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

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.

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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New Jack City? … or “How To Sell A Tabloid 101”

An Analysis of the June 8, 2011 Winnipeg Sun Lead Story

Wow.

I must live in the most dangerous city in the world. How do I do it? I mean, and survive?

The Winnipeg Sun loves a good crime story and today is just that – a story. Pumped up by “Angry” Tom Broadbeck’s opinion that the responsibility for crime lies entirely with the provincial NDP in Manitoba. The Sun is a great believer in the “shock and awe” school of journalism. What that means is that they pick a single statistic and / or an example of a horrible crime to fit their agenda. Today’s rag is no exception.

PAGE 1

Headline: “NEW JACK CITY” and a photo “illustration” of a man being dragged from his car. Basically a catch-phrase and a dramatization intended to shock readers in believing that this is such a common crime that they caught it on film. Problem is, they didn’t. The “illustration” is just that. It could have been drawn by a fantasy artist. It’s not even based on an actual incident. It “illustrates” something close to a worse case scenario. As long as you’re into fictionalizing the news boys, hire some effects artists and get some fake blood. Just saying — you’re not even doing a good job at doing a bad job.

PAGE 4

Don’t open with any sort of thought. Oh no … that might allow a reader to think. Open with the heart-wrenching story of a woman who was carjacked in 2009. The story is tragic as are all the stories of victims. My heart goes out to each and every one. But as for value in a news item it has little. This is what anyone teaching high school level statistics calls anecdotal. It’s good for raising a reader’s blood pressure but serves no other purpose. But there are some real numbers so let’s not leave them out.

In the middle of the page there is a chart that shows the stats for car-jacking incidents from 2004 through 2010. There are many problems with said chart. First, what does it actually refer to? Reported carjackings? Attempted? Failed? There’s more to simple numbers then meets the eye. Also, what was happening before 2004? Was the trend rising or falling? Is this just a statistical blip? We have no way of knowing. Any real analysis needs a much bigger picture then  six years. The chart starts in 2004 at 13, 2005 – 25 (+12), 2006 – 37 (+12) 2007 – 50 (+13). Then in 2008 it drops to 38, spikes at 59 in 2009 and back to 49 in 2010.1

Now, the Sun wants you to believe that we can blame the MPI car immobilizer program for the rise in carjackings. There’s one problem with that and their own chart shows it – the immobilizer program began in 2007. If the rise in incidents had even continued at even the same pace after the program as it had been before then the number for 2010 should have been much higher. From 2004 to 2007 the number increased by 37. If I add 37 to the 2007 number, it adds up to 87, not 49. The chart clearly shows that the numbers were increasing more rapidly BEFORE the immobilizer program. If you were to actually plot a curve for the average rate of increase, it has been dropping since 2007. I will state again, that is since the MPI started the program. All that aside, blaming MPI for this crime is like blaming me for my neighbour getting robbed because I installed a better lock on my door. It just doesn’t make any sense.

PAGE 5

Oh Tom. What ever happened to you to make you so angry? I’ll say your angry because it seems to cloud your judgement so often. Today, you followed your paper’s pattern to the letter. You opened your column with the story of a car-jacking. Again, while I’ll assume it’s a true story, it’s anecdotal. To that was added another art-project “Illustration”. Your theory is that to stop crime, put all criminals behind bars longer. That doesn’t work and there’s evidence to back it up. You just delay the inevitable. They will get out eventually and they will commit crimes. Whether it be five years or ten years of twenty years down the road. You (and your aging readers) just hope to keep them in long enough that you won’t have to deal with it. Crime itself is an economic system. Just like any other economic system, as long as there is a demand, someone will attempt to supply. Throw away a criminal and another will take his place. The threat of punishment has been shown unequivocally not to deter. Shut down an avenue of supply and criminals will find another. Why? Because it makes economic and social sense to do so. The only real solution is to make crime unattractive and unprofitable and to replace it with something that is more so.

In 1989 Italy released all offenders with less then three years remaining on their sentences. These criminals were effectively given “suspended” sentences for the remainder of their time. The longer the time remaining, the longer the threatened punishment and the more effective the threat was. With an important exception – dangerous criminals. The threat had no effect whatsoever on the most dangerous offenders.2 Would carjackers be considered dangerous? I would think so.

Let’s look at the most extreme deterrence – death. In the United States, numbers consistently show that murder rates in states without the death penalty are invariably lower then in states with the death penalty. Violence begets violence.3 

A huge 1997 report from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland to the United States Congress4  (which was largely ignored) looked at every possible crime prevention technique. In the end, there was no correlation between the threat of longer sentences and lowering the crime rate. In fact, the states with the highest incarceration rates and the stiffest sentences remained the states with the highest crime rates. This report looked at decades of data from hundreds of sources. I’m afraid Tom, that six years of stats from one crime doesn’t quite cut it. All columnists should be required to do a little research before they decide that they know what’s best for the criminal justice system. It’s easy to yell and scream and demand vengeance. It takes thought and deliberate planning to actually try and solve a problem.

Overall, crime rates have been falling steadily since the early 90’s and even violent crimes that were lagging behind in their secession have levelled off.5 Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell ad space. One bold headline spouting a half-truth apparently does.

I’m not a “bleeding-heart liberal” mind you. I actually support harsh penalties for harsh crimes. I believe that violent repeat offenders that don’t show remorse or change in behaviour should rarely see the light of day. What I don’t believe is that this will actually lower crime rates. Crime is power, power will fill a void. To tackle crime you have to deal with the reasons the crime is happening. The social causes. The economic need. Youth turn to gangs and crime because they see no other direction to go. As distorted as this view may be, in their minds it is reality. No threat of incarceration or even capital punishment will change that. The same university report mentioned above specifically looked at “scared straight” programs were at risk youth were given a chance to see what life incarcerated was really like and there was shown little effect on the rates of offending for these youth. Right or wrong, the criminals believe that the risk is worth the possible pay-off and that anything that happens can’t be worse then how they perceive their life is now.6

Ask any medical professional and they will tell you that the best way to prevent an infection is to not have conditions that foster it’s growth in the first place. In risky situations be sure to wash your hands and be careful not to cross-contaminate. Crime as a disease is no different. Clean the environment and build up resistance through the development of the community as a whole. Don’t ignore an issue as they are like wounds in this analogy – prone to deadly outbreaks if left alone. Separation from the infected area (amputation) is only a last resort.

Finally, the tabloid media has to take some of the blame for making crime cool. It’s how to get noticed. Want to be on the front page of the Sun? Commit a crime. Do some good for the community and Laurie Mustard gives you a paragraph on page six.

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Works Cited:

1 The Winnipeg Sun, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – Pg. 2 (Source: Winnipeg Police Service?)

2 C. Montaldo, Do Stiffer Sentences Act as a Crime Deterrent?, About.com Crime / Punishment (Original Italian study published in the Journal of Political Economy)

3 Deterrence: States Without the Death Penalty Have Had Consistently Lower Murder Rates, Death Penalty Information Centre (With data from the US Census and the FBI)

4,6 Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D., MacKenzie, D., Eck, H., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S.
(1997). Preventing Crime: What works, what doesn’t work, what’s promising. National
Institute of Justice. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.org/works/

5 Statistics Canada, Exploring Crime Patterns in Canada, (2005) Catalogue no. 85-561-MWE2005005

Positive Politics

HocPeople don’t change their political stripes very often. There will always be the protest votes and those who have no permanent affiliation but of those that make a consistent party choice, that choice rarely varies. Only two overall factors can affect change –one is negative and the other is positive. The latter has the ability to be much more long-lasting and should be preferred.

Major Scandal

The scandal must be big and it must be verifiable. It also must have credible connections to the upper echelon of party leadership. This is where the idea of plausible deniability comes into play coupled with overall responsibility. The Liberal sponsorship affair is just such an example. There were links to Prime Minister Chrétien and his own riding and such blatant pork-barrelling that nation and especially Quebec severely punished the Liberal party. Then finance minister Paul Martin was caught in a no win situation. Either he knew about the misappropriations and he was guilty or he didn’t and he was incompetent. We all know that those MP’s in government tend to get more attention for their ridings but this is not usually as much political as it is a result of being “in the loop”. The governing party has the resources and the clout to get things done. It just means that if you do have a non-government MP in your riding that is still accomplishing things, hang on to that MP. He or she has somehow found the respect and or the connections to get things done from outside the inner circle and that is pretty amazing. All that being said, former senator Larry Smith learned very quickly that even if this truth is the norm, we don’t want a campaign based on it. Everyone knows politics are what they are – just don’t be a jackass about it.

Back room stories of alleged visits to shady businesses don’t sway the population. Even a convicted fraudster in your staff doesn’t tend to be the weapon over-zealous pundits would want it to be. Look deep enough into the backgrounds of any group you will find something you don’t like and political parties are certainly no exception. They are large organizations and the voters are smart enough to know that the actions of one don’t necessarily represent all. Eventually a large number of smaller issues can build up but it’s only when the minor transgressions demonstrate a systematic issue with the party itself that an electorate will take any discernable action.

An Exciting Vision

Promoting fear of some calamity whether real or imagined only serves to rally the supporters you already have. Calling into question the “hidden agenda” of your opponent usually flops. In Canada, any personal attack is usually ignored. Pulling ancient quotes from YouTube, while fun doesn’t discredit any current policy statements effectively. Politics are fluid. What the media labels a “flip-flop” might be a genuine change in policy based on a new reality or in light of new information. I don’t trust a politician that speaks in absolutes.  There are certain moral and ethical exceptions but in terms of policy “never” is a dangerous word. Ignatieff learned that when he categorically ruled out the idea of a coalition. For all of the rhetoric, in the end only Conservatives feared a Liberal/NDP Coalition. Canada was likely fine with it. What voters did not like was his choice to not consider it.

What the NDP did right in the 2011 election was rise above the slop that was being slung and offered something new. Actually, just something that had not been seen in a long time. Jack Layton remained focused on his policies and his ideas. Whether a voter agreed with those ideas or not was not what made the campaign work. The story that Ignatieff had worked in the United States or Britain didn’t matter to Canadians. The debate over fighter jets didn’t matter. We need jets and they will be expensive – move on. What was important was not what New Democrats were against but what they were for. As much as the other parties wanted Canadians to believe that the NDP platform was based on fantasy, Layton was very clear on how the ideas were to be accomplished. It was about prioritizing and not about fixing everything overnight. Healthcare, education and the general wellbeing of Canadians. Positive messaging delivered by a trusted and dynamic individual. To be sure he got his legitimate shots in towards the other leaders but they were usually fact based and never about the opponents’ personalities.

I sincerely hope that this will mark the end of American style mud-slinging in Canadian politics. It serves no legitimate purpose and has poisoned Parliament itself. It is time for all Honourable Members, all parties and all Canadians to limit political debate to real issues. The tabloid editorialists can continue pandering to the lowbrow tantrums of the angry. They are free to do so and I need a good laugh every once and a while. I prefer rational and stable forums for the sensible argument of political ideas.

Now that we have seen the example of what can be it is time to demand it of all politicians and their organizations. Hold them accountable for not only what they say but for how they behave in the House of Commons. If I want to hear partisan screaming matches I’ll go to a hockey game.

NDP Rally Winnipeg 2011

NDP Rally held at the Aboriginal and Metis Friendship Centre – April 27, 2011

Youth1

NDP Youth

Happy Jack - CC

Jack Layton & Supporters

Pooh Corner Crop and Fix

The Candidate for Pooh Corner

Free Press Truck

NDP Sense of Humour ….

NDP Pride

NDP Pride

Chalk Revolution

The Revolution will be Written in Chalk