Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 election: Harper on road to minority government?

The problem?
The latest compendium of polls by 308 have good news and bad news.

Good news for Harper who – based on these results – would form a minority government after the 2015 election.

Bad news for the Liberals, whose support is slipping.

And good news for the besieged Mulcair's NDP, which has steadily lost whatever magic it had in the 2011 election, despite herculean efforts in Parliament by their leader.

Here’s the chart showing the steady but slight erosion in Liberal support:

And here is the 308 forecast of possible seats if those polls hold:
With these levels of support, the Conservatives would likely win between 120 and 161 seats. That puts them short of the 170 needed to form a majority government. The Liberals would take between 98 and 136 seats, while the New Democrats could win between 61 and 88 seats.
The Greens would likely take two seats, with one to nine seats going to the Bloc Québécois.

The polls do not explain the changes, but recent polls have given hints.

One clear aha! moment was Justin Trudeau’s flippant remarks about the size of Harper’s planes, when the Isis crisis first hit the headlines. The next series of responses to the security issues by the Liberal Party leaders showed a lamentable tendency to practice kneejerking to older Liberal tenets, as if what was good for the past under Chretien must be good for the present under Trudeau. The responses showed a lack of depth in consideration, and an appalling lack of attention to framing.

The result has been that Harper has managed to persist in keeping his framing of the ballot box question (Who is the strongest man to lead the country when terrorists are threatening and attacking it?) in the public’s eye, just at the time that his earlier framing (Who is the best to manage the country’s economy in tough times?) was starting to fray.

This gift to Harper’s 24/7 war machine has led to questions about Trudeau’s ability to lead a modern country in troubled times.

The Liberal Party in general and Justin Trudeau in particular have now got to do some serious thinking about security issues, and especially about how to frame matters. Loose lips sink ships, the Allies said in WWI. They also sink parties.

And time is running out.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Duffy Trial, or Why we will have an election called within a month

Here's to me...
The Duffy trial is beginning to lurch out of control, if you are a member of the Conservative government of Canada. In just a few days, voters have been exposed to a cascade of visual and sound bites that have snapped necks and focused attention as seldom before. Forgeddabout Who killed JR – we are now intensely aware of three things: What did Duffy do? What did Wright do? What did Harper do?

Three Do’s, one Wright and one to-be-unleashed Duffy are the wrong things for Prime Minister Harper. The Tories are finding out that in a state governed by the rule of law, politicians – even those with majority governments – cannot control the slow, remorseless grinding of the machinery of justice. Once something hits the courts, the momentum shifts to others.

Witness the little bit of information about what Wright said to the RCMP. And the relentless cross-examination by Duffy’s counsel of the Crown’s first witness. The dramatic thump as counsel drops a big volume of emails on to the table in the court room.

My guess is that Wright’s fear – as expressed in an email – of the steady drip drip drip of revelations in the Duffy affair is about to be realized time and again over the next 4 to 8 weeks. And then, to crown it all, Duffy himself will take the stand.

But not before the Crown calls Wright as one of its star witnesses. And perhaps another senator or two (what about some of the senators who were working away on having the Conservative Party pick up the tab for some of Duffy’s expenses?).

The minimum length of a federal election campaign is 36 days. So we could be facing an election before the end of May.

Before Duffy takes the stand.

Hopefully before Wright has to explain, under intensive cross examination that will stretch over several days, exactly what “good to go” means:

Or to explain what happened before, during and after this:

And this exchange of emails:

And how about this?

And this is what I expect Harper to do. Drop the writ, try to fashion the ballot question around good economic governance, a sound hand at the helm during times of external threat, and cut down the time the opposition parties have to finish nominating all their candidates and to campaign.

Of course, during the campaign, brush aside any discussion of the Duffy trial as a matter not to be opined on while it is before the courts.

And sprinkle dozens of little trinkets at targeted niches of voters in the upcoming budget.

As for Duffy, I expect him to beat the charges on expenses, and also not be found guilty of the bribery ones.

For a very good description of the nature of the charges he faces, read the Maclean article you can find here.

Duffy’s counsel has been masterful in laying the foundation for proving that the Crown’s case is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in my view.

Here’s the nub of the issue, from Macleans:

The trial of Mike Duffy will revive all of this, and perhaps expose new details we weren’t supposed to know. But, for all that, the trial is still simply about one basic question: Has Mike Duffy, at one point or another in his senatorial career, committed a criminal act?
That question will be asked on 31 charges, covering four sections of the Criminal Code.

And as for the expenses charges, read this:

Regarding the fraud charges, Duffy’s intent will be important. “If he was, for example, submitting expense claims and he legitimately believed that he was entitled to be reimbursed, it wouldn’t be fraud, because he wouldn’t be acting fraudulently,” says Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer. “What they would need to prove is that, not only that he submitted the expense claims or took his residency money, but that he also did that, knowing that he wasn’t entitled to it to accrue a benefit for himself.”
It might matter how other senators claimed expenses and how clear the rules were. “If the standards are unclear, I would expect the defence to look for reasonable doubt here,” Spratt says.

Puts the cross examination in a different light, doesn’t it?

On the bribery charge, you might be wondering why so much time was taken by defence counsel in cross examining the Crown witness on exactly what a Senator’s duties are. Well, from the Maclean summary, consider this:

More simply, this is about bribery. But that apparently raises several questions.
Peter Sankoff, a law professor at the University of Alberta, says the charge is a “stretch. This would be quite a bribery conviction,” he says. “Bribery convictions tend to be for, you bribe somebody and they did something for you. There’s a quid pro quo at the heart of the transaction.”
What did Duffy do in exchange for the money he received? And did he, wonders Sankoff, act in his “official capacity” in doing so? Was Duffy acting in his official capacity when he repaid his expense claims, or does official capacity constitute something more directly related to the powers of a senator, such as voting on, debating or studying legislation?

Now ask yourself: has the defence laid the foundation for an argument that carrying out partisan activities is an integral part of a Senator’s “official capacity”?

He sure convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt!

So, sharpen your pens, bloggers: the election cometh!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why I want Elizabeth Warren as the next US President

Senator Elizabeth Warren: The Voice of the Left
It’s time for a progressive, highly educated, intelligent, tough as nails, committed liberal to inhabit the White House one President Obama moves on to other things.

And the article in Politico sums up why I think Warren would make a great president for that powerful nation:

Warren didn’t have to struggle to define herself; she entered the Senate with instant credibility. Her rhetoric doesn’t soar like Kennedy’s, but its articulation of progressive values is just as unabashed, as in this campaign upbraiding to go-it-alone conservatives: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

I hope she runs for the Democratic nomination, and wins. America would be a much better place with her in the White House.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Authors: A simple and effective marketing plan for your books

Welcome to my latest book, written for authors who wish to better market their books, and for all those who use social media in some form or another.

Based on proven marketing methods, Small Steps to Bigger Book Sales is for every author with books to sell, or anyone who wishes to improve dramatically their participation in social networks.

Your 20 Tasks:
 You will be guided to do 20 Tasks, over 9 months, as part of your very own Small Steps Plan to market your books.
You will start with the first 10 tasks over 3 months and the next 10 over the next 6 months. Then you will review and revise your next Small Steps Plan to cover the next 12 months.
 Your Book Promotion Plan:
 You easily-prepared book promotion plan will set out methodical, small steps every week to market your books where they stand the best chance of being bought by readers. 
 What you will learn:
 You will learn how to:
  1. create your Team of advisors to help you every step of the way;
  2. define your Target Readers, so that you can persuade them to buy your books;
  3. find and use many of top social network forums, where readers and writers mix, so that you can build your Clan, or team of supporters;
  4. get reviews of your books;
  5. use other social networks tools easily and effectively; and do all this at your own speed and in the free time you have.
 Easy to use:

It is very easy for you to start and to carry out your promotion plan, with most of the heavy lifting done for you.

How to start: 

Your whole marketing plan is already prepared for you. 

Chapter 25 has a detailed template for your own Small Steps Plan, of 200 small steps in 20 tasks. All you have to do is add the target starting dates for your many small steps on your road to success. You can easily make any tweaks to it that you and your Team want to.

How to make it work: 

The easy way for you and your Team to carry out your plan is also provided. Chapter 26 has a very detailed 120-item Weekly Engagement Checklist

Each week you simply do those things that need to be done that week, confident that the Checklist will keep you on course.

Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 Election: Quebec holds, Ontario rises for Liberals says Abacus poll

On guard
Hat tip to BigCityLib for pointing the way to the latest Abacus poll.
The devil is in the regional breakdown, because national poll numbers are relatively useless in Canada.

There are 4 big battlegrounds, with only 3 really in contention:

  • the prairies are Tory blue; 
  • BC is a nightmare for the two opposition parties who split the vote and give the Conservatives a huge electoral advantage;
  • Ontario is the swing province, with the Liberals reaching out from the big cities while Harper ferrets for votes in the dormitory suburbs and the NDP whistles past the graveyard in a few pinkish spots; 
  • and in Quebec the orange tide continues its steady ebbing.

This is the latest Abacus provincial breakdown – note the LPC inching ahead in Battleground Ontario, and keeping the NDP under control in Quebec; the news in BC is less favourable:

Regional Battlegrounds 2015

We need an uptick in the BC numbers to make sure that the Conservative government is sent into opposition party territory.

Friday, March 13, 2015

First Nations & Pipelines: Diplomat kickstarts meaningful discussion of terms

Robert Hage
Today’s Globe & Mail has this article about pipelines in Canada.

Former Canadian diplomat Robert Hage is urging the federal, Alberta and B.C. governments to work together to get public and First Nations support for the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Robert Hage is to  be recommended for his thoughtful analysis of the problem with the Gateway project, and pipelines in general, and for his reasoned recommendation that an independent group, funded by the oil industry, opine on the environmental safeguards needed once pipelines are in fact built.

In backing a fresh look at upgraders in Canada, he is siding with Gordon Gibson.
Hage then takes a stab at the economics: who gets what. This is his call:

Mr. Hage calls for native employment needs to be guaranteed along the pipeline route, in terminals and in oil-spill prevention and response facilities.
 He says project backers need to work together with a First Nations financial management board, getting federal and provincial loan guarantees if needed, “to ensure First Nations are able to obtain equity interest in Northern Gateway and other projects.”

Hage does not go far enough.

Our law is now in a state of re-genesis on all issues of First Nations rights to land and its fruits, with the monumental decision by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

The Supreme Court has found that First Nations have a right to manage the land and enjoy the benefits and its economic fruits from their ancient lands.

In that earlier post on the SCC game-changing decision, I wrote:

In my view, the latest SCC decision, read with earlier ones, gives First Nations powerful rights to demand substantial conditions as a condition for their consent to developments such as mining, forestry, dams, pipelines and other encroachments on their land.

Such substantial conditions, in my view, most likely extend to the obtaining of substantial equity positions  in all such developments, for minimal equity payments by the First Nations.

The First Nations do not just have a right to jobs, as Hage states, even though jobs are an important part of the mix.

They have a right to the fruits of the land, once their claims are proven in court.

The proposal by Hage that the various governments guarantee the borrowing of money by the First Nations in order for them to acquire equity rights in the pipeline and energy development projects is a welcome addition to the debate.
Unfortunately, it does not go far enough.

Proposal for First Nations equity in energy projects (pipelines, upgraders, tar sand developments, and shipping of oil products):

I believe the SCC will eventually decide that the First Nations are entitled to equity stakes in all such projects that are on their titled lands, or that require their consent to pass over such lands, as of right.

These equity interests are not just gifts from the companies and governments involved to the First Nations, but are in reality value for value considerations.

If the First nations are entitled to manage such lands, enjoy the benefits of such lands, and enjoy the fruits of such lands, as the SCC found, then they have economic rights to these lands.

And if others wish to enjoy the use of such lands, then the First Nations come to the bargaining table with pretty hefty economic rights. They do not take their place at the table with empty hands.

So, let’s develop Mr. Hage’s proposal a bit further, by putting those rights into the mix.

I could see this kind of structure being considered as eminently reasonable by the SCC:

  • The first 5% equity - First Nations automatically earn, say, 5% of any pipeline, tar sands plant, upgrader, or shipping company, for no payment.First Nations then have a right to buy into at least another 5% in return for cash payments to the companies and governments developing those energy projects.

  • The second 5% equity - The First Nations have a right to be funded by a combination of the project companies themselves and the governments involved, in order to raise the funds to buy that second 5% share. The sponsors could provide the funds directly, or, as Hage suggests, could guarantee loans to the First Nations from banks and others.

  • Security for loans - However, the repayment of any such loans by the First Nations will only be secured by the equity interests bought with those loans (and not by any other First Nations assets or the first 5% equity).

  • Limited recourse nature of loans - And, such loans will not have to be repaid by the First Nations if the proceeds received by the First Nations from their 5% stake (dividends paid to them or capital repayments made to them as part of repurchases of capital, with their consent) are sufficient to make such payments. This is a limited recourse structure. If the projects are a dud, then the First Nations are off the hook for any unpaid amounts (principal and interest).

The sponsors should start talking to their investment banks about how to structure such limited recourse funding mechanisms, if they are serious about obtaining approval for any projects that require the type of approvals the SCC has indicated are needed.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grexit, schmexit: It ain’t gonna happen

For sale? Owner must sell ...
Right now a battle of Homeric proportions is being waged for the future soul of the European Union.

On one side are the Teutonic bookkeepers of the EU, led by Merkel of Germany and Cameron of Britain. On the other side is the tiny, profligate, bankrupt state of Greece, the home of Western civilization.

Caught in the middle are the other EU states, with the citizens of most of them not too sure that tightening the screws on Greece with renewed – or continued – austerity steps is the wisest thing to do.

Siding with the Teutons are many commentators, who are convinced that the whole thing is a tragedy, with a dire ending already cast in Olympia. Here is one example of such doomsayers:

My view? There won’t be a Grexit from the Eurozone or the EU.

Why not? Because the interests of the Greeks and the Teutons are not that different, and any interest-based negotiations rather than position-based negotiations should lead to an agreement that meets the most important requirements of both sides.

To start with, we need to discount the statements coming from politicians that a deal is a deal and has to be carried out. That’s nonsense. When you are in a workout situation, deals are signposts along possible routes to resolution, and not resolution itself.

If you strip the arguments of the Teutons and of the Greeks down to their essence, you come up with something like this:

Greece:   Our people are hurting; we have 50% unemployed young people; people are struggling to put food on the table; we need hope, not despair, if we are going to take steps to reform our political system; austerity has not worked as people thought it would. So give us a bridging loan, let us agree on immediate and mid-term goals, and let us inject some cash into the economy to give jobs to people who need them.

Germany:  Your country is bankrupt; your government owns large whacks of the economic assets, and runs them very poorly; your labour is cossetted and lazy and over paid and over protected; your pensions are too high and are paid too soon; you borrowed money to fix your problems and agreed to reform your system, but have not carried out concrete steps to do so. And above all, your tax system is broken: people do not pay their taxes and nobody bothers to throw them in jail for such crimes.

What’s the essence of the problem?

Greece lived beyond its means (as did America); Greece borrowed too much to spend on the wrong things; labour and other economic reforms need to be faced up to, agreed upon, and laws passed to implement them; but everyone wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone and in the EU.

So where’s the difference?

My guess is that the Germans want a public confession by the Greek political leaders of the reality of and magnitude of the problems facing them; they want concrete steps to be taken in accordance with an agreed timetable; and they will then pump more money into Greece – one way of another, and most likely through the face-saving money-printing quantitative easing steps of the European Central Bank.

So what will happen in the next week or so?

Some senior Germans are rattling sabres publicly, but Merkel is keeping her powder dry. However, the new Greek government is trying to come up with some ideas that can bridge the gap between the Teutons and the Greeks, but are somewhat trapped by their promises made to be elected.

So, I expect a Third Force to emerge, aiming at reconciling the Greek and German positions, fleshing out the main objectives, laying down the tracks for the solution-train to trundle along, and putting a price tag on various things. Just like the Germans, French, and Russians did to arrive at the Minsk agreement.

I put my money on the president of France to step forward to form the Third Force and broker a deal.

And then we can all sit back and wait for the Europeans to crank up their printing presses and print gazillions of Euros, like America did with its QE solution.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Legacy of Ottawa: The Gutting of Canada

When Stephen Harper’s spinners start pontificating about his steady hand on the tiller over the past decade or so, think on this: Is Canada’s economy really that much better off under his watch? Or has he presided over a country whose financial and economic muscles had continued to waste away.

Sometimes the facts get the way of a good story, and the facts about the sinews of our country’s economy are bleak indeed.

As Eric Reguly summarizes in today’s Globe & Mail:

Entire Canadian industries – steel, brewing, mining, forestry – got hollowed out, leaving a few sorry subsidiaries behind. Today, the biggies in Corporate Canada are largely limited to the five banks, a couple of insurers, gold companies and energy names such as Suncor and TransCanada.

The job of the prime minister of Canada is to protect the citizens and build the country, so that the economy improves and people are better off when the prime minister steps down or is thrown out by voters.

And Harper has not really done that much to reduce the steady gutting of our country.

Now factor in this fact, also from today’s Globe & Mail:

One-fifth of the jobs in vehicle assembly and auto parts have vanished in Canada since 2001…

A job with full seniority in the auto sector paying wages of more than $30 an hour with a defined benefit pension plan and other benefits has been a ticket to the middle class in Canada and the United States…

Assembly plant workers earn the equivalent of about $2.90 (U.S.) an hour, estimates Alex Covarrubias, a professor at Sonora College in Hermosillo, Mexico. That’s about 10 per cent of what workers with full seniority are paid hourly at Canadian and U.S. assembly plants.

The article describes the steps taken by the Mexican government to attract auto plants to that country, and includes a waffling defensive statement from our industry minister, who, in typical Harper-Tory fashion, speaks along the fringes of reality, while avoiding serious discussion of the meaningful actions that need to be taken.

Like those the Mexican government has and is taking.

And, of course, we cannot forget the free trade agreements, which are not fair trade agreements, but are designed to gut our economy by permitting the flight of investment to the lowest wage countries. And, of course, to replace good manufacturing jobs by McJobs.

So, tell me again, Mr Harper: What was it that you did during the past ten years to strengthen our country? Apart from some frivolous spending on gazebos, and tens and tens of millions of taxpayers’ money on self-congratulatory advertisements?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ukraine: Minsk deal includes de facto federation

Three powerful leaders and one powerless one gathered around a table in Minsk, negotiating a ceasefire agreement for war-torn Ukraine. The negotiations took a surprising turn when the four leaders met alone, without their advisors – it is not yet clear who suggested this, but my bet would be Putin.

Fuel for the negotiators:

For 16 hours the leaders wrangled, with refreshments provided by their host, who has been called by some the Last Dictator in Europe:

President Alexander Lukashenko hosted the talks in Minsk, which resulted in a new ceasefire deal on Thursday. Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany took part.
"They ate omelettes, cheese, dairy produce, drank several buckets of coffee," he was quoted as saying.
"My job was to provide the ammunition on time," he said jokingly.

Tough negotiations:

The negotiations were tough, said the negotiators (have you ever heard any politician say that negotiations were easy?), and the meeting almost broke up several times over disagreements:

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight the differences that remained…

The return was accompanied by a flurry of Russian news agency reports that Mr. Poroshenko had declined at the last minute to accept the outlines of the deal relating to the independent status of the breakaway areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the cease-fire demarcation line.

When the leaders of the breakaway regions joined the talks in the morning, they also initially balked at signing the agreement, according to the official Russian news agency Tass.

Essence of the deal:

Like many deals, the devil is in the details, or, in this case, in the annexure. The broad terms of the deal were announced with a flourish by the participants. Here’s one summary of the broad terms agreed upon:

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Plan to go to Paris for a vacation or visit? Then take this with you

Right in the heart of Paris is the Notre Dame cathedral, which celebrated its 850th birthday a little while ago. If you plan to visit Paris, then you should download my book from Amazon (a printed copy) or Kindle (an ebook with some photographs).

The book has details about the cathedral which you won’t easily find gathered together elsewhere. During my research for my thriller, The Euros: Notre Dame Point Zero, I came across some surprising information about what lies buried beneath the huge cathedral.

Naturally, I incorporated a lot of this into the novel. My ebook version (available from Kindle), has photographs of scenes that are used in the thriller.

There you will find a map showing the mysterious Triangle Churches which play such an important role in the book: these are three old churches, two long lost but one still partly prepared.

You will also learn some interesting facts about the mysterious Archbishops’ tomb, a crypt beneath the choir stalls inside the cathedral, that was excavated by King Louis XIX in 1711. You will find out how the coffins are the archbishops are arranged, so that any new archbishop being buried there is welcomed by his predecessor; you will also find out about their red hats, still inside the crypt.

And, of course, there are two other underground crypts that play a part in the story: the archeological crypt discovered beneath the parvis (the empty land in front of the cathedral) when it was excavated in 1965 to build an underground garage; and the ancient and massive burial crypt that ran from the three front doors almost the full length of the huge building.

What is my latest book - The Euros: Notre Dame Point Zero – about?

How would you rescue women and children held hostage in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris by a band of faceless, nameless and ruthless men, who have attached bombs to each hostage, and threaten to blow up the cathedral if their demands are not met?

That is the problem that The Euros face in this, the first book of the series about them.

The Euros is the name for the Euro Protection Bureau, the highly skilled, well trained super cops unit formed to protect the European Union from threats to its integrity.

With five headquarters – the Puzzle House in London, the Grooming House in Paris, the Toy House in Berlin, the Garage in Rome and the Story House in Prague - the PuzzleMaker and Headmaster, directors of the London and Paris HQs, have a limited time to find a way to make themselves invisible so that they may enter the cathedral, rescue the hostages, save the cathedral, and capture the Bad Guys.

As little children are marched to Point Zero in front of the cathedral, with flickering lights on their explosive vests, and the Headmaster is forced to go into the cathedral as a hostage, the PuzzleMaker turns to Knuckles, the leader of the Onsite Prediction Unit, to cast her knucklebones and help him anticipate the actions of the Bad Guys.

He also asks a young gypsy girl to help him, and the Gypsy takes him on a hair-raising trip through the catacombs and sewers of Paris.
You can find my ebook and Amazon print on demand book on sale here.

The Euros makes a very good gift for someone about to visit Paris, whether for the very first time, or during a stopover there.

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