Because Hydro doesn’t cost enough

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I know.

We all have to be responsible and do our part to make the air cleaner, find greener sources of energy, and generally make the world a better place environmentally.

I also know.

It’s only $4.00 and it’s only a one-time fee.


This fee was not debated in the House, consumers were not forewarned about it, and frankly I feel we pay enough on our Hydro bills already for the mismanagement of others.  If it wasn’t covered by the news media, we the consumers would never have even seen it coming.

Do we have any assurances that this will be a one-time fee?  Really?  And, given that Hydro is a necessity here in Canada rather than a frill, do we really have any choice as to whether or not we pay it?


And on that note, I pass the virtual floor to Conservative opposition leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath to stir things up on the subject.

Ah, democracy.  Or lack thereof.

Conservative Fatigue

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

We, in Canada, are suffering from Conservative fatigue.

It’s not like we haven’t noticed what the minority government of Stephen Harper has been doing.  We know that he gave MPs a good three months paid vacation – called proroguing Parliament – just to avoid dealing with the Afghan detainee issue in public.  It was positioned as an opportunity to “recalibrate”.  Instead, we got a budget with a couple of red herrings.

Not quite sure what a finance minister tying his shoes has to do with the budget, but clearly the Government of Canada does ...

An exercise in distraction, we focused on whether or not to make the national anthem gender neutral rather than the fact that the government will be spending money on X or Y and cutting back funds to A or B.  Our currency will be moving away from paper towards plastic.  Does this create jobs?  Is the plastic bisphenol-A free?  Nobody is quite sure.

But that’s ok.  We’re all still basking in the reflected glow of all of those olympic medals.  Perhaps the glare off our national pride has pushed the clear misuse and abuse of power into the shadows of our collective ennui.

Photo by Yahoo Canada Sports

That neither the Liberals nor the NDP are presenting themselves as an enticing – or even notably different – alternative to the Conservatives is not helping.  Harper knows that, even with his myriad faults, he is still showing himself to be a stronger leader than any of our other options right now.  We do not have an Obama to unite the left and the right; we do not have any one shining torch, other than that of the Olympics, for the political centre to follow.

Sure, we could revolt.  It’s a very un-Canadian thing to do though, and clearly it’s not going to happen.  If Ontarians didn’t overthrow the government over the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), it seems highly unlikely that anything as minor as democracy and abuse of power would push Stephen Harper and his Conservative party into line.

But that hasn’t stopped from trying …


It’s All About Attitude

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

From the online edition of the Globe and Mail (January 13, 2010):

Candian Democracy in Inaction

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

In case you missed this nugget of news over the holidays (and I suspect a lot of us did), the Harper government decided to prorogue Parliament. Until March.  As in, after the normal return date of January 25, after the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and right in the middle of a debate on Canada’s role in handing over Afghan detainees under questionable circumstances.

My question – and the question a lot of Canadians, both in the media and otherwise, are asking – is this: what is the Harper government trying to hide?

Despite what feels like a general malaise on the subject around the water cooler and coffee maker, there has actually been a reasonable amount of coverage on the subject.  And yet, in my opinion, not enough people are talking about the challenge to our fundamental rights and freedoms – those we have come to take for granted in a democracy – that this move by the government represents.

One of the most interesting articles I saw on the subject comes from Michael Wheeler on the Department of Culture site, titled The Harper Dictatorship is Over (if you want it).  In it, Wheeler basically calls on the other three parties in Parliament – who, collectively, received millions more votes than Harper’s Conservatives did in the last election – to move beyond partisan politics to band together for the good of the country and democracy in general.

From the grassroots, social media side of things, there is a Facebook group called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament started by Christopher White.  Setting aside perhaps your wonderment that something happening on Facebook is now considered “news”, the ever-growing size of this group (more than 65,000 members strong as I type this) is notable as a marker of Canadian discontent with the Harper government’s move.  Even more relevant though would be to examine the numbers in context.  How many Canadians are on Facebook now?  Of those, what percentage have joined this group?  Has there been an incremental increase daily in its growth?  If I were leading the government right now, these are facts I would be looking for before making a change in policy.

Perhaps the strongest thing Harper’s government has going for it right now is our collective lowered expectations (think Mad TV) attitude when it comes to politicians.  Our expectations are so low, every new nail in the coffin of democracy just reinforces our attitude – rather than, unfortunately, pushing us to effect change.  After all, Facebook groups are great – but they are about as active as signing a petition.

The Op-Ed piece which ran in The Ottawa Citizen on December 31, 2009, Cynical, sad leadership, opens with this very telling bit:

Fewer and fewer Canadians are surprised at Stephen Harper’s willingness to overreach. He’ll get away with proroguing Parliament. But his fatal flaw — arrogance — might catch up to him in the end.

One can only hope.




Copenhagen Commentary in Pictures

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Reposted from the National Post; byline credit to Gary Clement.

Selling Off Crown Assets in Ontario: Any Taxpayer Benefits?

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Interesting article in the Globe and Mail online (Ontario ponders sale of Crown corporations to beat down deficit by Andrew Willis and Boyd Erman; December 15, 2009).  It seems that the Ontario Government, in an attempt to tackle their multi-billion dollar deficit, is looking at various crown corporations as possible salable assets.  Logic is, if I understand correctly, that they can sell off these businesses for money which can then be used to pay down the massive debt.

One of the key assets on the table is Hydro One.  You know, that company which provides electricity and — for many Ontarians — heat; a necessity in this the Great White North.  That company to whom we all pay a “debt reduction charge” each month, above and beyond our usage rate, in order to help them with their debt load.  (Author’s note: if only I could convince province residents to help pay down MY debt load!)

So here is what I want to know.  If the Ontario government sells off Hydro One to private investors, do those private investors then take on that debt which Ontario taxpayers are currently on the hook for?  Will that charge come off of our bills immediately?  Will our hydro rates rise commensurately with the theoretical removal of the debt retirement fee?  How will rates be regulated moving forward — or will they be?

The other crown corporations concern me less, to be honest — I just don’t see the Ontario Lotto and Gaming Corporation (OLG) or the LCBO as fundamental necessities.  The fact that they do provide revenue to the Ontario Government coffers does, however, make me wonder whether a one-time sale can make up for ongoing revenue.  If these crown corporations are profitable, does it not make sense to keep them on as a long-term investment with guaranteed base revenue?  What happens if Ontario sells off these assets in a one-time bid to reduce overall debt, but then finds itself unable to respond financially the next time it finds itself in the hole?  Higher taxes yet again?

Bottom line: I’m concerned.

Read the original article in the Globe and Mail online here.

Ask Not What Your Government Can (Or Will) Do For You: Canadian Citizens Abroad

December 14, 2009 1 comment

As you may have noticed in postings elsewhere on this blog, I find the concept of how Canada takes care of its citizens who choose to travel abroad very interesting.  I’ve taken the rather pessimistic view that if you’re a Canadian who leaves the country and doesn’t find that flag sewn onto your backpack to be adequate protection, you are pretty much out of luck – that our government, either by default or design, will not come to get you.

But it seems I may be wrong.  According to James Loney, writing in the November-December 2009 issue of This Magazine and himself a citizen who got into trouble abroad, it may be more a matter of who the Canadian government chooses to help and who they choose to ignore.

He cites the following examples in addition to his own experiences:

Brenda Martin: Canadian citizen, arrested in Mexico under potentially dubious circumstances.  Canadian government paid her fine and brought her home.

Omar Khadr: One of the most infamous of Canadian citizens to be left abroad in Guantanamo after he was arrested at the age of 15 more than eight years ago.  Ordered by a lower court to bring him home, the Canadian government has instead chosen to appeal each and every ruling which would compel them to do so.  Several blog posts on the subject in Mediaviber as well (here and here).

Abousfian Abdelrazik: Jailed, tortured and interrogated in the Sudan, apparently at CSIS’ request and with its full knowledge, for more than six years until a court order forced the Canadian government to bring him home.

Abdihakim Mohamed: Held in Kenya for more than three years now, this autistic 25 year old man allegedly doesn’t match his passport photo.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud: The most recent publicized example of someone who was stranded in Kenya for three months, jailed for a portion of that time, because the government felt that she didn’t match her passport photo.

There are more – both in Loney’s article, and no doubt if one were to do a bit more digging.

From what I have been able to gather, it seems that a government’s decision to intervene on a citizen’s behalf takes into consideration – in part – a few fundamental criteria.  (Author’s Note: These criteria are based on my own observations, readings and analysis rather than any list provided by the Canadian government or CSIS):

  1. Did the citizen opt to travel into a country or region currently under a Canadian travel advisory?
  2. What was the nature of the citizen’s offence, if any?
  3. What kind of security risk would they pose to Canada if they were to be repatriated?
  4. Is this person originally from Canada or did their first citizenship reside elsewhere?
  5. If elsewhere, where was that else?

Loney sums it up effectively in his article, when he says:

They are part of an even longer list of Canadians in need of assistance. Who gets help and who doesn’t is a matter of “Crown prerogative.” That’s a fancy way of saying if the government likes you, if they see you as an upstanding citizen or a worthy innocent, they’ll go to bat for you. But if you have thick lips or dark skin, if you have a funny last name or you’re mentally ill, if you were born in a country with a bad reputation or if you yourself have a bad reputation, sorry, you’re out of luck. Some Canadian citizens count, it seems, and some don’t. Brenda and I must be among those who count.

He goes on to argue that all citizens need to be treated the same when it comes to running afoul of anything which threatens a Canadian when away from home.

My opinion?  I believe that Canadian citizenship is a privilege, something we should not take for granted.  That being said, I admit that I don’t have a high degree of confidence that my government would help me out if I had an issue when not on Canadian soil.

I will never forget actually having an issue when traveling in the Middle East about 20 years back.  I had crossed the border into Egypt from Israel.  On my way back into Israel again, my visa was changed such that the date I was supposed to leave the country was about a week before my flight was actually booked to depart.  I was worried and went to the Canadian Consulate.  After waiting several hours to see the Canadian representative, who basically shrugged and provided zero assistance, it was ultimately the Israeli receptionist who looked at the paper and told me it wouldn’t be an issue.

What if I had actually encountered a problem when I tried to leave though?  Who would have come to help me out – the receptionist?

Loney’s article makes for interesting reading.  Click on the link below to view the original.

*      *     *

Read the original article, “Canada came to rescue me.  Why not Arar, Khadr, Mohamud?” which ran in the November-December 2009 issue of This Magazine.

*     *     *