Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Quebec seeks injunction against destruction of gun-registry data

The Quebec government is seeking an injunction to prevent Ottawa from destroying data it has collected over the years from the federal long-gun registry when legislation abolishing the controversial agency receives royal assent later this week.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said Tuesday that Quebec will challenge the federal government’s jurisdiction over the gun-registry data, arguing that the provinces helped set it up and should be given the right to use its information as they see fit.

“It is a common registry,” Mr. Fournier said. “The abolition of the gun registry illustrates once again the lack of co-operation (from Ottawa). This is quite stunning since the registry was the result of co-operation . . . It is one thing to abolish the registry but it is another to destroy the data. They have chosen to do so in a law immediately after it is adopted. That leaves us no choice but to go before the courts and have our fundamental rights respected.”

The Senate is expected to adopt Bill C-19 calling for the immediate dismantling of the long-gun registry either Wednesday or Thursday. Mr. Fournier argued Tuesday that time is of the essence. As soon as the bill is adopted, a Quebec Superior Court judge will be asked to stop the federal government from destroying the data so that the province can pursue its legal action.

The New Retirement Age Might Be 70

For those in the working world now in their forties, their dream is to retire before age 65.

But according to a new survey, Later Retirement: The Win Win Solution by the CD Howe Institute, the new retirement age will probably be age 70.

The report's author, Peter Hicks, doesn't think it makes sense to continue basing everything on age 65 when the retirement age could move to age 68 or 70.And Hicks writes the delay in retirement will have "positive economic, fiscal and social effects on Canada."

"Delaying work-retirement transitions by five years would have large, positive economic and fiscal effects, significantly reducing the much-discussed negative effects of population aging on growth and pension funding. Other gains in social well-being appear likely, if harder to quantify."

Read Federal Budget coverage by Huffington Post Canada

This might seem strange considering most of us have heard dire warnings about retirement in the future - that it will have a negative effect on country's economy and there won't be any money left to pay pensions.

Financial Reform: Canadian Bankers' Association Calls For Moratorium On Global Banking Overhaul

OTTAWA - Canada's bankers want to apply the brakes on sweeping new regulations being forced on them as a result of the 2008 financial collapse, possibly putting them on a collision course with the government and the Bank of Canada.

Canadian Bankers Association President Terry Campbell surprised a luncheon of policy-makers and industry executives Tuesday with a call for Ottawa to call a push the pause button on future reforms.

"We are facing the biggest regulatory implementation exercise the Canadian banking industry has ever undergone, and it is not done yet," he said.

"I think it would be useful for the federal government to hit the 'pause' button and to take stock of the new regulatory paradigm."

Commons finance committee chair James Rajotte, a Conservative MP from Alberta, seemed surprised by the appeal, but said afterwards if bankers have concerns, "we will certainly listen."

The proposal puts the private sector banks potentially in conflict with Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who as head of the Swiss-based Financial Stability Board has been a leading proponent of the reform process and has had little patience with what he has called "back-sliding."

Ambassador Bridge owner invites PM to talk

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to get a new bridge built between Windsor and Detroit.

He is also frustrated with Matty Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, one of two crossings in Windsor.

"This is the biggest single corridor of trade in the world and the concept that somebody could claim that he privately owns it all is, to me, ludicrous but to some degree that is the situation we're dealing with," the prime minister said.

Harper made the comments Monday while attending a summit with the presidents of the United States and Mexico in Washington.

When asked why Canada does not partner with the Obama administration on the project, Harper said Canada is dealing with Michigan first, but that this crossing has unique issues.

"We think it is essential, let's be frank about that," Harper said. "There is a bridge there today that has a private owner and my understanding of the private owner's position is that he not only owns the bridge but somehow owns the broader crossing. Of course, we don't accept that. It's obviously public space.

A number is never just a number: Federal budget 2012

$5.2 billion
Annual cost of most recent round of public service cuts when fully implemented, as announced in 2012 federal budget. (Source)

$13 billion
Amount of yearly revenue lost to the Harper government's corporate tax cuts in 2012-13. (Source)

Estimated number of real job cuts over the next three years due to federal austerity measures. (Source)

Number of years since Senator Jacques Hebert went on a hunger strike to protest the Mulroney government's attempt to defund Katimavik, Canada's largest youth volunteer program. He saved the program then, but the 2012 budget kills Katimavik. (Source)

Number of years youth employment centres have operated in Canada. The Harper government is closing the centres, despite the reality that youth unemployment is double Canada's official unemployment rate. (Source)

$20 million
Amount of cuts to Environment Canada in 2012/13, rising to $88 million in cuts in 2014/15. (Source)

$33.9 million
Amount of cuts to Statistics Canada's budget in 2012/13. (Source)

Amount of funding the National Council of Welfare, the First Nations Statistical Council and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy can expect from the Harper government, which will stop funding these institutions at the end of this fiscal year. (Source)

Percentage of the CBC's budget that has been cut this year. (Source)

Percentage of cuts to Canadian international aid agency Development and Peace's budget this year. (Source)

$1.5 million
Amount of money that just one charity -- the Tim Horton Children's Foundation -- makes from donated pennies every year. The Harper government has announced it is taking Canada's penny out of circulation. (Source)

7 to 1
Amount by which spending cuts outstrip new spending measures in Canada's 2012 federal budget. (Source)

Original Article
Author: Trish Hennessy

On free trade, Harper needs to show some true grit

Listen to his critics and you’d think a blinding “neo-conservative ideology” is what motivates Prime Minister Stephen Harper these days. Yet in sifting through his six years in power it’s much easier to find evidence of opportunistic pragmatism than any specific ideology.

Regardless of this week’s budget, the Harper government has already proven itself to be the biggest spending government in Canadian history. And while it talks a lot about taxes, Ottawa is actually creating a more complicated and less efficient tax system through its creation of myriad tax credits aimed at tiny slices of the population for such things as children’s dance lessons, team sports, work tools or public transit.

The federal government has also been quick to remove the right to strike from unionized workers—the widespread animosity of the current Air Canada labour dispute is directly attributable to this instinct for control over letting negotiations take their course. It has, as well, interposed itself into deals between interested buyers and sellers, such as with the Potash Corp. decision. None of this is the stuff of standard economics textbooks.

There is really only one area of economic policy in which Harper appears to have retained his much ballyhooed enthusiasm for unfettered markets. And that’s free trade. But does he have the courage to follow this enthusiasm with real progress?

Why the federal budget said nothing about mortgages

When it comes to the housing market, Jim Flaherty has made it clear that he would rather leave it all up to the proverbial invisible hand. A week before he introduced the federal budget last Thursday he poignantly told reporters he’d “quite frankly” like the market to “correct itself.”

No surprise, then, that the Harper government’s Economic Action Plan 2012 (yes, that’s what they like to call it) said precious little about mortgages–just a vague vow to increase oversight of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to promote “the stability of the financial system.” Hardly the tough clampdwon on ballooning mortgages that some in the housing industry initially feared the budget would contain.

Flaherty’s approach reinforces the impression that Canada’s housing market has become a hot potato no one wants to touch–and everyone would like someone else to cool off.

Lessons learned from the F-35 acquisition debacle

Between 2006-2010, the Department of National Defence (DND) made a concerted effort to ensure that Canada’s CF-18s would be replaced by a sole-sourced procurement of sixty-five F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. In so doing, the defence department flouted several procurement procedures and practices. A timely replacement of the CF-18s and the acquisition of the F-35 are now in doubt, as a result.

As detailed in today’s report from the Auditor General, DND underestimated the likely cost of the F-35, embellished the possible industrial benefits associated with the acquisition, failed to correctly analyze the risks associated with buying an aircraft in the midst of development, and did not provide sufficient evidence to justify a sole-sourced acquisition when prompted by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC). Through it all, DND was adamant that a competition was unnecessary to replace the CF-18s, since the F-35 was the best plane, for the best price.

The Conservative government accepted DND’s logic and allowed the defence department to press ahead. Indeed, although DND and the Chief of the Air Staff are identified as the main culprits in this saga, there is no question that Conservative ministers are also to blame.

The Auditor General’s report highlights that Conservative ministers announced the F-35 purchase in July 2010, two months after PWGSC warned that a sole-source procurement had not been properly explained, and a month before Public Works actually received the statement of requirements that purported to show why the F-35 was the only possible option.

Onus for mortgage regulation on banks, not Ottawa: Scotiabank CEO

Amid concerns about the sustainability of Canadian housing prices, the head of Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS-T55.45-0.70-1.25%) says it’s up to the banks to manage their mortgage lending properly, rather than expecting Ottawa to step in to cool the market.

“The current concerns about Canada’s housing market are reason for caution but not pessimism,” Bank of Nova Scotia chief executive officer Rick Waugh told the bank’s annual meeting in Saskatoon on Tuesday. “We can and will manage through any potential problems.”

However, as opinions vary across the banking sector about whether the government should tighten lending rules to limit borrowing and curb escalating household debt, Mr. Waugh said he believes the banks should manage this risk first themselves.

“I agree with our government,” Mr. Waugh said. “It’s up to the banks themselves – not government or regulators – to manage our risks and advise our customers appropriately.

“Likewise, it’s the responsibility of government to set fiscal and monetary policies, and the level of interest rates, according to prevailing conditions. Each has an important role to play.”

Seeking ‘clean slate,’ Baird pulls plug on Rights & Democracy

The Conservative government is moving to scrap beleaguered Rights & Democracy, citing the need to find savings and turn the page on the many challenges facing the Montreal-based agency.

Legislation will soon be introduced to transfer the non-partisan organization’s functions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, John Baird said in a statement Tuesday.

“For some time, the many challenges of [Rights & Democracy] have been well publicized,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said. “It is time to put these past challenges behind us and move forward.”

The agency’s former president, Remy Beauregard, died in 2010 from of a heart attack after a contentious board meeting. Some board members had given him a negative evaluation and sent it to federal officials without allowing him to review a copy.

Mr. Beauregard was accused of lax bookkeeping and sanctioning funding for a discredited United Nations conference. An audit found no basis for the allegations and the government was criticized for reappointing of board members involved in the crisis. The audit did, however, find problems stemming from board’s attempts to control the organization’s activities.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan: soaring returns, and still carrying a shortfall

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan recorded a solid 11.2 per cent rate of return last year, pushing its net assets to an all-time high of $117.1 billion.

But even as pension managers from around the world come to study how Teachers’ delivers its steady returns, the plan still faces a preliminary $9.6 billion funding shortfall, as of Jan. 1, 2012.

Persistent low interest rates and changing demographics are to blame for the shortfall that can be seen as a harbinger for other pension plans.

“The cost of pensions, obligations and liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets notwithstanding the great investment returns,” said Jim Leech, Teachers’ president and CEO, at a media briefing Tuesday.

The Teachers’ pension plan has 180,000 active members, but the number of pensioners is now 120,000. With retirees living longer, their retired years now exceed years worked.

“Obviously, pensions were never designed to earn enough money for members to be retired longer than they actually worked,” said Rosemarie McClean, senior vice-president, member services.

Ontario budget: Make the rich pay, NDP demands

The NDP has named its price for supporting Premier Dalton McGuinty’s budget: a new tax bracket for personal incomes over $500,000 to raise $570 million a year.

Making the top one per cent of earners pay more would allow the government to remove the provincial portion of HST on home heating, create 4,000 new child care spaces and boost payouts to Ontarians on the Ontario Disability Support Plan by one per cent, New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday.

“If we have to choose between a working mom who needs help with the kids or a CEO who needs help with a seven-figure paycheque, let’s help that mom,” said Horwath.

“The choice should be very easy.”

Horwath said she is not “drawing a line in the sand” on the proposal but wants to see how the Liberal government reacts. She warned NDP support for the budget does hang in the balance on overall changes McGuinty is willing to make.

The government had no immediate response.

Gas prices to spike up to 4.5 cents a litre overnight, biggest hike since Katrina

Fill your tanks and take cover, for tomorrow brings the highest prices at southern Ontario gas pumps since Hurricane Katrina, one energy adviser says.

The price of a litre of gas is expected to jump 4.5 cents at midnight Wednesday to a wallet-busting 140.1 cents a litre, according to Roger McKnight of Oshawa-based En-Pro International Inc.

“That is absolutely amazing. It’s probably the biggest increase I’ve seen since Katrina when things went completely crazy. And there’s no end in sight,” McKnight said, adding that he predicted to see prices reach between 143 cents to 147 cents a litre by April.

McKnight said the predicted overnight price spike is a result of a lead Ontario supplier’s decision to increase wholesale prices by 4 cents — an estimated 4.5 cent increase at the pump with harmonized sales tax included.

The predicted jump comes at a time of unseasonably-high prices for Ontario drivers — with the predicted 140.1 cent price point about eight per cent higher than gas prices last year.

While gas price increases usually increase the spring as the driving season kicks into gear, McKnight pointed to a confluence of forces that have kept prices at a higher-than-average rate — a shortage of refining capacity in the United States, decreasing imports of oil to the U.S. and political instability in the Middle East, for example.

“All the dominoes are lined up and you’ll see what you get tomorrow morning,” he said.

Original Article
Source: Star
Author: Niamh Scallan

A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney

THE recent remark by Mitt Romney’s senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom that upon clinching the Republican nomination Mr. Romney could change his political views “like an Etch A Sketch” has already become notorious. The comment seemed all too apt, an apparent admission by a campaign insider of two widely held suspicions about Mitt Romney: that he is a) utterly devoid of any ideological convictions and b) filled with aluminum powder.

The imagery may have been unfortunate, but Mr. Fehrnstrom’s impulse to analogize is understandable. Metaphors like these, inexact as they are, are the only way the layman can begin to grasp the strange phantom world that underpins the very fabric of not only the Romney campaign but also of Mitt Romney in general. For we have entered the age of quantum politics; and Mitt Romney is the first quantum politician.

A bit of context. Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force — the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany — compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals.

Obama: Paul Ryan's Budget is 'Nothing But Thinly Veiled Social Darwinism'

WASHINGTON -- In remarks later Tuesday, President Barack Obama will slam the Republican budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as "nothing but thinly veiled Social Darwinism."

"It's a Trojan Horse," Obama will say during remarks at an Associated Press Luncheon, according to excerpts released by the White House.

"Disguised as [a] deficit reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism. It's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who's willing to work for it -- a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last -- education and training; research and development -- it's a prescription for decline," the president will say.

Staying on that theme, Obama will go on to address how prosperity in the United States has never trickled down from "the success of a wealthy few." Instead, he'll say, it comes from the success of a strong middle class.

Egypt's Looming Economic Shock Doctrine

Egypt is teetering on the edge of an economic crisis. Cast adrift in a deepening political quagmire over the past fourteen months, the economy has now reached a critical juncture, as the country faces the pressing challenge of financing a large budget deficit as rapidly dwindling foreign currency reserves threaten to crack apart an already fragile situation.

Yet, more than a year after the launch of a revolution driven in large part by economic grievances, the budgetary and fiscal proposals being considered to secure external financial assistance are geared more towards furthering Mubarak-era policies than to promoting social justice.

The state deficit for the fiscal year that ends in June is expected to exceed 140 billion Egyptian pounds ($24 billion), or 8.7 percent of expected economic output, according to the Finance Ministry. Meanwhile, the central bank's foreign reserves have been shrinking by roughly $2 billion every month, precipitated by a sharp decline in tourism and foreign direct investment since the revolution began.

Over the past year, the government has used up more than $20 billion to prop up the local currency. In February, foreign reserves stood at $15.7 billion, enough for just three months of imports, and with it, the looming prospect of devaluation.

Egypt, like many developing countries, relies heavily on imports, including for staple items such as wheat. (Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, relying on foreign supplies for about 60 percent of domestic consumption). A currency devaluation would increase import prices across the board, severely deepening the recession and prolonging any economic recovery.

Punditry and the Art of Failing Upward

In the newly relaunched Baffler, now edited by John Summers, essayist Tom Frank expands on an argument that has obsessed your columnist for decades: that success in the punditocracy is inversely related to good judgment. Indeed, one can even find an almost perfectly proportional relationship between wrongness and success. Nobody was consistently more wrong about pretty much everything related to George W. Bush than William Kristol; and yet, following the Iraq folly, Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in daily print journalism: his own corner of the New York Times op-ed page—which he immediately screwed up and lost, having little familiarity with actual journalism. Kristol is perhaps the most illustrative case, but similar phenomena are evident throughout the punditocracy. And does anyone believe that Christopher Hitchens, talented as he may have been, would have come to enjoy the celebrity intellectual cachet attached to his name were it not for his enlistment in the ranks, first of Kenneth Starr’s sex police, then the army of Bush and Cheney’s armchair generals?

These pundits are showered with fame, prestige and riches not in spite of their misjudgments but because of them. This thought was reinforced when I saw an announcement of a new education study fronted by Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Legal Drug-Pushing: How Disease Mongers Keep Us All Doped Up

Pharmaceutical giants, like small-town pizza parlors, have two options for making more money: convince regulars to buy more of what they obviously like, or find ways to persuade more people that they will be happier with this drug or that thin crust with extra cheese.

In the case of the drug companies, it's not our taste buds they're appealing to. Instead, they market prescription drugs directly to consumers -- a practice legal only in the United States and New Zealand -- by, basically, manipulating our fear of suffering and death.

These "disease mongers" -- as science writer Lynne Payer in her 1992 book of that name called the drug industry and the doctors, insurers, and others who comprise its unofficial sales force -- spin and toil "to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill."

Changing the metrics for diagnosing a disease is one reliable technique. Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of pharmacology and director of the industry watchdog group at Georgetown University School of Medicine, pointed to how the numbers used to diagnose diabetes and high cholesterol have been lowered over time. "The very numbers we use have been reduced to the point of absurdity," she said. "120/70 was considered normal blood pressure; now it's considered 'pre-hypertension.'"

Fiscal Therapy

For years now, whenever I've been invited to lecture students on how our tax system works, I have asked a simple question: What is the purpose of the United States of America? The most common answer, be it at prestigious universities, elite prep schools, rural community colleges, or crowded urban high schools, is this: To make people rich.

This should come as no great surprise. For anyone born after, say, 1970, the world has been shaped by Ronald Reagan's remaking of government's relationship with private interests—a vision of lower taxes, less regulation, and maximum economic leeway for those at the top. In this view, the pursuit of wealth is the warp and weft of America; everything else will follow.

By contrast, the preamble to the Constitution tells us the nation's reason for being in 52 words that can be reduced to six principles: society, justice, peace, security, commonwealth, and freedom. Individual riches don't make the list. They are a product of American society, not its guiding purpose. Progress, then, must begin with a return to the best of the values that created this Second American Republic—one born, it's worth remembering, from the failure of the Articles of Confederation, whose principles (weak government, unfettered capitalism) found their resurrection in the economic policies of the past three decades.

Beyond The Border: Privacy Concerns Voiced By Watchdogs Over Deal With U.S.

OTTAWA — The federal government should not to hand over the private information of Canadian citizens to U.S. authorities without adequate safeguards, the country’s privacy watchdogs have warned.

In an effort to whittle down border barriers to promote economic growth, a Canada-U.S. perimeter security action plan was announced in December that will result in “unprecedented cross-border information sharing,” Canada’s federal and provincial privacy commissioners said in a joint news release Monday.

“I’m concerned that Canadians don’t understand all the implications of these programs,” the federal privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart told The Huffington Post Canada about the new Beyond The Border plan. The federal government needs to be more transparent, she said, so that the new rules don’t come as a scary surprise.

What Stoddart is particularly concerned about is the informal sharing of citizens’ information.

“In the past, informal sharing has led to some real problems in Canada, so we want to make sure that the extent and the amount of information that is shared is subject to formal written agreement,” she said.

RBC Wash Sale Scheme Allegations: U.S. Regulators Accuse Bank Of Using Sham Futures To Gain Advantage

TORONTO - Royal Bank is defending itself against what it calls "absurd" allegations from U.S. regulators that it engaged in hundreds of millions of dollars in sham futures trades to reap tax benefits on its holdings of company stocks.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission lawsuit filed Monday against Canada's biggest bank (TSX:RY) says Royal also concealed the true nature of the trades and made false statements to a futures trading exchange.

The activity, so-called "wash trading", is an illegal stock trading practice in which an investor simultaneously buys and sells shares in a company through two different brokers, usually to avoid taxes. Wash trading is illegal in the United States according to futures laws.

The CFTC said the bank's trading strategy was devised to gain Canadian tax credits on its holdings of U.S. and Canadian company stocks. It said the strategy was created and carried out by a group of executives at the bank. However, the agency's suit didn't name any individuals.

"A fundamental purpose of the futures markets is to provide an arm’s-length mechanism for market participants to discover prices and shift risks associated with products traded in those markets," said David Meister, the director of the CFTC's Division of Enforcement.

Tories walk a careful line on EI changes

No one needs to remind Peter MacKay of the price the federal Liberals paid in Nova Scotia in 1997 for slashing employment insurance benefits.

The Liberals had held every seat in the province leading up to the election, but they lost them all, going against a national trend that saw Jean Chretien win his second of three majority mandates.

But Nova Scotians were unhappy with health-care cuts, downloading on the province and, particularly in rural seats with high unemployment, cuts to EI benefits.

All 11 Liberal incumbents were sent home in the 1997 election, with Nova Scotia voters dividing the province’s seats between six NDP MPs and five Progressive Conservatives, including rookie MacKay from Central Nova.

MacKay, now the defence minister and Nova Scotia’s senior cabinet minister in the Harper government, was well versed with the government’s explanation on the EI program when I asked him about the changes that will come as a result of Thursday’s federal budget.

"All of the social programs have to be aligned with the demographics, as well, keeping in mind, value for dollar," he said in an interview. "Taxpayers’ interests have to be protected.

Why the federal government picked a fight with charities

It is not the first time governments have tried to rein in charities. This time, however, it's personal.

Buried in the so-called "austerity" budget and its overhaul of Old Age Security, among other big-ticket items that elicited media attention, is a direct attack on charities and what they do.

The budget opines that there are concerns "that some charities may not be respecting the rules regarding political activities." The Harper government has empowered the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to monitor closely the activities of groups that claim charitable tax status, to ensure that they are not spending too much time being, well, political.

People in the charitable sector have, no doubt, heard this song before. The "10-per-cent rule" stipulates that organizations that want to retain their charitable tax status must devote no more than 10 per cent of their time to political activities. Who decides what constitutes political activities? How do you quantify how much of the group's energy is spent engaging in the offending behaviour? Big questions for which we have only partial answers. The bottom line, it seems, is that the CRA can make those judgment calls. The job of charities is to follow the guidelines provided, in which there are examples of acceptable, minimally acceptable (not more than 10 per cent), and forbidden activities.

Prime Minister Harper’s role in Canada’s success is limited

If you believe the columnist David Frum, Canada “can fairly claim to be the best-governed country among advanced democracies in the world” thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Last week’s budget, he wrote, “locks up Canada’s lead.”

Most times, Frum is pretty bright. This time, he’s grasped hold of a fact and inflated it into a misshapen factoid.

Canada is indeed in excellent shape these days, most certainly so when compared to almost all other “advanced democracies.” And we aren’t at all badly governed, although I would put Norway well ahead of us.

But none of this has anything to do with the budget or with the Harper government’s financial management since it gained power in 2006, nor with Harper himself.

Instead, the causes of our contemporary complacency are threefold:

 • Mostly, it’s because we’re enjoying a commodities boom (as are Australia and Brazil), thanks to the almost limitless demand created by the headlong economic growth in China, India and elsewhere. Even an ineptly governed economy could do well, so long as it has spare rocks and logs and oil,

Canada no longer ‘captive’ to U.S. energy market, Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned Americans that the threat of a no from the United States on the Keystone XL oil pipeline has irreversibly jolted Canada into reducing its reliance on its biggest – and in some cases only – export market.

Speaking to a keen audience of Canada watchers in the U.S. capital on Monday, Mr. Harper insisted the Obama administration’s refusal to approve the pipeline before 2013 has stiffened his government’s resolve to favour new infrastructure, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline project, to facilitate Canadian oil exports to Asia.

While President Barack Obama recently promised to expedite construction of Keystone’s southern leg from Oklahoma to the Texas coast, his administration has bowed to the concerns of environmentalists and put off a decision on the conduit’s northern phase from Alberta until after this year’s presidential election.

“We cannot be in a situation where really our one and only energy partner can say no to our energy products,” Mr. Harper told a packed audience of several hundred people at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. “The very fact that a no can be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets.”

Furniture storage and waste 'unacceptable,' says PMO

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office urged two federal cabinet ministers to intervene last summer following "unacceptable" revelations that the government's lead department on protecting the environment was going to replace office furniture, stored for a year at a cost of $141,000, with brand new work supplies and equipment.

Environment Canada was planning to dump the material through an online Internet auction and buy new furniture for an office building under renovations in Gatineau, Que., that would be increasing its number of workstations. But Harper's office was not pleased about media reports that the government had paid to store the furniture for a year.

"It might be better to say this is completely unacceptable and the minister has asked officials to review these procedures," wrote Brock Stephenson, an issues manager in Harper's office, in an email sent to a counterpart at Public Works and Government Services Canada on July 27.

The email is part of a package of more than 1,100 pages worth of correspondence released by Public Works through access to information legislation. The emails show a maze of consultations that went into the overnight hours as bureaucrats from the two departments pointed fingers at each other as they scrambled to find an explanation about the recycling controversy.

Cuts reduce Foreign Affairs' representation

Canadian diplomats were forced to scale back the country's representation at a major international summit on Afghanistan in December because of slashes to the Foreign Affairs Department's travel budget, documents obtained by Postmedia News show.

The revelation comes less than a week after the federal budget warned the department, which has reported negative impacts during previous reductions to travel and hospitality allowances, will be facing more such cuts.

This past October, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked to approve the size of Canada's delegation to the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Germany on Dec. 5 and focused on prospects for long-term security in the country.

"Mindful of the need to reduce travel expenditures, the proposed size (7 persons) of the Canadian delegation to the Bonn Conference is smaller than the 2010 Kabul Conference (8) and the 2008 Paris Conference (11)," reads the accompanying memo to Baird, obtained through access to information.

"However, the complexities and challenges of the Bonn Conference are likely to be as great, if not greater than these two previous conferences, given the highly fluid political situation in Afghanistan and the region."

Charity used call centre firm that worked for Tories

A historical charity that receives millions of dollars from the federal government each year has been paying the Conservative Party's main call centre company for fundraising work.

Historica-Dominion Institute has been using Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) for telephone fundraising to supplement the $5 to $7 million the charity has received from the federal government over each of the past three years.

The privately-owned RMG performs voter identification and fundraising work for the federal Conservatives using the party's sophisticated Constituent Information Management System (CIMS) database.

The company was thrust into the media spotlight last month when some RMG phone operators from Thunder Bay said they had filed complaints with the RCMP and Elections Canada about calls they made for the Tories during the last election campaign.

Historica-Dominion is a charity that raises awareness of Canadian history and is best known for its "Heritage Minute" television ads that recreate important moments such as the Halifax explosion and the execution of Louis Riel. It has also created videos commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, an event the Conservative government is heavily promoting.

As a registered charitable organization, Historica-Dominion is legally bound to scrupulously avoid involvement with partisan political activity.

Canada needs to make fundamental changes to protect way of life: report

Aggressive outsourcing will hollow out Canadian business; prolonged economic recovery will have left people without jobs and jobs without skilled people; and immigration will sputter in response to the country's lacklustre global brand.

Such is the projection for 2025 if the status quo remains, according to a dramatic new report in which senior leaders from the private and public sectors analyze the demographic, technological, environmental and economic factors that will shape Canadian society in the years to come.

"Our future as a country is really under threat," says Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of the Human Resources Professionals Association, which conducted the joint study with professional services firm Deloitte.

"All the stuff we take for granted today: a good health system; effective education for the next generation; reasonable retirement; welfare for those who need it — just won't exist. At best, we're looking at a very flat forecast, with the possibility things might even get worse."

The 60-page CanadaWorks 2025 report, published Tuesday, draws on insight from 52 world thinkers within the business, academic and government sectors, as well as extensive in-house and secondary research. It was designed to encourage informed public debate about the issues that will help or hinder Canada as the country navigates a historic demographic sea change.

Using debt for the common good

Students do society a favour when they pay the full cost of borrowing money to finance their studies. Since it serves all of us to live among knowledgeable citizens: the education they receive is a public good; it works for us all.

Those graduates who educate others, care for us when we are sick, or help us when we are in need of professional assistance are especially valued; we expect to pay decently for their services, and professionals expect to be taxed on earned income throughout their careers. What individual benefits are derived from education are paid for throughout a lifetime of work.

Asking students to pay higher and higher up-front tuition costs, amounts to saying education is a private consumption good, belonging to the individual who pays for it. This perspective is misleading, and false. Education serves all of us -- over our lifetimes -- and should be paid for by all of us, through progressive taxation. Some 200,000 striking Quebec students have been marching in the streets to make this point. Many others wear a small red patch (le carré rouge) to show agreement.

Unlike students with education loans, individuals who buy corporate stocks and bonds with borrowed money can deduct the interest charges (against stock dividends paid, and bond interest earned).

A Forest Like No Other

The dense web of natural life found in the Great Bear Rainforest has earned it the deserving nickname, "Canada's Amazon."

This is the second article in a three-part series on Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. February marked the six-year anniversary of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, which were celebrated around the world as one of the greatest rainforest conservation stories of our time. To this day, however, half of the Great Bear Rainforest is still open to logging. Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC, and ForestEthics have launched a campaign calling on B.C. Premier Christy Clark to speed up the outstanding steps for healthy forests and thriving communities, before it’s too late. The first article in this series discussed how the Great Bear Rainforest (or “Canada’s Amazon”) is still at risk. This second article describes what makes the Great Bear Rainforest so significant – and worthy of full protection.

A narrow band of land and sea stretching along the central and northern coast of British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest, mostly intact coastal temperate rainforests remaining on the planet. Here, 1,000-year-old red cedars stand as tall as 20-storey buildings. Below the treetops, a thick moss-and-fern understory blankets the forest like a neon snowfall. Spirit bears, a white-furred version of black bears whose only home on the planet is within the Great Bear Rainforest, move calmly along the rivers in search of wild salmon – ghostly flashes of white against a dense green backdrop.

The Commons: Speaking of redundancy

The Scene. Kirsty Duncan rose and reminded the Environment Minister of what he had said three days ago.

“Mr. Speaker, last week the Minister of the Environment said of the Round Table on the Environment and the Economy: ‘It was created before the Internet when there were few such sources of domestic independent research and analysis on sustainable development.’ This is no longer the case. There are now any number of organizations and university-based services that provide those services.”

“Very well,” the Liberal MP said, pausing for a moment as if about to say something quite dramatic.

“Can the minister name these organizations and services?” she finally asked.

Peter Kent stood here, not to answer Ms. Duncan’s question, but instead to essentially repeat what Ms. Duncan had just said he said.

“Mr. Speaker, my colleague is quite correct in at least part of her quotation,” he said, though Ms. Duncan seems to have repeated his words nearly verbatim. “I have expressed our government’s appreciation and thanks to the round table for its service over the decades, but it was created a quarter century ago at a time, as my colleague reminded us, when there were very few and limited resources of policy advice on the environment, and in particular, those with regard to the environment and the economy.”

As Air Canada battles its union, Lisa Raitt comes out swinging again

The Dos and Don’ts of Labour Relations, if there is such a volume, would surely recommend against it. By dogging Lisa Raitt through the corridors of Pearson Airport last week, slow-clapping the federal labour minister as they went, three Air Canada groundworkers cost their union dearly in the court of public opinion. So did those who staged a wildcat strike to protest the trio’s suspension: Within 24 hours, more than 80 flights had been cancelled due to the job action. Passengers—already cranky from long lineups—began venting their frustration on employees trying to manage the mayhem.

Raitt’s office denied claims she had escalated the confrontation (“Arrest these animals,” a union official claimed she told police officers). But the incident illustrated how Air Canada’s parlous negotiations with its workers have been eclipsed by union antagonism toward the minister, whose fondness for legislative sledgehammers has caught many by surprise. In the last seven months, Raitt has moved four times to head off labour disruptions at the airline, using either the threat of back-to-work legislation or referrals to the federal labour board, to the outrage of union leaders. “Every time Air Canada sneezes,” grumbles Bill Trbovich, who speaks for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, “this government gets out the Kleenex and tries to correct the cough.”

Canadians want F-35 purchase scrapped: Forum Research poll

PARLIAMENT HILL—Nearly 80 per cent of Canadians who are aware of the Conservative government’s plan to spend at least $9-billion to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets believe the project should be scrapped, a public opinion poll taken the day after last week’s federal budget found.

The Forum Research survey found only one in five Canadians of voting age supported the F-35 acquisition, which Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has estimated will cost nearly $18-billion including lifespan maintenance for what was to have been a fleet of 65 new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 Hornets.

The survey views opposing the F-35 acquisition ranged from purchasing another jet, doing something else with the money and not buying new fighter jets, to holding an open competition to select new planes.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is set to table a report on the F-35 project in Parliament on Tuesday.

Support for the F-35 was highest among Conservative Party supporters, with 35 per cent supporting the acquisition.

Free tuition and Dani-dollars – Alberta's election spending spree begins

An overhauled health care system flush with cash, $300 cheques to voters and free post-secondary tuition – all promises that would be a pipe dream in most other provinces, but it’s just business as usual on the Alberta campaign trail.

After a week of personal attacks and surprising polls, Alberta’s would-be premiers turned on Monday to out-bidding each other, banking on the province’s massive looming surpluses to woo voters to the polls on April 23.

-The right-wing Wildrose party pledged to issue resource “dividends” of about $300 to each Albertan by 2015 using a portion of any surpluses;

- The Liberals promised to slash tuition fees – with the goal of eliminating them altogether by 2025 – and raise taxes on the rich;

- The Progressive Conservatives laid out a plan to overhaul health care, which already got a boost this year in the form of a 7.9 per cent increase to the health ministry’s budget.

All this after the PCs last week pledged $150-million annually for energy-sector research (or $3-billion over 20 years), with Wildrose offering voters $130-million annually for a child tax credit.

Girding for China's slowdown

A bright spot, but dimming

When we’re talking about a slowdown in China, it’s important to remember that this is only relative to the country’s high-octane expansion of recent years.

Year-over-year growth in China’s gross domestic product was 8.9 per cent in the last quarter of 2011, and is expected to dip to about 8 per cent for the first quarter. Most economists still see growth topping 8 per cent in 2012 and again in 2013. By contrast, total world GDP growth will be lucky to top 3 per cent, and developed economies could be well under 2 per cent.

Last month, China’s government lowered its official GDP growth target to 7.5 per cent from its previous long-standing target of 8 per cent – which would represent the slowest annual growth in the Chinese economy since 1990.

“China is likely to remain a bright spot [in the global economy], albeit not quite so luminescent as in the past,” concluded CIBC World Markets economist Peter Buchanan in a research report last week.

Mountains of cash could fuel takeover fever

Everyone knows that companies worldwide are sitting on cash, generating cash, and have the capacity to borrow yet more. But where will it go? The optimistic answer would be into the real economy. The reality is probably into M&A and buybacks.

Apple’s (AAPL-Q629.3210.691.73%) $98-billion (U.S.) pile is emblematic of a growing corporate cash mountain. As of December, the 1,100 non-financial U.S. corporations rated by Moody’s were sitting on record gross cash balances of $1.24-trillion. The credit rating agency’s 360-strong universe of generally larger-cap European non-financial corporates had $872-billion of gross cash at June 2011, just shy of the 2010 record.

At the same time, gearing – net debt to equity – is modest. For European companies it is now at about 30 per cent, a state of affairs not seen since the 1980s, according to Morgan Stanley. About one-third of Europe’s corporates are debt-free.

It’s not hard to see how this happened. Companies went into the crisis with relatively low leverage. When the banking sector froze, they cut borrowing further. Meanwhile, the downturn provided cover to slash operating costs and capital expenditures. With demand propped up by economic stimulus, record profit margins have followed. To cap it all, repressive monetary policy has squashed long-term interest rates, pushing yield-hungry investors into corporate bonds.

Flaherty’s peculiar, unhelpful fixation with McGuinty’s government

Last week, just before he more or less encouraged credit-rating agencies to downgrade Canada’s largest province, Jim Flaherty informed the people running Ontario that they need “to grow up.”

It might be about time for the federal Finance Minister to start following his own advice.

The public sniping between Mr. Flaherty and his provincial counterpart Dwight Duncan has long had the appearance of a dog-and-pony show, with two partisans who get along in private scoring points by attacking each other publicly. But Mr. Flaherty’s behaviour over the past week, which has left some fellow Conservatives shaking their heads, suggests it’s something more serious – a man whose sole preoccupation should be the country’s fiscal and economic well-being, letting his judgment be clouded by resentments dating back to his own time in provincial politics.

Mr. Flaherty’s criticisms of the big-spending ways of the provincial Liberals, delivered more or less daily after Mr. Duncan tabled his budget last Tuesday, carried more than a whiff of vitriol. Dalton McGuinty’s government has variously been described as “sad,” “badly managed,” a “serious problem” for the rest of the country, not worthy of trust, with “no one to blame but themselves” for the current fiscal crunch.

Mr. Flaherty’s views, while not unique, are somewhat compromised by his own record – and not just because federal spending growth under his watch has roughly mirrored what’s happened provincially.

Foreign Affairs budget cuts will start at the top

The exotic image of international jet-setting will give way to the reality of hours spent on public transit to get to work as foreign-service officers move to more distant suburbs and, in some countries, potentially more dangerous neighbourhoods, as part of a plan by Foreign Affairs to save on rents.

Employees at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade received their first briefing on Monday from management outlining what to expect from budget cuts. Other details are still scarce about how Ottawa will reach its 2012 budget target of cutting $5.2-billion a year and eliminating 19,200 public-sector positions.

Led by deputy ministers Morris Rosenberg and Louis Lévesque, officials at the Lester B. Pearson Building headquarters – and diplomats tuning in on closed-circuit feeds from abroad – were told the cuts would start at the top.

The number of assistant deputy ministers will be reduced to eight from 12. Staff were told to expect cutbacks on government cars, and in some cases, longer postings and less pay. (The longer terms would not apply to “hardship” postings of short duration such as Afghanistan and the West Bank.)

Canada will send oil to Asia even if Keystone XL pipeline proceeds, Harper says

WASHINGTON—Prime Minister Stephen Harper upped the ante for the Alberta oilsands Monday, telling a Washington audience that Canadian oil will be heading for Asian markets regardless of whether the United States okays the controversial fuel.

Harper, speaking on the heels of a one-day North American Leaders Summit at the White House, said the mere fact that cancellation of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline is possible leaves Ottawa with no choice but to aggressively pursue other export markets to safeguard Canada’s economic future.

Harper stressed that with U.S. public opinion “pretty overwhelmingly” in favour of Keystone, he remains confident the project to as much as double the southern flow of Alberta bitumen will ultimately win approval from Washington.

“Barack Obama has told me repeatedly this decision will be made on its merits. I have no reason not to believe him,” Harper said during a wide-ranging forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center think-tank in Washington.

Describing Canada as a “captive supplier,” forced to sell oil below market value due to bottlenecks in U.S. infrastructure, Harper said approval of the new pipeline would have no bearing on his government’s decision to look elsewhere for buyers.

York University’s $60 million deal with Jim Balsillie’s think tank cancelled over lack of faculty support

After eight months of controversy, York University has dropped plans for a joint international law program with Jim Balsillie’s think tank, having failed to convince its law professors that academic freedom would be guaranteed.

And the collapse of the deal underscores how tricky public-private partnerships with the Ivory Tower can be, even as Queen’s Park is calling on the private sector to invest more in higher learning.

York officials announced the $60 million deal was off late Monday, just hours after the faculty council of Osgoode Hall law school voted 34 to 7 against working with Balsillie’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) to create 10 research chairs in international law and funding for 20 PhD students. Eight members of the council abstained.

Although the program did not require the approval of York’s blue-chip law school to proceed, York officials said that without Osgoode’s blessing it would make little sense to proceed.

“We’re certainly disappointed; we had made major changes to safeguard academic freedom and integrity but it doesn’t make sense to run an international law program without the participation of one of the leading law schools in the country,” said York vice-president Patrick Monahan on Monday night.

The initiative collapsed despite York’s efforts to address concerns over CIGI’s influence. In particular, the school had agreed to remove the role of a steering committee with two CIGI representatives in the creation of short lists for hiring — something the original deal inked last summer had contained.

Change course or we’ll quit, female members of Rob Ford’s executive say

Both of the female councillors on Mayor Rob Ford’s cabinet-like executive committee say they will quit at the end of the year if Ford does not change his leadership style.

The departure of Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson from the powerful 13-member committee would create an optics problem for the mayor, whose inner circle is dominated by men.

Robinson criticized Ford at length on Monday. She said he lacks a “vision, strategy and plan,” has taken a “last-minute, knee-jerk” and overly ideological approach to issues, has been unwilling to seek consensus, and is prematurely focused on campaigning.

Berardinetti said Ford must demonstrate “improvements in terms of being strategic and being conciliatory,” both qualities she believes are “missing.” She said Ford’s refusal to budge on the budget and on transit, even though compromise would have averted defeats, caused “everything to crystallize” in her mind.

Robinson said she has seen no sign the proudly stubborn Ford is willing to change, though she remains “hopeful.” Berardinetti said “only time will tell,” though she added, with a hint of resignation, that “he has his way of thinking.”

Tories to rejig F-35 purchase as auditor blasts jet procurement

The Harper government is going to overhaul the way it buys next-generation fighters in the face of a spending watchdog’s damning report due Tuesday on the mistakes Ottawa has made so far in acquiring F-35 jets.

The Conservatives will unveil a new procedure for purchasing the planes – including stricter oversight – after Auditor-General Michael Ferguson delivers a harsh review of Ottawa’s record to date, sources say.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Ferguson’s first report as federal Auditor-General is expected to criticize departments, including National Defence, for neglecting to manage the big-ticket acquisition rigorously enough – and for failing to follow rules for major procurements.

The criticism has the Tories scrambling to rescue the Harper government’s reputation for fiscal probity. It was a previous auditor-general’s report after all, on the federal sponsorship scandal, that damaged the former Liberal government’s credibility on financial stewardship.

In response, Ottawa will add a new layer of scrutiny to the massive $9-billion procurement, setting up a secretariat led by the Department of Public Works to monitor and manage the process – one that will be overseen by a committee of deputy ministers.