Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mulcair leads the way to a more democratic Canada

Mulcair: The man who would bring democracy to Canada
Thomas Mulcair, that very capable MP who is leader of the NDP, has publicly committed himself to remedy our democratic deficit, as this post indicates.

Mulcair is to be commended for two things.

First, for signing the Fair Vote Canada declaration (click here for the full text).

Second, for strongly coming out in favour of a modified proportional representation system of electing our federal MPs.

The Fair Vote Canada declaration has this very important commitment:

What is important about the Fair Vote Canada declaration is that it is the modern equivalent of cutting the Gordion Knot, and in so doing, giving all voters – BEFORE THE 2015 ELECTION – and all MPs elected in that election, a clear route towards significant electoral reform.

Note that the declaration does call for public consultation.

IT DOES NOT CALL FOR A REFERENDUM on any proposed reform of our electoral laws.

Note too that the Liberal Party resolution adopted at the last Convention, and supported by the new leader, Justin Trudeau, calls for immediate action by the next parliament, through consultation with Canadians and then a decision by the next Parliament (that is, by elected MPs) to pass laws reforming our system.

What is significant about the policies and public commitments by our two main opposition parties is that – PRIOR TO THE 2015 ELECTION – voters know that these two parties will undertake meaningful electoral change early in 2016, so that the next federal election in 2019 will be held using a system that makes all votes count, and results in a parliament that truly, fairly and democratically reflects all voters in all parts of Canada.

The 2019 election will be the first truly democratic election in Canada’s history.

Voters – in their hundreds of thousands and millions – who in the past cast votes in ridings that did not result in their views being represented in parliament, will now have a system that does just that.

Those voters who vote for Liberal or NDP candidates in ridings in Alberta, for example, will in 2019 be better represented than ever before. The same applies to Conservative voters in areas such as Quebec and elsewhere, where the FPTP system makes their votes meaningless.

A new era of civility in the practice of our politics is near, given the commitments of the NDP and Liberal Party to meaningful electoral reform. Voters considering their choice in the ballot booths in the 2015 election will know in no uncertain way that Canada will be changed dramatically in the following 18 months. By casting their votes for the LPC or NDP, they will be ushering modern democracy into Canada.

The 2015 election will therefore be one of the most important elections ever held in Canada.

Thank you for your signing of the Fair Vote Canada resolution, Mr. Mulcair.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mr. Trudeau: Coalitions are what you make them

Let's talk coalition ...
The recent poll showing that most Liberal and NDP supporters would rather have a new government than have a Harper one after the 2015 election, even if this means some form of a coalition, has sparked renewed talk about the possibility of a coalition.

One problem with such talk is that a lack of understanding of our constitutional laws clouds the issue, as Andrew Coyne has pointed out in an interesting article.

And in a recent interview, Justin Trudeau has added to the confusion by slipping into the Either-Or mode of thinking, which sorely limits the permissible discussion of alternatives.

It is very clear from the press reports of his interview that Trudeau does not understand the range of alternatives open to the leaders of parties in Canada, as this report shows:

Justin Trudeau on …

Coalition with the NDP

There is constant political speculation about what Trudeau will do if Harper is re-elected with a minority government. Will Trudeau topple the Tories in Parliament and form a coalition government with the NDP’s Tom Mulcair?

“There are some very, very big impediments to forming a coalition with the NDP. Which is why I am against it.” He said the two parties are miles apart on issues such as international trade and the Constitution.

“With regard to constitutional issues and Quebec, I don’t think we should be making it easier for the country to separate.”

For starters, a coalition is not by any means a merger of two parties (even though Rex Murphy has some interesting albeit incorrect views on the subject).
Mister Either-Or?

A short discussion with Bob Rae would help Justin Trudeau understand the incredible flexibility that post-election cooperation (of the formal coalition with conditions style that David Cameron’s Conservatives entered into in the UK, to the ad hoc support me if you wish and I dare you not to non-agreement type) can take.

It is not at all inconceivable that the NDP and Liberal Party could enter into a formal coalition should Harper’s Conservatives not gain a majority of seats in parliament next year, and be defeated in a confidence vote shortly after taking power.

And any such coalition could clearly spell out areas where the NDP and Liberal Party would cooperate in parliament, and areas where they would not.

For example, each party could insist that certain subjects just not be subject to any cooperation in the House, such as the two that Trudeau mentioned (constitutional issues regarding the preservation of Canada; and international trade). Each party would then vote separately on such issues.
Bob (Coalition) Rae

That’s what the UK coalition agreement set out, and it works.

A further point: any formal coalition agreement between the NDP and Liberal Party could be for a limited period, such as 24 months. There is nothing that says it has to be forever.

So, let’s not cloud the discussion with half-baked ideas of what coalitions have to be: they are infinitely flexible, and can easily reflect just what two parties wish them to reflect.

Coalitions are NOT mergers.

Let’s have a sensible discussion of the issue, rather than the simplistic nonsense that Harper spouted last time.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2015 election: Coalition gains favour

Which one, or two, of these men will lead Canada?
The end of the Harper government is clear from this latest poll, which shows that the Harper scare tactics of the past have run their course:

Liberal and NDP supporters, meanwhile, have expressed a tepid willingness to consider each other, suggesting that a Liberal-NDP coalition may be feasible should the Conservatives pull off a minority win in 2015. Indeed, unlike in 2011, it appears now that Liberals and NDP supporters are equally likely to say they are certain to be voting. The rise of greater commitment to vote in the centre-left is also coupled with a sharp rise in support for a Liberal-led coalition. These two changed forces suggest a formidable obstacle to a fourth Harper Government.
 Canadians prefer Liberal-NDP coalition to Conservative government

Finally, after all this speculation as to the feasibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition, we asked Canadians the simple question of whether they would prefer a Conservative minority government or a Liberal-led coalition with the NDP. Canadians express a striking preference for the latter, with 54 per cent (60 per cent when we exclude invalid responses) choosing coalition. This represents a distinct movement away from the days of Michael Ignatieff, when Canadians were evenly split on this issue.

Harper struck first when the coalition talk first arose some years back, falsely framing  the coalition-question as one of political illegitimacy, and his attack was successful because at the time many voters had grave reservations about the gravitas of Michael Ignatieff as a prime minister.

Neither the Liberals nor the Dippers could come up with alternative framing in time to counter Harper’s framing, during the short election campaign, and the result was a Harper government.

In the years since then, the bogeyman of a coalition has been confronted by Canadians; they realize now that Harper sold them a pack of mistruths last time, and are more prepared to listen to those who know our political conventions.

Coalitions are not illegitimate.

Coalitions are not all the same.

Coalitions are valid responses if no one party has a majority of seats in Parliament.

Judging from recent polls, it is most probable right now that our next government – some time in 2015, most likely in June – will be a minority one.

If Harper ekes out a minority government, convention gives him the first crack at trying to gain the approval of the House in a vote of confidence. Convention also allows a majority of MPs to reject his request to lead the House as prime minister in such a vote. The Governor General will then be bound to turn to the leader of the party with the next highest number of seats in the House to attempt to gain the confidence of the House.

It is in such a situation that Justin Trudeau will have to weigh what to do.

He will have several choices
·       try to run a minority government, supported on an ad hoc fashion by either the NDP MPs or the Conservative MPs; 
·       cut a deal with the NDPs for some sort of committed support in confidence motions for some agreed time, provided the Liberal minority government includes certain agreed items in its mandate (such as introducing a modified system of proportional representation); 
·       or a fully fledged, reduced to writing, coalition government, with Mulcair as deputy Prime Minister and NDP cabinet ministers, governed by an agreed legislative program for an agreed period (similar to the one between David Cameron’s Conservatives and the LibDems in the UK).

One thing is for sure: if either Trudeau of Mulcair fail to replace Harper’s government by another one in 2015, they stood step down and make room for some other leader who might do a better job of giving Canadians what the majority want: a replacement government.

Things are going to be very interesting!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Oil Price: Has Saudi Arabia gambled and lost?

Is it better to have gambled and lost?

Saudi Arabia is calling the shots in the steep price decline of oil in recent weeks, by refusing to cut its output so as to remove production from the market and increase prices. Why is it doing this?

One possible reason is that it is underestimating the remorseless drive for profits that is the essence of the true capitalist system.

Right now, that drive is coming from smaller companies in the US fracking business:

Theories as to why OPEC didn’t reduce quotas at its meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27 are as cheap and abundant as crude in North Dakota. One holds that the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia want to hurt the Shiites of Iran, who need high-priced oil to finance their government. 

Another, expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is that the whole thing is a conspiracy to undermine Russia, the world’s biggest oil producer. Yet another is that the Saudis hope to drive oil prices below where it makes sense for American shale producers to invest in new production. But shale producers have lowered their costs so much that in key fields they can make profits at $50 to $70 a barrel. That’s above core OPEC members’ exploration and production costs but below what many need to cover their government spending. “If my calculations are correct, this will go down as one of the worst commodity trading decisions ever,” Wilbur Ross, billionaire investor and chairman of WL Ross (IVZ), wrote in an e-mail.

In fact, prices are being forced down not by any action (or inaction) of the Saudis but by the American shale producers, who are simply producing all the oil they can to maximize their profits. “Collectively, they’re not the most sophisticated folks, especially when it comes to world markets,” says Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow in the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

With apologies to Ebinger, the shale producers don’t need to be sophisticates. Each operator is so small, it can increase production without pushing down the market price. That makes them price “takers,” not price setters. And because shale wells are short-lived, producers don’t have to plan far ahead, says Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist in Amarillo, Texas. 

Singly the shale busters are nothing. Collectively, their breakneck production is breaking OPEC’s neck. This is the remorseless, leaderless free market at work.

If Saudi Arabia fails to shut down large production volumes of oil from the fracking areas of the US, it will have caused tumult, but to no avail.

My bet is that this is exactly what is happening.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Pipelines and Ottawa’s dropping of the ball: Gordon Gibson nails it

Gordon Gibson: The Nailer
If you are a politician, or work with any political party –federal or provincial or municipal – you should definitely read the succinct, well-written and politically significant article by Gordon Gibson in the Globe & Mail, entitled Enough with pipelines. Refine it.

Gibson summarizes, in one short article, the crux of the national debate about our crude oil pipelines. Here’s some of the article:

There is a win-win-win response to all of this, if any national political party has the savvy to step up. The public opposition is really against pipelines to export bitumen and the response is simple: Refine the bitumen in Canada.

The politics are simple. Most Canadians think adding value in our own country to our own resources is a good thing. And it would add a lot – a lot – of jobs and taxes. Tick.
 Refining bitumen onshore eliminates the widespread worry about tankers carrying the heavy substance running aground and fouling the seas. Refined products (such as gasoline and diesel) evaporate if spilled. Tick.

Some such refining capacity already exists in Quebec (using foreign oil), a plus for Energy East. More could be built in New Brunswick. Well-developed plans exist for a 150,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Sarnia, by the Bowman Centre. Labour groups have funded a study that says a new refinery in Alberta would be economic. In B.C., David Black’s huge plan for 500,000 bpd at Kitimat is well advanced and there are two other new proposals.

The markets and the business plans are there, as are the technology and the feedstock. The remaining piece is the finance. In each case, proponents say, all that’s required is a government guarantee of some of the debt. Equity financing looks feasible.

This could be a problem-solver and a nation-builder. And no new oil is added to the planet – just a displacement of foreign oil. Earth to Ottawa.

Gibson rightly raps Stephen Harper’s government for not having a viable energy policy, lacking leadership, and generally being AWOL.

Canada’s economy is vulnerable one, and the Harper government is ill-equipped to deal with such issues, due to its self-imposed view of the minor role the federal government should play in the affairs of its citizens (remember Harper’s dangerous inaction when the 2007-2008 economic meltdown happened?)

Canada needs solid, visionary and nation-building economic leadership in the energy sphere. We are not getting this from the tired, do-nothing Harper government.

It is time for nation-builders to take over in Ottawa.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

America versus the European Union: The Precautionary Principle

The European Union has already institutionalized a litmus test that cuts to the core of the differences that separate the new European view of shared risks and vulnerabilities from the older American view of unlimited personal opportunities and individual prowess.
It’s called “the precautionary principle,” and it has become the centerpiece of EU regulatory policy governing science and technology in a globalizing world. Most European political elites, and the public at large, favor it. Far fewer American politicians and citizens would likely countenance it...
The key term ... is “uncertainty.”
When there is sufficient evidence to suggest a potential deleterious impact but not enough evidence to know for sure, the precautionary principle kicks in, allowing regulatory authorities to err on the side of safety by either suspending the activity altogether, employing alternative scenarios,  monitoring the activity to assess causal impacts, or creating experimental protocols to better understand its effects...
The precautionary principle is designed to allow government authorities to respond pre-emptively, as well as after damage is inflicted, with a lower threshold of scientific certainty than has normally been the rule of thumb in the past. “Scientific certainty” has been tempered by the notion of “reasonable grounds for concern.”


The European Dream by Jeremy Rifkin, Penguin 2005

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Forget Mount Rushmore: Richard Nixon’s last laugh

Richard Nixon laid back
Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, after his Watergate tapes had shown the public just what kind of a man he was. Despite his claim that I am not a crook!, most believed he lied to the Congress, to the public, and probably to himself.

There is no chance that Nixon would ever have his face carved into a granite mountain – like Mount Rushmore – to pay tribute to him.

But to all those who scoff at Nixon and his legacy, a word of caution: there is a chance that Mother Nature has on her own done her best to preserve Nixon for posterity.

How so?

Well, I’ve just returned from touring the Joshua Tree National Park in California, and there I discovered something remarkable. President Richard Nixon might have pulled a fast one on all of us!

We were driving along the Keys View Road in the Park, towards Hidden Valley, when I spotted Nixon’s Revenge.

A large rock formation reared up on the side of the road. As we passed it, the side view of the rock showed the profile of Richard Nixon. No Ifs, Buts or doubts about it: it was the spitting image of Tricky Dick.

Saddle Rocks, aka Nixon's Revenge
Known as Saddle Rocks, the largest single rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park rises some 600 feet from the valley floor, just below the west flank of Ryan Mountain.
Saddle Rock has three summits – they make up the heavy chin of Nixon, his most prominent facial feature (the long, oddly shaped nose), and his prominent forehead. Rock climbers call these the Lower, Middle and Upper Summits.

When you compare the various photos of Nixon in this post with Saddle Rocks, you will note the similarities that struck me.

Now, every time someone rides past that mountain, they just might hear a soft, disdainful chuckle emanating from who knows where ...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ebola, the President, and Quarantines: Who will protect Americans, and how?

Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox
Today we saw an ebola nurse defy the order of the Governor of her state to remain in quarantine, after she returned from ebola-stricken Africa.

Kaci Hickox took to the streets to indicate her opposition, by riding her bicycle.

And Governor Paul LePage of Maine was not amused:

Kaci Hickox took her campaign against an Ebola quarantine out for a spin on Thursday. The Maine nurse, openly defying an order to stay home after she treated patients in West Africa, sped off on a bike ride on a sunny morning with her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur. She returned after about an hour.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will Canada have a snap election over new anti-terrorist laws and ISIS?

Big Brother is watching ...
There is a clear fault line between the two opposition parties, and PM Stephen Harper’s policies with regard to how to combat ISIS. 

The Conservatives favour actual fighting (planes dropping bombs etc.), while the opposition parties are against this. 

The NDP is further from the government’s position, while the Liberal Party would have Canadian armed forces join the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US and help its efforts (including transporting goods for the coalition), but short of Canadian planes dropping bombs on ISIS targets.

Now another fault line has appeared: the Conservatives want to tighten legislation to combat the use of the Internet by terrorists, while the two opposition parties want to slow things down, and check what is not working before passing new laws.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Shameless self-promotion: Review of my Purrfect Way Book

Thought I would give my how-to book another shameless plug – the delightful review on Amazon of my book, Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books said it all, I think.

Join the revolution!

You know that you are a Rebel.

The chances of a north American writer finding a publisher for his or her book are slim. But that does not mean that your book must forever remain unpublished.

You have an option.

You can decide to rebel against the traditional publishing way, and  become a revolutionary. You can ride the wave of the future.

You can join the ranks of the thousands of Independent publishers – also called Indie publishers or just plain Indies. That's a title to wear with pride. As such, you will become part of a major historical movement, as dramatic as the first invention of the printing press in 1458 by Johannes Gutenberg.

You can join the Gutenberg+ Revolution by publishing your own book, using Amazon's print on demand (POD) for your soft cover version, and Kindle for your eBook one.

Just as Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 1450's started a massive revolution in the production of books, so too the services offered to all of us by Amazon and Kindle are triggering a similar revolution.

Your Purrfect Way has been given 5 stars by the reviewer, also an author, and a great boost. Here's Sarah Sheard's review:

"Customer Review
A powerful go-to manual for aspiring self--publishers, May 21, 2013

Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)

This review is from: Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books (Paperback)

I thought it absolutely fantastic in its usability and breadth. I'm a novelist who recently began ebook self-publishing. I've figured out some of the basics but this book maps a gazillion new pathways onward and upward.

I've found nothing to compare to this manual in clarity, range of topics and dip-in-ability. Ashton's been generous in offering this amount of research so affordably to ebook self-publishers at all levels. Written in a readable, friendly style too.

Sarah Sheard
author of: Krank: Love in the New Dark Times."
There you have it. Now, if you know ANYONE who is or might be writing a book, or who, in your mind, should be thinking of writing a book, tell them about this one – better still, gift it to them (Amazon softcover 400 plus pages only $14.99, and Kindle eBook only 99 cents).

And really, really think about writing a book and publishing it, yourself. 

What have you got to lose? Gift it to your relatives, your friends, and your carefully selected enemies.

If you are in business (employed or your own), how about writing a book about a field you know about? Looks good on your resume, eh?

Go for it!

And once you have published your own book, you will need to promote it.

That's tough.

But not impossible.

You will need to build your Author Platform, along the lines of this diagram:

And you will need to prepare your own Promotion Plan, like the one described in this post.

Don't forget to check out my manual for self-publishers – Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books, which you can  read about at my Amazon author site:

And the best of luck to you!

And please consider subscribing to my author Newsletter using the subscription form in the right hand panel of this site.

When you subscribe, you will get a FREE 16-page summary of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet.
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