Low Loonie = Job Growth?

Whoaaaah!  Big news item this morning.  The Bank of Canada has cut its interest rate by .25%. That’s quite significant as it’s the first time it’s been cut in about four years, going all the way back to 2011. Thing is, it was already REALLY low, at 1%, so now it’s at 0.75%. Economists were mostly expecting it to be raised sometime in the next year, but that was before oil prices started sliding.

poloz
“We’re actually considering a NEGATIVE interest rate, say around -0.25%. That means you would actually receive an extra quarter for every dollar you borrow. That’s just how crappy our economy has gotten.” Stephen Poloz, Bank of Canada Governor, speaking in a made-up, satirical interview.

Personally, with all the debt I’m carrying (student loans, mortgage, credit card) I’m happy about this. There’s some noise from economists about how this could worsen household debt, encouraging people to borrow more, but what are us poor working schmucks supposed to do? I really don’t think household debt is being driven up by frivolous purchases. Certainly in my house you don’t see any big flatscreen TVs, we have one car, barely bigger than a golfcart, certainly not a luxury car, we take no trips, we don’t go out, etc.  Our debt is the product of just trying to put a roof over our heads and paying the bills, and I think it’s the same for a lot of us ordinary Canadians.  The middle class dream used to be pursued through education and work, but now has to be put on credit. Education doesn’t pay off and there’s no more jobs.  Unless these economists and politicians are willing to do something to bring the jobs back then the debt will just keep piling up, because there’s really no other option for the working class to maintain any decent lifestyle anymore.

credit cards

Immediately after the interest rate was cut the Canadian dollar dropped almost two cents, down to about 80 cents against the US dollar. Reminds me of my crazy punk rock teenage years, when I was always ordering records from the US. The Loonie was super low back then too, I can tell you, as I actually had a US Currency chequing account so I could write cheques to all these little independent American record labels.   I used to lose like a third of my dollar to the exchange rate.  My grandparents stopped spending their winters in Florida because the Loonie was so low.

There’s a lot of talk about how the low dollar will help bring manufacturing back to Ontario, but I’m not holding my breath. I think those jobs left more for the wage differences than the exchange rate, though that might have also been a factor. But that doesn’t explain why manufacturing lost over 270,000 jobs between 2000 and 2007 when the Loonie was still relatively low, ranging from about 70 cents US to 90 cents US over that time. The Loonie experienced its highest growth between 2007 and the onset of the Recession in 2008/09, before falling with the recession and then shooting up again in late 2009. Obviously we also lost a lot of manufacturing jobs during that time too, over 200,000 in the space of just two years, almost as much as in the previous 5 years.

BUT, my point is that why should we expect manufacturing to bounce back because the dollar is at 80 cents US when we lost over a quarter of a million jobs when it was in the same price range in the 5 years before the recession? Same thing goes for people who say Ontario is losing manufacturing jobs due to its high electricity costs. Hydro rates are higher, but that is such a recent development that it can’t explain manufacturing’s long decline over the past decade.

Its WAGES. That’s why manufacturing and all the other jobs left. WAGES. You can pay workers in China a fraction of what you have to pay Canadians. Even if Canadians abandoned unions and all took minimum wage, it’s still cheaper to use Third World sweatshops and ship your product across the globe. Now, with oil prices tanking (tankering?) it will be even cheaper to ship goods.

A lot of economists and defenders of Free Trade might point out that Canada actually didn’t do so badly in the first decade of Free Trade with the US and then Mexico. The 90s were actually a time of economic growth in Canada, something Liberals point to as evidence of their great economic management under Chretien and Martin. While Canada did experience some initial job losses after the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade agreement, and then some more under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, we did have a very low dollar during that time which did help hold off pressure on companies to move production offshore.

All this changed in 2001 when China entered the WTO. That was when you saw a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs to China to take advantage of its far lower wages (even lower than Mexico under NAFTA) and less costly regulations on things like worker safety, the environment, etc. That is why China became the fastest growing economy in the world in the early 21st century. That is why they are now the biggest economy in the world, having overtaken the US this January. That is why China’s middle class is growing and ours is shrinking. A similar trend occurred in India and other fast-growing Third World countries. Jobs exported out of the Developed world of North America, Europe and Japan are causing a boom in these countries. It really doesn’t take an advanced degree in global economics to notice the pattern.   The countries losing the jobs are going down and the countries gaining them are going up.

milkshake
Low wages are a very long straw, and they’re being used to drink our milkshake.

 

So, while I hate to yet again rain on the parade, don’t count on either low interest rates, low oil prices or even a low Canadian dollar to cause a revival of Canadian manufacturing and other jobs over the past 15 years. The reasons we lost those jobs have much more to do with wages and production costs than exchange or interest rates. Until such time as Canada grows enough of a spine to start protecting its own jobs, to stand up against globalization and Free Trade, don’t expect anything to change.

Sources:

Currency values over the past 15 years obtained from:  http://www.cdhowe.org/the-seductive-myth-of-canadas-overvalued-dollar-globe-and-mail-economy-lab/22141

Manufacturing job losses from 2000-2007:  www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2011000/chap/man-fab/man-fab-eng.htm

And manufacturing losses during the recession: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2009112/pdf/11048-eng.pdf

Comparative wages China vs Mexico:  http://tacna.net/mexico-vs-china/

Offshoring

I go on and on, ranting about Free Trade and how it’s killing our economy. But how exactly does it do this? Offshoring is a common term for moving jobs out of one country to another, typically where wages or other costs related to the operation of the business are lower.

Governments used to have a number of tools at their disposal to discourage offshoring and encourage companies to create jobs in their countries. They regulated investment coming in and going out of the country, which made it harder for companies to close down factories and offices and move them to other countries. Such methods were known as Capital Controls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_control), and they were an important part of the enormous economic growth that occurred after World War II.

Governments also put taxes, known as tariffs on goods coming into the country, so that locally made products would be competitive with foreign made ones. This encouraged companies to locate factories and businesses inside the country’s borders in order to ‘jump the tariff wall’. Local people benefited from this from the good-paying manufacturing jobs tariffs created.

They sometimes used import quotas which are limits on the number of particular goods that can be imported, or they might negotiate an agreement for such as the Auto Pact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada%E2%80%93United_States_Automotive_Products_Agreement) between Canada and the US, under which American car manufacturers agreed to maintain a particular ratio of car manufacturing to car sales in Canada. What this meant was that American car companies guaranteed jobs in Canada in proportion to the number of cars they sold in Canada, and in return they were able to import cars and parts into Canada or export them without any tariffs or taxes.

None of these things are allowed under Free Trade. Free Trade agreements force governments to treat foreign companies the same as they treat their own companies. For example, this means the Canadian government cannot put taxes on goods coming into Canada from China that would raise their price to be comparable to Canadian made products.

This also means that our government cannot do anything to stop a company from moving its operations to a lower wage country to cut costs and then simply importing the goods back into Canada. In fact, Free Trade encourages companies to do this, either Canadian-owned companies or branch plants of foreign-owned companies operating in Canada, since these companies are now in competition with cheaper goods made in low-wage countries. How can a Canadian t-shirt manufacturer compete with a Chinese sweatshop? They can’t. The cost of living in Canada is higher so even if workers were willing to accept lower wages they would starve to death before they could match Chinese wages. Canadians cannot work for sweatshop wages and cannot compete with workers in the Third World.

It is often assumed that job losses from Free Trade are only in manufacturing. Up until recently, that was mostly true. But two trends have seen offshoring spread to the service sector. The first was the growth in communications technology such as the internet and satellites that allowed services and knowledge to travel the globe almost instantly. The second was a tremendous explosion in Third World education levels, particularly in the more rapidly developing areas of the Third World such as China and India. This meant that companies now had access to a global pool of highly skilled, educated labour that could provide services to customers anywhere in the world. Other sectors where the job absolutely had to be performed locally, such as legal services, still found that they could outsource parts of their operation, such as record keeping or research. Formerly well-paid career paths are being divided up into a few well-paid local services that must be provided locally, with everything else shipped off to lower-wage countries to be done at a fraction of the cost. This trend especially hurts young people as it is typically entry-level jobs that are being offshored.

Sometimes when you talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs to Free Trade some helpful but ignorant person will chime in with talk of “the New Economy”, or “the Innovation Economy”, or “the Creative Economy” or some such bullshit. Personally I don’t believe there is any ‘New Economy’, these jobs always existed, even if technology has changed, but they have always been, and always will be, a small part of the economy. We can’t all be app designers, and most of the economy is still based on the real world, not the digital multiverse or whatever these people are thinking of.

And guess what? Even if we could all somehow become digital creative specialists, even if the entire population of Canada, all our young people and laid off factory workers and everyone got jobs in the IT sector, WE ARE STILL IN COMPETITION FROM LOWER-WAGE COUNTRIES AND WILL LOSE THESE JOBS. Again, a highly educated, technologically skilled and English language fluent low-wage population in India makes it a very attractive destination for IT, software and other firms. There is no way for a country like Canada to win in a global Free Trade economy. We are always competing with people who will work for a fraction of our wages.

Taken to its logical extreme, Free Trade would leave Canada with only a few types of jobs left:

  1. A small number of high-paid service of managerial jobs such as doctors, lawyers, bank managers, etc. Obviously these occupations are not numerous enough for everyone to work in and as other good jobs disappear competition for them or for spots in top professional schools that lead to them will get more and more intense.
  2. Low-paid service jobs that must be done locally, such as serving coffee at Tim Hortons, selling jeans at the mall, etc.
  3. Primary resource extraction, such as drilling and pumping oil in Alberta or mining minerals in Northern Ontario. Processing these raw materials into useful products will mostly be done in other countries, again, where labour costs are cheaper. While (up until recently) working in the Northern Alberta oil patch offered relatively good wages, most resource extraction is generally lower-paid than manufacturing and services, and has the added disadvantage of usually being done in the most godforsaken parts of our country. This means all the people in Southwestern Ontario laid off from offshored manufacturing and service jobs will have to leave their families and become migrant workers.

Basically, that is all the jobs you can count on staying in Canada. Any and every job that can be uprooted will be sent to places where labour and other production costs are cheaper.

But wait, there’s more good news. Even those few, low-paid jobs the average Canadian has left aren’t safe, because of a lovely little trio of words we’ve learned in the past little while:

FOREIGN

TEMPORARY

WORKERS

With Temporary Foreign Workers we can bring the Third World home. Tim Hortons uses them and so does the oilpatch, so unless you’ve got the money and connections to land one of the few remaining jobs in category 1 above, you’re basically screwed.

Sorry, I know this and most of my other posts are real downers. It’s not that these things can’t be fixed, although I just don’t see the political leadership in this country as being interested in doing anything about offshoring or Free Trade. They either believe in it (Conservatives and probably the Liberals) or are too cowardly to stand up against it (NDP). But it’s important to remember that none of this is inevitable. It didn’t have to happen this way. In the 80s Free Trade was described as a ‘Leap of Faith’, not as something we had to do. And governments all over the world, especially in Latin America but even the US, are turning away from Free Trade and taking action to protect what jobs they have left and even bring some back. The Canadian government still has all the powers it used in the past to protect our jobs and create more, it just chooses not to use them.

What politicians and parties in this country need is to be shown just how unpopular Free Trade and Foreign Temporary Workers are. Politicians are drawn from category 1 of the jobs I mentioned above. They’re part of the ‘comfortable class’, so they don’t really have any problem with the status quo. What they need is a big kick in the ass to wake them up and remind them that there’s a whole country that is struggling and that wants change.

So I’m lacing up my boots. Anyone want to join me?

Top Ten Canadian Political Stories of 2014

I know, I know, most people do their year-end lists BEFORE the New Year, so it might seem like I’m late. But really, how do these people know there won’t be this really amazing story that pops up on New Year’s Eve? So while it might seem like I’m late putting this up, really I was just making sure I could consider EVERYTHING that happened in 2014.

Return of the War on Terror

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.
ISIS military convoy

With the war in Iraq officially over in 2011 and Canadians and other international troops withdrawing this year, it seemed like the ‘War on Terror’ was largely winding down. Then the civil war in Syria spilled over into Iraq with the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, with a radical group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslims declaring a ‘new caliphate’ in parts of Syria and Iraq that they control. The atrocities they committed against westerners and non-Muslim Iraqis brought international condemnation and limited military responses, even though most Western powers are a bit fatigued from the previous ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan. ISIS also called upon supporters in western nations to commit acts of terrorism.

Then, within two days of each other, we had two attacks inspired by ISIS in Canada. I don’t know the exact technicalities of whether they would be considered terrorist acts or not, since I tend to think of terrorism as being a bit more organized and having more of an effect, but I think they were definitely inspired by ISIS. I tend to think of them more as criminal acts because they were planned and executed solely by single people and did not result in mass deaths.

BUT, there can be no doubt that these attacks together with ISIS effectively put terrorism back in the national debate. The Conservatives were quick to link all three together and to propose new surveillance and other war measures, since having a war to fight is a great political resource for them. Honestly, I just hate to think we have to go through these debates all over again about how to fight terrorism, 14 years after 911. Its not that they aren’t important debates, just that they’re so emotionally charged and it takes attention away from the economy, which has a much more direct impact on most people’s lives.

NDP Stalls

o-THOMAS-MULCAIR-facebook
2014 was not kind to Mr Mulcair

Although the Liberals began to overtake the NDP in the polls during Justin Trudeau’s leadership bid in 2013, it was really 2014 that established that the Trudeau-led Liberals were now the effective government-in-waiting, and not the Official Opposition NDP. Since a high point around Thomas Mulcair’s leadership victory in 2012, where the NDP actually was first in the polls at 38%, they have now fallen to around 20%, while the Liberals have led the polls virtually uninterrupted for almost two years now.

And then there’s a host of other bad news for the party. Its vote share has fallen in almost every single by-election since 2011, including Toronto-Danforth, Jack Layton’s riding, which they won. The only exception to this has been Durham in 2012 and Toronto Centre in 2013, which saw modest increases. 2014 saw them lose Olivia Chow’s seat in Trinity-Spadina to the Liberals with a whopping 20% drop in support, while the Liberals have seen large increases in their support in this year’s by-elections.

Then there’s the defections. Like with the by-elections, these problems started for the NDP before 2014, but they reached crisis proportions this year. They lost two seats in 2012, one to the Liberals, one to the Greens. They lost another in 2013 to the Bloc. But they lost FIVE seats in 2014: Manon Perreault was kicked for breaking the law, Olivia Chow resigned her seat which the party then lost, Sana Hassainia quit to sit as an independent over the party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war, Jean Francois Larosse quit to join a new Quebec party, and Glen Thibeault quit to join the Ontario Liberals. They managed to pick up a former Bloc MP, and to the NDP’s credit, they are making her wait till the next election to join the party caucus. That’s good. They always said that about other defectors, so it’s nice to see them stick to their values when the tables are turned.

But that’s about the only good thing that happened to the party in 2014. They are clearly not Canadians’ first choice as an alternative to the Conservatives, and all the spin in the world can’t change that. Even if their numbers are higher than before, that is just a Quebec thing, and some polls indicate that even these voters will go Liberal to ensure Harper is defeated. Basically, in 2011, the NDP ate the Bloc Quebecois. The new NDP is the same old third-place party it was before combined with the Bloc’s francophone Quebecois support. Slightly better than before, but still not about to form government.

Wynne Wins 

wynne
Victorious Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne with my re-elected MPP, Deb Matthews, the personification of the Ontario Liberal ineptitude and mismanagement

Holy crap. Noone saw this coming. Probably the most scandal plagued Ontario government in anyone’s memory, facing criminal charges, the premier resigned, almost a billion tax dollars used to get the Liberals re-elected. Add on top of that widespread anger over hydro, a worsening economy and general fatigue with a government that has been in power for over 10 years and you would naturally expect the public would want something new.

NOPE! The Ontario Liberals under new leader Kathleen Wynne actually went from a minority to a majority. Add that up in your head. Billion dollar scandal + election = more votes, logic be damned.

I think most of the credit for this probably goes to the opposition NDP and Progressive Conservatives. It wasn’t so much that the Liberals ran a good campaign as the other two just plain sucked. The NDP campaign was boring and disorganized, and seemed deliberately designed to alienate the party’s base. Their strategy was to bypass disillusioned Liberal supporters, who would seem like the party’s natural growth constituency, to target Conservative voters with ‘pocketbook issues’. I fucking hate pocketbook issues. What they say to the average working schmuck is “Hey, I know your job sucks and you just barely make enough to get by, but I’m not going to help bring good jobs back, I’m just going to put an extra hundred bucks in your pocket so you can take the kids out to pizza and buy a case of beer to forget your troubles.”

But if the NDP campaign was inept, the PC’s was just plain nuts! Why, in the middle of a jobs crisis in this province, would you say you’re going to fire 100,000 people? Even moderate critics of public sector unions will be thinking about the effect on the economy as a whole. And promising to create a million jobs? Hell, why not say a billion, it’s just as believable. Whether or not the math was right, these numbers are just too big for the public to deal with. It just made the PCs look crazy.

Americans Annex a Canadian Institution

Burger King Tim Hortons
Foreign monarch annexes our double-doubles

Burger King buys Canada’s most treasured icon, Tim Hortons. Canadian nationalists are up in arms, as this treasured Canuck institution is now owned by a second rate American burger chain. I mean, couldn’t it at least have been McDonalds? Maybe Burger King is bigger in the states than around Southwestern Ontario but I can barely find any of them in London and the ones I do find have crappy service and are mostly empty.

For the record, Tim Hortons is a crappy national institution that serves bad coffee, doesn’t even bake its donuts in the store anymore, and hires Temporary Foreign Workers when minimum wage, part-time Canadian employees with no benefits and no job security prove too expensive. Its iconic status is proof of just how accepting low-income Canadians are of their crappy lives of poverty. I get it, Tim Hortons symbolizes ‘the average Canadian’, as opposed to Starbucks that is considered upper class, because its coffee costs a whopping 18 cents more. I don’t actually even drink coffee, but my wife does and she assures me that the 18 cents is worth it for coffee that actually tastes like coffee.

All I know is that its ‘food’ barely counts as such and like any fast food place it pays people exactly as little as it legally can, and gets foreign workers when even that is too much. The fact that it is a symbol of the working class in Canada, that smarmy a-holes like Harper who hate the poor can pretend like they’re for the average Canadian cause they like double-doubles, unlike latte-sipping lefties, is proof of just how messed up our political culture is, of just how much working class people in this country have come to accept their second-rate status. I’m not saying everyone should be going out to five-star French restaurants, but dream a little bigger than a minimum-wage, fast food culture. You deserve better than this people.

Oil Deflation

o-ALBERTA-OIL-PUMP-facebook
Falling oil prices are a ‘crisitunity’ to reconsider Canada’s oil-centred economic strategy

This one just squeaked in under the deadline. Although oil prices had been falling for some time, it was only in December that it became news, when the realization kicked in to Canadians, and to Albertans in particular, that this might be more than just a temporary thing. This is a really important story, because Canada’s economy is basically all about oil these days. It has been since the first decade of the 21st century. Hmmm, we elect a Prime Minister from Alberta and all of a sudden Alberta and its oil are the sole focus of Ottawa’s economic policy. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Since our economy is now so dependent on oil, that means when oil prices go down, government tax revenue goes down, employment goes down, transfer payments go down, etc. From a consumer perspective, I can tell you that its nice to fill up the tank for under $30, but if the wider economy collapses and we’re left with NO oil jobs on top of the already existing NO manufacturing jobs, we’ll be pretty badly screwed.

Some might point to this situation as reason not to base your entire economy on one primary resource. Some like me. This is a good reason not to base your entire economy on one primary resource. You see, prices for raw materials like oil are much more volatile than prices for manufactured goods. They spike up and down with global demand. This is why Third World countries try so hard to develop a secondary economy, one not based on raw materials. There’s also the fact that basing our economy on oil benefits Alberta at Ontario’s expense and employs less people than manufacturing used to.

But don’t expect Ottawa to understand this. I remember running in the Oakville election and the Conservative incumbent kept calling Harper ‘a brilliant economist’. Ummm, no. All you have to do is look at a graph and see one line spiking up and down and the other staying flat and recognize that the flat line is more stable and a better basis for your economy than the roller coaster that is commodity prices. Too early yet to see how this plays out but it’s yet reason we should be looking at ways to bring manufacturing back to Canada.

Robocall Mastermind Sentenced

sona
The youngest evil political mastermind in Canadian history

Michael Sona is convicted as the Dr Evil behind the 2011 Robocalls Scandal and sentenced to a short jail term.   Yeah. I’m sure there was noone else involved in a nationally coordinated campaign to mislead voters and suppress the non-Conservative vote. Just this one kid in Guelph. Yup, nothing more to see here, move along. There were robocalls in Oakville when I was running, so I guess Sona was there too, lurking around in the shadows and laughing maniacally, “Muhwahaha”.

On the one hand I feel sorry for Sona, who was obviously thrown under the bus by his former party. But then, this is the same guy who tried to steal ballot boxes from the University of Guelph, knowing that students were least likely to vote for his party. He’s obviously a guy with more partisanship than morals who found out the hard way that higher ups will happily sacrifice little guys like him to protect their careers.

Rob Ford, Undefeated as Toronto Mayor

Mayor Rob Ford laughs while watching the municipal election results in Toronto
He never lost a campaign for mayor

While the Rob Ford crack scandal really broke in 2013, 2014 was supposed to be the big test of the Ford brand. Rob Ford initially put his name in for mayor, but dropped out after being diagnosed with cancer. Instead, he and his brother Doug pulled the old switcheroo, with Rob running for and retaining his former Etobicoke seat and Doug placing second to John Tory for mayor. At least poor Olivia Chow was spared the shame of placing third behind a drug addict.

Probably Doug did a bit better than Rob would have, and in fact he was pretty close to Tory. On the other hand, he has a lot less charisma than Rob, a lot less of the Ford ‘Brand’, which in this age of ‘politainment’, is just as important as policy smarts and sobriety. But the switch also means we’ll never really know for sure if Rob would have been reelected. Maybe Torontians liked their crackhead mayor. At least he was entertaining, if in a rather sad, pitying way. He retires from mayoral politics with a perfect undefeated record.

PQ Shoots Itself in the Foot

Pauline Marois
Whoops!

2014 saw Quebec premier Pauline Marois call a snap election in which the Parti Quebecois government is defeated and she herself loses her seat. The PQ had been leading in the polls, though not by much, and Marois probably thought she was going to get a majority. But then she recruited Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau to the PQ, who pumped his fist and declared Quebec would become its own country and that was basically the end of that.

A little disclaimer here. I am no expert in Quebec politics. I’m not even a novice. But everything I read these days points to sovereignty as a dying issue.   Perhaps it’s a generational shift, or maybe its because in our current, highly decentralized Confederation, Quebec has quietly been given many of the powers and recognitions it sought in the Meech and Charlottetown constitutional accords. Whatever the reason, the collapse of the Bloc and the PQ seem to signal that the fire has gone out of the sovereigntist movement. It remains to be seen whether these parties will rebrand themselves or be carried onto the political fringes by their remaining radical leaders.

Everybody Loves, No Make that Hates, Jian Gomeshi

gomeshi
Jian Gomeshi is led away by police

When news broke that Jian Gomeshi was being fired as host of the popular CBC radio program Q, it got a lot of people really upset. I’m not really a fan of radio. I get my news from the Internet and my music from Youtube. But a lot of lefties, and oddly enough, a lot of lefty women really dug this guy. When they heard that he was being fired, a lot of them, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May and renowned feminist activist Judy Rebick, went to social media to express their support, only to have to quickly retract once it became apparent just how evil this guy is.

This might not seem so directly significant to politics, but it sparked a wider national dialogue on sexism and violence against women, issues that became all the more politically important when two Liberal MPs were accused of sexual harassment against an NDP MP. It’s also set against the backdrop of the crisis of the CBC, with, again lefties largely supportive of the national broadcaster and righties critical of it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Probably the last thing the network needed at this time.

The Entire Alberta Opposition Defects to the Government

Jim Prentice, Danielle Smith
New BFFs, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and New Alberta Premier Jim Prentice

What the heck happened to the Alberta Wildrose Party?  Back in 2012 it was expected to win government. It didn’t and actually didn’t even come close, but hey, it won 17 seats and formed the Official Opposition. By comparison the Alberta Liberals got 5 and the Alberta NDP got 4. Alberta is basically a one-party province. The Progressive Conservatives have been in power since 1971, when they took over from the Social Credit Party, who had been in power since 1935, when they took over from the United Farmers of Alberta, who had been in power since 1921.

Wildrose for a time looked like it was the next governing party, but 2014 saw no less than 12 of its sitting MLAs leave the party, 11 of those to the government. One got kicked out and two crossed the floor to join the PCs in November, and then, a month later, the party’s leader herself and 8 other members also crossed the floor. This has got to be the biggest defection in Canadian political history.

——–

Well, that’s it for my list. Here’s hoping your 2015 is at least as great as your 2014. Happy New Year!

James.

 

 

What’s wrong with the NDP, Part 1b of a 3753 Part Series

In my last post about the NDP I was ranting about how the party has become solely focused on winning power, and how this has led them to be so cautious that they are failing to actually present an alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives.  This is all the more frustrating because Canada desperately needs some sort of alternative vision.  The economic strategy we’ve been following for the past thirty years, based on free markets and free trade, is failing us, bleeding jobs and wealth out of the country or into fewer and fewer hands.  These sort of breakdowns happen about every quarter century or so, so its interesting to look at the last time this happened.

Every now and again the way we think about the world shifts. It doesn’t do this on its own, there are always people  who’ve been pushing for change for years, often as voices in the wilderness.  For thirty years after WWII Europe and North America ran their countries according to the recommendations of John Maynard Keynes, a British economist who wrote that in order to prevent another Great Depression governments should intervene in the economy and introduce social programs to increase people’s ability to buy things (known as Aggregate Demand).

This worked great until the mid-70s when a combination of factors like rising oil prices and global overproduction created problems.  Into this chaos stepped an American economist named Milton Friedman.  He and his disciples argued for a radical cutting back of government programs and introduction of Free Trade to restore economic growth, a philosophy that came to be known as neoliberalism.

keynes friedman

Now, here’s the important part.  When Friedman and other neoliberals were making their case, they never once moderated their recommendations.  They were fearless and confident, telling governments to cut spending more, to totally open their economies  to Free Trade.  And within ten years neoliberalism was the new ‘common sense’ by which governments were run, from Thatcher in Britain, to Reagan in the US, to Mulroney in Canada.

The point is that if you want to really change the way things are you don’t constantly water it down.  You don’t worry about appearing ‘grown up’ to your critics.  Endless ‘moderation’ only gives your opponents ammunition against you.  It shows the public you lack conviction and casts doubt on your entire approach.  You don’t win wars by constantly going on the defensive, you win them by going on the offensive.

The 2008 economic meltdown and the ‘jobless recovery’ that followed it have planted seeds of doubt in the public mind about the value of our Free Trade, free market approach to our economy.  It’s an historic opportunity to bring some balance and sanity back to Canada.  But it’s going to take some passion, some vision for how things could be different.

I’m not talking about any kind of radical, socialist transformation of our economy.  Like I said before, I started out radical and went through a process of moderation myself.  But there’s a difference between rethinking your position and abandoning any position altogether.  I just want things the way they were when I was growing up.  I want the Autopact back, and taxes on imports to ensure Canadian jobs stay in Canada.  There’s no way Canadian workers can compete with Chinese sweatshops in a ‘free global market’.  We have a higher cost of living here, we can’t live on pennies a day.  Most of all I want our government to stand up for us and say “if you want to sell us things you’re going to have to give us some jobs so we can afford to buy them.”

Under Free Trade, every job that can leave Canada WILL leave Canada, because there is no way Canadian workers can compete for the lowest wage against the child workers in sweatshops.  Our cost of living is too high, we can’t live off of what a workers in the Third World make.  And I think a majority of Canadians from all walks of life would like to see a government that keeps jobs in Canada,  instead of just wringing their hands when yet another factory goes overseas?

Of course, the classic argument you’ll hear from people defending a ‘moderate’ approach is that the people most likely to support such change, the poor, don’t vote, while the middle class, who cares about other things like tax cuts, does.  Nevermind the fact that moving to the right has produced virtually no gains for the NDP.  It failed in BC, it failed in Ontario and federally its put the party in a strong third place position.  And the argument is circular, because you could just as easily say that if all the parties target the middle class, what incentive do poor people have to vote?

circle of bullshit

And then there’s the fact that as the middle class hollows out, there’s a lot more poor people out there, many with lots of education, who expected much more from their lives than scraping by paycheque to paycheque.  Unmet expectations are often more important in getting people motivated than their actual income.  Maybe some of the 50% of eligible voters who don’t vote are waiting for some inspiration, for some sign that things actually could be different.  It’s hard to believe that anything can change when all the major parties say the same thing.

Hell, the most interesting thing about the next federal election is likely to be Trudeau’s pledge to legalize marijuana.  That honestly looks to be the most serious question put to the public since the 1988 ‘Free Trade election’.  I’m all for legalizing pot but that’s really a side issue as far as I’m concerned.  Jobs should be the real issue, but  since every party has the same approach, its actually a non-issue.  And if nothing in the economy is going to change, then what the heck, we might as well all toke one up to help us forget about our bills and debt and crappy, minimum wage jobs.

giant joint

But wouldn’t it be nice if one of the major parties were to stand up and say what everyone recognizes, that Free Trade is slowly killing the Canadian middle class dream.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they were to courageously and honestly offer an alternative vision for economic development, especially if playing it safe isn’t doing anything to help them win?  Why sell out if there’s no benefit?  If you’re going to place third anyways why not keep your integrity at least.  Who knows, you might just be the right party at the right time to shift Canada to a new common sense, away from the destructive Free Trade approach that has failed us so badly.

Wouldn’t that be nice?  Sigh…

James.

 

Not the education post

This is not my post on education.  That will come later, when I’ve had time to properly fine tune my incredible wealth of rants on that particular subject. But here’s a preview. Post-secondary education sucks. It really sucks. It’s totally worthless these days. Especially university. Don’t go there. Don’t do it. Don’t even drive through campus. Resist the tempting bus and billboard ads. I know they make it sound so good. Build your dream career, upgrade your skills. They prey on your vulnerabilities. Trust the word of someone with four degrees. It doesn’t help anything, it just puts you in debt and makes you bitter at the time and money you lost.

This quickie post was inspired by this article I read:

grad on street
Click here for the Toronto Star article

Here is a career options for graduates. Stand on the street with a sign. I’ve actually considered this. I was going to write a sign that said “Will analyze policy for food” and see if anyone needed any critical thinking done.

Here’s another option. Go and work in a labour camp in Northern Alberta.

Miramichi Business 20141124
Click here for Huffington Post article on working in Northern Alberta

This is the new Canadian dream folks. The best you can do is to leave your family behind, travel to some godforsaken part of the country and help rape the earth just a little more. Except now the price of oil is down so maybe you don’t even have that option anymore. Those of us who’ve studied economics might want to point out that raw material markets are notoriously more volatile than processed goods and that basing our economic development on exporting raw materials rather than do something to keep manufacturing and services in Canada was a BAD DECISION, but hey, that’s just my useless education talking.

There’s a lot of people who still subscribe to the old upper class notion that a university degree is about more than just getting a job. It’s about self-development, the experience of it, or something like that. In fact, I felt roughly the same way when I started my postsecondary education way back in 98. I didn’t think about what I wanted to do when I graduated. I loved school, I loved learning things and I (wrongly) assumed that because I was getting good marks and all this praise, that a job would just naturally follow. I won over $60,000 in scholarships in graduate school. Man, I wish I had that money now.

But believe me, a job matters. I am sorry to say but I think people who say education isn’t about getting a job probably have never experienced poverty, or the incredible self-doubt that comes from being rejected time and time again by employers. Perhaps it’s a lesson you can only learn in hindsight, but all the critical thinking and self-development in the world doesn’t mean much when you can’t eat. Or when you’re just scraping by on minimum wage in a job that is totally unfulfilling. Money matters, a job matters.

James.

What’s Wrong with the NDP, Part 1a of a 3753 Part Series

Being a Canadian lefty blogger I think it would be remiss if I did not partake in the traditional Canadian lefty Canadian pastime – bashing the NDP.

A little bit of background:

I grew up in a lefty household. Or at least half left.  My father was a union activist and very committed to working class politics.  Not in any radical kind of way, just in a blue-collar, bread and butter kind of way.  He didn’t want to change the world, he just wanted a comfortable life for himself and his family.  He always voted NDP.  My mom was periodically leftish, but as a teacher she started voting Liberal after ‘Rae Days’ and the Harris years.

My own political trajectory started out radically left and has been on a non-stop path of moderation ever since.  In high school I was an anarchist, in my undergrad I was a socialist, and in graduate school I was a social democrat.  Sometime after becoming a father and entering the workforce, I found myself in the same ideological spot as my dad, just wanting a comfortable life for me and my family.

In between grad school and the present I entered my NDP phase.  I had tried a lot of different activist stuff before, from petitions, to protests, to consciousness raising to charity work, and I was convinced that being part of a mass party was the way to achieve change.  I had also just went through a nasty strike up at York University which ended with the Liberal Ontario government legislating us back to work.  The Ontario NDP, under former leader Howard Hampton, had stood up for us, something that really  impressed me since it didn’t have any political benefit for them.

So I joined the party and started volunteering shortly after I moved to Oakville.  I even ran as federal candidate there for them in 2011.  But the shine started to wear off after the election, and especially after I moved to London, a town with an actual functioning NDP electoral machine.  I think it’s easier to be naïve about party politics in a town where the NDP has no hope of winning.  Seeing ‘serious’ politics at work made me realize there wasn’t much difference between the major parties.  They probably all started out meaning to do good, according to whatever their particular ideology was, but somewhere along the lines they moved from “We must make a difference” to “We must win power to make a difference” to just “We must win power”.

IMG_0728
Me and Jack Layton in 2010 when I was candidate for Oakville. He told me to unbutton my jacket so I wouldn’t look so uptight

Attending an NDP quote-un-quote “policy convention” in Vancouver shortly after 2011 was also a bit discouraging.  The agenda was so carefully manipulated to avoid talking about anything serious, it was all a farce.  “Who votes in favour of a vague statement in support of labour rights?”  Unanimous.  “Who votes to condemn racial, sexual and all other forms of discrimination?”  Unanimous.  Wow, fascinating debates to watch.  Oh look, somehow all the interesting policy resolutions, the ones likely to provoke debate and maybe develop a new stance for the party on an issue have all ended up at the botom of the list.  The party platform is too important to be trusted to the membership.

All these criticisms, mind you, are solely directed against the people at the top.  The inner circle around the leaders, the party bureaucrats and the political dynasties with the right last names.  The local activists, for all their partisanship and quirks, are some of the best people in the world.  I think they’re cynically manipulated by the leadership so they’ll keep donating and volunteering, but the local people genuinely believe in what they do, and put their own money and time out there to support their progressive vision.

But the central party, both in Ontario and Ottawa, is really uninspiring these days.  Especially in Ontario where the last ONDP campaign was a joke.  Federally, they’re tossing out some good stuff like proportional representation and national daycare. I guess I should be happy with those, right?  But I’m not.  Because I just can’t help but feel like its just window dressing, that the big issues about jobs and trade are still off the table.

horwath third

The economy would be the same after an NDP victory as it would after a Liberal or Conservative one (consider this excellent article for a good summary of the NDP’s economic platform compared to the Liberals and Conservatives).  Free Trade is unquestioned and Mulcair has ruled out any increase in personal income tax. Aside from a few percentage points in the corporate tax rate, the NDP’s economic strategy is the same as the other two:  a bit of tinkering to satisfy the base but keep things essentially the same and hope that the economy somehow picks up.

Sometimes it does, even in a globalized, Free Trade economy.  It did in the 90s.  But the problem is that periods of economic growth never bring us back to where we were before.  Wages are always a bit lower, work is a bit more part-time, good jobs are always a bit harder to find.  After years of studying Canadian politics, seeing the trends on inequality, unemployment, precarious work, homelessness, food bank usage and a host of other measures, I have come to the conclusion that we’re on a downward spiral and a serious change is needed to save the middle-class Canada I grew up in.

graph to hell

So how do we get out of this ‘ratchet effect’, where things only get worse, never better.  It requires a vision for a different Canada, a different way of growing our economy and creating jobs.  And it requires the conviction to take such a vision to the public, honestly, and without caring about the polls and the spin.  But more on this in the next post.

James.

 

National Development, Part Deux

So last post I was talking about National Development, how countries build a prosperous economy and a society with a high standard of living for their people.  I talked about how both the Third World after decolonization and the the First World during the Industrial revolution used government policy, especially taxes on imports of manufactured goods, to build up domestic industry and better paying jobs.

Canada had a slightly different experience. We never developed much of a Canadian industry. We got American ‘branch plants’ instead. But the process was the same. Canada was a colony of Britain, and as such was an extension of their economy. We supplied raw materials for British manufacturing (timber, beaver furs, fish, wheat, etc).

Harold Innis, a famous Canadian political scientist (yes, they exist) described this as a ‘Staples Economy’, an economy based on the export of raw materials to more developed countries. This shaped our culture, geography and basically everything in our country, and also led to instability in our economy as demand for these staples rose and fell in world markets.  The danger was falling into a ‘Staples Trap’, whereby you remained only an exporter of raw materials and never developed your own modern manufacturing economy, a ‘hewer of wood and a drawer of water’ for the world.

You see, raw materials have less ‘value added’ than manufactured goods. Basically what this means is that you can sell a wooden chair for more money than you can the raw logs used to make it. This reflects all the other work that went into the chair, processing the logs into timber and then assembling and finishing the chair. There’s more jobs to be had, more income for your citizens, more tax revenue on both the sale of the chair and on the incomes of all the workers involved.

wood vs chair

Another problem is that the price of raw materials tends to go up and down way worse than that of manufactured goods. Think of oil. Even though oil, as the fuel of the world, fetches a higher price than most other raw materials, it also tends to spike up and down (which is why you don’t want to base your entire economy on oil, especially if its really expensive to extract, hint, hint). If governments are far-sighted they might make good investments with oil revenues in times of high prices that will smooth out the worst of the low-price periods, but good luck finding a government, especially in a democracy that does that. Not that I hate democracy, its just that thinking beyond 4 years isn’t exactly a strong point of our political parties and leaders.

To get us out of this Staples Trap, our first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, developed a ‘National Policy’ for Canada’s economic development. Speaking as a lefty, its kind of weird to admire Conservative politicians, but I really like John A., (Diefenbaker too). Sure, he was elitist, and a drunk, and corrupt, and complicit in the murder and subjugation of the prairie Native people. Actually, that’s quite a list. Hmmm.

Well, there are at least aspects about him that I admire, like being smart enough, and committed to his country enough, to want to see it become more than just a source of trees and rocks for the world. He also brought in pioneering labour legislation, admittedly just for the votes, but hey, he was a lot less hostile to workers than Liberals at the time. It may seem strange but Liberals at the time hated unions and were way more pro-Free Trade than Conservatives. History is full of such weird reversals. Most people might think of the US Democratic party as less racist than the Republicans, but back around the US Civil War, many Democrats, in the South at least, supported slavery, whereas Abraham Lincoln, known for his war against slavery, was a Republican.

So the National Policy had three pillars. One was railway construction, as a modern economy needed to be able to move people and goods quickly and in bulk. This was where John A. got into a bit of trouble with backroom deals with the railway companies, and the resulting ‘Pacific Scandal’ actually drove him out of office, though he later returned to continue his National Policy. What a great start to Canadian politics. Our very first PM, driven out of office over scandals. Whenever you hear someone complaining about political scandals in Canada, remember, they’re a part of our heritage too.

pacific scandal

The second part was settlement of the West. At the time, Britain, our mother country who basically controlled our foreign relations, had a really weak claim to what are today our prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. And although British Columbia was firmly British, it was a separate colony from Canada and was by no means certain to join us. We needed people on the prairies (along with a railway across them) to ensure the US didn’t just gobble them up. This took a bit longer, but by the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, European immigration to the prairies had given us a solid claim and a highly productive wheat farming area. These farmers not only gave us profitable exports but also a market for the third part of the National Policy.

The third part was high tariffs on manufactured goods, mostly from either Britain or the US. This ensured that Canadian made goods would be competitively priced that Canadians might actually buy them. But it had a weird effect that you didn’t see as much in Europe and Japan. Rather than build up a Canadian-owned manufacturing sector, US companies ‘hopped the border’ and set up branch plants. So we didn’t own the factories, but we got good-paying jobs so nobody minded so much. Most of these went to Ontario and Quebec, where there was already a large workforce as well as infrastructure like roads, rails and canals and lots of available credit from the big Canadian banks.

That was the National Policy, and it worked so well that even though the Liberals opposed it for decades they never really dismantled it even after they finally won power under Wilfrid Laurier, and later William Lyon McKenzie King. It had its detractors, to be sure, especially prairie farmers who (probably rightly) saw it as a way to build up Ontario manufacturing by making farmers buy more expensive farm tools from Ontario than cheaper ones from the US. But it worked, and for a brief period between the late 1890s to the late 1910s Canada had the fastest growing economy in the world.

This is why Laurier said the 20th century would be “Canada’s century”. A bit overconfident, maybe, but notwithstanding the Great Depression we had a great run of it from that time up until the 1980s. Even after it was formally abandoned, remnants of the National Policy continued in practice until the 1980s, turning Canada and especially Ontario, into a developed, middle-class country with a high standard of living and quality social programs.

nat pol PMs

Then in the 80s we chose Free Trade and fucked it all up.

National Development, Part 1

What is national development? Development is such a vague word, meaning basically just ‘change’, though usually with an implication that the change is for the better. We want our children to develop into adults, not become stuck in a state of Arrested Development. And we want our economies to ‘develop’ into a mature form, one in which there are plentiful, well-paying jobs, a modern, sophisticated infrastructure, and a high standard of living.

arrested development

This is the political science definition, one that ranks countries by their socio-economic characteristics, with some, the First World, being considered ‘developed’, while others, the Third World, are either ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’. In a nutshell, the difference between the two is having a manufacturing and sophisticated, high-end service sector in your economy, as opposed to relying on the export of raw materials, having good social programs like health, pensions and education, and having a large middle class, or, in other words, a large number of people that live comfortably.

Living in a developed country is the middle class dream of the world. Good jobs, health care, social insurance programs that will help in cases of illness, disability, unemployment or old age, safety from violence, good housing, education opportunities and the chance to see your children have as good a life or better as you.   After Asia, Africa and Latin America decolonized, and realized just how badly Europeans had screwed up their economies, the quest for ‘development’ began. European mother countries had built their colonies’ economies to serve their interest, mostly supplying raw materials at low prices to European manufacturing.

So a big goal for newly independent countries was how to develop a manufacturing sector and the good paying jobs and robust social services associated with this. For the first few decades after decolonization, mostly 1960s-1980s, governments were seen as being the best tool to achieve development, since they could help direct investment into building up the economy. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but most countries that built up a ‘development state’, did see some improvement in the lives of average citizens.

But wait, actually, the development state predates decolonization. Because the countries we now consider ‘developed’ had to go through a similar process. And guess what? Government was the agent of development for them too. Basically, the history of capitalist development, that is the building up of a modern capitalist economy with people working for wages, industrial factories, large private companies and banks controlling investment, worked like this: Britain did it first, mostly through using steam and water-powered factories to make wool and cotton fabric, but also railways, factory equipment and other modern manufactured goods. Since everyone else was essentially using medieval technologies, noone could compete with the quantities and prices offered by Britain.

They were also making machinery, railway engines and cars and other things nobody else was really making, so they had no real competitors and the whole world as their market. The British government facilitated this development by helping to drive peasants off the land, creating a mass of people willing to work for low wages in factories, aiding in the construction of railways and other needed infrastructure, as well as using its colonial empire as a source of raw materials and markets for its products.

Although there was a lot of inequality, pollution and other problems associated with their Industrial Revolution (read basically any Charles Dickens novel), the income this generated for the country, not to mention the military power that came with modern manufacturing technology, made Britain the envy of the world.   Germany, France, the US and Japan were all jealous and wanted their economies to develop as well.

dickens england

But they had a problem. Britain, as the first modern manufacturing nation, was flooding their markets with cheap goods. Their own industries were like little babies compared to the older, more established British companies. They needed time to develop without competition from Britain. Whereas Britain could have development AND Free Trade because they had no competition, the latecomers had to find someway to shield their own industries until they were big enough to compete with the older, bigger companies.

So they slapped taxes, called Tariffs, on imported goods coming in from Britain, making British manufacturing goods more expensive than goods made by their own companies. Almost without exception, all the most powerful economies in the world right now developed because they rejected Free Trade, using government powers and tariffs to build up their own economies.

WOW. What a mouthful, I’m at two pages now and haven’t even mentioned Canada. Holy crap, wasn’t I supposed to be keeping these short? Oh well, its complicated stuff.  I think I’ll split this into two sections and talk about Canada’s history of development in the next post.  See you then.

 

Municipal election update

I realize its been awhile since the London municipal election, but I just wanted to re-post these two from short blurbs from Facebook  and do an update on my thoughts on the new council.  I meant to have the municipal election be the first entry here but as always I got busy with working two jobs, parenting and trying to finish my thesis.

Thoughts on the London Municipal Election

Thought #1: Please don’t let Stephen Orser get re-elected

You might think you know bad politicians. You might think they steal public money, take bribes or never show up for meetings. Maybe you picture them smoking crack. How about a politician who threatens to have his constituents beat up? Stephen Orser, London’s own version of Rob Ford, actually posted the home address of a critic of his and encouraged a posse of supporters to show up at this poor person’s house at 10:30 at night (see http://www.lfpress.com/…/police-force-orser-to-call-off-onl…). People talk a lot about politicians who don’t respect voters, but actually trying to have them beaten up is a new low. Ironically, Orser is perhaps most famous for distributing fridge magnets with emergency numbers on them (I have two on my fridge). I wonder if Peter Strack, the target of his vigilante posse used the same magnet to call the police?

One thing I will say about Orser. From a design and political communications perspective, his signs are genius. ORSER, in the biggest letters possible on the biggest sign possible. He actually put the text on a slant to make it bigger. Just ORSER, his website and his slogan “Full Time”. Genius, just genius.

His main opponent, Jesse Helmer, is a Liberal who actually had Premier Kathleen Wynne appear at a fundraiser for him. I personally don’t like partisan politics intruding on municipal politics, though. I’m not so naïve to know that it goes on, but at least have the decency to keep it under the radar. But in this case, I am happy to have a partisan councilor if he can defeat Orser. For that matter, I think I’d vote for anybody that doesn’t threaten to beat up his constituents.

orser beat you up

UPDATED:

He lost.  By quite a bit, actually.  Helmer won with almost 60% of the vote, against Orser’s 22%.  So I guess people finally got tired of having such an embarrasment represent them.

Thought #2

Cheng seems nice but doesn’t understand government

Believe it or not I actually considered voting for Paul Cheng. Way back in the winter, after a fair number of candidates began registering (and before anti-spam laws took effect), I cold-emailed a number of candidates seeing if they were interested in hiring me for communications work on their campaign. Almost none emailed me back and of those that did, some were very rude. That’s fine, it was unsolicited advertising, I understand. But how else do you break into this business except by approaching people. Sheryl Rooth, a former Ward 4 candidate who dropped out to avoid splitting the vote against Stephen Orser, was very nice, and I found out she lives very near me. Too bad she dropped out, as I would have been happy to vote for her, but I understand why she did.

Paul Cheng was another candidate who took the time to email me back and was very polite. He didn’t have to do that, and I was impressed. I think he wasn’t being taken seriously back then, but I got a very nice personal response from one of the two contenders for London Mayor.

Believe it or not, another thing that impressed me was a quasi-grammatical error on one of his early bus stop ads. It listed his qualities, including “Integrity Absolute”. I am not the grammar expert my wife is, I sort of go on gut feelings about grammar, acquired from years of just reading piles and piles of books, papers, magazines, etc. But I’m pretty sure it should be “Absolute Integrity”. This tiny little error actually won me over as, like a lot of Londoners, I’m just sick of slick political insiders who only talk in spin, in talking points that fit with the latest opinion polls. Cheng impressed me as a real person and I like that, even though he was obviously on the political right.

But gradually I changed my mind, and the tipping point was his promise to run London like a business. This is just stupid. It stems from an ignorance of government and politics. Sadly, its not just political outsiders that talk like this. It’s a huge slogan amongst right-wingers. Government cannot be run like a business. Government exists for different reasons, to fulfill different purposes than business. This is widely accepted in political science, and is even widely in economics. Government exists to provide things that society needs that don’t generate a profit, called Public Goods. Business exists to earn profit, and therefore doesn’t build and maintain things like sewers and roads and police and fire and hospitals and schools. I simply cannot wait until a stupid slogan like “Run government like a business” is dead and buried. But until it is, I cannot support any politician who encourages such ignorance. Having differences of opinion is one thing, but resorting to empty slogans that only confuse people is unacceptable. So even though Matt Brown is yet ANOTHER Liberal, I guess I’ll be voting for him so my government can be run like a government. Sigh…

gov't as business

Update.  Cheng also lost, with Brown taking 57% against Cheng’s 34%.

Thought #3 (The new one)

A new council is nice but it doesn’t mean much

So now the election has been over for a month now and I’m finally got my blog up and running so why not do a recap?

Its nice to see a new council full of younger, progressive candidates.  Hopefully this election represents the end of the appeal of ‘tax cut’ politicians, or at least the end of voter gullibility for people like former London mayor Joe Fontana and Rob Ford, (who essentially campaigned on the same promise) of cutting taxes without hurting essential services and through this creating jobs.  In Fontana’s case he actually promised 10,000 jobs.  Now maybe in the past you could make that kind of a pledge, assuming most people won’t make a distinction between actually creating or helping to create jobs through your own policies and just being the mayor while other factors create the jobs for you.  But in this new economy, 10,000 seems like pie in the sky for a city like London that’s had one of the highest unemployment rates of major Canadian cities in recent years.  These stupid promises are basically just like Homer Simpson when he ran for head garbageman, promising anything to get elected.  It begs a question:  should we be mad at the politician for promising such ridiculous things or at the public for believing it and electing them?  I choose to blame everybody, but then, I’m kind of a pissed off guy.  C’est la vie.

trash-titans

But back to my point.  Yes, its nice to think that we’re moving beyond the era where anybody can get elected by telling people they will cut taxes while keeping services intact and creating a million jobs (how you doin’ these days Mr Hudak?).  And its nice to have so many fresh, vaguely leftwing faces on council.  But what, if anything, can these people really do?

Well, that depends on what you want done.  Do you want the streets and sidewalks cleared of snow, some bike lanes and the roads maintained?  Do you want your libraries open longer and maybe some more buses running and some cash for community groups?  You will probably get that from this council.

Do you actually want to see 10,000 jobs added, and not short term construction jobs and then a shell-game of shifting retail jobs, but actual new, permanent and good paying jobs?  Do you want more affordable housing and real investments in transit expansion and less inequality and poverty and food bank use?  Sorry, municipal government can’t do that.  They don’t have the taxation and regulatory power.  They don’t make the big policies that affect these things.  City councils don’t even have a legal right to exist.  They’re not in the constitution, they’re ‘creatures of the provinces’, to use one of the more catchy phrases from political science (they’re ain’t many of them, believe me).  They only exist because Queen’s Park lets them exist, probably because they deflect criticism away from the provincial government.  The only powers they have are those given them by Queen’s Park and these can be taken away by the provincial government if they choose to.

And these powers don’t really amount to much beyond managing the daily, local issues faced by cities.  The big decisions are made by the provincial and especially the federal government.   And if you believe as I do that our current sucky economy is largely the result of Free Trade and Globalization, then its actually the latter that really matters in job creation.  Basically, signing Free Trade, telling companies they can sell us whatever they want without employing any of us, without having to match the costs of production between a Canadian worker and a Third World sweatshop worker, is the equivalent of picking Canada up and shaking all the jobs not firmly tied down out.  Anything that doesn’t have to be done here won’t be, because there’s no way we can compete with lower labour and regulatory costs in the Third World.

So while the new council will (hopefully) try its best to recuperate our local quality of life, maybe make life a little greener and more equal for residents, it can’t do all that much.  Its hands are tied by  policies made far beyond its authority.  Even purely local matters depend on the municipal tax base, which although not being directly based on income, is nevertheless indirectly tied to it through property ownership.  If the local population is struggling economically, it will eventually hit property taxes, as less homes are bought, less are built, less businesses stay open.  Transfers from the province and the feds depend much more directly on income, consumption and profits, and as these go down, so too does their ability to send money to cities to fund transit, infrastructure and other services.  Without a large, stable, tax-paying middle class and a reasonably progressive tax system that takes enough from the wealthy and corporate profit, you can’t fund anything at any level.  You’ll just end up stuck in this endless cycle of deficit panic and service cuts.

London council

Good luck new London government.  If you can’t do much to improve the economy then at least do better than the last council by not embarrassing us.

A Small Victory in the War on BS

I’m pretty critical of the NDP these days, especially ever since Thomas Mulcair took over as federal leader.  But when he called the Ottawa shooter a criminal but not a terrorist (see article here), I must say I was impressed.   I think it took a lot of guts for him to say that given the hyped up rhetoric at the time, and he definitely took a lot of flak for it.  But as far as I’m concerned, that’s the rational take on it, barring any additional information.

My understanding is that in order to be a terrorist you actually have to be part of some sort of organization. People have shot soldiers and police before (like recently in Moncton). People have brought guns to our legislatures and killed government employees (Denis Lortie did so in Quebec in 1984). But these people acted alone and were never branded terrorists.

terrorist vs criminal

Calling him a terrorist seems based solely on his converting to Islam. If there hadn’t been 911, or if there wasn’t ISIS in the middle east right now we wouldn’t call him a terrorist. I think he was probably influenced by ISIS, but other shooters have been influenced by movies or video games. A sick mind will look for any justification or inspiration, particularly if they can see themselves as some sort of romantic hero.

I call this a victory against political BS, and a great way for Mr Mulcair to distinguish himself from Trudeau, who seems content to adopt the same hyperbole of the Conservatives.  Now if only he and his party were willing to stake out a unique stance on the economy, you know, maybe a LEFT WING stance, and then defend it with confidence and conviction in the same way, then maybe we might get some actual choice back on the ballot in 2015.  But credit where credit is due.  Mulcair did the right thing and its nice to see the normally timid NDP take a risk once in awhile.  

James.