Trudeau: rendering the economy in cartoons

Sun News wants me to talk (a lot) about this video today.  My reaction:

  • PRO: It helps to flesh out his economic vision, which has been a policy soft spot.
  • PRO: It correctly identifies the fiscal problem of the next decade – the feds in structural surplus, the provinces/municipalities in structural deficit. (Oh, and the separatists about to get a majority.)
  • PRO: It is non-partisan.
  • CON: It’s too long.  It contains too much info.  If you can’t say it in two minutes, per Chuck Berry, it can’t be said.
  • CON: The “sunny ways” thing is a wee bit obscure.  Adds nothing, potentially distracts.
  • CON: Will enough people see it?

My big beef, however? They seriously owe my brother royalties! Check out Lorne’s online CV, then watch Justin’s thing. See any stylistic similarities?


I am part of the problem

How representative is the Canadian media? Specifically, how much do so-called opinion-makers reflect the country that ostensibly makes up their audience?

Not much.

Got home from Son Two’s game last night, fired up National Newswatch, and this is what I saw: all white, all male, all middle-aged in the columnist line-up. Every single one.

There’s all kinds of reasons why traditional news media are in so much trouble: bad business decisions, underestimating the Internet, big changes in the way people receive news. But I’d be astounded if the homogeneity of the media wasn’t part of the reason, too.


Horwath’s smart move

This was quite clever:

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath warns she will topple Premier Kathleen Wynne’s minority Liberals if the budget imposes any new levies on Ontarians, according to a letter obtained by the Star.

In a high-stakes game of poker — with an $80-million provincial election hanging in the balance — Horwath is calling Wynne’s bluff about wanting to keep the legislature afloat.

“I will not support any new taxes, tolls or fees that hit middle-class families,” the NDP leader wrote in a letter hand-delivered to the premier’s office at Queen’s Park on Monday night.

For some time, the Ontario NDP have been positioning themselves as the Pocketbook Party: they know that the main preoccupation of most voters, these days, is how to make daily life more affordable. So they have essentially usurped what is traditionally a Liberal position, and become the advocates for the middle class. Or, at least, she has become a Romanow liberal democrat: balanced budgets, no new taxes, government living within its means.

Horwath’s talking points on her main opponents are quite clear. too. The Hudak Conservatives want to shut down government, and anyone who disagrees with them; the Wynne Liberals want to turn government into a big group therapy session, where lots gets said, but nothing gets done.

With her move last night, I believe Horwath has forced Wynne’s hand: the Liberal leader is not going to get a budget passed. If the Liberal leader wants to frame the debate, she’ll have to go to the Lieutenant-Governor, and dissolve the Legislature.

Welcome back, MPPs. If I were you, I wouldn’t take off my winter coats and boots.  You’re going back on on the road very soon.

 

 


In Tuesday’s Sun: uncharitable

The Hebrew word for charity – tzedakah – means justice. It’s a better definition than the English, because charity shouldn’t mean simply giving to the poor. It means (or should) seeking a righteous, fairer world. Justice, in other words.

In the Jewish tradition, then, charity isn’t merely something you do if you feel like it. It is, instead, an obligation owed to God. If you are to live a godly life, you have an actual ongoing responsibility to make the world a better place. This is why, I think, we consistently see so many Jews at the forefront of charitable ventures in Canada – to them, charitable work is an article of their faith.

Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper don’t think Environmental Defence, Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation are trying to make the world a better, fairer place. They don’t think those charitable groups should exist, even.

Environmental Defence, Tides and the Suzuki folks are now being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency. More than a half-dozen environmental groups are being similarly audited, in fact. The Conservatives say the environmental groups are too political (which is a lie). The environmental groups say the Conservatives are using their power to silence them, or put them out of business (and that’s the truth).

Environmental Defence has been around for 30 years. Its mission is to “inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.” Sound too radical or political to you? Me neither.

A few years back, they tested various MPs bodies’ for toxins. One of the participants was Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement – he apparently didn’t consider Environmental Defence too political back then. Thereafter, his government smartly decided to declare one of those toxins, triclosan, a threat. Again, sound like a bad political thing? Nope.

The Suzuki Foundation – with which David Suzuki himself is no longer affiliated, because he didn’t want the group to be targeted by the Harper regime, so great is their hatred for him – does stuff like “science-based research, education and policy work” about the environment. Radical? Um, no.

Environmental Defence, the Suzuki folks and others aren’t wild about the oil sands – and, last time we checked, neither is the President of the United States, who calls them “destructive.” Being unenthusiastic about the oil sands is what you’d expect an environmental group to think, no? It’s not a big deal.

Not to Flaherty and his ilk. The Finance Minister recently even insinuated that environmental groups are honest-to-goodness terrorists. “If the critics of the government are terrorist organizations and organized crime, I don’t care,” he told Postmedia, in a story that was about charities. Seriously? If I were legal counsel to an enviro group, I’d sue Flaherty’s Irish ass for linking my client to terrorism.

But that’s me. The environmental groups, you see, are too nice. They are quietly going along with the audits. They should, instead, be fighting like holy Hell. The Conservative, meanwhile, should back the Hell off – because their obsession with these environmental groups will ultimately persuade Canadians that (a) they’re scared of the environmentalists’ message and (b) they favour free speech, but only for them and their friends.

They’re charities, doing good work. If they are engaging in terrorism or money-laundering, put ‘em in jail, and throw away the key.

But if they’re not? Back off, Jimbo.

Justice demands it.


In Sunday’s Sun: the fiscal blessing and curse

Never screw up on a slow news day. Conversely, don’t make a big announcement on a busy news day.

So Jim Flaherty didn’t — release a budget of significance, that is.
Surveying the headlines, who can blame him? Canada topping the Olympic medal standings over in Sochi. Shirley Temple going to heaven, and heaven raining down bad weather. Oh, and Flaherty’s close friend Rob Ford? The homicide police investigating him are now seeking cellphone records, likely Mayor Crackhead’s.

Like we say, busy.

Seeing all that news happening, who can blame the federal finance minister from relieving himself from doing anything of consequence?

So he didn’t.

It was, as BMO Economics accurately foretold, “among the least eventful (budgets) in recent memory.”

Given that Flaherty faithfully briefs Bay St. bankers on the budget well before its release, we all therefore knew Flaherty wasn’t after any big, banner headlines.

The selection of Feb. 11 — during the Olympics! — was a dead giveaway, too. No news here, folks, move along.
Now, if you were to ask Flaherty — and some Hill journalists actually did, in the quaint age-old media rituals of budget week (shoes, lockups, spin) — he’d say it was a big deal, with a straight face.

Being a Conservative, Flaherty suggested to all and sundry that we should be deliriously happy about his medal-winning deficit-elimination performance. We are on track to have a balanced budget, the Reformatory talking points reminded us.

Never mind that everyone from big labour to big business is suggesting that Flaherty is fibbing. If you take away his $3 billion “reserve,” the feds are in a surplus situation right now.

What matters is the narrative, however, and the Con narrative will be asserting rosy-cheeked fiscal health right around the time Canuckistan is heading back to the polls in 2015.
But with the greatest of respect to Flaherty — who, even you conservatives must admit, looked like he was phoning it in during his budget speech Tuesday afternoon — is his fiscal achievement an achievement at all?

Or, as I told Sun News Network’s David Akin on his budget show, be careful what you wish for, Jim: “You just might get it.”

Flaherty, all 10 pinkish budgets to the contrary, is a conservative and a Conservative. He prefers cutting, not spending. It’s in his genetic coding.
So what, then, is he to do in 2015, when it becomes apparent to everyone that his surplus is structural — that is, permanent — and “the cupboards are bare” homilies won’t work anymore?

The premiers know you are flush, little guy, and they are coming after you. Ontario and Quebec have already started.

So, too, the NGOs and associations and lobbyists who swarm Parliament Hill during times of largesse, like ants at the prospect of a little kids’ picnic. They will be all over you, Jimbo, and they won’t be dissuaded by your claims that we all need to be prudent, that we need to be careful, it’s mortgaging future generations, blah blah blah.

It won’t work.

Tax cuts won’t cut it. Nor will more bribes to snowmobiling clubs, or parents seeking a shiny new hockey helmet for Junior.

No, in the coming months, everyone is going to figure out that Stephen Harper is the only guy in the game with a bank balance. It’s going to be ugly. The separatists, in particular, are going to be heard from.

Wee Jimmy Flaherty, meanwhile, will be likely long gone by then.

The Ontario Liberals are facing exceedingly dim electoral prospects, and Flaherty’s wife — an Ontario MPP — wants to lead the Ontario PCs. (The Ontario NDP, however, are the team to watch — but that’s a story for another day.)

By then, Jim Flaherty will be enjoying an MP’s pension of some $100,000 or more. By then, he won’t care.

Jim Flaherty didn’t screw up on a slow news day. And he sure as hell didn’t issue anything of importance on what turned out to be a busy one, either.


Trudeau is right on the economy

This week, a few of us liberals and Liberals at Daisy were confronted on-air with a clip of Justin Trudeau on CPAC saying (apparently) “the deficit will take care of itself.” Stephen Harper and the Conservatives seized on that, in Question Period and elsewhere. They mocked him for what he (allegedly) said.

When we were permitted to see Trudeau’s full statement, it was apparent he didn’t say that. In fact, he said that – with significant economic growth (and, impliedly, with program review and healthy revenue streams) – the deficit will, in fact, be taken care of. Worked for Chrétien.

In this Globe quote, below, he further fleshes out his deficit observation. Personally – and not just because I’ve been hammering away at this fact in Sun columns – I think he has identified the fiscal dilemma of the coming decade: a federal government with a structural surplus, and everyone else – provincial governments, municipal governments – being in a structural deficit.

Here’s Trudeau:

“Canadians are tapped out, provinces are tapped out,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The federal government, because of smart decisions taken in the 1990s, has a little more leeway. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is great. So what we need to be looking at is how we can leverage the fact that we do have a little more wiggle room on the federal side to actually get our economy growing the right way.”

We are heading into a period with a tremendous number of money demands being made of the federal government which Trudeau hopes to lead. The provinces and the cities will be (and are) desperate. For the separatists, in particular, it’s a very helpful circumstance.

I write more about this tremendous challenge in the Sun this weekend. But I’m glad Trudeau is talking about it.


Happy birthday

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Many guys will understand what I mean when I say this: your father is both a bit of light, and a bit of shadow, over your path through life.

Mine, T. Douglas Kinsella, MD, OC, would have been 82 years old today. Almost ten years after we lost him, he remains a constant in our lives. He still illuminates some of the path. Without even being here, he still quietly persuades me to examine the choices I have made.

Me? I have made bad choices. I have been reckless and cruel with the hearts of too many. I have not lived by the single rule he left us.

“Love people, and be honest,” he said to us, and I often feel I have done neither.

He saved many lives as a physician, and he won accolades, and he was a member of the Order of Canada. But for us – my brothers, my nephew he raised, my closest friends – he was the man we aspired to be. Not for the distinctions he received, but for how he was, in his soul.

He was unfailingly honest; he was kind to everyone he met. He married his high school sweetheart, and was with her every single day for 50 years, and my God how they loved each other. We would sit there at the kitchen table in Calgary or Kingston or Montreal, and we would listen to him. He’d listen to us, too, and persuade us to try and figure things out. There were some great times, around that table.

The best thing is having a father like that. The harder thing is knowing that you will never be like him.

I had a dream that he died in 9/11; I don’t know why, but I did. I woke up weeping, and remembered that I wasn’t a boy anymore, and that he has been gone for almost ten years. I don’t think he would like what his son has become. I know I don’t.

So I put on my pants and shoes, and went out into the day, looking for what’s left of the path.

Happy birthday. I miss you.