Monday, October 29, 2007

Big-Box Day Care Comes to Alberta

{ British Columbians, take heed: this is the land where Gordon Campbell gets many of his ideas. The following is a letter written in response to today's article in the Edmonton Journal ,which reported the announced bid of the Australian multinational, ABC Learning Centres, to buy nine day care centres in Edmonton and even more in Calgary, along with the response of Alberta Childrens' Services declaring neutrality with respect to foreign and chain ownership of day care delivery.}

Dear Editor:

Your article on the purchase of day care centres in Alberta by an Australian Multinational, ABC Learning Centres (“Day-care giant seeks foothold in Alberta”, Monday October 29, 2007) quotes a government spokeswoman as saying that foreign and chain ownership are not concerns of the government: "We look past who is in the boardroom and look at whether they are meeting our standards,"(p. A3).
This may represent an enlightened attitude toward investment in a world of globalized capital markets where Canadians have as strong an interest in investing abroad as foreigners do in investing in Canada. But does it represent sound social policy? There is no indication in the article that Alberta Childrens’ Services considered the trade law implications of foreign corporate investment in the child care sector. Foreign private provision to private consumers, even on a subsidized basis and to parents utilizing federal tax rebates, would almost certainly fall outside of the WTO’s so called “exclusion clause”, Article I:3, which defines services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority as those which are supplied “neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more service suppliers”.
Furthermore, if the Alberta government is explicitly unconcerned with foreign and chain ownership, it must be amenable to U.S. and Mexican entry into the market as well. That would mean not only additional WTO obligations to these countries, but NAFTA ones: it is by no means clear that child care delivered by foreign corporations would fall within the NAFTA Annex II Social Services Reservation, and it is quite likely that a U.S. or Mexican corporation could avail itself of its Chapter 11 investor rights.
While it is not necessarily true that standards must suffer as a result, our ability to change course and substitute public provision in the future could be fatally compromised if the total cost of potential WTO and NAFTA claims made such a move prohibitively expensive. In the absence of any evidence that such a risk analysis has been undertaken, I would suggest that the Alberta government is wrong to express indifference toward foreign and chain ownership in the area of child care.

Mark Crawford

Assistant Professor, Political Science
Athabasca UniversityTel. (780) 423-6020

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Two Points to Ponder in Defence of First-Past-The-Post

{This excerpt is from Larry Solomon's debate with Andrew Coyne about the merits of PR. Solomon offers an excellent defence of our existing electoral system although, like most defenders of the status quo, he does not really address most of the underlying social reasons for wanting a new system}

"PR doesn't promote regionalism? Let me remind you that prominent PR models put forward for Canada -- including that by the Law Reform Commission, which you have elsewhere cited approvingly -- produce explicitly provincial lists for federal elections. That is not just amalgamated regional ridings -- some the size of countries -- which are bad enough. That is elevating regional jurisdictions at the national jurisdiction's expense.

Your One Big Confusion, Andrew, lies in thinking that meaningful choice can come of sharing executive power. When a company chooses a leader among, say, five-top candidates, it does not make the four also-rans vice-presidents with the power to veto the CEO's decisions. Especially if the also-rans have radically different ideas of the direction in which to take the company. It lets the leader implement his ideas and test their merit. If his ideas are wanting, the company turfs him out and chooses again, having learned from the experience. A company -- or any organization -- led by a collective that agrees on nothing would go nowhere and learn nothing."