Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stelmach's response to the Pembina Report

The batting around of numbers in political discourse is an ongoing source of frustration to me, since the context that gives the number relevance is often (or even usually) omitted. This is especially prominent in discussions of economics or economic policy, where to put it crudely there are a lot of numbers to choose from.

For a recent example, and some demystification, I strongly recommend this post by Aaron Braaten on his excellent blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Climate Change Policy Conversation

Just a quick post to share some information.

First of all a link to Jeffrey Simpson's article in today's Globe and Mail regarding Canada's policy toward the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference. To quote -

"Once before, Canada went to a climate-change conference, at Kyoto, and made promises it could not and did not keep. It would appear a repeat performance is in the making. Or, to put things differently: new government, same script."

The article is worth a read.

On a more inormative note a report is now available on the topic from the Pembina Institute/Toronto Dominion Bank/David Suzuki Foundation & can be found here:

For other policy nerds the math which supports the above report, from MK Jaccard & Associates, can be found here:

Thanks to Trish Audette of the Edmonton Journal for pointing me to the links.

Minister Prentice's response to the report was certainly not positive - "The conclusions [the report] draws are irresponsible" - but he hasn't advanced any data or analyses on behalf of the government. It is my profound hope that the government provides us with something more interesting than the obviously empty platitudes that have been advanced for the Copenhagen delegation. I am not wedded to any particular policy at this point, but I have become actively interested in doing research into the sustainability of our current economic models. I would also like to point out that Climate Change, or global warming if you will, is only a small part of the sustainability question. I look forward to a positive program from Minister Prentice at the earliest date!

Globe article on Mr. Prentice's response:

*Late Edit* Read some thoughts on this from Ken Chapman on his blog here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reboot Alberta

In ironic counterpoint to the exasperation of my last point I have booked myself a trip to Red Deer in November to take part in the Reboot Alberta event.

This event has the potential to be a very interesting thing, building on the success of events like Change Camp Edmonton ( and Civic Camp Calgary ( The statement of intent reads "a weekend for Progressive Albertans to spend some time together for creating and exploring a new public policy map for the next Alberta. It will be an open-ended experience for progressive thinking Albertans to consider what their political voice should be in the next Alberta. It will be about how to get the progressive voice heard in the governance and politics of our province."

I am excited to see what develops at the event, especially in terms of finding ways to increase people's day-to-day engagement with their government and the development of good public policy.

Reboot Alberta site:

Ken Chapman (organizer)

Dave Cournoyer (mentions it in his blog)

Off to a Good Start, Apparently

Nice to see that the Alberta Legislature is opening with intelligent and mature debate on the issues. (Sarcasm Alert)

Premier to Brian Mason: "I'll take the word of this nurse [Min. Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any time" (via @davecournoyer and @JProssa)

an obviously unworthy ad-hominem attack, which led to an amusing question via twitter:

@BreakenNews @davecournoyer I wonder why he didn't identify himself as a university drop-out.

Wouldn't it be nice if our elected representatives could keep their eyes on the public-interest ball as opposed to venting their partisan passions on one another?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Security Certificates Extinct?

While catching up on The Economist this morning I found this little article on the failure of Canadian Security Certificates law to pass muster with the courts.

It has been my opinion that the certificates are fundamentally flawed as a legal mechanism, and so their tenuous future is to my mind a good thing. The Anti-Terrorism Act already covers the procedures necessary, and is not an egregious exception to the general practice of our common law. What did catch my attention was the last paragraph, for several reasons.

"This is not a government that admits its mistakes, so there will be no public repudiation of the certificate programme for use in catching terrorists. It will be quietly discarded. But that may not be the last Canadians hear of it. One of the former detainees has publicly mused about suing the government now that he is free."

That summary is, sadly, quite accurate, and the lawsuit will more than likely be successful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stimulus and Partisanship

I had this article brought to my attention this morning:

It is worth diving into the comments section as well, there is some interesting by-play there.

I share the author's serious concerns about the systemic obfuscation regarding the stimulus spending. Whether or not there are partisan abuses of the system is hard to say, given that it is almost impossible to ascertain what money is in fact spent, or committed, and what stage of planning the projects concerned are at. Based on my research there are certainly enough gaps to be concerned, but not enough information to be definitive.

Obviously it is my opinion that this information should be easily and freely available - in as much detail as possible. Sadly this government appears to oppose, as both Conservative and Liberal governments have in the past, free access to public information. What the Harper government has managed, however, is to promote stonewalling to an art form. Given the reform roots and the passionate cries for transparency and grassroots engagement that informed that movement under Mr. Manning it is particularly depressing to see the lengths to which Mr. Harper and his government are going to prevent just such transparency.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Following the Wrong Road

The progress of Bill C-25, which will end the so-called 'two for one credit', though Parliament troubles me. Bill C-25 would end the common practice of giving criminals a two-for-one credit for time served in jail before being sentenced. Instead, the bill would have judges give them a straight credit for time served. The political optics of getting 'tough on crime' in this way are sufficiently obvious that they can be passed over without elaboration.

That said the idea that 'criminals need to be in jail' is both simplistic and incorrect. Obviously I am not talking about serial killers or sexual predators here, and my feelings about things like the Karla Homolka case are undoubtedly very close to the of Minister Van Loan. This class of criminal makes up a tiny percentage of the people brought before our courts, however, and as the exceptions are a truly terrible sample on which to base the rule.

Two issues are problematic with this bill: the lack of costing and the absence of discussion or planning for what this means for our correctional system. Apparently the bill has been costed, but the numbers can not be released because of cabinet confidentiality. This is completely unacceptable - the lawmakers of the land are being asked to vote into law a bill that the government doesn't want them to see the numbers for? Not to mention it is difficult to see how cabinet confidentiality applies in this case, as the bill is an open matter before the house and no national security interests are at issue. That being said data from Statistics Canada indicates that the bill will lead to at least a 10 per cent increase in the federal prison population, and costs well over $100-million a year.

The cost is, of course, just a number. In point of fact it isn't, unless the Cabinet knows something that they don't want us to know, a terribly large number either. More important than the dollar number is the increase in the prison population. What this bill completely fails to discuss is what correctional services across the country are supposed to do with these new inmates, or how to reduce the numbers in the future or prevent recidivism among those convicted of crimes.

Moving beyond the problems I have with the particulars, or more accurately the lack of particulars, are the flawed principles that motivate it. What our government is proposing to do, in a smaller and less explicit way, is to follow the path blazed in the United States over the past 20 years. The process of mandatory sentencing and restrictions on options other than prison has led to a situation where there are now 2.3 million people incarcerated and another 5 million or so on parole or probation in the United States. To put his in perspective approximately one in every 18 men in the United States is behind bars or being monitored - an outcome that simply screams failure.

Restricting the Criminal Justice system's options is not actually helpful, as the administration of justice is as complex as the people the system serves. The government has not made a case that the 'two-for-one' practice is a serious flaw in the system. More importantly this bill strikes me as advancing an agenda of unthinking rigidity in the administration of Justice, the failed results of which are visible south of the border.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Profit, Regulation and Responsibility

The last few years have put several of our economy's weaknesses on prominent display. Lack of basic regulation, excessive lending/borrowing (on the assumption of permanent growth!) and a series of issues with corporate governance have all been themes that have impacted the last few years' recession. This article from Sunday's New York Times discusses a few of the themes as related to private equity firms and the case of Simmons Mattresses. (my thanks to @abraaten for bringing the article to my attention)

It is important to move past the knee-jerk negative reaction to the operations of Equity Firms and other financial sharks - they are an important part of the economic system. That said there are glaring problems with corporate governance and basic regulatory standards revealed in this case study. Make no mistake, I am a great fan of the competitive capitalist model - without pressure from some kind of constraint there is no efficiency in any undertaking. That said there is also no such thing as a completely free market, unless piracy counts I suppose.

The question isn't the false dichotomy of regulation vs. deregulation, the issue is what the details of regulation will be. Fundamental ignorance about the complexity of the system leads to pointless discussions about straw-man issues.

We as Canadians and Americans need to elevate the conversation about our economy, and how societal concerns are expressed in its organization, whether those concerns be environmental, cultural, financial or personal.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Help Alberta's Bears

Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society (CPAWS) has a petition going to Premier Stelmach about protecting our Grizzly bears. Given that they are an umbrella species the fact that last year's census put the adult population at 500, approximately 1/2 of a healthy population, is a serious sign of the challenges facing our foothill and mountain ecosystems.

Sign the petition on the CPAWS website or write a letter to the Premier and your MLA today!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Devolution or Dysfuntion?

I saw this article today and I found it profoundly troubling on several fronts.

Provincial governments are elected based on an avowedly narrow and exclusive mandate - their job is to advance the interests of their population without any requirement for regarding the interests of others. The Alberta government's entire electorate resides in Alberta, after all. Parochialism is also a risk - one has only to look at the Alberta government's ludicris speculation about a provincial cap-and-trade system in years past. It is unrealistic to expect provincial governments, which lack the information, the inclination or the mandate, to develop good national policy.

The dysfunction in Ottawa is the result of Stephen Harper's style of politics, not the minority government system as Roger Gibbons proposes. No compliment should be taken there by the opposition parties, who have also done themselves no credit, but the responsibility lies with the power - on the Harper conservatives. Harper has not proven willing to work with Canada's moderate majority, or with the restrictions and subtlties of Wesminster democracy.

More troublingly Harper does not appear to appreciate the importance of a strong federal government. The actions taken by provincial leaders that Gibbons is lauding are taken to fill a gap left by Harper's weak and divisive leadership. Historically the Premiers' provincial protectionism has been an impediment to progress. The fact that premiers from the former "regions" are beginning to recognize the importance of national standards is a progressive move toward better governance, but certainly not one that indicates a declining role for the national government.

In my view the increasing complexity and scale of the challenges facing Canadians requires increased leadership and engagement from the Federal government. That even the provinces see it and are acting collectively simply damns the absence of leadership from the top, it doesn't point the way to a better future.