28 May 2016

Kudos to Wildrose (the Fildebrandt story, part two)

In my last post I criticized Wildrose financial critic Derek Fildebrandt for his boorish insulting of visiting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in the Alberta legislature on Thursday. I concluded by suggesting the Wildrose leader should have a talk with his loutish colleague. Well, I give Wildrose credit, they took action.

Yesterday, they issued an apology on behalf of Fildebrandt. Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper admitted it was a mistake to insult Wynne while she was a guest at the legislature, saying "We didn't have a respectful tone yesterday. We express regret for how things unfolded."

Furthermore, Fildebrandt has since been suspended from the party caucus for yet another faux pas. In an exchange of comments with a constituent on social media following the legislature debacle, he applauded the constituent who sarcastically referred to Premier Wynne as "Mr." Wildrose leader Brian Jean said the comment "does not reflect the values of the Wildrose caucus" and then gave his colleague the boot.

Mr. Jean has done the right thing and at least partly restored the reputation of his party, the Alberta legislature and Albertans. As he says, Mr. Fildebrandt's comments decidedly do not reflect the values of most of us.

Derek Fildebrandt outdoes his usual boorish self

That all too many of our politicians all too often behave boorishly in our legislatures is an unfortunate fact of life and politics. A recent incident in the House of Commons focused international attention on the antics of its members. Not to be outdone by his federal counterparts, Wildrose financial critic Derek Fildebrandt put on a prize-winning display of boorishness of his own in the Alberta legislature on Thursday.

The legislature was being visited by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne. Fildebrandt took advantage of the occasion to launch into an attack on the perceived failings of the Ontario government and, during question period, as Premier Notley attempted to answer a question, shouted, "Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall!"

I could at this point refer to Alberta's reputed western hospitality, but I've never believed we are any more hospitable than any other province and Fildebrandt has confirmed my view, so I'll not play that card. I will, however refer to simple good manners. It is a rule, everywhere in the world, that when you have a guest in your house you treat her with respect. Whether or not you agree with her politics is irrelevant. Apparently Derek Fildebrandt's mother never taught him that simple rule, so I suppose good manners is beyond our expectations.

What we should be able to expect, however, is a smidgen of political smarts. The Alberta government has been working hard to gain support for the Energy East pipeline, and the good will of Ontario is critical to that effort. So what does this fool do? He publicly insults the premier of Ontario.

I doubt that Fildebrandt's foolishness will affect Premier Wynne's views on the pipeline. She is after all, unlike Fildebrandt, a grown-up. Nonetheless, one wonders why the Wildrose allow this man to act as a party spokesman when he consistently allows his ego and his hostility to override his common sense. (Yes, this is the same Derek Fildebrandt who accused the NDP of deceiving Albertans because they were keeping their campaign promises.) Wildrosers claim to be great supporters of the oil industry and of pipelines. If so, their leader might just have a word with their loutish colleague about his verbal sabotaging of the government's efforts to promote Energy East.

15 May 2016

It just got harder to kill people legally

Pity the poor American executioner. Not bad enough that there's all these anti-capital punishment liberals trying to put him out of a job, but now the pharmaceutical companies are conspiring against him.

Most U.S. states still exercise the death penalty and most use lethal injection to dispatch their victims. Unfortunately for the killer states, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced this week that it has imposed extensive controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, thus shutting down the last open-market source of drugs used for executions. Distributors must certify they will not resell the drugs to corrections departments and will be closely monitored. Pfizer joined over two dozen American and European drug companies who have, for moral or business reasons, already adopted similar restrictions.

According to Maya Foa of Reprieve, a London-based human rights advocacy group, "All FDA-approved manufacturers of any potential execution drug have now blocked their sale for this purpose. Executing states must now go underground if they want to get hold of medicines for use in lethal injection."

Some states have used straw buyers or imported drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (only to have them seized by federal agents) or bought supplies covertly from loosely regulated pharmacies that will tailor-make products. Other states are simply delaying executions. Some are considering other methods of execution: electrocution, gas chambers, hanging or even firing squads. Professional killers can never be faulted for a lack of ingenuity.

What, one wonders, is the world coming to when an honest executioner has to metaphorically hang out on street corners trying to score drugs. It almost sounds criminal.

14 May 2016

Post Media comes begging

It had to be mortifying for Postmedia president and CEO Paul Godfrey to come before a House of Commons committee this week and plead for financial assistance. The media mogul wants Ottawa to spend more on Canadian newspaper ads and to give greater tax breaks to companies that do the same. He would also like Heritage Canada's Aid to Publishers program expanded to include daily publications. "We're asking the government to be an ally, not for a bailout of the Canadian newspaper industry," he whined. Right, Paul.

For a right-winger like Godfrey to not only ask government for help, but a Liberal government at that, it must have been excruciating. This is the same fierce critic of media subsidies, the same owner who sold a chunk of his empire to an American hedge fund outfit, the same publisher who ran a full front-page Conservative campaign ad in Elections Canada colours two days before last year's federal election. The Liberals on the committee were quick to point this out.

Godfrey is one of a long line of conservative businessmen who rail against government handouts, but when their business or their industry falls on hard times, they don't hesitate to justify a little welfare for themselves, always for the good of the country of course.

I doubt Mr. Godfrey will have much luck begging largesse from this government. Nor should he. Postmedia is a staunch promoter of neoliberal philosophy and should be expected to live by its principles. Live by the free market, die by the free market.

12 May 2016

Paul Martin—Canada's greatest finance minister?

Paul Martin's official prime ministerial portrait was unveiled on Parliament Hill on Wednesday. During the ceremony, he was referred to as the greatest finance minister in our history—lavish praise indeed. But deserving? I believe so. He did at least three things that, in my mind, place him in that rarefied position.

First, he balanced the budget after a string of Conservative and Liberal government deficits let the national debt get out of hand. He was ruthless, cutting nearly every department, and many on the left were furious at his assaults on social programs and the CBC. Being on the left myself I cringed at these cuts, but I am also a child of the 1930s, born during the Great Depression, and many of my generation have frugality, a "make do" attitude, etched into our bones. I therefore supported, albeit reluctantly, balancing the federal budget as a necessary and courageous act. He didn't make the cuts the way I would have, but then politicians often follow policies contrary to my infinite wisdom and yet, to my surprise, they work.

Secondly, he put the Canada Pension Plan on a sound footing. Previously it had been used recklessly as a source of cheap loans for the provinces. He created an independent board with investment in the hands of professional management, greatly enhancing financial security for millions of older Canadians, of which I am one.

And thirdly, he resisted enormous pressure from the Americans (and the Brits) to deregulate our banking industry, thus saving our financial bacon during the crash of 2008. Ironically, Stephen Harper usually gets credit for managing us through the crisis when, if he had been prime minister during the 1990s, he would almost certainly have collaborated enthusiastically in deregulation, an approach right up his neoliberal alley.

These three achievements alone, all of singular importance to the health, economic and otherwise, of our country, elevate the Right Honourable gentleman to the top rank of finance ministers. The greatest? He has my vote.