Monday, May 29, 2006

The productivity agenda

If you thought it would be politics as usual once the Conservatives got elected, then you must read this recent press release from the Department of Finance:

The Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) had recommended last fall that the Government of Canada impose surtaxes on imports of bicycles and barbeques as a way to counter the effects of increased imports of these products.

"After considering all of the information, it was determined that temporary protective tariffs simply wouldn’t provide a competitive long-term solution in these two cases," said Minister Flaherty. "We want to grow and strengthen our economy, and imposing these surtaxes would have increased costs for both Canadian retailers and consumers."


"Our government believes there is a better way," said Minister Flaherty. "To ensure Canada remains competitive in the global marketplace, we are reducing taxes and providing additional support for education and the skilled trades. These tax measures include lowering the GST as well as small business and other corporate taxes, and providing tax credits to encourage apprenticeships."

Under the Liberals, I fully expected the government to cave into requests by Quebec bicycle manufacturers for protection. After all, despite the economic arguments against a tariff, there were votes at stake. Consequently, I rushed out to buy a Chinese-made, Supercycle bicycle for my daughter at Canadian Tire for $130 last fall.

Obviously the new Conservative government is different. Most encouragingly, Flaherty's decision is the right one. At last, we have a government with a real productivity agenda backed with action not talk.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Guilty as charged

I usually try to avoid the topic of media bias. To me at least, it is largely self evident that the Canadian media has it in for the Conservatives and its predecessor parties.

Of course, non-conservatives will argue that it all depends on your perspective. Jeffrey Simpson makes this point in today's column (behind subscriber wall):

Conservatives are no different than other media consumers: They read into the media what they want. They remember only a fraction of what they read or see. They tend to remember those bits that confirm existing beliefs – in the Conservatives' case, that the media is hostile.

Nonetheless, I feel fairly qualified in making this judgment. I used to be a Liberal before I came to my senses. At the time, nothing gave me more pleasure than to gloat at critical media coverage of Brian Mulroney. He had good reason to distrust the media. Even his purported friends in the media would stab him in the back when given the chance.

There is nothing more hilarious than the media defending itself against Harper's charge that they are biased against his party. In its editorial opposite Simpson's column, the Globe and Mail pleads (again behind subscriber wall) that:

This kind of petulance might be excusable if there were any evidence that the media really were out to get him. In fact, he has pretty good press. A recent poll gave him an 18-point lead over the Liberals, hardly evidence of a media conspiracy.

If I understand their argument, the fact that the Conservatives are now ahead in the polls proves that the media are not biased. Such hubris. But then, does that mean when the Conservatives were behind in the polls (i.e., for most of the previous decade) it was because the media was against them? You can't have it both ways.

Having dug that hole, the Globe then has another go at it with an op-ed piece by Mark Entwistle entitled Even Brian Mulroney met the national press (also behind subscriber wall). While the Globe notes that "Entwistle was press secretary to Brian Mulroney," it conveniently omits that he has also served as a hired gun for CPC turncoat Belinda Stronach. One would think even the Globe could come up with a more credible defender than that if it really had a case.

How pathetic. Guilty as charged.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sorry Gwyn

I can't help feeling partly responsible for the hatchet job on Gwyn Morgan, Stephen Harper's appointee to lead the proposed Public Appointments Commission, earlier this week. You see, I helped one of his chief accusers, NDP MP Peggy Nash, get elected.

Not that I am an NDP supporter. Far from it. But in my efforts to bring down Sam Bulte, the former Liberal MP representing Parkdale-High Park, I helped pave the way for Nash to win the riding in the last election. It's not that the Conservatives stood a chance in a central Toronto riding anyway. But while the Conservatives did increase their share of the popular vote, it was really a two-horse race between the NDP and the Liberals.

At the time, I did not think Nash's victory was a bad outcome. After all, we knocked out a conflict-ridden Liberal, in favour of the seemingly bright and articulate Peggy Nash. While undoubtedly on the left side of the political spectrum, she was quite impressive in the election debates, even if I disagreed with many of her views. To her credit, I thought she supported her positions in a positive and rational manner without resorting to the over-the-top rhetoric all too common among her socialist brethren.

However, such restraint was certainly not evident in Nash's smear job of Gwyn Morgan as she and other opposition members on the parliamentary committee grilled him on previous statements he had made about ethnic gang violence. While lacking the nuance of an experienced politician, Morgan said nothing that was factually incorrect. But that didn't stop Nash from attempting to paint him as a racist:

"He said that refugees tended to be less qualified than economic immigrants. He questioned the role of multiculturalism," said New Democratic Party MP Peggy Nash, who introduced the motion to reject Morgan.

"I think we are proud of our multicultural country and to stereotype whole cultures, that was problematic," she said.

Not that Morgan did any such thing. But in partisan politics, none of this seems to matter. Nevertheless, Nash's little tactic will have lasting repercussions. Why would anyone that has been successful in other endeavours besides politics volunteer for public service if it means being subjected to the indignities of such partisan smears?

In effect, we are excluding our best and brightest from public service. Our fate now rests exclusively in the hands of self-interested politicians.

Too bad for Canada. If I played any part in bringing this about, I am truly sorry.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Impressions of Alberta

I visited Alberta last week. It has been almost a dozen years since I last visited. The last time was during the Calgary Stampede. I thought all Calgarians wore cowboy boots and cowboy hats. Not this time. The old stereotypes die hard.

There is no doubt Calgary is booming. Construction cranes dot the skyline. Jobs are going begging. Yet the people remain down to earth. Even though the city is growing rapidly, Calgarians seem to eschew the hectic lifestyles typical of other big cities.

The city is also becoming more cosmopolitan. One of the biggest surprises of my visit was hearing French on several occasions while out for a jog along the Bow River. I asked one young mother out pushing a stroller with her friend about it and she assured me, "il y a beaucoup de francophones à Calgary."

Here are some other pics from my trip:

The infamous Red Square in Calgary

Acting the part at a natural gas collector site

Compressing the natural gas for shipment

A typical Albertan oil rig

Cows on the prairies

The Starship Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta