not enter a coalition with other federalist parties” or “a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Quebecois.”
Do you see the specific, lawyerly wording here? To Ignatieff, there are “coalitions” and there are “formal arrangements” and, by inference, there are informal arrangements. And he did not rule out informal arrangements — or “accords” as the 1985 deal was called.
Oh, and it just so happens the 2008 Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton deal — signed by Ignatieff and Rae — was also called an “accord.”
Coalition or no coalition? That’s a lawyer’s trick; it’s a diversion. The real question is whether Ignatieff and the other parties will immediately vote non-confidence in a Tory minority right after an election. What that deal is called is not the issue.
Ignatieff has claimed his love for democracy caused him to force this election campaign. Perhaps that love can move him to disclose whether he will accept another Conservative minority mandate — and what conversations he’s had with the NDP and Bloc about any post-election “accord.”
Bet on Japan.
The earthquake and tsunami and nuclear scare were shocking and emotionally dramatic.
But as the surprise of those events fades away, the salient characteristic of the story must be the stoicism of the Japanese people in the face of tragedy, and their determination to rebuild.
Contrast that with the looting and lawlessness in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Japan will be rebuilt first.
Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, says now is the time to buy, not sell, Japanese businesses. He’s not a vulture — vultures don’t come to help the wounded with money. Vulture might better describe some of the shrieking journalists who lustfully compare Japan’s nuclear reactors to Chernobyl. They wish.
The latest damage estimate is $300 billion, which sounds like a lot. But if that’s completely paid off in just five years, that’s less than 1% of Japan’s GDP. Given that most construction is paid off over decades through mortgages, the $300 billion is a blip.
For comparison, the U.S. government’s bailout of insurance giant AIG cost $162 billion. Add in U.S. mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and you’re well
over $300 billion.
What’s remarkable about this month’s Japanese calamities is how few people were actually killed. Ten thousand are dead and 17,000 are missing — a tragic loss. But compare that to another earthquake in Japan in 1923 that killed more than 100,000 people.
This month’s quake was more than 10 times as powerful, but a combination of better construction methods and better emergency response saved lives.
Japan’s earthquake was the fifth largest ever recorded, a startling 9.0 on the Richter scale — where each number is 10 times more powerful than the previous number. A 10.0 earthquake has never been recorded.
This is very encouraging — and it’s a testament to human achievement.
Saturday was so-called Earth Hour, a publicity stunt created by the World Wildlife Fund where enthusiasts were supposed to stop using electricity for an hour. Only a rich, luxuriant society would fetishize poverty and want. Japan is still rebuilding; there are still parts of that country where electricity is not back on. They are in a permanent state of Earth Hour deprivation — not as some fashion statement but because of a tragedy. How is that state of despair a morally commendable situation?
It was human development, industry, capitalism, electricity — and in Japan’s case, safe nuclear power — that has made the difference between their more modest death toll and the 230,000 who died in Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami in 2004, or the 220,000 who died last year in Haiti. Haiti’s earthquake was less than 1% as powerful; it was their lack of industrial development that made it so deadly.
Is that really the state of affairs we want to be worshipped on Earth Day? For centuries, guilty, rich, white liberals have professed their admiration for the “noble savage” — an unspoiled man, typically in a pre-industrial civilization, not yet spoiled by our modern ways or troubles.
It’s a fantasy, it’s condescending, it’s political psychotherapy for the idle rich who feel guilty about how easy their own lives are, and who are clearly looking for some spiritual meaning they themselves lack. But in a world where there are enough natural threats to man’s happiness and longevity, fetishizing primitive economies is a suicidal fetish.
Japan will rise again — over the objections of those who would sentence it to a nuclear-free, industry-free, permanent Earth Day.
The Liberal Party has released new TV ads featuring Michael Ignatieff talking about his family.
It's heartwarming stuff : Ignatieff describes his dad as an immigrant who "came off a boat in 1928 without anything" and worked his way "up the ladder one rung at a time."
"Nothing is ever given to you, everything has to be earned."
Ignatieff told CTV his "family lost everything in the Russian revolution. They started over again in Canada. They came here with nothing."
But according to Ignatieff's own book about his family, The Russian Album, that's just not true. Ignatieff's family weren't regular Russians. They were high-ranking ministers in the government of the czar. They're aristocracy, actually -- Michael Ignatieff himself is a count, a title he will pass on to his son,Theo, and so on.
The Ignatieffs were powerful players in the czar's dictatorship. When the Russian revolution succeeded, the Ignatieffs fled the country.
But like so many, they were able to squirrel away money. The Ignatieffs fled to London in 1919, where they had
£25,000 waiting for them in a bank. That's worth more than $2 million in today's currency. The Ignatieffs lived there for nine years before moving to Canada in 1928.
Why is Ignatieff trying to revise his family's history to make them sound like poor working class shlubs?Why did he say his dad came herewith nothing -- when in fact his family were the equivalent of multi-millionaires?
Ignatieff is desperate to come across as a regular Joe. But did he really think no one would notice the contradiction between the new airbrushed story, and the one he described in his family autobiography?
Last year Ignatieff went further, telling reporters "you're looking at a guy whose dad was a political refugee."
A refugee? Really?
Earlier this year, the brother-in-law of the deposed Tunisian dictator applied for refugee status here in Canada -- and was laughed out of town.
Technically, perhaps, he is a refugee -- he'd face persecution back in Tunisia. But to call an aristocratic dictator a "refugee" is to stretch the definition of the term.
Same thing for Ignatieff 's family. Ignatieff's great-grandfather, Nicholas, was personally responsible for some of the most brutal laws inflicted by the Russian czars.
He drafted Russia's May Laws one history book described as "forbidding Jews to move into the countryside, to acquire land, or to open their shops on Sundays."
"When the Jewish leaders asked why they were not entitled to the same protection by the police as other Russian subjects, Ignatieff replied they were not like other Russian subjects ... Jewish shops were smashed and burned ... Delegations of Jewish leaders came to see Ignatieff at the Ministry of the Interior. They told him they were in bondage as under Pharaoh. 'So when is your Exodus, and where is your Moses,' he is supposed to have said in reply."
That history book was written by Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff is not responsible for the anti-Semitism of his greatgrandfather or the tyranny of czars. He's his own man.
It's just strange he would throwhis family's history down the memory hole to win a few votes. And it's stranger still that, having chosen to use his family as a campaign theme, he is surprised and outraged his opponents would correct the record.
Last year, a violent foreign activist named Emily McCoy came to Canada with the specific intention of assaulting a Canadian cabinet minister. McCoy despises Canada’s government, but instead of using peaceful, democratic means, she wanted to bring about change by attacking a government official.
Isn’t that the definition of terrorism?
McCoy successfully carried out her crime and was convicted last week. But luckily for us, she “only” chose to smash Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea in the face with a tofu cream pie, not shoot her with a gun.
McCoy isn’t some hot-headed teenager committing a youthful prank. She’s 37 years old. And this is what she does with her life. It’s not the first time she was charged with breaking Canadian laws, either. A few months before she assaulted Shea, McCoy also trespassed at a private Fisheries Council of Canada event.
Does it matter that McCoy’s crime spree is motivated by her hatred for our seal hunt instead of, say, Islamic fundamentalism? Does that excuse her violence against Gail Shea?
McCoy is part of PETA, the ironically named People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Ironic, because PETA clearly has no compunction about getting violent against humans. Neither does McCoy, who has yet to apologize to Shea.
Incredibly, the Crown prosecutor struck a plea bargain that let McCoy go without a day in jail for her assault conviction. She’s just not allowed back into Canada for two years, and she’s not allowed to visit Canadian embassies or consulates in the U.S., where she lives. That laughable sentence sends a message: You can go right up to a Canadian elected official and smack her in the face, as long as you do so with righteous indignation.
Once McCoy and her lawyer, James Silver, were finished giving each other high-fives, they were out spinning the press. Silver said McCoy was “well intentioned”. Apparently that’s enough to convince a Canadian prosecutor to let a violent foreigner go free without a dollar in fines or a day in jail.
After the plea bargain, McCoy was talking about violence again. Not her own violence — but Canadian “violence” against seals. She’s now a convicted criminal, but in her mind, it’s Shea and the Canadian government that permit crimes.
The attack on Shea was not a personal attack. It was an attack on Shea as the representation of Canadian democracy. That makes it worse. It’s an attempt to terrorize and embarrass Canadian public officials from carrying out their duties and the wishes of the electorate.
Last year McCoy used a pie. What if next time it’s not a pie? What if it’s a jar of acid? Or a gun?
Impossible, you say? Well, you don’t know the animal rights movement well enough, then.
PETA is a multinational corporation based in the U.S. with $36 million in annual revenues. Much of that money goes to disgusting propaganda, such as their ad campaign comparing farm animals to Holocaust victims. But some of it goes to fund more violent groups — such as the Earth Liberation Front, which has claimed responsibility for a string of arson attacks.
Is that OK, too? Why not, if smashing a cabinet minister in the face gets off scot free?
The FBI has investigated PETA for its terrorist ties, but found no illegal activity. Here in Canada, we laugh it off when a cabinet minister is attacked.
Where’s our national self-respect — and our defence of our democratic institutions?
I'm going to miss Matthew Good.
For those who aren't part of Generation X, Good is a Vancouver pop star, scheduled to come out with a new album later this month. But Monday on his Facebook page, he made a stunning announcement: He is against electricity.
You know, as in the thing that powers the stereos that play his music and the spotlights that shine in his concerts. Oh, and that runs Facebook, on which he made his announcement.
"The world functioned prior to the advent of power," he announced. "In fact, it did so incredibly well for millennia."
He has been thinking a lot about electricity since he read Japanese nuclear reactors were damaged by the recent earthquake.
Good criticizes nuclear power. And oil too. So after one of his patented rants, he came up with his own proposal for electricity: "None of them."
"I'm a fan of candle light," he declared. "What can I say -- candles don't burn for 300 years whilst encased in concrete with the ability to cause cancer if the concrete cracks."
This is what passes for deep thought in show business.
Like so many of Canada's beautiful people, Good fashions himself an environmentalist. And so, while the Japanese tragedy unfolds, and many thousands of dead have yet to be buried, Good felt it appropriate to weigh in on the evils of nuclear power.
There are some show business types who actually live their creed. Quirky actor Ed Begley Jr. is one of them. He lives in a small house by Hollywood standards, uses an exercise bike to power his toaster, and putts around in electric go-karts. It's a bizarre, inefficient and impractical lifestyle, which is why only an eccentric millionaire can afford to do it. But at least, unlike Good, he's practising what he preaches.
For Matthew Good to rail against electricity is about as credible as Charlie Sheen doing a public service announcement telling kids to lay off drugs.
Good's website's home page is a gorgeous photo of a concert stage -- bathed in dazzling spotlights. His blog details the dozens of cities he has travelled to for concerts. The man has the carbon footprint of a small village. Yet he condemns electrical power.
Good's fatuous claims about mankind's glorious past before electricity aren't just a jarring contrast to his own high-powered lifestyle. They're also factually false.
Before electricity, mankind's state of affairs was bleak. Life expectancy 200 years ago was just 35. Good is 39 years old and should think about that.
Life wasn't just shorter. It was brutal, and grindingly poor. It's not hard to imagine. Just look at those parts of the world today without power -- over a billion people have to cook their dinners on an open flame. There's not a lot of room for pop music in the world's most excruciatingly poor countries. They're too busy trying to survive.
It must be tough for pop stars to reconcile their hedonistic, materialistic, high-carbon lifestyles with liberal cliches like "reduce, reuse and recycle."
Other showbiz types such as Al Gore and James Cameron just bluff it out, and hope we're too starstruck to notice the chasm between what they preach and what they practise.
Maybe Good will prove his skeptics wrong. Let's see if his album will be called: "Matthew Good Unplugged" -- a live album from Pyongyang.
The price of gas in Canada is back up to $1.20 a litre, even $1.30 in some cities. And with crude oil at $105 a barrel and rising, the price at the pumps is likely to climb higher still.
It’s tough on an economy recovering from the Great Recession, and it raises prices on everything from food to airplane tickets.
So Stephane Dion should be pleased.
In the 2008 election Dion, the former Liberal leader, proposed a carbon tax he called the Green Shift. He said the tax would “shift” Canadians away from polluting activities such as driving cars and heating homes towards “using cleaner energy or innovating to become more energy efficient.”
Seriously, that was the plan: Make fuel so costly to burn that Canadians just wouldn’t do it anymore. Exactly how Canadians were supposed to suddenly “innovate” to use less energy when, say, driving their same old car was never quite explained.
But let’s be non-partisan. Progressive Conservative Joe Clark can claim to be the inventor of the Canadian carbon tax back in 1979 when he proposed an 18 cents/gallon tax hike on gas.
And no one less than Al Gore, Nobel Prize Winner, Oscar Winner, and proud owner of three power-gobbling homes has called for a tax on carbon, too. Gore’s 20-room Nashville home burns so much energy, in 2006 his electricity and gas bill was $30,000 — more than many people’s yearly mortgage payments. For rich men like Gore, paying an extra $25,000 a year in energy costs isn’t a big deal — especially when being anti-oil is a profitable business.
But for mere citizens, higher energy prices are a problem, because of what economists call inelasticity of demand.
Inelastic demand describes something you just have to buy, no matter how expensive it is. Like a glass of water in the middle of a desert — you’d pay anything for it, if you were thirsty. If there’s enough water for everyone, the price will be stable. But if there’s a shortage — if a single person has to go without — even a small reduction in supply can cause a massive spike in price.
That’s what’s going on with oil right now: Libya produces less than 2% of the world’s oil supply, but panic over its reliability has caused oil prices to jump by more than 10%.
Politicians traditionally like to tax luxuries that are discretionary — things people can do without. And their favourite taxes are “sin” taxes, on things like liquor. But since when is driving your kids to school, or fueling up an ambulance a “sin” to be taxed?
That is the hypocrisy of the left. They demand fuels be taxed for environmental reasons. But when the price of fuel rises for other reasons — say, instability in the Middle East — the left accuses the oil companies of gouging. Well, which is it?
Like other global commodities — steel, gold, wheat — the price of oil is set by the principles of supply and demand. China and India are demanding more each year — they all want to be two-car families. So don’t expect the price of oil to come down anytime soon.
Do you hate paying more at the pumps because of Middle East chaos?
If so, then why would you ever tolerate paying more on purpose, because of liberal carbon taxes?
The Middle East is not the only place with street protests. The midwest has them, too. Like the great state of Wisconsin.
There are a few differences, naturally. In Arabia, the protesters are for more democracy and against privileged government elites.
In Wisconsin, the protesters are the privileged government elites -public sector unions. And they're protesting against the state's democratically elected government that is desperately trying to balance the budget.
Labour unions are a great innovation, developed by necessity during the Industrial Revolution. Before workplace safety laws were commonplace, it fell to the unions to negotiate protections for coal miners or factory workers.
But labour unions in the 21st century bear no resemblance to those from earlier eras. Today, only 7% of Americans in the private sector choose to unionize. Compare that to 37% of government workers.
Of course, those government workers are not slaving away in coal mines. Typically, they're bureaucrats. The very idea of calling them "labour" unions would sound a touch precious to workers of the past.
Speaking of precious, those government workers have a pretty good deal going. In Wisconsin the average teacher earns $56,500 a year. That's not bad -it's higher than the average household income in the state. But then there's the gravy: According to the Milwaukee school board, the average teacher gets additional benefits and perks bringing their total compensation over $100,000. Not bad for a job with a nice summer and winter break.
Those riches are simply unmoored from reality -- reality that would put a private sector company out of business, or at least demand stellar results for such stellar pay.
Wisconsin hasn't been getting stellar results. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68% of Grade 4 students and 66% of Grade 8 students in Wisconsin can read at only a "basic" level or lower. Only a small fraction of Wisconsin students earned a "proficient" grade. To be fair, some other states were worse -- in the Deep South, or states with large minority or immigrant populations. So what's rich, white Wisconsin's excuse?
If Wisconsin's government workers were in the private sector, they'd have been laid off. It's still a recession in the U.S. with a national unemployment rate of 9%. But there's no recession when you work for the government. The opposite: You get to pocket the bulk of any "stimulus" spending.
Wisconsin loves government. They haven't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Reagan. In 2008 they overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.
But then the recession really set in. Everyone made cutbacks. Except the government. Obama decided to borrow from China. Wisconsin disagreed, and last November swept the Democrats out of their statehouse.
Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, has proposed to cut government perks to help cover the $3.6 billion deficit. Government workers would still be paid more than their private sector counterparts, but the gap wouldn't be as big. And in the future, government unions could only negotiate wages--not all of those extra gold-plated perks.
Walker has the votes to do it. Polls show 71% of Wisconsinites support his proposal. But Democrat lawmakers have fled the state, to deny Walker the quorum necessary to put his deal to a vote in the legislature.
This is an important showdown. Government workers like to call themselves public servants. But they've shown that when their perks are in question, they serve no one but themselves.