Friday, March 30, 2012

Episode V: The Blogger Strikes Back

I had already written this post earlier today, but technological trouble meant that it didn't save properly and well, it erased the entire thing. Two hours well spent, no doubt. Oh well, I'll start from scratch, but as such I'm not going to bother with the linking of sources...They're all on CBC and CTV, so you can find them easily enough.

We're going to spend the first part of this post talking about the budget; from there we'll move onto Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz and the hot water he finds himself in; and finally, we'll wrap up with Marc Mayrand's appearance before a parliamentary committee to discuss Election Canada's investigations into the entire Robocall Scandal.

So, let's start with the budget.

I'll start first with the most pressing thing raised from the budget, and one that we all saw coming from a mile away: The raising of the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67. This was something Harper touted shortly after his re-election while in Switzerland for an economic summit; as such, no one was completely blindsided by the announcement in the budget.

There is no doubt that we need to be addressing the sustainability of the OAS system, but in my mind, the Harper Government is missing the point on the issue. One of the statistics that Flaherty used while presenting the budget is the well known fact that the ratio between worker and retiree is getting wider. For every one worker there's two or three retiree to support.

But instead of addressing the key issue, and problem to this, the Harper Government is just going to raise eligibility ages. So, what is the key problem?

The problem is youth unemployment. This country has a skyrocketing youth unemployment rate of about 14%, which is double the national average for unemployment. The reason why we have more retiree per worker is because we are not doing enough to get young people into the marketplace and generating the tax revenue necessary to keep OAS funded.

But instead of introducing a plan that calls for and focused on youth employment, the government has released a shortsighted plan that is only going to work to keep more youth out of the employment market. Allow me to explain.

By raising the age needed for benefits, older workers are going to stay in their careers longer. For specialized careers, this means that entry level employees are more likely to remain entry level for longer which in turn drives down the need to foster more job creation within the company.

Furthermore, in industries where high-turn over rates are meant to create jobs for young adults and teenagers (such as the service industry), the growth is going to be even worse as older employees hang onto their careers for two more years in order to receive their OAS benefits. This move is going to cause a backlog in our employment sector, as more people just stay put in the jobs and titles that they already have. There will be a ceiling in the company, but there also won't be a front door for new workers to even get in.

This is just going to put more pressure on the OAS system, as fewer working people means that we will see a net decrease in the tax revenue used to fund the entire system in the first place. It is in the best interest of all to get more employees into the system, not keep workers already in the system. That is how we generate the needed income to support OAS, and it should have been the first step in dealing with the problem.

If we managed to slash youth unemployment and get more people working, then the raise from 65 to 67 may have been completely unnecessary. The fact is that it is a step that could have addressed the problem that was not taken, and clearly not considered by this government, as they continue to drag their feet on any meaningful action that would lower youth unemployment in this country.

Youths working is good for the entire economy, not just for the youths themselves. And when this government finally understands that, then perhaps we'll see a measure that can address this problem without causing a massive headache to want to be retirees, want to be workers, and the economy as a whole.

So, let's look at one of the 'flashy' items contained in the budget. The government included good news for cross border shoppers, as they announced they would raise the amount a person could buy without paying duty/taxes on those items when crossing the border.

For a 24 hour trip, you can now bring back $200 as opposed to the old $50 limit. For a 48 hour trip, it is now $800 over the old $400.

While that sounds like a good idea, there is a catch.

The government will be spending $15 million on this program, if only due to the lost revenue this tax freedom provides; but at the same time, they will be doing an incredible amount of damage to our own internal economy.

We all know that somethings are cheaper in the USA. And while we've talked about forming committees and studies into finding ways to bring our prices more in line with the US, we've seemed to abandoned that for the quick fix.

With the dollar permanently floating above parity, cross-border trips to pick up better deals is not an uncommon occurrence. But by Canadians flocking to the USA to do their shopping, we have to consider what this means for Canadian retailers. This is going to result in a net loss of income for Canadian vendors, as more people flock to the US in order to save a few dollars.

Effectively, this is a program that is only going to work to stimulate the lagging American economy; while having a potentially harmful effect to the Canadian economy.

So, why should Canadians being paying up to $15 million in lost income to stimulate the American economy? It's a shortsighted measure that sounds good to those who travel to the States a lot, but once you look at the fine print, the glimmer really wears off the false gold.

That brings us to the most troubling thing, in my opinion, in the budget. And that is the fundamental change to the funding of research & development and the destruction of environmental reviews in this country.

The government has placed a 24 month maximum on environmental assessments when it comes to developing projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. The government claims that we have lost developers due to assessments which have taken several years, and that this walking away as cost us a lot of money. So, they propose that we limit the debate and require only a single assessment that will take no more than 24 months.

This means that the government can more or less shut down an assessment, or a debate, and green light any project they want. But surely there would be scientists or something who could provide evidence that a project would be an environmental net deficit....

But the Conservatives have already thought of that. They're changing the way the National Research Council provides funding to researchers by moving away from a tax credit system to a grant system. As such, a bureaucrat will now decide which research proposals will receive government funding and which ones will not.

The problem with this is that is creates state mandated science. And that is not science, that is propaganda. A government has no right to unilaterally decide what is fact and what is fiction; that is solely in the realm of science. And way we find out what is fact and what is fiction, is through research of hypotheses. Scientists propose something, examine it, and determine whether their proposal was correct or incorrect.

That is how we discover facts. This move will prevent us from fully exploring scientific endeavours, and will effectively allow the state to mandate what we do and do not know. That is, as I said above, propaganda. The government has no right to mandate 'facts', or to deny the creation of new facts that run counter to their own ideological beliefs.

And the Conservatives have already proven that they will mandate what is science fact. They've done this two fold, in addition to the revision to NRC funding. First, they muzzled scientists in Ottawa.

Now, they've cancelled the Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. This was a group that did regular studies and release information on the effects global warming would have on the Canadian economy. They were doing research that the Conservatives did not like, as no Conservative in Ottawa believes global warming is happening...Just ask why they shut down the PEARL observation station.

The Conservatives have shown that they will do what they want when it comes to the release of information, including the release of scientific fact. If it runs counter to the message, it is destroyed and ground into dust. Canada's scientific community should be terrified in the face of this budget, especially those who have committed themselves to environmental sciences, as this is a budget that seeks to silence any opposition that relies on the pursuit of scientific truth.

Finally, on the budget, we come to the elimination of the penny. This was a surprise proposal, but one that actually isn't that bad of an idea. And if you know your party electoral policy, specifically from 2006, you'd know that the NDP has been in favour of the getting rid of the penny for a very long time.

It is true that the penny costs us more to make than it is worth, and that many Canadians do not even bother to spend the things, relegating them instead to jars and trays across our homes. In that way, it makes sense for the government to stop minting the penny.

The problem with this plan is that it comes with a rounding situation that is left entirely in the hands of businesses. Let's take Tim Hortons, for example.

Say your cup of coffee costs $1.86 cents; under the proposal your coffee would be rounded down to $1.85 for a cash transaction. If your coffee costs $1.87 cents, it would be rounded up to $1.90 for a cash transaction.

See the problems?

Firstly, there's the cost to business. These roundings are supposed to occur only on cash transactions, but the technology to implement that is going to cost a bit of money (in terms of training and reprogramming automatic tills, etc.) And then you have a double standard where someone paying by debit or credit is able to get their coffee at a cheaper price, than someone who is paying by cash.

Secondly, there's the cost to consumers. Take Tim Hortons again, who will now be able to charge 3 cents more for a cup of coffee. While that doesn't sound like much, think of the daily traffic through your Tim Hortons. If even half of them were cash transactions, it stands to reason that the business will be taking in hundreds in extra daily revenue due to rounding up on cash transactions.

So, while eliminating the penny was a good idea the rounding system that comes with it is a final 'screw you' to people who purchase things with cash. And if you think about people who purchase things with cash, it tends to be people on the lower end of the economic system. As such, this is almost a 3 cent tax on the poorest among us. Yep, this government really cares about making our money go a little further for the average Canadian.

That's all I have to say about the budget for now; though I'm sure one or two things may yet rise again to be discussed.

That brings me to Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz. Recently, a fellow MP has levelled an accusation that Garry endorsed a 'gun touting' society and that Canada would be a 'safer country if everyone were armed'.

Now, if you've met Garry, you'd know that those kinds of ideas coming from him are nothing new. The accusations don't even make you bat an eyelash at this point; what is shocking about this accusation is that Garry made these comments during a presentation to a Grade 10 class in an Ontario school.

Now, Garry has said that the accusations are baseless...But he didn't outright deny them. But the letter written by a parent, which details the accusations, doesn't contain any quotes from Breitkreuz. So, it's sort of a he said  - she said at this point.

What concerns me about this is the fact that Mr. Breitkreuz was even in an Ontario school in the first place.

Allow me to explain. I grew up in the Yorkton-Melville riding. For as long as I lived there, Mr. Breitkreuz was our MP. In that time, I've never run into him at any sort of function, other than scheduled candidate debates during an election.

He never came to any of my schools, elementary or secondary; not even when our schools put on mock elections during federal campaigns. Furthermore, I've never run into him at any local functions; such as Lieutenant Governor dinners (of which I've attended a few), or at particular local attractions.

So my real question, rather than the comments, is why a man who is so invisible in his own riding was in a school in Ontario at all? Did Rob Anders have a nap scheduled?

I don't know which riding the school was in, but if they have a sitting Conservative MP, or even an opposition MP, I'm curious to know why Mr. Breitkreuz was selected to go to this school and give a presentation to the students.

I know Garry's views on guns, after all, this is a man who got indignant when an event he was keynote speaker at took flak for offering a handgun as a door prize. So, he could say anything about guns and their role in society, and I wouldn't be surprised.

What does surprise me is that he agreed to go to a school, outside of his riding, in the first place. I'm not saying MPs should only do things in their own riding; on the contrary, I think it's great that MPs are reaching out to youth across the country and its something there should be more of. But if he can't be bothered to perform the same kind of interest in his own riding, why are we letting him talk to youths in another riding?

Finally, that brings me to the most recent news in the Robocall/Election Fraud scandal. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand appeared before a parliamentary committee on Thursday; the morning before the budget was introduced. There is a lot of speculation about the timing of this, given that Mayrand offered to appear before Parliament weeks ago; and it is know that the Conservative chair of the committee chose the specific date for Mayrand to appear.

That's fishy enough, but we won't spend too much time focusing on it.

What Mayrand confirmed was interesting, however. He confirmed that Elections Canada received 800 reports of wrong doing, in 200 ridings across Canada. This was a much larger number than anyone expected, and many will be watching to see what comes from it.

He also confirmed that there are 250 open files being investigated, and that at least 70 complaints were filed shortly after the election; which puts a major hole in a Conservative talking point about this being organized only recently.

Mayrand also condemned the actions as outrageous and called for the strongest possible action to be taken against those who were found to have committed the acts. He also evaded Conservative attempts to belittle the information he presented; reprimanding Tom Lukiwski for suggesting that the level of complaints were low. Mayrand pointed to the call record from the now infamous 'Pierre Poutine' and suggested that many people were called, and many more didn't file complaints, but some did.

Mayrand is expected to file a report in a year's time with his recommendations to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again. It's unclear whether or not his report will also contain any accusations of wrong doing against any of the political parties in Ottawa.

But in perhaps the most telling sign of the day; Mayrand asked for the Elections Act to be reexamined and for punishments for those who violate the act to be increased and made adequate. The Conservative Party responded by including a multi-million dollar funding cut for Elections Canada in the budget.

And that alone, should speak volumes.

1 comment:

leftdog said...

Glad that you took the time to do this post over again when it didn't save. Great commentary! Thanks!