The Canadian Independent

Dalton’s hidden bureaucrats: When people in private society do this – they go to prison

Posted in Ontario, Politics, Role of Government, The Public Sector by dave on April 2, 2010

The Ontario government is hiding what it pays bureaucrats, and breaking its own guidelines, by using crown corporations to pay their salaries so they don’t show on the books:

The Liberal government is on the defensive for continuing to channel salaries for top-earning civil servants through hospitals and other institutions where they are not employed.

Despite a promise from Premier Dalton McGuinty last October that “we’re going to change it,” salaries such as the $511,971 paid to former deputy health minister Ron Sapsford were still listed through hospitals in the government’s annual four-volume “sunshine list” made public Thursday.

The list reveals the earnings of public employees making more than $100,000 annually.

As first revealed by the Star last October, the government has been hiding the salaries of some high-rolling bureaucrats to avoid public scrutiny and skirt civil service pay guidelines, such as the maximum of $220,150 recommended for deputy ministers.

When private companies hide their finances from investors and the public, the industry regulators shut them down and imprison their CEOs. When the government hides their finances, finances confiscated unwillingly from the public, through shady accounting practices the politicians just say “Oh, it won’t happen again!” and continue on business as usual, as the media has moved to the next issue of the day.

If we’re going to believe that there are certain moral principles that everyone has to obey, why are those moral principles abandoned when applied to government?


Solving the problem of political representation – but only in one dimension

Posted in Elections, Politics, Role of Government by dave on April 2, 2010

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has given Ontario two surprise gifts – 18 additional members of Parliament and an admission that the province was badly treated in previous attempts to overhaul the Commons.

Many of the new MPs will likely be in the GTA, particularly in the suburbs, where Conservatives have been keen to form a strong base in Ontario.

In legislation unveiled on Thursday by Steven Fletcher, Minister of State of Democratic Reform, Ontario was given 18 additional seats – nearly double the 10 that were offered the last time the federal government tried to adjust representation in the Commons.

“Canadians living in Ontario were saying they were being treated differently than Canadians in other faster-growing provinces,” Fletcher said. “We reflected on that and it turns out that there was a case to be made.”

British Columbia has been given seven new seats and Alberta five additional MPs, in further recognition of the need for the fastest-growing provinces to be better served in Parliament.

That’s a gain of 30 seats overall in the Commons, bringing the total up to 338 MPs.

This is a smart move. The idea is to make our political system more representative of the people in Canada, and having some provinces which have a higher number of people per representative than others skews the political balance in the favor of those provinces which are “over-represented” in the House of Commons. Adding MPs to those areas where the population has been growing is one way to deal with this problem.

It helps to deal with the problem of lack of representation of Canadian opinion in the government that we have in society today. However, it doesn’t solve it, and only helps it in one dimension.

With our first-past-the-post electoral system, we can still have governments which hold 70% of the seats in parliament, while only receiving 40% of the votes at election time. This gives  parties a nearly-dictatorial control over Canadian policy, even though they certainly don’t have the support of the population to justify that kind of control. (Think the Chretien era.) Moving to a proportional representation system would help to resolve this issue. Ah! But what about regional representation? Isn’t that important? You could solve that by just having a mixed system, 50% of the seats decided in ridings and 50% from a list.

Whats for dinner?

However, even if we had proportional representation, and everyone’s vote went to elect who they wanted, we still have a basic problem. Politics is a game of competing menus. What do I mean by this? Well at election time, each major parties presents a menu of policy changes they’d like to make. So one party will announce a national daycare program, tax cuts and more money for universities. Another party will announce more funding to healthcare, tax cuts maybe in another area, and more money for the military.

The result is that we choose between 3-4 competing menus, crafted by party insiders, and this is supposed to be representative of what the Canadian people want. And most of the time, once the parties are in office and election time is over, they do many things that weren’t on the menu, simply because the party at that point thinks its appropriate. For instance, proroguing parliament to avoid questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees.

The reality is that politics isn’t representative, its a comfortable paper construct to justify the way our system works, but its not real.

The issue of ten percenters continues

Posted in Politics, Role of Government by dave on April 2, 2010

Parliamentarians can no longer send free partisan mail-outs into their opponents’ ridings or use as many free envelopes as they wish.

The moves were approved Monday by the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, which was responding to complaints that MPs are wasting taxpayers’ funds for partisan purposes.

In a long-standing tradition, MPs can use public funds to send mail-outs to 10 per cent of the residences in their riding whenever they want. However, MPs recently started using the tool to send massive amounts of partisan mail into their opponents’ ridings.

Some people are talking about this as though its a major victory. It really is a non-victory, because they can still send massive amounts of partisan mail in their own district as public expense. And it does nothing else to deal with the rest of the problems and pitfalls of public funding to political parties.

Heres a thought. Lets make political parties responsible for mailing flyers with partisan material on them, on their own dime. Whatever they can raise through voluntary means and want to spend on printing and mailing, fine. No different than a store sending out catalogues. However, the subsidy of this kind of activity is really inappropriate when you consider that the money was taken away from Canadian people, against their will, who would otherwise spend it on their home, family, friends or in commerce. And now its used to say that Michael Ignatieff is a great big bore (which he is), or Stephen Harper sucks the blood of young children for sustenance.

I really think this is indicative of a larger problem about the way government views itself in 2010. The government is supposedly just the political arm of society, reflecting our wants and needs through the democratic process and responding to them admirably. The reality is that a small group of politicians play political games with their own set of arbitrary rules at our expense, and not to our benefit.

Ignatieff: Wrong on deficit reduction, wrong on economic policy

Posted in Politics, Role of Government, The Economy by dave on April 2, 2010

I was watching Ignatieff give a 20 minute interview with Strombo on The Hour [Relevant portion starts at 15:20], and when it came to economic policy Iggy said a few peculiar things that I don’t think make a lot of sense.

First George asks if Ignatieff would raise the GST back to 7% to try to reduce the deficit. Ignatieff says no. Good, new taxes aren’t necessary. When asked how he would tackle the deficit, Ignatieff said that he would prevent the further scheduled cuts to the corporate tax rate, freezing it at the level it is now. He claims that this would recoup 5 billion that would have not been collected had the taxes been lowered next year.

However, the deficit is 54 billion. So after he cancels the tax cut, next year it will be 49 billion if spending remains the same. Not much of a deficit reduction plan, its kind of like Harper’s: make minor policy changes, and wait.

A real deficit reduction plan would cap spending in services which the government believes are “essential,” and to bring in across the board cuts to departments over a 2-3 year time period. 5% per year for 3 years would take care of the deficit, and tighten the belt. Of course, much more of that could go, but things need to be taken one step at a time.

Oh, but now we learn that Ignatieff isn’t going to use the total 5 billion for deficit reduction. He is going to use a portion of it towards learning, training and education. Why?

Well, according to Ignatieff a major economic crisis is coming. He explains how many people will be retiring from the work force, over a million, which is true. He also tells us that in the future there is going to be not only a labor shortage due to all of these people retiring but an unemployment problem because there won’t be enough trained people to take over the jobs of the people retiring.

On the surface this should seem like a serious problem, but its not. Why? Simple, because prices coordinate the pattern of production in a society over time. What the hell does that mean? Think about it like this: Boomers are retiring from trades professions, like contractors, farmers, roofers, and the like. This means there will be fewer trades people working. If just as many people demand the services of trades people, this means there will be more bids per tradesperson. This increased competition for his services, will increase the price he can charge and the profits he will reap from hsi service.

Other individuals in society, seeing that these are now lucrative and profitable professions will move, by their own motivation, towards trades schools and getting into those industries to earn money. Think about the IT and computer repair industry in the 90s. Suddenly home desktop PCs were everywhere, and people were having problems with them. There were few skilled professionals who could deal with the demand, and in the beginning these people were very well compensated. Many colleges and universities, within a few years time, created specialized programs to teach people how to do these jobs. The DeVry institute comes to mind. Then, people drawn by the promise of a good income, moved into this area. So what happened? Demand was eventually filled, and the prices (profitability) of those professions dropped in proportion to more people working in it. Society had its computers fixed, because of individuals seeing an opportunity and moving to fill it for their own self-gain.

Ignatieff’s problem is the exact same. To commit government spending to try to solve a problem which isn’t a problem in the first place, is just waste.

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BC Environment Minister’s Cat sets fire to self during Earth Hour; hilarity ensues

Posted in Humor, Politics, The Environment by dave on April 1, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 30 (UPI) — A cat belonging to the British Columbia minister of the environment set itself on fire with a candle during the weekend observance of Earth Hour.

Barry Penner and his wife Daris were having a candlelit dinner in Vancouver Saturday when their 5-year-old cat named Ranger brushed against a flame, the Vancouver Sun reported.

Hahaha, what a ridiculous turn of events.

UK: 66 y/o Woman forced to wear ankle bracelet for selling goldfish to 14 year old

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues, Politics, Role of Government, UK by dave on April 1, 2010

Another egregious case of British decline into a heavily-managed society:

SALE, England, March 30 (UPI) — A 66-year-old British woman was fined and ordered to wear an ankle monitor as punishment for selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old.

Joan Higgins, 66, owner of Majors Pet Shop in Sale, England, was fined $1,506, ordered to wear an ankle monitor and given a seven-week curfew as punishment for selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old boy sent into the store by police on a test buy, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.

A 2006 law prohibits the sale of live fish to children under the age of 16.

I think this is an important case because it really speaks to a whole range of other larger and more important questions. Its a good case of the government going way overboard to enforce a law which really shouldn’t be a law to begin with.

And this shouldn’t be a law. I can’t imagine what the reasoning behind a law which prohibits the sale of live fish to people under the age of 16, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. From my point of view, one of the essential ingredients to a tolerant and prosperous society is acknowledging that individuals should have the right to make arrangements and exchanges with other people on terms that they set out between them. Freedom of exchange, in other words. And I think to infringe upon this freedom you should need a really strong case, such as the case for prohibiting minors from purchasing alcohol. I don’t think there is any case for banning 14 year olds from buying goldfish, and as such the restriction of freedom of exchange here is totally inappropriate.

Spurious laws like these divert police resources away from solving real crimes and protecting people, to trying to manage the voluntary transactions of private people who aren’t hurting anybody. For every officer investigating violations of these kinds of laws, laws which do nothing but to try to manage the affairs of otherwise law abiding private citizens, there is one less officer that COULD be investigating murderers, rapists, thieves and other criminals. Real criminals. Selling a goldfish to a 14 year old doesn’t count.

The penalties in this case are also ridiculous. They fined her $1506, gave her 7 weeks of “curfew”, and have forced her to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so they can monitor her whereabouts. All this because she sold a goldfish to a 14 year old boy. When the penalties for crime don’t fit the crime, the rule of law is diminished because people trust the authorities less and avoid the official channels when they have a problem. When governments write laws which stand in the way of the general will of the society, the rule of law is undermined because people simply break the law, and the level of respect for all laws of the state in the society is diminished.

The Anatomy of the State

So what should the standard for government involvement be? Well in my mind its a simple ethical proposition. The proper job of the government is to act in defense of our rights. To prevent others from violating them, and adjudicating disputes between private individuals. People’s rights are violated when another person initiates violence, or the threat of violence, against their person or property. People have the right to defend themselves and their rights from being violated. The only legitimate job of government is to protect people rights violations as an extension of this principle.

Alright, why? Well, I’m sure most people would agree that the initiation of violence against an otherwise innocent person is wrong. Threatening violence to gain the compliance of an otherwise innocent person is wrong too. Coercion. The issue here is: All functions of the government rely necessarily on the threat of violence, or violence itself to operate. So, when the government acts beyond its only function, protecting people from rights violations, it is no longer acting defensively. It is acting aggressively, violating peoples individual rights and becoming the very same as the criminals and rights violators that the government is set up to protect us from in the first place.

Guergis letter writers business as usual, made public

Posted in Blogs & Bloggers, Politics by dave on April 1, 2010

This story broke a few days ago, but I think its important because it really is business as usual for partisan politics here in Canada.

OTTAWA— Embattled junior Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis says she had no idea her office assistant has been sending pro-Guergis letters to local newspapers posing as a regular voter.

Guergis, already under fire for an airport security tantrum last month in Charlottetown, says her riding assistant has agreed the letter campaign was inappropriate and has apologized.

The assistant used her married name, rather than the maiden name she uses in her professional life, to send letters defending Guergis to newspapers in her Simcoe-Grey riding northwest of Toronto — without any hint that they came from a Guergis employee.

The practice of parties having supportive letters sent to local papers and even national papers isn’t new at all, and Guergis is not the only “culprit” of this. Generally the way it works is the EDA (Electoral District Association) board members for each party will ghost write letters or atleast set up templates of talking points for supporters to send to local papers. These talking points are often sent out from the political arm of the party in the first place, generally in a weekly or daily email. Occasionally these talking points get leaked out to the media.

Guergis’ sin isn’t that shes doing something thats fundamentally different than what other mainstream political parties in Canada do. Her sin is that she got caught for it, adding another scandal to a a growing list of troubles shes having.

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party, as well as Jack Layton are calling for her resignation from her position of Minister of State for the Status of Women. Seems to me the more important question is why should such a position exist in the first place?

Quick, Ban the sumo suit, its “racist”

Posted in Fuzzy Philosophical or Moral Issues, Politics by dave on April 1, 2010

Dear AMS members and members of the Queen’s community,
We are writing in regards to an event that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday March 30th, organized and run by a group in the AMS. This event was planned to have students don padded suits, coloured and designed to resemble Japanese sumo wrestlers. The Facebook event created to advertise this event, entitled “SUMO Showdown,” included a picture of two cartoon Japanese wrestlers grappling.

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

Regrettably, those of us who were aware of the event did not critically consider the racist meaning behind it. Asking students to wear these suits and partake in the activity appropriates an aspect of Japanese culture. This is wrong because it turns a racial identity into a costume; the process of putting-on and taking-off a racial identity is problematic because it dehumanizes those who share that identity and fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced. The event also devalues an ancient and respected Japanese sport, which is rich in history and cultural tradition.

Student unions and student politics are dominated by minor issues made into major issues. The whole undergraduate world is a bubble of its own substance filled with activists with their own pet issues. Ethnic studies and “anti-racism” is one of them.

However these students get the analysis wrong. Look at their own definition of racism:

We recognize racism as the systemic oppression, both intentional and unintentional, of individuals and groups based on racial or ethnic identities.

The key word here is ‘systemic oppression.’ Oppression in a real sense is the violation of a person’s rights, the initiation of coercion or violence against a person or their property by another person. If someone says something mean about me, this isn’t necessarily a violation of my rights. If someone says something mean about my race or my occupation or gender, this isn’t a violation of my rights either. These things aren’t nice, but there are a lot of things that aren’t nice that aren’t a violation of my rights, and therefore are not oppression.

College kids dressing up in sumo suits, a caricature of a Japanese sport, isn’t oppression, its just fun.

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Oops, what are you talking about Coulter

Posted in America, Blogs & Bloggers, Politics by dave on March 27, 2010

Coulter calls Canada the least diverse country she’s seen
Few protesters on hand before U.S. pundit tells crowd they’re least diverse she’s ever seen

The polite crowd of 900 listened as Coulter talked about diversity, gays, and bias in the media.

The audience gave a huge cheer when Coulter proposed making Calgary the 51st of the United States.

She said Canada was the least diverse country she’s seen — which brought objections from the audience, but she pointed out that everyone in the crowd looked like she did.

Huh. I guess its too bad Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world.

Picking your Battles: Lefty Profs vs the Military Myth

Posted in Afghanistan, Blogs & Bloggers, Foreign Policy, Politics by dave on March 26, 2010

One of the stories making waves in the Blogosphere are conservative types being outraged by this story. Essentially some lefty profs got together and wrote a letter to the administration of the University of Regina about the “Project Hero” program. This is a scholarship program which provides a $1,000 scholarship to the children of deceased Canadian servicemen or women.

In our view, support for “Project Hero” represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates “heroism” with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices.  In signing on to “Project Hero”, the university is implicated in the disturbing construction of the war in Afghanistan by Western military- and state-elites as the “good war” of our epoch. We insist that our university not be connected with the increasing militarization of Canadian society and politics.

These guys have the right idea.

Militarism is a real problem for Western societies. For all societies. Its waste, first and foremost. Using resources to produce goods and create jobs that people don’t legitimately demand in society, simply those that the government demands, is wasting those resources. Aggressive foreign intervention ruins our moral standing in the world, and makes Canadians less safe by creating enemies with at no tangible benefit to the Canadian people. In response to these enemies, the Canadian state must reduce our legal protections and privacy to keep us safe from them. The Canadian state must tax us more and take more of our income to maintain an aggressive military so they can “get him before he can get us.” (Even though its this kind of thinking that often creates these “blow-back” enemies in the first place.)

I’ve only had experience with one of the professors on the list. George Buri, Department of History. He and another “labor historian” gave a

The Anti-Imperialist League, a collection of anti-war Classical Liberals.

presentation about how the Afghan war is wrong at a university that I was attending a few years ago. While I do think Afghanistan is a mistake for Canada to be participating in, his was a lot more Marxist in tone. Essentially everything was a plot by the United States to do better for itself.

Then again, what do you expect from “libertarian socialists.”

No matter. These people have the right idea, but they are picking the absolute wrong battleground. You can argue passionately and convincingly against militarism, but the place to take your stand isn’t about a scholarship program for kids whose dads and mums are dead because of bad government policy. The actual valuable point they are trying to make, will just get lost in the noise that ensues.