Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

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Statistics Lesson

There is absolutely no credibility to Tom Broadbeck’s weekend column bashing the provincial government for it’s deficit. Mr. Broadbeck offers absolutely no context for the numbers that he presents and any figure out of context is meaningless. When I was a very young goaltender, I had a goals against average of 0.02 goals per game. “Wow”, you might say, “that’s spectacular!” Actually, I was horrible. I usually got one or two shots a game and most of them came from far beyond the blue line. That is context. It is information that when missing makes the numbers meaningless or worse totally misrepresentative.

First, let’s look at his deficit claim of $511 million dollars for 2010/11. My research puts it around $545 million but that discrepancy aside, what does it really mean? Below is a chart I compiled of the ten provinces and their shortfalls for the current fiscal period.


Deficit 2010/11 GDP 2011 (est.) Deficit % of GDP
Alberta 4,750,000,000 192,841,000,000 2.46%
British Columbia 1,720,000,000 172,369,000,000 1.00%
Manitoba 545,000,000 44,551,000,000 1.22%
New Brunswick 749,000,000 24,422,000,000 3.07%
Newfoundland 194,000,000 19,937,000,000 0.97%
Nova Scotia 222,000,000 29,982,000,000 0.74%
Ontario 19,700,000,000 542,545,000,000 3.63%
PEI 55,000,000 4,353,000,000 1.26%
Quebec* 4,500,000,000 281,675,000,000 1.60%
Saskatchewan** -20,000,000 19,937,000,000 n/a




TOTAL 32,415,000,000 1,332,612,000,000 2.43%









*Includes $8.3 billion in HST Federal Transfers
** Budget only shows surplus because Saskatchewan dipped into it’s “Rainy Day Fund”)

As a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) it is only 1.22 percent. That debt to output ratio is pretty good. It puts us in fourth place out of the ten provinces and well below the national average. In some further research also found that as a percentage of provincial revenue, we are also in fourth place. Frankly, that’s not too shabby for our small prairie province. What Mr. Broadbeck also doesn’t tell you is that “the province’s out-of-control” deficit is actually lower this year then last and though 2014 is expected to continue to fall. To give even more information to work with, here’s what RBC’s economic evaluation for June 2011 had to say:

Carried by a wave of capital investment and solid demand for
the products and services produced in their province, Alberta, Saskatchewan,
and Manitoba are set to achieve above-average growth this year.

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial (link below)

Economic growth means more revenue. More revenue allows more spending. No provincial government nor the federal is running in the black right now. That’s to be expected when there is an economic downturn. If the price to achieve solid economic growth is running a deficit a little over one percent of our GDP, who in their right mind would argue that?

Context. What the column likes to bring in as some sort of counterpoint to the deficit claim is a 10.8% increase in spending from 2009 to 2011. Without the a comparison to revenue it’s just a number. My very rough calculations put a revenue increase of nearly 7% over the same period. So there is a real difference of less then 4%. Coming out of a global recession is that so horribly bad?

No.

It’s quite good actually.

Endnotes:

NDP Say: Charge It! – Winnipeg Sun — Saturday, July 9, 2011 – http://www.winnipegsun.com/2011/07/09/ndp-say-charge-it

Most provinces in deficit position – CBC News – Monday, May 3, 2010 – http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2010/04/29/f-provincial-deficits.html

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial — http://www.rbc.com/economics/market/pdf/provfcst.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2009 – http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget09/papers/r_and_e.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2011 –http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget11/papers/r_and_e.pdf

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The Sun News Network–Can They Complain Any More?

Sadly, the answer is probably yes.

The latest whining  over the CBC getting exclusive broadcasting rights to the Parliament Hill Canada Day celebrations. The reality is, the CBC is the most logical choice to broadcast party on the hill. They are the network that is available to most Canadians absolutely free. No other network has the reach that the CBC has. Sun News isn’t even on every major digital supplier. The fact is, the Sun Network could have bid for the rights but chose not to. It suits their mandate to not try and then claim that the CBC has an unfair advantage. Just like CTV has an unfair advantage because of Bell’s ownership of them and ExpressVu. Let’s get our facts straight on that controversy – Bell did not say they wouldn’t carry Sun, they just chose not to pay what QMI wanted to charge.

This, my Sun News friends, is what is called a free-market economy. Exactly what your columnists and commentators beg for day in and day out. Apparently unless it doesn’t work out in your favour. Al Jazeer is paid for and Bell chose to pay what Al Jazeer asked. If they don’t want to pay your price, who are you to ask the CRTC intervene? Day one of your broadcast, I listened to your very own Ezra Levant scream at the top of his free speech, free market, keep the CRTC out of my TV choices lungs. The government has no business regulating what should be a free market. Ezra has been strangely silent on the topic lately.

Say what you want about the CBC, they are a successful player in the Canadian media landscape. There is always room for improvement and exactly what and how that looks can be debated but they seem to have found a balance between expressing a Canadian identity and remaining commercially viable. CTV / TSN won the rights for the Olympics for the foreseeable future and they did it bidding against the publically funded CBC. The story is the same for the Canadian Football. Oh, I’m sorry, that’s Bell again and their unfair advantage. The advantage being that they are actually successful.

And seriously, stop calling the CBC a “state broadcaster”. State broadcasters are those that are solely there to promote the state’s agenda. The CBC clearly is not such an entity. CBC’s reporters were regularly frustrated with the Harper government’s conduct during the election. In fact the news organization that seemed to have a Conservative slant to it was the Sun News Network. This included some questionable inside information and a former Conservative advisor on the executive payroll. Be careful when you throw that state moniker around, you never know where it might end up sticking.

Sun is a latecomer to the playing field and that is the real disadvantage they face. Asper tried to build a third national network and we know how that has finally ended up. Added to that is an utter lack of intelligent content. Commentators without sleeves are acceptable. Commentators without apparent skill or knowledge are not. Krista Ericson likes to say that she has finally found a place that “lets her be her”. Well the CBC was happy to let Krista go – her first trip to Ottawa with the “state broadcaster” she felt it was kosher to feed questions to the opposition. This is the kind of talent that Sun felt fit their model – at best, inexperienced and sloppy. She continues to show that ignorance daily. To the Sun family that ignorance is referred to as “taking a side”. The only side they normally end up on is that of the lowest common denominator.

I was honestly hoping for some genuine debate when Sun came on the scene. Unfortunately, there has been little to argue save Sun’s attacks on the established media that amount to little more then whining because they don’t get their way. Sun is just the new bully on the playground that no one wants to play with.

Saving Winnipeg’s History Through the NHL Invasion

Avenue Building, currently being restored. The sign should be part of that restoration.

The keepers of Britannia’s ancient history were the Druid religious leaders. The Roman empire was known to be one of the most religiously tolerant in all of history but the Druids were known for human sacrifice and that was one practice that Rome could not allow. With that as justification, Caesar systematically wiped out virtually all evidence that they existed and with them most of the now unknown history of the island. With the invasion by Rome came trade and culture. With the devastation came technology and the political structure that eventually allowed Britain to become the power that it did. It was because of the invasion that Britain grew in stature much quicker then it would have otherwise. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the history if the original inhabitants was lost forever.

The vision for Winnipeg’s downtown core can finally be seen. It wasn’t just Portage Place. It wasn’t just the MTS Centre. It wasn’t any one project or development. It was and is all of them. Mistakes were made in the early attempts to revive the core. As seen in the closing of Portage and Main to pedestrians and blunders with Webb place, the focus was to move people as quickly as possible. No one is to blame as this was the prevailing theory of urban planning at the time. It is now known that to keep a neighbourhood alive the key is not to move people efficiently through it, but rather to slow them down and give them a reason to stop. This includes residential projects and a mix of commercial activity from huge well known companies to small, unique shops that can be found no where else. Good food and companionship is important so a variety of eateries and cafes are vital. These elements must then come together to create coherent atmosphere.

Already evident is a flurry of commercial activity as a direct result of the return of the NHL to the city. Businesses that once shunned the downtown as a crime-ridden slum are now racing to find a way to cash in. In this there is as much opportunity to save the history of the city as there is to lose it. Investors, especially those from outside of the community, will be happy to profit from the attention a new downtown location can give them. They will be the first to leave if times get tough. This makes all the more important that each new proposal is scrutinized with extreme care to ensure that it has the best long-term interests of the community as a whole at heart.

Port Hope Ontario is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear vision and determination not only retain historical character but to celebrate it. In the spring 1980 a huge portion of the town’s business district was wiped out when the Ganaraska River became a destructive monster. Seizing what could have meant the virtual end of the downtown as a successful destination, the town embarked on an ambitious plan to reform their main street into a walk into the town’s past. This didn’t mean the there would be no new ventures but that the investors were encouraged to re-create their businesses with the appearance they might have had a century earlier. The atmosphere and continuity created was a huge success. The flood itself is now commemorated with a festival that just celebrated it’s thirtieth successful year.

We have seen this work in Winnipeg. There is no better example then the Red River College Princess Street Campus. The facades of the existing historic buildings were meticulously maintained while inside is an extremely modern and functional facility. We need to be prepared look at every new development downtown with a defined vision. As a community we cannot allow our history to be lost in exchange for a quick rebuild. Anyone who wants to come in and be a part of the vision can be sought out and encouraged.

The legions are in their ships and crossing the channel. We cannot stop them, nor do we want to. The only successful way to negotiate will be from a confident position of power – power that will be defined by the clarity of that position.

Would be Caesars:  Will we praise or mourn your arrival?

Disaster Politics

So the provincial Conservatives will be going hard at the incumbent NDP MLA’s over perceived flood botched flood response. Comments asking those affected to compare themselves to victims of other disasters was a horrible thing to do – true or not. All of that aside, only a desperate party would use a natural disaster to try and gain power.

When it comes to water, Manitoba is full. It really does not matter what was done, someone was going to suffer. Perhaps the Conservatives would like to return to the days when there was no control systems in place? To the situations like the 1997 flood of the century or worse. These are water levels not seen in at least 350 years. Hugh McFadden can spout all he wants about what he calls mistakes but he produces no expert to dispute the actions of the government. He can only echo the cries of the rightfully upset victims and try to give credibility to a few “what if’s” and “maybe’s” . If only the decision was made to lower the lever of Lake Manitoba earlier. Maybe there didn’t need to be a deliberate breach. We can all be arm-chair water drainage experts and claim we could have done better but I certainly don’t have any proof to back it up. Neither does anyone in the provincial Conservative party.

I absolutely support any and all efforts to return all this year’s flood victims to as close to where they were before as possible, but we must be realistic. First homes and businesses need to be given priority. Summer residences and cottages, not so much. More importantly, the opportunity to learn from this must not be allowed to pass. As nice as lakefront beach houses are, there is a risk assumed with that as assuredly as if the home was built on the side of a mountain in an earthquake or avalanche prone area of the world. That known risk is unfortunately part of the cost of building there.

I can see the demonizing ads now. Two elections ago it was crime. Overall crime rates were and are still falling. (Don’t believe what you read in the Sun.) There was a guy – the stereotypical criminal – trying to scare the elderly into voting for a Conservative government. Who will the Conservatives use this time? Perhaps a caricature of Mother Nature? Fortunately for the NDP, governments rarely change when things are going well.  The economy in Manitoba is growing and is stable. Things have been managed well through the recession and while that is little comfort for the flood victims, their anger alone won’t be enough for a Conservative victory.

And don’t forget …

It was under Howard Pawley that we lost the Jets and he was kicked out the very next year. NHL hockey is back and after that first pro puck drops, nothing else will really matter. The Manitoba NDP will be one of the first to reap the benefits come October.

Senseless Sensitivity

The war on drugs has been a failure. The war on the sex trade wasn’t so much as declared but the result has been the same. The similarities between the two industries are as evident as they are disturbing to the general public. Society judges the participants not as distinct players within an economy but as a morally depraved stereotype. The moral high ground is always claimed by the political right and any transgressions within their own ranks is seen as an aberration. The exception to their steadfast belief in their own blessed superiority.

Prohibition was an utter failure. Our hindsight allows us to see that not only was it so, it led to the rise of organized crime as a financial powerhouse. This is a simple matter of supply and demand. There was a demand for alcohol and when it could not be legally supplied, organizations stepped in to fill the demand at a premium. This is the same situation with illegal drugs and the sex-trade. Now drugs are substances that are addictive. Even when not in a physical sense they can become so psychologically. Just as alcohol. Sex can be the same kind of escape for someone suffering from loneliness or depression. More then that though, it is in our most primal nature to seek it out. As with most animals, we will often fulfill our carnal desires at all costs. Threats of legal consequences, disease, financial ruin and social devastation do little to curb libidos. When a person is well adjusted, we can consciously but these needs into perspective but it often only requires a tiny insecurity, weakness or perceived entitlement to allow someone to succumb to the instinct.

This is evolutionary programming. We are driven to be content and happy. When the body, devoid of wisdom and moral guidance needs something, it finds a way to get it. This is not by any means an attempt to justify bad behaviour but is a reality that needs to be addressed. Unless this dynamic is understood, any attempt to control the distribution of these products and services will fail.

North American society has a foundation in puritanism and religious moral education. It was part of the early mandates of the churches to provide education in all things, not the least of which was the difference between right and wrong. It is difficult to separate morality from religion and have a system of tolerant justice. The thought of prostitution is a biblically offensive. Illegal drug users are weak, immoral beings. Only when we separate from the issues the religious and societal stigmas associated with them, there can be no effective attack.

For illegal drugs, there needs to be a focus on curing the addictions and fostering environments that lessen the conditions of mental illness and poverty that led to them. Help from the bottom and severely punish the top of the drug industry. Only by curbing demand will the industry become less profitable. It will be foolish to ever think that this is a winnable war. We can only hope to win battles and move on. Punishing the addicted users only moves them into hiding or to prison. Neither of which will stop them from getting their drugs – only get it out of sight of the public and out of our minds.

The sex-trade is much the same. Dealing with it means accepting that we can never completely get rid of it. Best we can do is draw our lines and stick to them. Address the real problems with the business – exploitation, unsanitary, unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and all of the pitfalls that plague both the users and suppliers. Move it out into the open. Make it permissible only in monitored and publically known facilities. Have the workers registered and tested for STD’s. Unlike an illegal operation where authorities need a warrant to search a location, health officials and police can regularly inspect registered public businesses. Much like in the case of safe injection sites for intravenous drugs, services can be made available to those who want to both get out of the business or want address the reasons they feel the need to use the services. Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Various codes of morality have been unsuccessfully imposed on it over thousands of years. Again, the key is to focus resources where they can actually do some good. Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is not actually illegal in Canada. It is against the law to profit from prostitution, to run a bawdy house or to openly advertise the service. The act it self does not break any law. What I propose is to make the dangerous practices illegal. Exploitation of anyone is already a criminal offense. Operation of an unsanitary business is also prosecutable. Point is, the nasty side of prostitution is already against the law. Having the business operate under the light of day will make it easier to address.

The moral high ground is to save lives and make society healthier as a whole and only out in the open cab that truly be done. Hidden habits and chosen ignorance will only be to the benefit of illegal operations and allow them to flourish. Open control will allow for the issues to be seen and dealt with. What stops us is only the prevailing aversion to actually admitting these are economic systems as opposed to purely moral transgressions. It offends us. It scares us. So we choose to demonise them in their entirety allowing us to definitively separate ourselves from the dark muck – from the parts of ourselves we all like to pretend don’t exist.

We need to get over it.

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Practical Socialism — Part Two

I wanted to continue with my thoughts on what is a new breed of socialism in Canada. The federal NDP will be voting on a resolution to remove the word socialism from the party’s constitution this weekend but in no means does that signal the end of the left. Contrarily, it will help to ensure it’s continued prosperity.

In North America, socialism is a frightening word. It’s mere mention brings up irrational connections with communism, Marxism and the totalistic Red Scare of the cold war. I have to admit that I was inspired by Monte Solberg’s commentary for the Ottawa Sun. (Who’s afraid of the NDP? Me! – June 13, 2011 — {LINK} ) The most enlightening aspect of his piece is that for all of the attempts to horrify the reader, I actually found it supportive of the causes the NDP is fighting for. This is utterly amusing.

The New Democrats want to severely limit the interest on credit card debt. This is to help reverse the trend of working people piling up more debt then they can ever pay off. In an interview on Sun TV, Mr. Solberg went so far as to say that this would prevent people getting credit in the first place. This is part of the point. Talk to any debt councillor and they will tell you that the worst issue they have to contend with is companies offering credit to those who in their current financial state, shouldn’t be approved. This is a good thing. Large interest rates on store credit cards and quick convenience store loans are there to compensate for the percentage of bad debt the lenders know they are in store for. It makes much more sense in the long term to not extend bad credit at all. These extended-period, mega-interest monies are usually for unneeded items that to the debtor offer a little short-term gratification. There are cases were this credit is being used for necessities and that is a even bigger issue altogether.

The same goes for cell phones and the fairness measures that the NDP wants to institute. Tempting customers with the latest smart phone and giving to them free for signing a 3-year contract is virtually usury and extortion. In a sensible world consumers should pay for their hardware upfront and then they can come and go as they please. For basic communication, less expensive phones can always be available. This is yet another debt trap that consumers can do without.

Bill Maher likens conservative philosophy to a religion; no matter how much damning evidence may be put in front of them, a conservative continues to have faith in their standard policies. The belief that cutting the taxes of the rich creates jobs and prosperity is just such case. The eight years G. W. Bush was in power were the least productive in the U.S.’s history. With all of the corporate tax-cutting and Wall Street pandering the economy there only netted three million jobs. At the same time, the US federal government nearly doubled it’s debt. It likely won’t happen but the American Government is but weeks away from defaulting on it’s treasury bonds. How can this policy and it’s forced continuation be seen as successful? Yet, it is the model that our own Conservative government wants to follow. Will higher tax rates lead to some corporations leaving Canada? Yes. If a corporation does not wish to be a part of our social structure then it is a taker and is welcome to leave.

Monte Solberg is taking up the cause of the big banks, big telecom and big oil. These are the most profitable sectors in our economy. Show me a major player in any of these fields that even came close to any kind of economic calamity. Can you say the same of your family and neighbours? These companies don’t need government help to make a profit.

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Practical Socialism

I have always been what I like to call a “practical socialist”. To me this is an important distinction and is one I saw the party edging towards in the past election. Those who want to vilify the NDP from both the left and the right are accusing the party of becoming more “Liberal”. Now that’s with a capital “L”. In truth the NDP has always been “liberal” and that’s with a small “l”. What is really happening is a move towards a practical centre.

As a youth I might have originally embraced the Liberal Party but long before any public sponsorship scandal I was privy to some of the nasty inner workings of that party. As I grew older I joined the NDP because I was convinced that there was a higher moral standard within the party and while not perfect, happily I was right. I am anti-Liberal not because all of their ideas are wrong but because the party is corrupt. I am anti-Conservative for the same reason AND their ideas are wrong. I don’t and never have supported every policy the NDP puts forward but I do support the core ideals, principles and priorities.

The key word is priorities. One of the most logical statements I heard Jack Layton make during the last election was when he was asked about better funding for post-secondary education. The NDP would make it a priority to help students get their education “as funds and the economy allows”. That is a practical commitment. Not a promise that may or may not be able to be kept given economic conditions. That is what I think voters started to tune in to and will continue to identify with.

Socialism is an ambiguous word — as is liberalism and conservatism. It will always be true that a party considered in the extremes of any ism is unlikely to ever gain power in a rational society. Exceptions of course made in the case in crisis or revolution and then you typically find one extreme replacing another. The Reform Party and the Alliance had to come towards the centre and become the less threatening and more familiar Conservative party. Realistically, the same will happen with the NDP. This will anger the groups like the socialist caucus within the party but (I hope) they will still be welcome and will stay.

What I have always appreciated is that I am allowed to have a different opinion within the NDP and that opinion has been respected and valued. That doesn’t mean there aren’t rules at election time and that I would undermine a democratically chosen candidate. During a campaign it’s time to put small differences aside and fight for the common good. When that’s done I continue with the debate and discussion.

A good example of this is the fact that I believe in a reformed senate and not it’s abolishment. I agree, however, that in it’s current form it is deeply flawed and should have no say in my governance. There should be a second body of elected legislators with a different mandate from the Commons to assure certain balances. I’m allowed to feel that and if given the chance I would champion my ideas for consideration but I support decisions made by the party as a whole.

Honestly this legitimate move towards the centre while maintaining the core beliefs is a good thing. Within a global market economy it is impossible to govern any other way. A left-leaning party with a deep social conscience is an achievable and worthy goal.

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