24 September 2015

Enough of this low tax nonsense

If conservatives believe in low taxes in order to keep government small, so be it, but when they insist that low taxes are necessary for a healthy economy, they are talking rot, parroting a mantra that has been utterly disproved.

The low tax theory can in fact be refuted with one word: Sweden. I could use other words, e.g. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, etc., but Sweden will do. Sweden has the world's second highest taxes as a per cent of GDP (Denmark has the highest). It also has a per capita GDP higher than ours and is ranked by the World Economic Forum as having the world's sixth-most competitive economy. (We rank 14th.) In other words, with a tax rate of 47 per cent of GDP compared to our 33 per cent, it performs as well or better than us economically. And it does this with a fraction of the natural resources that we possess. For instance, it has no oil or natural gas—to a Canadian, the essentials for a strong economy.

A number of other countries can tell a similar story. The proof is irrefutable. Indeed, we can go further. Not only do high taxes not preclude a robust economy, they may be necessary to achieve a nation's best economic performance. After all, in the modern world an optimal economy requires excellent social infrastructure—a healthy, well-educated population in which all members can fulfill their potential. And it requires excellent physical infrastructure—good roads, docks, water and sewer facilities, etc. And excellence costs money. Low taxes can't afford it.

How taxes are applied is another matter. Different taxes create different incentives and disincentives, so which taxes a government emphasizes can be important to economic health, and this certainly deserves debate. But that high overall taxation is in itself a disincentive to an economy is an argument deserving of a quick trip to the ideological dumpster.

23 September 2015

Why this Dipper is voting Liberal in Calgary Centre

Liberals have been screwing Calgary for a long time. When one hears this, one's thoughts immediately turn to Trudeau senior and his National Energy Program. But it started long before that. Back in the beginning in fact. When Alberta became a province in 1905, Frank Oliver, Edmonton newspaper publisher and Liberal MP, persuaded Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier to make his hometown the capital of the new province. His justification was simple—Calgary voted Conservative, Edmonton voted Liberal.

Calgary thought in all fairness it should at least get the University of Alberta. It wasn't to be. Alexander Rutherford, president of the Liberal Party of Alberta, was appointed the first premier and located it in his hometown of Strathcona, now part of Edmonton. Edmonton 2, Calgary 0, all because of the conniving Liberals.

Nonetheless, that's who I'll be voting for. Actually, that's not quite correct—for this election, I'm doing something I rarely do, voting for the candidate, not the party. The last time I did this federally was vote for Joe Clark over an incumbent Reformer in 2001. This time I'm voting for Kent Hehr. The reason is twofold. First, he has easily the best chance of any of the opposition candidates to defeat the Conservative incumbent. Secondly, he has been my MLA for the past seven years and he's been a damn good one. He deserves to go on to the senior level.

As a member of the NDP, I'd prefer to support the party. And I will, in dollars. But this is one of those times my vote just has to go to the other guys.  In 2001, Joe Clark won. I can only hope I've picked another winner.

16 September 2015

Saints and slackers on the refugee front

The Canadian government has come under considerable criticism for its sluggish reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, and deservedly so. As I pointed out in a previous post, this is in sharp contrast to our response to other similar crises.

A number of countries are doing much better than us, and then there are those that are doing much worse. On the better side are some of Syria's neighbours. Turkey has taken in more than any other country, 1,600,000 refuges, and Jordan and Lebanon, despite their small size, have received over 600,000 and 1,100,000 respectively.

Of the total number of refugees, the UN Refugee Agency estimates 380,000 are in need of resettlement. To date, 107,000 places have been offered with Germany the most generous country, offering to resettle 35,000, a third of the places required.

Not all nations are so welcoming. A number of high income countries, including Japan and South Korea, have offered zero resettlement. The worst malingerers can be counted among the Syrians' rich Arab neighbours. The Gulf states—Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia—have offered no places to their Semitic brothers and sisters. There can be no excuses here. The Gulf region has immense wealth and ample job opportunities—millions of professionals and labourers are imported from around the world to service the lifestyles and enterprises of these states.

Also noticeably absent from the list of nations offering to accept refugees are Russia and Iran. Neither has offered refuge to a single Syrian. Considering that they have been supporting Bashar Al-Assad in his brutal attempt to maintain power, the least they can do is provide sanctuary to some of his victims.

Canada can do much more to help these people, but we are not alone in shirking our humanitarian responsibility. There are others who should also be doing more, some a great deal more than us.

14 September 2015

Vote CBC

The CBC, our national broadcaster, is usually justified on the basis of two fundamentally important services it provides: it serves as stage for Canadian culture and it unites a broad, diverse country. I suggest it serves us in yet another way that is equally important: it is the only national mass medium that is not owned by and accountable to the corporate sector, i.e. the only truly independent voice. And, I might add, as the only national medium we own and is accountable to us, the only democratic voice.

Despite the invaluable service it provides us, we have not been serving it too well for the past few decades. During the Liberal's term in office, the CBC's Parliamentary appropriation fell from $1.6-billion, in 2014 dollars, to $1.3-billion. Since the Conservatives came to power, it has dropped further to $1.0-billion. Per capita, each Canadian pays only $29 per year for public broadcasting, a paltry sum compared to the average for Western countries of $82.

It is more than a bargain, it's a steal. While we pay the appropriation with our taxes, we pay for commercial broadcasting via advertising. Every time we buy a dozen oranges or a pair of socks, we pay a few pennies for advertising, a portion of which goes to private TV and radio. What we pay private broadcasting via advertising works out (I've done the math) to five times what we pay for the CBC with our taxes.

The Conservative government has done more than squeeze the CBC financially. In 2013, it placed the broadcaster under the supervision of the Treasury Board, thereby undermining its editorial independence from government, contrary to the Broadcasting Act. The current 12-member CBC board has been appointed entirely by the Conservatives, nine of which, including the president, have been financial contributors to the party.

Restoring funding and editorial independence to our national broadcaster should be a key priority for any government elected next month. Canadian culture, Canadian unity, and Canadian democracy deserve and demand it. Those who agree can join a good friend of the CBC here and vote in the best interests of the corporation on October 19th.

06 September 2015

How many refugees should we accept?

Joseph Stalin once said that if you kill one person it's murder, if you kill a million it's a statistic. The old psychopath, who knew a lot about killing one person and about killing a million, put his finger on a key element of human sensibility. We have difficulty connecting to people in the aggregate; we need to connect to the individual to realize our humanity. Such is the case with the Syrian refugee crisis.

The civil war in that country has created millions of refugees and we have paid limited attention, but the picture of little Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach has touched the world's heart. Like Kevin Carter's famous photo of a vulture looming behind a starving Sudanese infant, or that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing her napalmed Vietnamese village, Aylan's photo has become the symbol of his people's tragedy.

Historically, Canada has been generous in accepting refugees from violence. When the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, we accepted 37,000 refugees. We took in over 100,000 boat people after the Vietnam war. And this was when our population was much smaller. We should be able to accept substantially larger numbers today. The Syrian crisis is as pressing as either of these tragedies and deserves equal generosity, yet our response has been pathetic. Fewer than 2,400 Syrians have been resettled in Canada during the last two years, with an overall commitment by our government to accept a meagre 11,300.

The NDP proposes bringing in more than 46,000 government-sponsored refugees by 2019, including 10,000 by the end of this year. The Liberals call for expansion of our intake to 25,000. If we accepted the same number as we did after the Hungarian uprising proportional to our population today, the number would be almost 80,000, and we are a much richer country today. If we are no less a moral country, even the NDP and Liberal figures are modest. We can do much, much better.

05 September 2015

Ms. Harper supports the NDP position on marijuana

Speaking at a Conservative campaign office last week, Laureen Harper, the prime minister's better half, declared that when it comes to marijuana possession, "You don't put people in jail." On the other hand, she also said marijuana use was worse than smoking or alcohol and she opposes full legalization. Nonetheless, her view would seem to approximate the NDP's policy of decriminalization. It certainly contradicts Conservative Party policy which is the status quo—up to five years for possession of a small amount with six months or a $1,000 fine for a first-time offence.

I prefer the Liberal Party position myself, i.e. legalization. I don't use the stuff, but I can't think of any good reason why I should prevent anyone else enjoying a toke or two. Decriminalization is small progress but it's something and, according to a recent Ipsos Reid-Global poll, supported by two out of three Canadians.

Veering off message like Ms. Harper has done could get a Conservative in big trouble in her husband's control-obsessed party. It is doubtful, however, that anyone would dare scold the PM's missus, his "best political advisor." In any case, it is a pleasure to see at least one Harper on the right side of the issue, even if only marginally so.