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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

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Dollars and debt

Clever graph people are having fun over at BlogsCanada elections e-Group looking at the Federal Debt and trying to figure out if Martin tamed the beast or if he simply got lucky and had the advantage of the fiscal pain the Mulroneyites inflicted.

I am something of an agnostic. I am inclined to think the situation the Conservatives inherited from the Liberals meant they had no choice but to bring revenues in line with expenditures. But I also note that inflation and interest rates declined through the 1990s.

In the course of reading about this I ran across the very useful Fiscal Reference Tables published as part of each year's federal budget. I would put up the whole thing but formating it would take a month.

Here is the key:

net public debt charge 16,164 million
As a percentage of public revenue 31.9
As a percentage of public expenditure 21.2

net public debt charge 38,227 million
As a percentage of public revenue 38.7
As a percentage of public expenditure 30.0

net public debt charge 44,063 million
As a percentage of public revenue 37.6
As a percentage of public expenditure 30.6

net public debt charge 37,468 million
As a percentage of public revenue 24.0
As a percentage of public expenditure 27.0

net public debt charge 30,413 million
As a percentage of public revenue 21.0
As a percentage of public expenditure 21.8

There are a couple of observations to make. First, economic growth, a reduction in inflation and the bank rate combined with increased tax revenues have brought the debt to a managable level. Second, we are still spending 30 billion a year on the debt hangover. Third, no finance minister could allow debt service to continue at the 90/91 or 95/96 levels.

Politically neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have anything to be terribly proud of. But the Liberals have, at least, not pissed the increased federal revenue entirely away.

The difference between 95/96 and 02/03 is 14 billion a year. That is a lot of MRI machines.

Why Bombing the Serbs was a good idea

Nearly nine years after the event, Bosnia's Serbian leadership has admitted responsibility for the massacre of at least 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.

A 42-page report, commissioned by Bosnia's Serb Republic and made public Friday, admits for the first time that police and army units under the government's control "participated" in the massacre, which took place in July 1995.


The killings, viewed as the worst atrocity committed in Europe since World War II, were part of a final push by Bosnia's Serb leadership to create an "ethnically pure" Serbian state. The massacre provoked international revulsion and ultimately helped prompt United States and European leaders to intervene and bring an end to the three-year-long conflict.
Once in a while, usually too late, the West gets it right.


Kate over at Shotgun posted:
A story you won't find on the CBC. (I'll admit I haven't checked).
UN inspectors: Saddam shipped out WMD before war and after

The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.
Now I have to admit that I have never seen the World Tribune as a reliable source. So I went looking. You can find the report of UNMOVIC here. Irritatingly in PDF.

What it dhows is that prohibited weapons were shipped out of Iraq and some have been found in scrapyards in Holland. This, along with the Sarin find, is gradually chipping away at the idea that Saddam did not have WMD's. But, as Kate points out, you have to seach hard to find any mention of it in the mainstream press.

The Federal Debt

Ian Welsh at Tilting at Windmills has some revealing charts up detailing the rise and fall (well, sort of) of the Canadian Federal Debt. As most people know, the debt started to fall when the Liberals began to run surpluses in 1998.

What is missing from these very useful graphs are two other key numbers: the inflation rate and the bank rate.

A good deal of the reason why the national debt began to decline lies in the Conservative Government's decision in the late 1980's and early 1990's that beating inflation was to be the government's top priority. Combined with the Bank of Canada's willingness to use interest rates to reduce inflationary pressure, inflation came under control in the mid 1990's.

The effect on the debt numbers is significant. First, many of the government's transfer payments to both individuals and provinces were indexed to CPI. And, of course, simply keeping the federal government operating meant, during periods of high inflation, increasing operating funds to at least match inflation.

As well, as the government is in the financial markets selling bonds to finance the debt, interest rate rises increase the cost of debt service.

Arguably, the surpluses achieved under the most recent Liberal governments reflected very little more than the radical reduction of inflation and the concurrent reduction in the government's cost of borrowing.

Little wonder Martin is wary of running on his record as a deficit buster.

[cross posted at Shotgun]


More from Pew

Asked about their news use on a typical day ("yesterday"), just under a quarter of Americans (24%) say they went online for the news. That compares with 60% who watched TV news on the previous day; 42% who say they read a newspaper; and 40% who listened to news on the radio. About the same number of people say the read a magazine the previous day (25%) as went online for news.

In addition, people spend far less time in getting the news online on a typical day than they do getting news from traditional sources. About half of Americans (51%) say they spent at least a half-hour watching TV news the previous day; roughly a quarter say they spent at least a half-hour reading the newspaper (26%) and listening to radio news (25%). Just 7% say they spent that much time getting the news online.

In part, these differences reflect the unique role the Internet plays in daily life. While television and radio are sources of entertainment as well as news, the Internet also serves as a means of communication, a research tool and a virtual shopping center. Nearly as many Americans watched a news program on TV yesterday (60%) as watched any other kinds of non-news programming (63%). But when it comes to the Internet, fully 47% say they went online the previous day, but only half as many (24%) got news when they were there. More people say they emailed a friend or relative the previous day (28%) than went online for news.

Old Media death watch

This has been all over the blog world but worth noting:
Beyond politics, news habits are being subtly shaped by some basic preferences and attitudes toward the news. About half (52%) like to get the news at regular times while nearly as many (46%) are "news grazers," who check in on the news from time to time. Grazers are younger, less dedicated to the news, and have an eclectic news diet.

The age gap in newspaper readership continues to widen. Six-in-ten Americans age 65 and older say they read a newspaper on a typical day, compared with just 23% of those under age 30.
I suspect the numbers are similar in Canada.

The point is that there has been a shift comparable to that from print to television and that shift is age skewed. Newspapers as we know them are leaving. Not quickly, but going none the less.

However, I suspect that television as a mass meduim will also shuffle out the door as really highspeed internet and the ability to graze full video and diverse commentary increases.

SES overnights

Based on last night's numbers, CPAC-SES Nightly Tracking shows that support
for the Conservatives and Harper as PM has slipped: Conservatives 34%
(down from 37% in the previous day's tracking poll), Liberals 33%, NDP 18%,
BQ 11%, Green 5%. Although earlier in the week Harper came close to Martin
as best PM, the Martin lead has widened: Martin 31%, Harper 22%, Layton 11%.

Our nightly tracking indicates that when the campaign focuses on change,
the Tory numbers move up and when the focus becomes the socially
conservative views of some Tory candidates the Tory numbers go down.
The analysis is not really new. Harper can be damaged by a lack of discipline from his candidates - some bozo announced today on the CBC that there really was a hidden agenda - and the socon problem is real.

That said, the Conservatives need to be ready with a set of ads which highlight 1) scandals, 2) waste, 3) the same old gang. These are not so much attack ads as ways of asking whether the electorate wants more of the same pandering and patronage.

It might also be a good time for the socons to cool their jets.


Truth be Told

Figure the internal polling is about five days ahead of what's being reported.
Liberal candidates in Ontario were summoned to sit in last evening on what was billed as an urgent conference call, in which campaign co-chairman David Herle laid out the steps ahead in a boldly negative ad campaign that began airing on TV last night.

When several candidates complained in last night's phone call that the attack ads would make the Liberals look desperate, Herle reportedly retorted: "We are desperate."
the star

Numbers and Gender

Conservatives 37%,
Liberals 32%, NDP 17%, BQ 10%, Green 5%.

We've had a chance to crunch the gender numbers and it looks like the focus
on social conservatism has negatively impacted the Conservatives ability to
attract female voters. This may be an obstacle to Conservative growth.
Also, over a one week period, the percentage of undecided female voters has
increased. Looks like women may have a significant impact on who wins the
election. We have posted a table of the gender breakdown on our website
Which brings up the question, "What do women want?"

While unlimited access to abortion is almost certainly not it, the notion that men and women want and expect different things in politics is well established. From the conservatives end this is, at best, mixed news. A good deal of what the Conservatives are on about is fairly hard edged. The theory of gender based politics is that women do not like hard edged platforms.

Frankly, I think that theory is bunk. Most women have a keen sense of the value of a dollar and, in many cases, rather higher standards for ethical conduct than their male counterparts. The waste and corruption of the Liberals can and should offset the split issues like Iraq and abortion.

It is significant that the female undecideds are going up. At a guess, pre-writ, there would have been a female preference for the Grits; now its a new game entirely.

Royal Pain

As many Canadians found out last week a few lines of bad code can bring down an entire online banking system. Now the customers are looking for compensation.
The bank has promised to refund any overdraft charges or fees that customers incurred because of the disruption and to reimburse other Canadian financial institutions for certain costs their clients incurred, but Normand Painchaud, the lawyer for one RBC client, says that doesn't go far enough.

Painchaud filed a request Monday to be allowed to proceed with a class action lawsuit seeking $500 in compensation for each individual RBC client.
$500.00 seems a little rich; but for people who are paid by direct deposit this was a very big deal.

The bank needs to go a step beyond waiving any additional fees - the question is how. Perhaps the best way would be to waive the monthly service charges the Royal Bank charges on each account.

How the Liberals are Losing

Bree is a young, reflective and almost painfully contemplative Vancouver blogger.
As long as I have been aware of Canadian politics, it has been Liberal. Because of that, I instinctively mistrust the Conservatives, particularly now that they're run by the Alliance. My Canada is a Liberal Canada. I like this Canada. I don't want it to change too much.

But I'm not a Liberal, per se. And even though I fear the change a Conservative government might wreak, even I have to admit the Liberals appear ossified. Canada is weary of them, and is just about ready to give another party a try. Recent opinion polls actually show the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals in popular support, albeit not by much. More telling, the Conservative support is growing slowly but steadily. Liberal support just keeps on dropping.

I've been reading a Canadian history book lately, and it's easing the butterflies in my tummy. Canada has been Conservative before, and should it go Conservative again this election, maybe that won't be such a bad thing. Fingers crossed.
The scare tactics are not working.


Wal-Mart on the Rez

There is a great article over at The Tyee about how Wal-Mart has outfoxed the municipal governments of Salmon Arm and Duncan and cut deals to put up big box - 110,000 square feet - on ajoining Indian Reservations.

Good on Wal-Mart. But the real fun is in the comments section where the Tyee lefties try to square the circle of the noble First Nations selling out to the evil American categroy killer. Go read it.

No Kyoto

Why does this make me think of "My Sharona". In any case, Harper is ditching Kyoto and not a minute too soon.
"After seven years we have a federal government that still can't tell us how it will implement this accord. I don't believe it can implement it. I don't believe it can achieve the targets. I think we need a more balanced approach to cleaning up our atmosphere, "said Harper.

Harper said the "science is still evolving" and that there may be better ways to clean the air besides cutting greenhouse gas.
Virtually all the science behind Kyoto is open to question and the economics make no sense at all.

There are very good reasons to seek replacements for fossil fuels. Increasing scarcity, pollution, price, geopolitics; but greenhouse gases are far down the list. Harper will take some flack for being this straightforward but it is a stand which people who think seriously about the enviornment will applaud.

Form a Circle, Ready, Aim, Fire

She made a plea for the party to stop policy talk and show its “heart and soul” for the rest of the campaign, which hit its mid-point Wednesday.

Mr. Martin, when asked about Ms. Parrish, said the campaign is right on track with its focus on the Liberal economic program and its discussion of social issues.

“The campaign has been a comedy of errors,” she told CBC Radio in an interview that was broadcast Wednesday “It is like the Keystone Kops running around.”
globe and mail
Outstanding! Carolyn Parrish was always on my top ten list of dolts in Parliament and she is ensuring she stays there. So let's all get with the program, stop talking about all this policy BS and emote.

You'll remember Ms. Parrish last made headlines with her immortal line, Damn Americans, I hate those bastards.” As some parents say to their three year olds "Good emoting there Carolyn.

It is exactly this sort of person who Canadian voters are looking forward to getting rid of.

[via shotgun and the ever valuable Let it Bleed]

Update: Polspy on Ms. Parrish "PolSpy’s patron saint, our Heroine du Jour" It just keeps getting better.

Make it stop....

The editorial board at the Toronto Star are not happy about how the election is turning out. They have an editorial up today which begins with this interesting proposition:
At the midway point in the campaign, voters are tempted to lash out at the governing Liberals, but afraid of what the Conservatives might do to the country. They're fed up with elected officials who don't keep their promises, but worried about replacing them with ones who don't share their values. Once again — as in so many past elections — they're looking for the least harmful option.
the star
Really? There is very little evidence that Canadians are worried about what the Conservatives will do to the country. And a lot of evidence that the reason for the anger is that Candians have been discovering what the Liberals have been doing to their country. As for sharing their values...most Canadians are not thieves, frauds and patronage junkies. Most work damn hard for their money and they value that money. To see it pissed away on boondoggles like the gun registry and stolen as in AdScam hits them right in their values.

More to the point: on the dreaded social issue front Canadians are, at best, split on issues like abortion, gay marriage and capital punishment. These are not beyond dispute.

The Star's solution is for the campaign to restart in the second half and it wants Canadians to:
Finally, voters have to ask themselves whether they're really as badly off as they feel. How many countries have as few urgent problems as Canada? How many people have as little to complain about as a patronage-tainted advertising program? How many nations have the luxury of debating what to do with their surplus?
This is the "don't worry, be happy" approach to politics which essentially asks people to ignore the corruption so long as they have little to complain about. Which would be great - but high taxes, long waiting lists for medical care, a feckless foreign policy and no clear direction for the country - all suggest Canadians have lots to complain about. But not in the Toronto Star.

Jumping ship

Paul Wells characterizes Se. Anne Cools as a nutcase. I am not so sure. Cools has been instrumental in trying to achieve a balance between the rights of children and their divorcing parents and, as such, ran into a buzz saw of feminist anger. (The woman actually suggested that, perhaps, Dads would be a little more forthcoming with the child support if they had access to the kids...shocking.)

Her reasons for switching parties are interesting:
Anne Cools, a Liberal senator for 20 years with a history of controversy, joined the Conservative party today, saying Prime Minister Paul Martin has dashed her hopes for political renewal.

The 60-year-old Cools, the first black appointed to the Senate, called Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, "Canada's hope for change" in announcing her decision, which she said came after months of thought.

"Like so many Canadians, I had been hopeful that Mr. Martin would initiate a new era, a genesis and renewal in the Liberal government," she said in a statement released by the Tories. "I had hoped for an affirmation of responsible government, diligent stewardship of public moneys and renewed leadership, accountable to elected members and the public, not its paid advisers.
the star

Scary Court Guy

"My view is that the role of the court is to apply the Charter to protect the rights laid out in the Charter. The role of the court is not to invent rights that are not in the Charter. The role of the court is not to ignore the rights that are in the Charter," he said.
When will the Harper madness end. Next he'll be saying that the police should enforce the law.


Harper's Gambit

Listening to the 5:00 CBC Radio news I heard this rather brilliant stroke. (Actually, the link is to a watered down version of the story.) Harper has challenged Martin to promise that if he forms a coalition (great hot button)with the NDP he will not implement inheritance tax on estates over one million dollars which is part of the NDP platform.

How brilliant is this??

This sort of question sticks Martin with a coalition which he does not want and someone else's platform.

Turnabout is fair play. Martin has been trying hard to stick Harper on abortion and other social issues. But the scope of the Harper attack is so much broader.

Harper now has the opportunity to paint Martin as an extremist so power hungry that he is willing to swallow the NDP's platform whole. And, by putting all of this in the form of a question for Martin, Harper seizes control of the agenda.

The really fun moment will come when Harper asks Martin, "Mr. Martin, in light of your sidelining Spephan Dion, will you support your coalition partner's position that the Clarity Act should be repealed?"

Any second now Harper will let loose with the response to the "Alliance/Conservatives" he has been preparing for months; "Will the Martin/Layton Team...."

Let's face it, there are enough looney policy planks in the NDP platform to keep Harper in ammunition for the next three months much less three weeks.


The Monger

Yes, a blogroll addition. Just for the intro,
I am a physician working in Western Canada. As I said in my first monger entry:

I am a capitalist tool, a loudmouth libertarian, and a member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (Canadian Chapter).

I hope to do my part to promote war. OK, ok, maybe not "promote war", but at least stick up for it once in a while. After all, when a bunch of terrorist Nazi Islamist maniacs declare war on us, I think the least we can do is show up.

Along the way, I might complain vociferously about the pusillanimous Liberal Party of Canada and their amoral power-mad confreres across the diverse Canadian political spectrum... you know, all the way from the Left to the Crazy Left.

Random grumpiness is also to be expected.

The Furies

There would be nothing better for the Harper campaign than for Carolyn Bennett,Judy Erola and Monique Begin to be quoted extensively on abortion. Well, ok, Sheila too.

Pro-choice as I am I do not see abortion as a glorious right which crowned Canadian women's full status as citizens. Nor, frankly, do I think many other Canadians are elated about our current abortion law - that's to say we have none.

The Grits are scraping the bottom of a rather shallow barrel by trotting out these battle axes to extoll the virtues of one of the great tragedies of a woman's life. Especially has not said that the Conservatives would bring in new abortion laws. All he has said is that he would allow a free vote if a private members bill made it to the floor of the Commons....very scary.

Dare we say....ROUT

Well, not yet...but as my friend Raymond Tomlin at Vancouver Ramblings seems to like SES/CPAC polling I am sure he'll be elated to see that the overnight puts the Tories 4 points up over the Liberals nationally. 35/31

And, this just in from Inkless Wells,
Here's a nugget from Michel David's column: Bloc Québécois campaigners have started calling Jean Lapierre "Comical Ali."
Paul Wells

What it comes down to is that no one is buying the Liberal two-step on Adscam and the rest of the sleeze. Nor are they terrified of Harper as a fundamentalist fanatic. As the two-step and the tar brush seem to be all that the Grits have to offer it may be time for the "R" word.

Update: As Raymond and I both live on the Left Coast, the regional is also interesting: In BC SES has the Liberals at 31, Conservatives at 37 and the NDP at 26. That is 8 points up for the Conservatives from May 30 and down 3 each for the NDP and the Grits.


A while ago I began researching alternative energy sources. My reason is that I am convinced that in order to survive over the next forty years the West is going to have to entirely wean itself from the dependency on fossil fuels which has driven the last eighty years of economic development.

My conviction rests on a number of factors. First,regardless of price we are gradually running out of oil. Second, while I don't buy a lot of the so-called science behind Kyoto I do recognize that coal and oil contribute substantially to pollution, acid rain and a host of other enviornmental problems. And, hey, I may be wrong on the greenhouse effect. Third, it is critical for the West to wean itself from dependence on the Middle East.

This last is simply prudential. If it were possible to fuel Western economies using oil produced in the West I might be less interested in alternatives; but it clearly is not possible. The fact is that while the invasion of Iraq was not about oil it was symptomatic of the exagerated importance oil gives the entire Middle East. Similarily, bin Laden and Al Qaeda are not about oil; but they could not have raised the money for their operations without the bloody collision of petro-dollars and radical fundamentalist Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, a good deal of the discussion of alternative fuels and methods has been driven by idealists rather than engineers.

Smiling Jack Layton, leader of Canada's NDP arrived at the alternative energy party as part of his campaign. Layton proposed, if elected which is not going to happen, to spend up to 15 billion dollars building 10,000 wind turbines across Canada.

Now much of this is a blatent attempt to pander to the Green vote which is running 6% nationally and up to 12% in British Columbia; but it is also a remarkably expensive way of generating power which cannot actually meet the peak demands on the grid and which will do nothing to actually reduce those peaks. Effectively, Layton wants to spend 15 billion dollars to generate non-peak power which will, when the wind blows, cover 5% of Canada's aggregate electrical needs. Here's Sallie Baliunas' explaination (and read the whole thing.)

Wind blows too irregularly to be counted on for either base or variable power demands. With a significant amount of wind power erratically entering the grid, a dispatch system would carefully pair the capricious wind supply with traditional supplies in order to "balance" or "firm" the grid. Hydro capacity and location limit it as a balancing supply of wind power, which leaves fossil fuels, especially natural gas, to do the job. The fossil fuel standby sources must be operating or spinning in reserve to be able to make up for the unreliability of wind power.
Sadly Smilin' Jack's lack of engineering advice shows through. Here is the problem with wind - it comes and goes. This is not news. But it renders wind power largely useless when it comes to meeting peak deamand and, therefore, a remarkably expensive add on to an existing power grid.

Worse, wind power does nothing to actually address the real problem of energy use - rising demand. Bringing wind online would do nothing at all to reduce the peak load requirements which the grid has to meet.

The smarter long range solution, for electricity, home heating and cars is to reduce the demand for energy. The second part of this will address at least one rather practical way of doing just that.

You might also want to take a look at Dr. Eamonn Butler's "Time to Buy Candles" also at Tech Central Station


My own feelings about Conrad black are mixed - I think he managed to shake the tree of Canadian journalism with the launch of the National Post and I think that was a vital and useful thing to have done; but I also think the man was a walking synonym for hubris. However, you owe it to yourself to watch Kevin Grace swing a razor sharp hatchet at Lord Black and
"the pneumatic Amiel is a once-talented journalist who edited the Toronto Sun, a fiercely anti-Trudeau tabloid, in the 1980’s. She is also, reputedly, the model for the villainess in Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride."
chronicles magazine
Nasty, factual and highly entertaining.

Harper's is sooooo worried

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Harper dismissed it all as desperate scare tactics.

"The Liberal ads resurrect every stereotype in Quebec that they're trying to raise in the rest of the country. I'm surprised in Quebec they didn't say I'm for conscription," he remarked.

The Conservative leader said the attack ads won't work because people have lost trust in the party over the $100-million sponsorship scandal.

"What the Liberal Party hasn't clued into in this election is that nobody believes anything they say," Harper said. "So the more they attack us, the less people believe the attacks."
It's that damned Adscam thing....I blame Andrew Coyne.

Caring and Sharing

Not noticing the overwhelmingly male nature of the Liberal caucus - but only the sensitive type of man like Bill "Our Lady Peace" Graham - the Liberals' panic attacks continue:
"In one week [the Conservatives have] managed to reopen debates that are closed, debates that hurt, debates that put into question the issue of social peace," said Ms. Frulla, who is social development minister.

Liberal values on social issues are also "feminine values," she said, while the Conservative philosophy is "much closer" to the American system where "it's each to their own."

Ms. Frulla said that, in addition, the Conservatives' "moral vision" would be so badly received in Quebec that it could bring the country's survival into play.
globe and mail
Those big, scary, hairy, macho Conservatives. If they win Sheila and Ms. Frulla are going to have hissy fits for the duration. No one will notice the difference.

via Shotgun

White like me

Charles Campbell over at The Tyee has an interesting article on the lily white nature of the Global on air election team.
When the conference broke for coffee, Leonard Asper idly and unwittingly approached me. I have a question, I said. "Does it bother you that every member of your 32-member election team appears to be white?"

"Ah, yes it does," he replied. But that doesn't mean that many of the journalists who stand behind them aren't members of visible minorities, he said, noting Global TV's diversity program. He said seniority issues are partly to blame. Unions, he said, make it hard to give young, culturally diverse reporters the best assignments. He did acknowledge, when asked, that his company's own staff cuts make the issue more difficult to address.
the tyee
I suspect Asper is being a bit disingenuous. At the same time I wonder if we should not be striving for intelligence, clarity and decent analysis regardless of skin tone. We spend endless time trying to distinguish ourselves from Americans and one way of doing this is to avoid the sheer tokenism of affirmative action.



My mother loved Reagan. she loved his optimism, his dismissal of the details and his apple cheeks.

I did not.