Sunday, April 06, 2014

Our housing problems: Should we charge an Inflation Tax on absentee home owners?

Charlie Smith: Thought-Provoker
We all agree with the principle that Polluters should pay for the impact of their pollution. So why not make those responsible for the inflated prices of homes in our cities pay a tax – the Inflators should pay principle?

Consider this question posed by a London city council for debate by its residents:

It also asks: “Do you agree with Islington Council’s intention to require owners of properties which are kept unoccupied to make a financial contribution to the council, which would be used to deliver affordable housing elsewhere in the borough?”

Charlie Smith in the latest Georgia Straight has an intriguing article on the steps being taken by the Islington city council to grapple with the problem of the lack of affordability of homes in its region.

Should we adopt similar penalties for similar situations in our major cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary spring to mind)?

If not, why not?

Consider these facts in the Smith article:

  •       A study of Vancouver housing found that one in four (a whopping 25%!) of condos  in the downtown were either empty or occupied by nonresidents for only part of the year – that’s the possible size of the problem of our current Buy-to-Leave laws;
  •        The discussion paper of the Islington council states that overseas buyers paying cash “are causing a ripple of price inflation spreading throughout London” – haven’t we heard that about Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver?

Among other findings in the Islington study (accessible via hyperlink in the Smith article) are these:

The council frames the issue as one of tackling inequality and exclusion in the borough, and seeking to ensure that local residents share in the prosperity of London.

That council has an objective of securing a supply of housing which encourages mixed communities, where the main priority will be maximising provision of social rented housing.

Also, as a whole, a ratio of over 10 (median earnings to median property prices, or a price-to-earnings ration) across inner London has created a significant problem for first-time-buyers with no equity or upfront capital. 
In paragraph 3.8 of the Islington study, we find this:

The issue from a planning perspective is not overseas ownership per se, but rather new housing supply being ‘wasted’ by being left empty – so-called ‘buy-to-leave’. This is a phenomenon that seems to be particularly associated with overseas buyers, many of whom see London property as an asset investment.

The Islington proposal is a tax of £60,000 ($109,000) on such homes.

The council is proposing to place the responsibility for demonstrating occupancy on the owners of individual dwellings to which the new planning obligation will apply. This could be via submission of evidence such as utility bills where it is suspected that properties are left unoccupied.

How about it, Mayors of Vancouver? Toronto? Calgary?

Let’s get this discussion going.

And a tip of the hat to Charlie Smith for yet another thought-provoking contribution to municipal affairs.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ukraine: Angela Merkel and the Sleepwalkers

With all the huffing and puffing going on around Crimea, Ukraine, and Putin’s metamorphosis into Hitler, it’s a pleasure to read that Germany’s Merkel is trying to learn from the past:

In contrast to the posturing and empty rhetoric in London and Washington is the calm voice of Germany's Angela Merkel. We hear that she and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have been reading Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers, an analysis of the countdown to the Great War. Steinmeier invited Clark to Berlin to debate the topic. Imagine a British politician reading such a book, let alone acting on it.

Clark traces the way highly charged relations between states trap players into losing room for manoeuvre. They caricature their foes and turn their backs on compromise. Merkel grew up in East Germany under the KGB's lash and has tried to see Putin through Russian eyes. She sees the absurdity of Barack Obama preaching international law at Russia, of punishing it over Crimea while scheming to bring Ukraine into the western camp. She sees the 1914 danger, of vague ultimatums, unenforcible red lines and ill-considered alliances.

Putin emerges from this crisis not as clever and calculating but as an emotional, scary figure, lonely and alarmingly bereft of checks or balances. His seizure of Crimea has been popular and, in the scheme of things, no big outrage against international order. But the sabre-rattling along Nato's eastern border is as provocative as were the careless antics of Nato and the EU in Kiev over recent years. Putin too needs a bridge over which to retreat.

The cold war dinosaurs who still tramp the corridors and editorial columns of London and Washington seem almost to pine for the virile certainties of 1945-89.

Time to think a bit like that old rogue, Kissinger, folks, and to brush off your Getting to Yes – read about analyzing interests of all parties and then negotiating based on meeting needs and interests rather than just positions.

Ukraine: Some Commensense on Dealing with Russia

Putin's Push: Reality versus Rhetoric

Congratulations to Thomas Graham, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute, who was the senior director for Russia on the US National Security Council staff 2004-2007. He has shrewdly analyzed the Russian push under Putin, in its historical context, and outlined the steps that the West has to take to deal with Putin. Visa denials and economic sanctions, while nice sound bytes, are pretty meaningless. His views:

The way to stymie Russian expansion is not by denying visas and freezing assets of Russian officials and their business associates, the West's current approach. Nor will sanctioning entire economic sectors, as the West now threatens, likely succeed. National security always trumps economic well-being in Moscow's - and Putin's - world. Rather history indicates that the way to stop Russia is to organize the regions along its periphery. The West has already done that in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, now safely anchored in the European Union and NATO, although the states there will require reassurance and continued support for deepening integration into European institutions.
Thomas Graham

But Ukraine, like Moldova and the Caucasian states, teeters on the edge of becoming a failed state. Consolidating it as a modern state is an enormous task, requiring wholesale replacement of a predatory elite that has sabotaged economic development - according to the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine's economy as grown by about a quarter since 1992, while Russia's has more than doubled - and billions of dollars to bridge a short-term financing gap and billions more to build a modern, competitive economy. Putin is betting that the West lacks the resources, the vision and the patience to help consolidate Ukraine. He believes that history is on his side and that his world is the real world. The West has yet to prove him wrong.

If broken nations or failed states are the problem you want to fix, then you have to commit to a meaningful, expensive, intelligent and long-term program of nation-building.

Or jet back and forth uttering bombastic statements about morality and absolute rejections of the steps Putin has and will take to restore his view of Russia’s glory.

The West – and especially the USA – has two powerful weapons at its disposal: its democratic values, and the enormous strength of its capitalistic economy. They can both be harnessed into a proactive, positive and effective foreign policy.

But the USA also has major problems, starting with the shortsightedness of most of its economic and political elite, and the parochial bickering that masquerades as meaningful political debate in the Senate, the Congress and the media.

Statesmen with vision are called for; but right now America offers small-visioned, undisciplined and erratic leaders to the world.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ukraine: The Solution is at hand

Foreign Minister Lavrov - the man with the answer
Within a week or so the outlines of a solution to the Ukraine predicament will become clear to all. As I expected (and hoped), wiser heads have come up with a workable formula.

The Russians are leading the way, with Obama ready to follow.

At tomorrow’s meeting between Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Russians will table the solution:

“We are bringing our approaches closer together,” Mr. Lavrov said. “My last meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in The Hague and my contacts with Germany, France and some other countries show that a possible joint initiative that could be offered to our Ukrainian partners is taking shape.”

The Russian solution emphasizes a federation — allowing for greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine, with its heavy concentration of ethnic Russians. Moscow’s emphasis on a federation is seen partly as an attempt to ensure that Ukraine does not coalesce into a strong pro-European, anti-Russian country right next door.

Mr. Lavrov rejected as “absolutely unacceptable” the formula devised by Western officials, whereby Russia and Ukraine would negotiate directly with each other under Western auspices. Mr. Lavrov said. The Russians reject the current leadership in Kiev as illegitimate.

The key to the federation concept tabled by Russia is the ability of individual regions of the hightly-dentralized federal state of Ukraine to manage their own affairs, including – and this is the game changer for Russia and the West – that ability to forge links with other countries:

Lavrov called for "deep constitutional reform" in Ukraine, a sprawling country of 46 million people divided between those who see their future in closer ties with Europe and mainly Russian speakers in the east who look to former Soviet master Russia.

"Frankly speaking, we don't see any other way for the steady development of the Ukrainian state apart from as a federation," Lavrov said.

Each region would have jurisdiction over its economy, finances, culture, language, education and "external economic and cultural connections with neighbouring countries or regions," he said. "Given the proportion of native Russians (in Ukraine) we propose this and we are sure there is no other way."

These links can be economic ones (which would allow the Western Ukraine states within the new federation to join the EU singly or as a group, if the EU allows this), but not defence ones (which rules out the Ukraine joining NATO).

Crimea will remain a part of Russia and will not join the new Ukraine federation.

Oh, and the EU (and perhaps USA) will withdraw most of their sanctions imposed on Russia, certain Russians and some Russian entities.

Chances of Success of the Russian Proposal

The chances are virtually 100% that the EU will go along with the proposal, and the US will follow suit (while reserving the right to refuse to recognize Crimea becoming part of Russia).

The EU and USA will then exert influence (mostly financial, through loans being withheld) with conditions attached that Ukraine negotiate such a new confederation.

Future developments

If the US and EU negotiate properly with the western states in the new Ukraine federation, they could impose constitutional and political reforms in addition to far-reaching economic reforms. The purpose would be to drag these feudal fiefdoms  out of the Middle Ages, break the power of the oligarchs to run the places like their own possessions, allow Ukrapnains to vote for powerful governments that take their interests into consideration.

The eastern parts of the Ukraine will follow the Russian model.

And in 10 to 15 years time, citizens of Russia will look at the substantial improvement in living and democratic standards in the western Ukrainian states as compared to the relatively stagnant eastern ones, and start demanding similar reforms in Russia.

Democracy is still on the march.

Welcome to the Eastern Europe Arab Spring!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Canada, eh? Culture clash: RBC Nice and The Alternative

Interesting snippet from the latest Micheal Lewis book entitled Flash, in an article by Joanna Slater:

The small selection of pages from Mr. Lewis's book briefly made public by Amazon contained both praise and brickbats for Canada's largest bank. 

RBC is described as "stable and relatively virtuous" but somewhat clueless as it attempted to push into the big leagues in New York a little over a decade ago.

"It was as if the Canadians had summoned up the nerve to audition for the school play, then showed up in a carrot costume," Mr. Lewis writes.

The book portrays RBC's 2006 acquisition of Carlin Financial, a U.S. electronic trading firm, as a hasty decision that set off an internal culture clash. "The bank's run by these Canadian guys from Canada," the book quotes an anonymous former RBC director as saying. "They don't have the slightest idea of the ins and outs of Wall Street."

Unlike Carlin, RBC had a "no-asshole" rule in its hiring and instead looked for people who were "RBC nice," the book says. Carlin, by contrast, was headed by a man who walked around the trading floor brandishing a baseball bat.

You choose: Do you want “RBC Nice” or a baseball bat?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quebec election: 20 days and 5%

Premier Marois' Lobster Strategy
What a difference a campaign can make!

Just four weeks ago, it seemed the Marois-led PQ juggernaut was a shoo-in for a majority government in the province of Quebec, and now it seems the wheels have fallen off the machine, as pollster Three Hundred Eight illustrates.

In less than 20 days Premier Marois has through her ill-advised lack of discipline moved the needle from a majority government to being a government clutching a pink slip in its sweaty  hands, as its core Francophone constituency moves away:

Down 5% over 20 days in this core supporter group (which really means a loss of 1 in 9 - 5% / 45% - or 11% - a very significant drop!), the PQ need look no further than to its own leaders. That group decided that they could use the Lobster Trap trick to suck Quebecers into voting for a majority PQ government which would then spend millions of taxpayer dollars holding a 12-month or longer White Paper exercise that – as some of its senior leaders are on record as saying – will be an attempt to turn up the heat so that the Lobster ends up immersed in boiling-independence waters without realizing it.

Perhaps Quebec voters are paying too much attention, eh? Perhaps they are listening when Marois says she wants her cake (and wants to eat it, too); that the election is not about a referendum (but her majority government will act as if it was by launching a long education campaign, with senior PQ members expected by the Premier to be actively involved in selling the merits of independence, as she said during the campaign).

And perhaps Quebecers feel there are more important things that its government should be concentrating on, rather than trying to heat the independence-waters.

Still think a campaign does not really matter?

Think again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Robocalls and our Democracy: Michael Harris’ Compelling Ten Questions

Michael Harris: The Big 10
A must read for all who fear for our democracy, Michael Harris has done all Canadians a favour by spelling out ten questions he wants answered, along with some supporting facts that are background to each question he has posed.

The inaction or lack of response by those whose job it is guard our democracy from voter suppression beggars belief.

I trust that the three opposition parties will raise his article in iPolitics and his 10 questions during Question Period. And that they will demand that someone from Elections Canada appear to explain what is going on, in light of the unanswered questions that Harris raises.

These are the 5 questions that I am most interested in:

Question One: After Mr. X breached the security of CIMS, and went on to use the information to illegally discourage people from voting, did Chris Rougier, who oversaw the Conservatives’ National Voter Contact Operations in the 2011 election, or anyone else in party HQ, ever call the RCMP to investigate the theft of the party’s information?

Question Two: After tracing the phoney calls to a CPC list that was updated on April 27, 2011 in their computer, why didn’t Elections Canada investigators serve a court order for records stored on CIMS?

Question Five: What was the purpose of Rougier’s call to Meier the day before the election?

Question Nine: Would Mathews in his former life as an RCMP inspector have permitted someone representing a party to the investigation sit in on witness interviews, particularly since he was not their lawyer but the CPC’s?

Question Ten: If Robocalls was just a rogue operator in Guelph, will Elections Canada be giving Canadians an explanation of the tsunami of misleading phone calls elsewhere?

You might also want to delve into Saskboy’s post on the Ten Questions.

Michael Sona: The Accused (So Far)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quebec: Premier Marois’ Walk into Darkness

Premier Marois
The first debate in this unexpectedly interesting provincial election has yet again proved that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.

The Premier and her advisors had carefully planned a year long campaign designed to drive a wedge between the voters in preparation for the election, by holding public meetings to discuss their Charter of Values. And it seemed to be working well, crystallizing support among Francophones and leaving opponents waffling with Me, Too faint emulations.

So Marois and her Brains Trust decided that if it worked with the Charter of Values, why not adopt the same lobster in a pot strategy with respect to a referendum on independence? Gain a majority and then plunge into a year long White Paper exercise, doing the same as they did with the Charter of Values – gradually turn up the heat until the Lobster (Quebec voters) was well and truly cooked, steam coming out of their ears, without their being aware of it.
A best-laid plan about to gang awry

The trick was to promise a referendum to their diehard supporters while not promising a referendum to all others, so that the PQ could gain its majority and then crank up the heat under the Lobsters.

But the scheming has backfired.

The provincial Liberal Party found its way and has so far won the battle of defining the ballot question: Do you want to plunge into constitutional wrangling with a referendum, or not?

And the first debate showed that Premier Marois could not escape the question of whether one can have one’s cake and eat it at the same time:

Marois failed to shake speculation about her party's sovereignty agenda, after she refused to give a simple yes or no answer last night when asked if she would hold a referendum on Quebec's independence if the PQ forms the next government.

During the Friday morning news conference, reporters grilled the PQ leader on the referendum question, but she repeated her standard response: "There won't be a referendum if Quebecers aren't ready."

When pressed further, Marois said that her stance on a referendum is clear.

'We won't hold a referendum if Quebecers don't want one and we won't push them towards one," she said.

That commitment not to push Quebecers towards a referendum is a flat rejection of the whole Lobster Strategy the PQ has adopted (and which senior PQ leaders have jubilantly announced during the campaign) for the election. Expect pushback in a hurry from those leaders once journalists contrast their former statements with Ms Marois’ walk away from the White Paper/Lobster Immersion strategy previously adopted.
Echoes of Vive le Qubec Libre ...

It could prove to be Premier Marois’ walk – not into the snow – but into the darkness of political oblivion.

And the future looks gloomy:

Robert Libman, a former MNA with the Equality Party and the former mayor of Côte-St Luc, said Marois's attempts to distance herself from the referendum question have been unsuccessful.

"You can’t erase the image of Pierre Karl Péladeau during the campaign raising his fist. That’s probably the one image that defined this campaign so far. He raises his fist and he says ‘I want a country for my children.’ 
How can you escape that powerful image?" Libman told CBC's Daybreak.

"No matter what she says, that’s going to haunt her during the campaign."

Voters now have two images seared into their minds: The clenched fist of Péladeau when he made his Vive le Québec libre statement, and Marois’ stiff arming him away from the microphones in damage control desperation.

And what is the lesson learned? Simply this: Go to the mouse, thou politician: consider her ways and be wise ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty: Evil fruit from Secret talks

It is worth reading the article by Joseph Stiglitz on the problems posed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. Our government is one of those negotiating in confidence a treaty that will substantially effect the livelihood of all Canadians.

Stiglitz highlights the problems posed for democracies by the one-sided secrecy rules – citizens are kept in the dark while big business is invited to take a seat at the table during the negotiations:

These high stakes are why it is especially risky to let trade negotiations proceed in secret. All over the world, trade ministries are captured by corporate and financial interests. And when negotiations are secret, there is no way that the democratic process can exert the checks and balances required to put limits on the negative effects of these agreements.

The secrecy might be enough to cause significant controversy for the TPP. What we know of its particulars only makes it more unpalatable. One of the worst is that it allows corporations to seek restitution in an international tribunal, not only for unjust expropriation, but also for alleged diminution of their potential profits as a result of regulation. This is not a theoretical problem.

And as always in these types of things, the devil is in the details:
Joseph Stiglitz: Defender of Democracy

Today, the purpose of trade agreements is different. Tariffs around the world are already low. The focus has shifted to “nontariff barriers,” and the most important of these — for the corporate interests pushing agreements — are regulations. Huge multinational corporations complain that inconsistent regulations make business costly. But most of the regulations, even if they are imperfect, are there for a reason: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment.

What’s more, those regulations were often put in place by governments responding to the democratic demands of their citizens. Trade agreements’ new boosters euphemistically claim that they are simply after regulatory harmonization, a clean-sounding phrase that implies an innocent plan to promote efficiency. One could, of course, get regulatory harmonization by strengthening regulations to the highest standards everywhere. But when corporations call for harmonization, what they really mean is a race to the bottom.

The methods used to negotiate these types of international agreements is anti-democratic, and should be changed. And the ability of one set of parties to obtain information about and influence the talks while ordinary citizens are given the mushroom treatment is about as feudal as one can find.

Let’s hope that the TPP fails because of these flaws.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Liberal Party Mess in the Making

A man of principle
This is a mess. Justin Trudeau and his advisors had better get on to this debacle post haste, reveal all the facts and communications, and make sure the principle of open nominations is adhered to. If we start retreating from opennes and transparency before the election is here, we will not form the next government.

And congratulations to Zach Paikin for taking a principled stand (my underlining):

But a letter sent to Innes by Liberal national election readiness chief David MacNaughton and obtained by the CBC has suggested the move may have been driven by a desire to protect one of Trudeau’s star candidates, Chrystia Freeland.

According to the letter, MacNaughton said the party would have supported Innes’s nomination if Innes agreed not to run in the same riding as Freeland in 2015, when ridings are due to be reorganized.

The letter says Innes rejected the proposal “out of hand.”

In an interview with The Ottawa Citizen, Paikin said it was always known that Trudeau had identified preferred candidates in some ridings, “and if he wanted to campaign for some of those favourites, that would be his prerogative.”

“But once you start blocking candidacies, you go down a slippery slope,” Paikin said.

In his letter, Paikin drew a parallel between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Liberal party’s rejection of Innes’s candidacy, writing: “Stephen Harper is ‘Exhibit A’ of what happens when a leader compromises on his democratic principles in order to win power.”

Time is of the essence.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ukraine: Russia punts ball down the field to gain time

Lavrov to punt ...
So Kerry and Lavrov met and walked on a soccer field, during a six-hour discussion of events in the Crimea and Ukraine. At the end of that session, they agreed to disagree:

Lavrov said Crimea was very important for Russia but added that he could not comment further on the upcoming referendum until its results were clear. "Crimea is immeasurably more important for Russia than the Falkland Islands for Britain and the Comoro Islands for France," he said, Interfax reported. "I am sure that if Kosovo was a special case, Crimea is as much special as Kosovo."

Western leaders have rebuked Russia for supposedly not holding a proper dialogue with both the current Ukrainian government and the international community. Russia has refused to acknowledge the new Ukrainian authorities, but Lavrov said that Russia-Ukraine cooperation had not stopped and that Ukraine could talk with Russia directly without using international mechanisms. It was unclear what form such communication could take.

Kerry had earlier presented Lavrov with proposals on Ukraine, offering to organize a contact group in order to establish a dialogue between the two countries. But Lavrov said the proposals were unsatisfactory since they were based on the notion that there was a "conflict between Russia and Ukraine."

Another deadline will come and pass, with the referendum in Crimea. After that, Putin’s Russia will accept the invitation from the voters of Crimea to join Russia, and take immediate steps to pour thousands of Russian troops (with insignia on, this time) and Russian technicians into Crimea. Within months, a bridge to link Crimea with Russia will be started, and the Russian portion of Crimea will have increased substantially from its current 2 million mark.

Meanwhile, the unrest in the Russian-speaking eastern enclaves in the Rest of Ukraine (ROU) will steadily increase, with more and more pro-Russian and anti-Russian violent clashes.

When unrest is clear in most of the ethnic Russian parts of the ROU, Russia will propose to the West the holding of referenda in those areas, and in the ROU, on a choice of independence, or a revision of the Ukranian constitution to allow immediate and substantial devolution of major powers to the various regions of the Ukraine. This will include extensive economic rights as well as police and security matters.

The Ukranian government will be in a difficult position – to refuse any referenda would cast it in the light of one ethnic group (the Ukranians) avoiding the issue of what to do with other ethnic groups in the eastern part of Ukraine.

The EU and the US will make a counter-proposal: that the referenda be monitored and run by a UN team of observers. Russia will agree, as long as the actual question of the referendum, and the majority needed for success, is acceptable to itself.

The Ukraine will then hold the referenda, and a new federation will see the light of day.

That’s my take on where the soccer ball stops rolling, for a while.

Ukraine needs help to overcome the Iron Law of Oligarchy

Daron Acemoglu’s article on the Ukraine in today’s Globe & Mail is a must read for all who are concerned about the mammoth task facing Ukraine right now. Unlike so many writers who skate across the thin ice of ignorance in their commentary on what is really happening in that blighted country, Acemoglu gets to the heart of things with a penetrating analysis of the reality facing those young men and women who took to the streets.

He starts with this succinct summary:

But at the root of the situation is a legacy of political and economic institutions that have favoured elites at the expense of the majority of Ukrainians and have kept the country impoverished.

After examining the forked road choices that the former countries of the mighty Soviet Russia took when that empire shattered itself on rocks of its own making, the writer highlights the problem facing the Ukraine – the problem posed by the Iron Law of Oligarchy:

This has happened in Ukraine, as well. The Orange Revolution of 2004 promised to usher in a more inclusive society, but the new leaders proved just as corrupt and self-serving as those they had toppled. With the most recent protests, the Ukrainian people have once again tried to overcome a corrupt elite. And once again, they are facing a backlash that threatens to halt reform.

This isn’t unusual. German sociologist Robert Michels called it the “iron law of oligarchy” – oligarchies will work hard to defend themselves, and if they are overthrown, it’s usually by new oligarchs who are as bad or worse.

He spells out several steps that need to be taken for the Ukraine to avoid the continued application of the Iron Law of Oligarchy to its oppressed people.

It would be well for the EU, the US and Canada to consider his proposals seriously. The loan terms of the IMF and other potential lenders are good moves, but do not address the political dimension because they focus on the economic reforms needed.

The West should also have a Democracy 101 set of nation-building starter steps that it insists on as a price for any failed state to be admitted to closer trading ties and other forms of aid.

If men with guns stop the young gathered in the public spaces from moving their corrupt societies into more democratic ways, then there is a moral obligation on the West to step in and shield them from those guns, and help them take steps for the greater good of the bulk of their people.

Or have we failed to recognize the lessons of the past?

Let us not walk past them on the other side of the street.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quebec: Help the PQ set their Lobster Trap

Reaction to the PQ Lobster Strategy?
Battles for votes rise or fall on framing: the ballot question, your opponent, your own side, the issues. Framing happens, with you or without you; sometimes best with you.

Ms Marois and the PQ have recoiled in horror from any discussions of the independence referendum or of an independent Quebec, because their original election plan was to talk about their Charter of Values and get their majority, then launch their ongoing PR campaign to soften up their citizens regarding a referendum, known as their White Paper process, and then – but only once they had successfully achieved the hoary old PQ strategy of turning up the water in the pot so that the Quebec “lobsters” don’t notice they are being boiled alive – launch the referendum.

The PQ’s main opposition has spotted the emergence yet again of the PQ Lobster Strategy:

But Mr. Couillard said the PQ produces more evidence every day that the “referendum machinery is already engaged.” Citing a report in Le Soleil, he said Ms. Marois would launch the white paper on sovereignty within the first year.

“It’s the lobster trap Jacques Parizeau talked about. Get Quebeckers in the trap, and we close the door,” Mr. Couillard said, referring to a controversial quote from the former PQ leader.

In 1995, Mr. Parizeau was quoted in La Presse as having described in a private meeting a plan to trap Quebeckers into independence like “lobsters in boiling water.”

Give Ms Marois and her PQ a bit of help, will you?

The Cat thinks that Ms Marois burst out of the starting gate in fine fashion with her months long seasoning of the Lobsters with the Charter of Values. It would be a real pity if the PQ’s experiment in turning ordinary Quebeckers (and especially 50% plus 1 of the Francophones) into Lobsters should now falter, just because Ms Marois told the truch about her ambitions a few times.

Please consider helping Ms Marois and the PQ along by creating your own captions in this handy little LobsterCat cartoon (you will find the site below). Here are a few of my own creaitions, using their dandy little caption substituter:

The LobsterCat Cartoon Site

You can find the site here. You can use their own lobster cat image or any others you find: just google "lobster cat" to find them, save the one you want on your PC and upload it to the Cheezburger site. You can also publish it on that site.

Once you’ve created a few of your own captions, use a screenshot snapper to save them on your PC and then share them with your friends or blog readers or others.

If you don’t know how to capture an image on the screen, I have found a small, free screencapture program named Lightshot every easy to use. I downloaded it as an app for my Firefox browser from this site.

Go ahead! Help define the election!  Make sure your contributions end up on Twitter at #lobsterquebec

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Quebec election: The real ballot box question

PQ lobster trap for unwitting Quebecers
Try as they might, the PQ cannot direct the definition of the ballot question in the upcoming provincial election into fields of their choosing. They would rather talk about their Charter of Values, which has given them a good crack at Francophone votes to boost them into a majority government position. Or the bright prospects for a Quebec economy, with debt reduced and business booming.

But every time they try, those pesky journalists keep asking about the PQ’s plans to launch a permament campaign as a majority government, disguised as a White Paper process to examine what is best for Quebec – stay in Canada or separate.

And so the referendum has become the ballot box question:
The border comments followed Marois to another campaign stop, prompting her to agree with a reporter’s assertion that an independent Quebec would not be unlike the European Union, where there is free movement of citizens.

“That’s what it means, but that’s not to say there wouldn’t be a (Quebec) citizenship and, as such, a passport,” Marois said.

Couillard, meanwhile, launched his strongest anti-sovereigntist message yet on Tuesday, with the federalist leader accusing the PQ of hurting Quebec with its constant musings about referendums and separation.

“The choice is clear,” he said. “Do you want a government that is going to focus on a referendum and the separation of Quebec or do you want a government that is going to concentrate on the economy, jobs, health care and education?”

Ms Marois wished the White Paper process to be safely on the back burner until she achieved her majority government, but it just keeps coming back, helped no end by her unwitting stirring of the referendum pot.

It seems she just cannot wait until after the election to start her nation-building exercise.

What she clearly will expect once the referendum is launched, is the replacement of the confederation of Canada by a new one, consisting of ROC and Quebec, linked through something similar to the European Union, itself a slow-motion nation-in-the-making event.

So the leader of the PQ expects to have a seat on the Bank of Canada (but no veto power over its decisions); to retain the Canadian dollar (rather than have a brand new Quebec currency that could be too vulnerable); to have relatively free cross-border access into and out of Quebec and ROC; to have full control of all events and all peoples within Quebec’s current borders, including over all economic matters, such as energy (pipelines crossing its territory on the way to the Maritimes; electricity grids doing the same; water in rivers etc.). Quebeckers might have dual citizenship (Canadian – or rather, ROC, and Quebec, although she is a little vague on this).

A lot of this smacks more of sovereignty-association rather than of independence, but Ms Marois prefers not to get into such minutiae. For the moment. First, get the majority; then launch the PR exercise known as the White Paper; then select the option she favours; then present it to the people in Quebec in some kind of single or multiple stage referendum(s).

And, of course, all decisions on the referenda would be resolved by 50% plus one vote (making a decision by a majority of Franchophones far more likely to reach such a low threshold, as the PQ well know). And, of course, Thomas Mulcair and his NDP have agreed with this 50% plus 1 vote decision, despite the Supreme Court of Canada disagreeing and requiring a substantial majority.

And, of course, despite the events that are taking place with the breakup of the Ukraine (Crimea hiving off under the attraction and direction of Russia), the PQ assume that everything will remain tranquil in the province of Quebec during these events. The territorial integrity of Quebec is assumed as a given.

The Ukraine is finding that once you start tinkering with major political changes, Pandora’s Box is opened, and nobody can control that box.

The Question for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP

Do Thomas Mulcair and the NDP agree with the basic assumption that no part of Quebec has any moral or legal right to hold their own referendum to see whether 50% plus 1 inhabitants of, say, lands now occupied by First Nations, might wish to declare their independence of the newly independent Quebec, and remain part of Canada, or become independent entities themselves?

The PQ’s prospects for a majority government have taken a sharp turn downwards, now that Ms Marois has opened Pandora’s Box. All bets are now off. She should have stuck to the setting of the PQ lobster trap, but perhaps this time the lobster trap of the PQ will not work ...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Quebec: The separatist Premier who is committed and not committed

The Impartial Premier - Trust Me
Premier Pauline Marois believes she can have her cake and eat it, too. So she is sucking and blowing at the same time about whether a vote for her Parti Quebecois is really also a vote to start the journey to yet another referendum on independence for Quebec.

It seems that she believes that if she is careful with her choice of words, she can achieve two things – square the circle, blow hot and cold, turn black into white – at the same time, without anyone noticing.

Premier Marois’ Open Agenda:

In today’s Globe & Mail, Rheal Seguin and Les Perreaux neatly outline the contradictory courses that the Premier wishes to take:

In a campaign during which Pauline Marois would prefer to focus on issues such as jobs, the economy and Quebec’s cultural identity, the Parti Québécois Leader is compelled to explain her hesitation about holding another referendum on sovereignty.

Ms. Marois insisted she was not going to be rushed into holding another referendum if her party formed a majority government in the April 7 vote. But she added that she will launch public hearings on Quebec’s political future to gauge whether there is a desire for another referendum.

“We want to keep the agenda open,” Ms. Marois said when asked by reporters about her referendum strategy. “If a referendum is needed, we will take the time to stop and listen to people’s opinions. And if we find that it is not relevant to do it, we won’t.”
Tut-tutting former premiers

Premier Marois wishes to fight this election on the economy, and especially on her beloved Charter of Values ballot box question. She wants to shelve any talks about a referendum for independence during this election, because, as she puts it, she is not committed to a referendum, nor is she committed not to have one:

Ms. Marois refused to make a firm commitment to hold a referendum on sovereignty if she wins a majority government. But she quickly added she will weigh her options “at the opportune time” after holding public hearings. She refused to say at what point during a PQ mandate she would conduct the hearings.

“We aren’t going to do anything behind closed doors; we aren’t going to do it in the dark. We will need a consensus. … There is no commitment to hold a referendum but there is also no commitment not to hold one,” the PQ Leader said.

We can paraphrase her argument as: A referendum if necessary, but not necessarily a referendum. This kind of double talk worked in Canada many years ago, when the mantra was Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.

Will this double-speak work this time?

Not likely.

Her earlier statements about holding public hearings clearly indicate that she is prepared to trigger the race to a referendum if she obtains a majority. For her, the public hearings would simply be a means to an end. Consider these words she used:

In a campaign-style speech Wednesday night, Premier Pauline Marois spoke of winning a majority and rekindling the Parti Québécois goal of making Quebec a country, delivering her first election promise: “a white paper on the future of Quebec.”

“I am determined to get there,” she said at the opening of her speech to about 300 of the party faithful.

And wrapping it up she said, “We are going to win.

“We are going to make Quebec a country, our country.”

The white paper would ask which choice is more risky for Quebec? Remaining a Canadian province? Or becoming an independent, French-speaking country?

There would be a new referendum on leaving Canada, the premier added, but only when Quebecers want one.

Parti Quebecois – A party with two personalities:

Even among the leaders of the Parti Quebecois there are different interpretations of her referendum strategy. While Marois expects the white paper process to result in detailed investigations of each of the options open to Quebec, some of her ministers clearly indicated that the white paper was really an exercise to promote sovereignity.
Janus: New Parti Quebecois logo during the White Paper

The Minister of Higher Education claimed that the white paper exercise will be a year of “pedagogy”, with the subject being taught being sovereignty, and the white paper being the means to put before the citizens of Quebec plans for the country of Quebec.

Alexandre Cloutier, the Chief Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, was equally blunt: the white paper would highlight the failures of federalism.

And Premier Marois said she and her party would be playing two roles during the year-long white paper process. As head of government, her role would be to guide the debate, making sure that all assessments of the best options in the future (what was best for “Quebec” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and thereafter) were tabled.

But she expected the Parti Quebecois to actively promote sovereignty during this white paper process, and to demonstrate the relevance of this option to citizens of the province.

Clearly, the Premier expects voters in this election to buy into the idea that during the year-long white paper hearings, she will act in a neutral fashion, as premier of the province, while her party (which would, of course, include her ministers and all elected MPAs, as well as the party members and activists in all walks of life) would be diving into the fray, pushing the advantages of secession.

That sounds an awful lot to The Cat as the majority PQ government pushing secession for 12 months from day one while the premier floats above the fray, pretending to be an impartial head of state.

So much for keeping an open agenda during the white paper process.

If that is not an active campaign to promote secession, starting in about six weeks’ time, then I am a monkey’s uncle. And I have a bridge to sell to you, along with some lovely beachside swamp land in the Florida everglades.