Monday, December 31, 2012

Perspectives for 2013, Part One: Some Under-Reported, Inconvenient and Impolitic Truths

The purpose of this web log  is to put some perspectives forward that I feel are neglected or under-developed in the public square.  For convenience, I'll divide them into Local/Provincial, National, and International categories:

I.  Neglected Provincial  Truths

a) ALBERTA:  Conservatives' Disdain for Peter Lougheed (and, by extension, Alison Redford) 

           People outside of Alberta are generally unaware of the depth of the schism that has long divided "conservatives" in this province, a division obscured by what until recently was virtually a one-party state.  What has become apparent to me over the past five years is that Reform Party and its successors federally(the Alliance and the Conservative Party)  and its provincial progeny, the Wildrose Alliance, are as much a reaction against Peter Lougheed  as against Mulroney or Trudeau. Lougheed's sensible advice to Alberta's citizens--"think like an owner" of the natural resources; replenish the Heritage trust fund and rely less upon oil revenue to subsidize current consumption; adopt a balanced and measured approach to oil sands and pipeline development--these are all anathema to the Ezra Levants, Danielle Smiths, Tom Flanagans, Stephen Harpers and Preston Mannings of this world. In the recent provincial election, Smith explicitly referred to Preston's father, Ernest Manning , as Alberta's greatest premier, and frequently referred to the wisdom of Ralph Klein--anything to minimize the legacy and accomplishments of Lougheed.  (Alison Redford, who is in outlook, professional training  and background clearly closer to Lougheed than any other of his other successors,  echoed his approach, and received his explicit endorsement, during last spring's campaign. Meanwhile, Thomas Flanagan  felt strongly enough about who the true conservatives are to have been Smith's Wildrose general campaign manager!)  If they could barely stand Lougheed's  well-heeled background and  his blue-ribbon education, his moderate "progressive" conservatism and its concomitant tolerance for at least some liberal and social democratic policies was beyond the pale.

While Rex Murphy eloquently eulogized Peter Lougheed as quite simply "the greatest premier this country has ever seen",  the province's right-wing media bit its collective tongue. Conspicuous in this respect during the days following Lougheed's passing was popular right-wing Sun columnist Lorne Gunter, who was forced to break his silence a week later:

 I've been slow to comment on the passing of Peter Lougheed because ever since his death last week I have wrestled with my largely negative impression of Alberta's 10th premier. And it's my belief that on a person's death, criticism is unseemly. So as the old movie line goes, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. But it has been churlish of me not to give Lougheed his due. For all the things he did with which I disagreed, he was more responsible than anyone for the modern status of Alberta, the Alberta I love and he did, too.
{But] there is one image of Lougheed that is forever seared in my memory and that will forever colour my recollection of him and his legacy. It's a photograph taken in 1981 of the Alberta leader clinking champagne glasses with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau to toast a federal-provincial energy deal that I and many other Albertans viewed as a capitulation to Trudeau's disastrous National Energy Program.
Churlish, indeed. Look at how much pressure had to be applied in order to extract even this small drip of grudging admiration. But what can you expect from somebody who regards Alison Redford's protection of health and education and her criticism of  previous Klein infrastructure deficits as the rantings of a "nanny state" liberal?

If anybody doubts just how right wing these people are, examine closely their attitude toward Peter Lougheed and their distance from his policies.

b) BRITISH COLUMBIA:  The Downsides of Adrian Dix.

A seldom commented fact about political leaders in British Columbia is that, as of January 2013,  Christy Clark has only spent about one-half as much time in the premier's Office as  Adrian Dix has. That is,  she has been there about 1/1/2 years since being sworn in in early 2011, while Dix as Glen Clark's principal secretary was there from June 1996 until being blown out in disgrace in 1999. This longer tenure during the most formative stage of Dix's career turns out to be very significant. It largely explains both his capabilities and his liabilities. For, unlike Dave Barrett in 1972 or Mike Harcourt in 1991, his is an insider's perspective.

In all the discussion eagerly anticipating the change of government due in May, another thing has gone almost entirely without comment: that for the first time ever, the NDP will come to power after more than a decade in Opposition and that fact will not  be accompanied by a great leap forward of the transparency and accountability agenda.  Such advances are best served by outsiders, with oppositionist perspectives, heady idealism, and a touch of naivete. Even journalists have neglected this truth, perhaps because they assume that our institutions are now mature enough not to require another Question Period, another Auditor General, another Freedom of Information Act, or another Lobbyists Registration Act.  If so, I think they are wrong. Not only do I think that these institutions need to be much better funded, they also need to be re-tooled for the internet age and designed for a more pro-active citizenry.  And, since not putting things in writing and delaying FOI requests are favourite evasive tactics that Dix helped to pioneer in the 1990s, how about requiring that some things be put in writing, that there be a log of participants for all formal meetings, and a requirement for quicker turnaround on FOI requests? This is not a very high priority for Dix, whose perspective was built up over many years as a political insider, and in its most crucial and formative phase, as Glen Clark's closest advisor. He knows what he can get away with,  and he wants to keep it that way.

A good example, admittedly semi-hypothetical. illustrates this point perfectly. Imagine if a top-flight lawyer who had success in a career outside of politics, like David Vickers or Tom Berger, were Leader of the Opposition. Like Dix,  they too would likely have done a great job of smoking out the government on the Children and Families file. (Remember how Bob Plecas and Joy McPhail gushed about what a great job Dix was doing, as he analysed and anticipated the government's every evasive manouevre?)  The problem is, Berger or Vickers would have carried with that critique every expectation and every ability to transform government business into a more transparent and accountable legal regime upon taking office. With Dix--whose ability to anticipate and criticize the government's games came directly from having played those same games himself--all we can expect him to do after getting back into the Premier's Office is to trade his new white hat in for his old black one.

In 'promising less and delivering more' Dix is honestly expressing a sensible and mature approach to governing that builds on these past experiences. This also suits his cohort of spin doctors and professional pols who came to Victoria with him in 1991,who don't have the same patience that they once had for leaders, like Carole James, who are relative novices, and who could blow it. But there is an unspoken third rail of government strategy as well : Control and Spin More.  Add to this structural changes in the NDP's base of support: on the one hand the shrinking of the private sector union base in favour of the public sector and the Dix-led boring from within,  and on the other hand the aging of the baby-boom retirees and soon-to-be-retirees who will look more kindly on social spending as more of it goes to them.  The net result is that the NDP may well have a longer tenure in power than ever before.

In sum, the  next NDP government will benefit from its leader's experience and knowledge, but that will prove to be a double-edged sword for the public. He may well turn out to be the Stephen Harper of the Left.

II. Neglected National  Truths-- {to be added shortly}

The 2003 Bush Tax Cuts--Is this Any Place to Draw A Sacred Line in the Sand?

 2013 will mark a decade since the Bush administration enacted the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.  Given the growth of the economy between 2001 and 2005, and the imminent costs of the Iraq War and Bush drug plan (not to mention the planned missions to the Moon and to Mars!) were the second round  of  tax cuts in 2003 wise?   Economists, including Bush's own  Treasury Secretary at the time, Paul O'Neill, and 450 economists, including ten Nobel prize laureates, who contacted Bush in 2003, opposed the 2003 tax cuts on the grounds that they would fail as a growth stimulus, increase inequality and worsen the budget outlook considerably.  

To be sure, a smaller group of conservative economists, including Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw at Harvard,  thought that the tax cuts were a good idea.  But it is less clear to me that they were taking the government's spending plans fully into account in making that assessment.  In addition, a significant driver of economic growth during the Bush administration was home equity extraction, in essence borrowing against the value of the home to finance personal consumption. And we all know how well that turned out.

Furthermore,  the public debt as a percentage of GDP rose from 1.4% in 2001 to 6.8% in 2007;  that was before the Financial Crisis even happened. . Most of this debt was accumulated as a result of tax cuts and increased national security spending.  

Now that the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations appear to be faltering because of tea party adoption of the Bush tax levels as the sacred line in the sand--"Washington has a spending problem not a revenue problem" in Boehner's words-- it is worth asking whether recent history validates such a point of view. Of course, President Bush's coupling of tax cuts with military adventure and reckless spending programs also lends credence to the view that it is spending that is the primary culprit. But I think that the verdict of history  must be that  the 450 economists and ten Nobel laureates who opposed the Bush tax cuts have been vindicated.

Their statement reads as follows:[4]

Economic growth, though positive, has not been sufficient to generate jobs and prevent unemployment from rising. In fact, there are now more than two million fewer private sector jobs than at the start of the current recession. Overcapacity, corporate scandals, and uncertainty have and will continue to weigh down the economy.
The tax cut plan proposed by President Bush is not the answer to these problems. Regardless of how one views the specifics of the Bush plan, there is wide agreement that its purpose is a permanent change in the tax structure and not the creation of jobs and growth in the near-term. The permanent dividend tax cut, in particular, is not credible as a short-term stimulus. As tax reform, the dividend tax cut is misdirected in that it targets individuals rather than corporations, is overly complex, and could be, but is not, part of a revenue-neutral tax reform effort.
Passing these tax cuts will worsen the long-term budget outlook, adding to the nation’s projected chronic deficits. This fiscal deterioration will reduce the capacity of the government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure, and basic research. Moreover, the proposed tax cuts will generate further inequalities in after-tax income.
To be effective, a stimulus plan should rely on immediate but temporary spending and tax measures to expand demand, and it should also rely on immediate but temporary incentives for investment. Such a stimulus plan would spur growth and jobs in the short term without exacerbating the long-term budget outlook.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Can America Teach Canada About Health Care Reform?

{The following post was written as a column for the  January 2013 edition of  the Anahim - Nimpo Lake Messenger. --MC}

Last month,  I commented  that  in the future we in Canada may be able to  learn a lot  from American  health care reforms.   You may wonder how that could be possible , given that the United States has by far the most expensive system in the world, and has failed to provide basic health insurance coverage to over 45 million of its citizens. 

The reason is that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, if successfully implemented, will strengthen that nation’s primary care foundation.  (By “primary care” I just mean basic, preventative, and other non-specialty services provided by nurses,  and family physicians.) And that is something we in Canada need to do, too.

Although Canada  will continue to have much better  coverage and cost-containment than the U.S. for the forseeable future, due to our universal single payer system of public insurance, it  shares many  of America’s  failings on the delivery side:  over-reliance on doctors and hospitals, which are the most expensive health care providers;  relative under-funding of public health  as compared to acute care; slow adoption of electronic health information technology;  a fee –for –service system that simply rewards the number of patients seen rather than the number of patients cured;  and a crisis in long-term care for the elderly.

Canada’s single-payer system gives us the greatest institutional capacity  of any country for meeting our health care challenges  in an equitable  and cost-effective fashion,  but  that potential is stymied by our lack of a strong primary care foundation.  We should be world leaders in payment reform, health care technology assessment, and electronic health records, but we aren’t.  Because our sacred Canada Health Act  was only designed to fund hospital use, it has been economically rational to treat many long-term patients (mostly elderly) in a hospital setting, despite its higher costs.  (Physicians have also been reluctant to discharge many patients who would have trouble paying for privately-owned long-term care facilities.) The result is that hospital beds are utilized by many who do not need acute care, which makes shortages in  hospital wards and emergency departments worse.

In the United States, the Affordable Care Act will provide financial bonuses  for primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants that provide 60% of their services in primary care, or who provide these services in areas where there is a shortage of health professionals.   The Act also encourages and funds the widespread adoption of Patient-Centred Medical Homes  to provide coordinated patient care by teams of health care providers,  and “health homes” for  Medicaid (senior) patients with chronic conditions.  The most expensive hospitals and physicians will no longer be the front line of care, but the last resort.   Providers will be compensated using bundled payments for health care outcomes, not fees for listed treatments.  Special provisions of the Act  are made for application of these principles to less healthy minority populations through the creation of community-based collaborative care networks.

How could such an aggressive program of primary care reform be applied to a place like the Cariboo-Chilcotin?  We already have health stations on six Indian Reserves and in Alexis Creek, including a largeFederal-funded nursing station at Anahim Lake, and a provincially-funded IHA facility with a local physician in Tatla Lake, along with a hospital in Bella Coola. Several nurses and doctors visit  the smaller stations rotationally on a weekly basis; and a medical van shuttles patients in and out of Williams Lake.  The First Nations Health Council and First Nations Health Association have plans to support First Nations communities to develop their own strategies.  

Now imagine how effective those strategies could be if  health care providers were all paid for preventive care as much as for treatment; and if communities could share in all the savings that prevention by least-cost providers  can generate.  Each case of fetal alcohol syndrome costs  society a million dollars over the life of the patient; its reduced incidence can be measured and rewarded in a very few years. The same is true of obesity and diabetes, where the costs and potential savings are enormous. 
We should follow pilot projects being undertaken in the U.S.  under the auspices of the Indian Health Service and the Affordable Care Act for more good ideas about how to achieve these and other worthwhile health care goals.

Mark Crawford is an Assistant Professor at Athabasca University. He can be reached at .

Monday, December 17, 2012

In the U.S.A. Employer Health Insurance Premiums Rose 62%, Deductibles More Than Doubled Across States from 2003 to 2011

In the next federal election, Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty , and Conservative candidates across the country will be crowing about how their tax cuts and tax subsidies have helped to draw new investment and (desirable) immigration into Canada.  But the Truth is that most of the tax advantage Canadian companies enjoy vis a vis the United States is thanks to Tommy Douglas, not to Stephen Harper.

That's because most of the differential in corporate tax rates and payroll  costs is due to the presence of progressive income taxes and public universal medicare in Canada and the absence of those two things in the United States.

It's true. One of the most basic facts of our existence in North America is that conservatism in the United States has made business taxes relatively higher---because populist conservative ideology coupled with constant Congressional electioneering has meant that tax burdens and health care costs are shifted onto employers---and socialism in Canada, which tolerates a more progressive income tax, which in turn underwrites a larger pool of  public universal health care that doesn't constitute a payroll tax upon business.

Of course, Conservatives can't go around thanking Tommy Douglas, so they exaggerate the relative importance of their own modest contribution to this state of affairs. But the danger is that if they delude themselves and enough of us sufficiently, they will pursue policies--like further tax cuts and the non-enforcement of the Canada Health Act--that could jeopardize the very foundation that they are now capitalizing upon politically.

When that starts happening, we will lose far more than we will gain.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Stephen Harper's Awkward Announcement --and a Worrying Pattern

Late on  a Friday evening on December 7, the prime minister announces that the Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC will be allowed to take over Nexen for $15 billion, but that in the future other state-oil companies won't be. Regulations concerning foreign takeovers that had been wiped out had to be "clarified",  but only after the government had been aggressively marketing the oilsands to investors for years. If the government had said "no" this time,  it might have offended the Chinese by appearing to say one thing to other countries, and another to China. But if this is a good decision, why would a similar decision in the future not be a good decision?  "In the future, state-owned companies will only be allowed on an exceptional basis." But could not "private" firms from China  also be a proxy for state interests?  What about the Potash Debacle--that was a private company, no?  Surely the lesson is that we can't rely on ideology to rationalize rushed decision-making. Surely the lesson is that we need more wide-ranging consultative decision-making.

It is not entirely a coincidence that the Official Opposition is calling for Peter Mckay's resignation, either. The government routinely ignored opposition and journalist allegations of high cost overrruns and maintenance costs for the F-35. The auditor general blasted the government for forging ahead without properly considering options--sound familiar? they F-35'd foreign investment, F-35'd the Onsite Clinic and now they're F-35ing the gateway pipeline and the Canada -China investment treaty as well.

I would support a party that had a wide-ranging consultation of both public and experts on all possible pipeline routes. I would also try to use the $1 trillion worth of oil wealth locked up in the oil sands to leverage  actual, working carbon sequestration in the tar sands area and to expedite the negotiation of all First nations treaties along the proposed pipeline routes.

I know, they think that would take too long.  But when you consider that the ramming through of Gateway is actually a non-starter because of the way it has antagonized British Columbians generally and First Nations in particular, oil might actually get to market sooner using a more gradual, scrupulous and genuinely consultative process that considers all possible pipeline routes.

This is a government that owes the health of the Canadian economy, and its own political survival, to the fact that we did not rush into financial deregulation and bank mergers. But still, they rush in where better angels fear to tread.

You would think that they would have learned their lesson by now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Cheers for Obamacare

{The following column will appear in the Anahim-Nimpo Lake Messenger in December}

On November 6, I breathed a sigh of relief when Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as the President of the United States.  Although his victory carries no guarantee of either world peace or fiscal sanity, intransigent conservatives in Congress were at least not rewarded for their worst behavior.
Most importantly, the election means that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act —“Obamacare”—is here  to stay. This legislation addresses both of the most serious flaws in the American health care system: the huge number of uninsured (46 million people) and under-insured (25 million);  and runaway costs (two-thirds of personal bankruptcies in 2007 were due to illness or medical bills).  In recent years,  these twin issues of coverage and cost have reinforced each other in a vicious downward spiral. Coverage has declined because premiums and co-payments are rising; premiums and co-payments keep rising because of the lack of effective cost containment.  

A recent report comparing health prices said it all.  A routine doctor’s visit costs approximately $30 in Canada,  $22 in Germany and ranges between $59 and $148 in the U.S. , with the Medicare rate for seniors set at $72. A bottle of Lipitor  costs $31 in Canada, $78 in Germany, and an average of $134 in the U.S.  MRI scans cost $304 in Canada, $632 in Germany, and an average of $1009 in the U.S.  A normal childbirth in a hospital?  $3200 in Canada, $2200 in Germany, and a whopping average of $9280 in the U.S.

 Increasingly, it was not just poor people who could not afford to pay these inflated prices.  The push for reform was partly driven by the growing plight of middle-class Americans. And the rising unemployment rates that accompanied the recession that began in 2008 meant that even more individuals lost affordable coverage. Something had to be done.

Will Obamacare succeed?  The criticism has been made that the Affordable Care Act does not sufficiently attack  the power of special interests—insurance lobbies, drug companies, and the corporate health sector—who have a financial stake in the existing system.  It is true that the government had to jettison the ‘public option’ (offering public insurance at lower premiums for a standard care package) in order to get the Ac t through the Senate.  And to gain the cooperation of doctors and pharmaceutical companies, the government had to agree not to control the prices paid for products and services.

But much has been achieved. When fully implemented, 95 percent of U.S. citizens will have the same basic health security that Canadians have. And the Affordable Care Act contains several payment and delivery options  that will foster higher value, lower cost and patient-centred primary care .  In the not too distant future, Americans may even have a thing or two to teach us about how to do health care.
Mark Crawford is an Assistant Professor at Athabasca University. He can be reached at .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why is NDP the Best When it Comes to Fiscal Responsibility?

It is a common talking point of New Democrats, whenever they are playing defence on economic issues: the NDP has the best record of the three major parties when it comes to balancing budgets. 

During the time that there have been NDP governments in Canada since 1980, those governments have produced balanced budgets 50% of the time and deficit budgets 50% of the time. Conservatives managed to balance the books only 37% of years they were in government while Liberals could only manage 27% - which was roughly the same record as Socred and PQ administrations. (Sources - Canada Finance: fiscal reference tables October 2010, RBC Provincial Fiscal Tables April, 2011; Statistics Canada: Provincial and Territorial Economic Accounts Data Tables) .

It is important to go a little beyond the talking points and the statistics in order to understand WHY this should be the case. Put simply, conservative and neo-liberal politicians are attracted to tax cuts, whether for the wealthy and business  on the trickle down theory, or to everyone else on some kind of populist rationale.  They like to imagine that they can re-coup the lost revenue through a combination of fat-trimming and economic growth. In fact, they can only re-coup a faction of the revenue through either one of those means.

Internationally, George W. Bush was the poster-boy for such thinking; more generally the U.S. has been forced by a combination of populist conservative ideology and constant congressional electioneering into shifting its tax burden onto business. The ironic result: the heartland of global capitalism shifts too much of its tax burden and its health cost burden onto business!

More locally, the new Conservative premier Alison Redford is obviously a sensible person who understands the need for long-term planning and infrastructure in a province that is the hub of the Canadian economy and which is expected to grow by about a million people over the next 10--15 years. Her problem is that she has find a way to pay for this inside the conservative nut-house that is Alberta politics.  This is a place where an unexpected shortfall in oil and gas revenues ought to mean only that the Heritage Trust Fund doesn't grow that year; instead it is a place where deficits balloon, schools and hospital beds get closed and nurses get laid off, all because  Conservative politicians and their supporters  think it is a matter of principle to use revenue from a depleting non-renewable resource to subsidize  the current consumption of the current residents of Alberta instead of the long-term welfare of long-term residents.

New Democrats  are under no such fiscal illusions, and are not as prone to that kind of collective irrationality. They place their faith instead in the growth-enhancing properties of public investments in human capital (education) and infrastructure(which business benefits from). And--though they are often loathe to admit it during election campaigns--avoiding broad, across-the-board tax cuts.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Ideal MP for the Cariboo-Chilcotin

{The following article was also published in the November 2012 issue of the Anahim-Nimpo Lake Messenger--MC}

Have you ever thought about  what the ideal political representative for the Cariboo-Chilcotin would be like, or at least how the existing job that our MLAs and MPs are doing could be improved?  I have.   As a Parliamentary Intern working for Kamloops MP Nelson Riis in the 1980s, I saw that it was possible to be a successful politician without being  nasty toward others or having an exaggerated opinion of oneself. Nelson  was a decent and caring person who was widely respected  by people from  all parts of the political spectrum, which is part of the reason why he remained in office for 20 years .  As a Ministerial Assistant for David Zirnhelt in 1996-97 I came to appreciate  not only Zirnhelt’s knowledge of this region and its people and his extensive knowledge of forestry and land use issues, but also his incredible work ethic, as he strove to reach every corner of  Cariboo South  on weekends despite his busy schedule as a Cabinet Minister in the Harcourt and Clark NDP governments.  Those efforts clearly paid off, as he won three straight elections in what had been the most Socred riding in the province in Alex Fraser’s day.

 No doubt supporters of Donna Barnett could also sing her praises , based on her long history as mayor of 100 Mile House and her own deep roots in the area.   If Dick Harris  hasn’t done as much  as the others to earn his long tenure as  federal MP, it is probably because he hasn’t had to in a riding that is more solidly conservative than his former riding (Prince-George Bulkley Valley) had been . For him, the biggest challenge has been  winning his own party’s  nomination, as when  he narrowly staved off a challenge by Dr. Elmer Thiessen in 2004.

In a less partisan vein, I was encouraged  by Nathan Cullen’s attempt in last year’s federal NDP leadership contest to at least try to cooperate with other parties.   I gave my support to Nathan’s campaign largely because such an extraordinary strategy is necessary in order to shake up politics in the federal riding.  I even had a plan ready if Cullen had won the leadership:  to approach former Ulkatcho  chief Lynda Price to run as a candidate with the endorsement of both Liberal and New Democratic parties in the next federal election. (Having her run as an independent would neatly avoid the problem of persuading one party to support the other’s candidate).   As it turned out, Nathan lost the leadership bid and Lynda had just enrolled in law school, so I never found out whether the idea would have flown.

Mark Crawford is a political scientist at Athabasca University . He can be reached at

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Remembering Billy McIntyre--and a Suggestion

I remember my father saying that he and a few other boys from the Prince Albert -Paddockwood area of Northern Saskatchewan had decided to sign up in 1941 , event hough they legally  weren't quite old enough yet. The following year they were off to Britain, where they were stationed and trained for a  year or so. Dad saw heavy fighting in Italy, including the battle of Monte Cassino, before his active duty was ended by a bout of malaria.

Another boy from the neighbourhood, I think he said his name was Billy McIntyre--wasn't so lucky.  I remember Dad saying "he was on the beach in  Normandy and got hit right between the eyes."  I think every Billy McIntyre deserves to be remembered  by name.

One way to ensure that people like Billy McIntyre are never forgotten is  to list them on a website. In addition, every school in Canada could adopt a certain number of fallen veterans for its remembrance.I believe that the number of fallen Canadian soldiers since 1914 is @ 117,000; divide that  among Canada's schools according to where they were born and/or attended  The average elementary school and secondary school would have 8 soldiers whose faces and names  could be displayed in a conspicuous place in the school.  

(According to Statistics Canada data, there are approximately 15,500 schools in Canada:
  • 10,100 elementary
  • 3,400 secondary
  • 2,000& mixed elementary and secondary
  • The overall average is 350 students per school
In 2004–05, provinces and territories reported that there were 5.3 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools. )

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Harper and Conservatives' "Pedal to the metal" with new FIPPA Treaty

Prime Minister Harper spoke to a friendly crowd at last summer's Calgary Stampede  when he said that this period of majority government was not a time to relax, but to "put pedal to the metal" in driving the Conservative prosperity agenda. The rest of us are growing increasingly alarmed by his blind faith that any trade or investment deal is a good one.  I have already written about the reckless pace of trade treaty-making, but this  new investment treaty will endow Chinese investors with even greater power than American corporations enjoy under NAFTA, according to one Osgoode Hall legal expert. Like Harper's attitude to constitutional convention, judicial appointments, human rights the environment and democracy itself, it reflects a kind of callousness associated with right wing business elites who are unfamiliar with the rule of law and all of its niceties. It is not a mentality that befits a prime minister of a parliamentary democracy.

Here is a copy of Prof. Gus Van Harten's open letter to the Prime Minister:

Oct. 12, 2012
Dear Prime Minister Harper and Minister Fast,
I am an expert in investment treaties. As a Canadian, I am deeply concerned about the implications for Canada of the Canada-China investment treaty. As I understand, the treaty is slated for ratification by your government on or about Oct. 31. I hope you will reconsider this course of action for these reasons. 
1. The legal consequences of the treaty will be irreversible by any Canadian court, legislature or other decision-maker for 31 years after the treaty is given effect. The treaty has a 15-year minimum term, requires one year's notice prior to termination, and adds another 15-years of treaty coverage for assets that are Chinese-owned at the time of termination. By contrast, NAFTA for example can be terminated on six months notice.
2. Other investment treaties (aka FIPAs) signed by Canada have a similar duration and, in this respect, are exceptional among modern treaties. Yet none put Canada primarily in the capital-importing position. As such, the Canada-China treaty effectively concedes legislative and judicial elements of our sovereignty in a way that other FIPAs do not. Chinese asset-owners in Canada will be able, at their option, to challenge Canadian legislative, executive, or judicial decisions outside of the Canadian legal system and Canadian courts.
3. To elaborate, the treaty will likely be largely de facto non-reciprocal due to anticipated in-flows of Chinese investment to Canada outstripping Canadian investment in China. The deal gives Cadillac legal status to Canadian investors in China and vice versa. Yet Canada will be much more exposed to claims and corresponding constraints as a result of the de facto non-reciprocity. Two awards of a billion dollars-plus, and many over $100 million, have been issued against countries to date under these treaties, with more likely on the way. The awards are immune from judicial review, largely or entirely, and are often extra-territorial, depending on how the investor's lawyers frame the claim.
4. Usually, the capital-importing position under these treaties is occupied by a developing or transition economy. Under the Canada-China treaty it is occupied by Canada. This poses a serious fiscal risk. Notably, to sue under the treaty, a Chinese company requires only a minority share in any Canadian enterprise or other asset in Canada. Based on interpretations by arbitrators in numerous cases, a Chinese investor could obtain, or may already have obtained, ownership in Canadian assets via a holding company in a secrecy jurisdiction such as the Cayman Islands, without losing its right to sue under the Canada-China treaty. What steps have you taken to ensure that there is not now and will not be in future Chinese-ownership of assets of which the government is unaware?
5. The only comparator for Canada in terms of fiscal risk is NAFTA. Canada has been sued about 30 times under NAFTA Chapter 11 although many cases were minor. Canada has paid out around $170 million in compensation in four cases to date. Other countries have been ordered to pay much more. Our biggest loss apparently came last May in a claim by Mobil Oil/ Murphy Oil involving R&D expenditure requirements in the Hibernia and Terra Nova projects. To my knowledge, a damages award has not yet been issued in that case although Canada was found by the arbitrators to have violated NAFTA. The decision reportedly undermined Canada's standard approach to reservations in investment treaties with potential implications for the Canada-China treaty. It is not possible to confirm this because your government has not released the Mobil/ Murphy award against Canada in spite of your commitment to openness in these arbitrations. Would you please send me a copy of this award?
6. This heightens my concern that you have, in the Canada-China treaty, retained the right of the federal government not to release documents filed in Chinese investor lawsuits against Canada under the treaty if the government deems it not "in the public interest" to do so. This is not consistent with longstanding Canadian government policy to make such documents, and the arbitration hearings, public as a matter of course. If you intend to release the documents in any event, then why have you retained the right not to do so in the treaty? Other Canadian FIPAs state very clearly that all of the documents will be made public.
7. In terms of the fiscal risks, the Canada-China treaty goes beyond NAFTA in important respects and probably increases Canada's exposure to lawsuits under NAFTA itself, on a non-reciprocal basis. Under NAFTA, the fiscal risk is contained by carve-outs of existing state and provincial measures from various NAFTA disciplines. The Canada-China treaty goes beyond NAFTA by extending a ban on performance requirements to existing provincial measures, including legislation. This ban will extend to Canadian provincial treatment of U.S.-owned, as well as Chinese-owned, assets due to the most-favoured-nation requirement under NAFTA. However, Canadian investors in the U.S. will not receive reciprocal treatment in relation to U.S. state measures. This will likely frustrate the ability of any federal or provincial government to ensure that value-added benefits of resource exploitation in Canada accrue reasonably to Canadians. Have you analyzed the risk-benefit comprehensively in light of all existing provincial measures?
8. Other legal protections that will be extended to Chinese investors under the treaty involve topics of expropriation and fair and equitable treatment, among others. These concepts sound straightforward but arbitrators in many cases have taken them in unanticipated and investor-friendly directions by requiring public compensation for foreign firms whose "legitimate expectations" were not met by a government or who were denied a "stable regulatory framework" over the lifespan of an investment. These arbitrator-made disciplines are far- reaching because they may preclude any changes to legislation that affect negatively a Chinese investor, without taxpayer compensation to the investor for its business losses. The possibility of the arbitrators reading such requirements into the Canada-China treaty adds to the fiscal risk and illustrates the concession of sovereignty under the treaty. So-called "stabilization clauses" are usually found in investment contracts signed with governments in developing countries, not treaties agreed by Canada.
9. The arbitration process itself is a long story. Briefly, it does a lot for the lawyers and arbitrators in the field, for investors from major capital-exporters (here, China or the U.S.), and for major multinationals able to entangle governments in never-ending legal contests of attrition, especially in the resource sector. Philip Morris has used these mechanisms to attack, for example, anti-tobacco measures in Australia and Uruguay. On the other hand, the arbitration process does little for, and may harm, anyone else. Above all, the process is not judicial in the manner of domestic or international courts and thus not reliably independent.
10. Canadian investors have never won compensation in any of their 16 known lawsuits against the U.S. and other countries under NAFTA and FIPAs. I have not heard this mentioned by Canadian lawyers and arbitrators who champion these treaties. It may be that Canadian companies have benefited by their ability to pressure governments to settle disputes in cases that are not public, but if so this reaffirms the danger that Chinese investors will pressure governments in Canada to back away from laws or regulations without public knowledge.
11. Because the arbitrators under the Canada-China treaty operate outside of the authority of the Canadian legal system and Canadian courts, the treaty appears to contravene the judicature provisions of the Constitution concerning the role of the superior courts. In various historical cases, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down legislation that contained broad privative clauses precluding review of tribunal decisions by the superior courts. The treaty's transfer of judicial authority to arbitrators is analogous and, arguably, more far-reaching. Notably, the arbitrators may make non-monetary orders against states as well as issue damages awards for potentially massive amounts.
12. The treaty clearly impacts on provincial powers on natural resources, taxation, land and property rights, and other matters. It applies to provincial legislation, regulations, or court or tribunal decisions that affect Chinese-owned assets, with limited exceptions. It does not contain a NAFTA-style carve-out for provincial performance requirements or any carve-outs for provincial measures regarding the treaty's expropriation and fair and equitable treatment provisions. Thus, there is a real possibility that, over the lifespan of the treaty, Canada will face billion dollar-plus awards due to provincial decisions that are not reviewable in Canadian courts. Does your government intend to assume the fiscal risk and have you obtained formal provincial consent for the proposed ratification of the treaty in light of its constitutional implications?
13. This quote by one of the arbitrators emphasizes the significance of a decision to ratify this treaty, including its arbitration mechanism:

"When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all" ... "Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament." -- Juan Fernández-Armesto, arbitrator from Spain.

14. This treaty will have major implications for core elements of Canadian legislative and judicial sovereignty. It will tie the hands of all levels and branches of government in Canada in relation to any Chinese-owned asset in ways that many governments in Canada, I suspect, have not considered closely. The implications will be legally irreversible by any Canadian court or other decision-maker for at least 31 years.
I urge you please to reconsider your decision to proceed with ratification of this treaty, without provincial consent or a serious public debate, on or about Oct. 31. I request replies to the questions posed in paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11 above.
Yours sincerely,
Gus Van Harten
Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School

Open access to my publications here.
Open access to my research database here.  [Tyee]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

REVIEW: Prof. Smeaton's Analysis of the Great Recession

I must confess:  I have half a dozen good books sitting on my shelf that haven't quite gotten around to reading yet. It is probably no accident that most of them deal  largely with economics. Jeffrey Sach's The End of Poverty, Crowley's Fearful Symmetry,  Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations, Loxley's Public Service, Private Profits, even Tim Harford's Undercover Economist  have all  fallen victim to the scarcity of time and stand in a queue that has yet to even reach my bedroom table.

That is why it is a treat to find a book in which the author says what he has to say in a slim volume (only 60 pages) that can be read in a day and which only costs about ten dollars. And despite its brevity, it raises two HUGE considerations that are often overlooked in discussions of the current crisis: (1) The importance and contingency of oil price shocks in triggering  economic crises and the concomitant ideological shifts that we have witnessed since the 1970s; and  (2) the policy inertia of our longstanding commitment to fighting inflation, which also dates back to the 1970s in North America (and, I would add, the late1940s in Germany). There is an almost Kuhnian attitude to economic paradigms that lies behind this work that adds much in terms of perspective.

Deflated: Causes and Cures of the Great Recession of 2009 is a useful supplement to the literature on the financial crisis and its aftermath. The latter describes in detail growth of shadow banking, the un-wisdom of Bush-era de-regulators, the sub prime bubble and the people determined to ride it for their own enrichment. Smeaton, an economist with experience in both academia and the private sector, probes beyond these factors to  examine the statistical record of both the 1929 and 2009 crises and discovers  "an overly restrictive monetary policy incapable of funding the productivity-driven growth which was underway in 1929" and that "fighting inflation was the key policy error" in both cases. Correcting this bias amongst the key players is a crucial part of correcting our course today: so too are a shift toward consumption taxes, a more accurate understanding of what Keynes said about deficits, and "the seeds of a new economics" better suited to a post oil-crisis, post-inflationary environment.

While no substitute for lengthier studies of the Great Recession by Krugman, Roberts, Rosenberg and others, this breezily-written book offers something even more valuable: an ability to think outside of the box. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Obama's Tepid Incremental Housing Policy

Andrew Leonard has written an excellent article on the role that housing policy has played in the U.S. economy and politics: .  The disappointment in Obama's performance can be traced back to his speech in Arizona on February 18, 2009, in which he announced the Homeowner Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).  The next day Rick Santelli made his famous rant on CNBC, which objected to bailing out "losers", and which went viral and sparked the "Tea Party" movement.  
"Not much of a grace period there — the Tea Party revolt started one month into Obama’s administration, and it was directly inspired by the Obama administration’s initial attempt to deal with the most pressing economic problem facing main street Americans: the collapse of the housing market."
Ironically, the tepid nature of the HAMP  disappointed Democrats, but still managed to  rile Republicans.  To me, the "either-or" choice of a conventional stimulus package over a truly bold housing policy was Obama's biggest mistake. It was understandable that an approach that spread benefits more widely would be less politically risky, but there was an appetite for bold policy--and a successful housing policy would have done at least as much as the ARRA to stimulate a faster recovery. The rhetoric of "summer of recovery" in 2010 reveals that this wishful thinking about a conventional economic recovery was alive in the White House, even though they knew that this was not a conventional recession.

That in a nutshell, is  my problem with Obama--given how popular he was in Feb 2009, and how much money he gave the banks, why couldn't he make the policy work?      "The administration failed to use its leverage with the banks to get them to participate meaningfully in the plan, and appeared to devote relatively little resources or political muscle to making it effective."

Of course, I realize that this is easier said than done--how to regulate Wall Street is a problem that has bedevilled both Right and Left in America--and continues to be the biggest problem with HAMP's successor "HARP 2.0" : .

In a sense, the problem with housing policy in 2009  was the same as the problem with Obama's first debate performance in 2012: it conceded far too much to the Opposition. Obama the Conciliator is not what excited people about him  in 2008.

Who Manages the U.S. Economy Better - Republicans or Democrats?

By Arthur I. Blaustein, Professor Community and Economic Development and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley

Most Americans have one eye on the nation’s economic crises and the other on the presidential election. And they are asking themselves, “Are the Democrats or the Republicans better for the economic health of the country as well as for my own financial well-being?” That is the defining question of this election.

A businessman who voted for Bush twice and Obama in 2008, told me, “The goals of Barack Obama’s social programs-particularly health care, education and the environment-seem good. But I’m worried the Democrats can’t manage the economy as well.”

Many voters agree, and a recent poll shows that an overwhelming majority (70 percent) cite the economy as their top concern. For years the pollsters have found that most voters believe the Republicans do better with the economy. I’ve heard the businessman’s basic point-that the Democrats have better social policies but the Republicans are better managers of the economy-more often than I’ve heard Judy Garland sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” But is it true? Don’t count on this question being examined and answered in a full, open and honest debate.

Thirty-two years ago-with the election of Ronald Reagan-we entered an entirely new phase of presidential politics. The focus since then has been who can raise the most money and package the best media image, rather than who can demonstrate the most competence and capacity to govern. Our country’s political, economic and social life has been reduced to a battle of 15-second sound bites and 30-second commercials-most of them negative attack ads-with results reported like a football score. TV news has turned democracy into “duhmocracy.”

Fortunately, we don’t have to depend on campaign slogans or advertising bucks to frame the debate. We can look to the record. Here’s the Economic Sweepstakes Quiz. The rules are simple. Guess which president since World War II did best on these eight generally accepted measures of good management of the nation’s economy. You can choose among six Republicans: Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bushes I and II; and six Democrats:
Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama. (No peeking.)

1.  The highest growth in the gross domestic product?
2.  The highest growth in jobs?
3.  The biggest increase in personal disposable income after taxes?
4.  The highest growth in industrial production?
5.  The highest growth in hourly wages?
6.  The lowest Misery Index (inflation plus unemployment)?
7.  The lowest inflation?
8.  The largest reduction in the deficit?

The answers are 1.Harry Truman, 2.Bill Clinton, 3.Lyndon Johnson, 4.John F. Kennedy, 5.Johnson, 6.Truman, 7.Truman, 8.Clinton. In the Economic Sweepstakes, Democratic presidents trounce Republicans eight times out of eight!

If this isn’t enough to destroy the myth that economy has performed better under Republicans, the stock market has also done better under the Democrats. The Dow Jones Industrial Average during the 20th century rose 7.3 percent on average per year under Republican presidents. Under Democrats, it rose 10.3 percent-which means investors gained a whopping 41 percent more. And the stock market during George W’s two terms took a nosedive while it recovered handsomely under Obama. Moreover, since WWII, Democratic presidents have increased the national debt by an average of 3.9 percent per year and Republican presidents have increased it an average of 10.3 percent. During the same time period, Democratic presidents produced, on average, an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent; Republicans 6.4 percent. That’s the historical record.

What about economic policies over the past 20 years? The Clinton administration presided over the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history. The national debt was reduced dramatically, the industrial sector boomed, wages grew and more Americans found jobs. How did the Bush-Cheney team fare? In their eight years, we experienced the weakest post-recession job creation cycle since the Great Depression, record deficits, record household debt, a record bankruptcy rate, and a substantial increase in poverty. We went from being the nation with the biggest budget surplus in history to becoming the nation with the largest deficit in history.

When Obama took office in January of 2009, this was the America that he inherited from Bush-one that was reeling from the economic fallout from the Great Recession and the worst environmental disaster in our history; a housing mortgage meltdown, with families losing their homes; skyrocketing health-care costs; unacceptable levels of unemployment and underemployment; and an aging and broken infrastructure. If this were not bad enough, local governments, states, and cities-some close to bankruptcy and others already bankrupt-were faced with massive layoffs of teachers, police, firefighters, and human-service professionals. These were hard times, and a growing majority of Americans have been telling the pollsters, for the past twelve years, that “our nation is headed in the wrong direction” and that “their children will be the first generation to do worse than their parents.”

Bush and his economic team allowed the banks, Wall Street wheelers and dealers, and real estate speculators to drive the country into near-bankruptcy. And when Obama proposed economic stimulus legislation to get us out of this financial ditch; the Republicans in Congress opposed it and complained about the size of the tow truck. From the first day Obama took office Republican leadership in Congress dusted off their old Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” buttons and purposefully and cynically obstructed any effort by Obama to get the economy back on the right track and to create more jobs.

In spite of this political reality Obama’s critics-in the media and the Republican Party--never let up attacking and blaming. They behaved like we live in the unreal world of television commercials, where a problem gets resolved in sixty seconds. You buy a new car and mysteriously, the guy or gal of your dreams suddenly appears. You switch stock brokerage firms, and you suddenly make a bundle of money. You take a pill, and all your sexual problems are resolved. All this happens with the snap of a finger. In the real world, especially politics, nothing works that way. There are no quick or painless fixes. I am reminded of an admonition from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “Judge us not by the heights we have achieved but by the depths from which we have come.” Considering the absolutely dire circumstances of the economy and the total opposition of the Republicans, Obama has done a better than decent job. His American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-the economic stimulus package-spurred economic growth, created and saved 2.6 million jobs and prevented the unemployment rate from climbing to over 12 percent.

What is downright frightening is that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan seem to still believe that an unregulated free market will solve America’s economic problems. They want to privatize Medicare and water down Social Security. They want to return to the very same failed “trickle down” economic policies of Reagan and both Bushes.

In 1980, Bush I called supply-side policies “voodoo economics.” But he embraced these “trickle-down” policies in order to become Vice-President and then President.

Reagan’s and both Bushes’ royalist economic policies were failures-fool’s paradises built on the sands of borrowed time and borrowed money. The consequences were staggering debt, industrial decline, shrinking wages, six painful recessions, increased poverty and structural unemployment. The reckless Reagan-Bush-Bush spending and borrowing brought us to the brink of social chaos and economic catastrophe.

With Romney and Ryan, (as Yogi Berra observed) “it’s déjà vu all over again.” Just like in “The Wizard of Oz,” when we finally get to see who is operating the smoke puffing machine, we find a consummate pitchman. If his overall Etch A Sketch campaign policies are dictated by holding a finger to the wind, the economic policies of the Wizard of Bain defy the basic rules of math and gravity. When you get beyond the smoke and mirrors it is essentially the same economic game plan of George W. Bush: cut taxes and reduce regulation to jump-start the economy. It’s the new-old “trickle down” potion; and as grandpa always said: “snake oil sells but it doesn’t cure.” Beyond that, Romney’s deficit reduction scheme, tax plan, and proposal for creating 12 million new jobs are all based on vague pledges and bogus numbers that are seemingly plucked out of thin air.

So, while the Romney-Ryan ticket composes hymns to patriotism, rugged individualism, “trickle-down” economics, “staying the course” on Bush’s tax cuts and family values, they are also embracing the very economic policies that both undermine the middle class and subvert the security of American family life. American families need less pious rhetoric, and more policies geared toward a healthy economy, secure jobs, decent health care, affordable housing, quality public education, renewable energy and a sustainable environment.

Romney seems unable, or unwilling, to grasp that the government has an important leadership role in this. In fact, providing tax giveaways for the rich and for corporate America is the only policy that seems to energize Romney and the Republicans in Congress; while Obama has pledged to repeal those very same giveaways. And contrary to the G.O.P. rhetoric, 90 percent of Americans-people making under $112,000 a year in individual income-would pay less taxes under Obama’s tax plan. Moreover, according to research from Professor Larry Bartels of Princeton, real middle class wage growth when a Democrat is President is double that of when a Republican is President.

With four years of Romney continuing Bush’s failed policies, we could well wake up one morning on “the economic endangered nations” list. Deficits and debt could strangle our economy for the next generation, and all but the wealthy will have a tough time making ends meet because of a shredded social safety net. On the other hand, Obama has demonstrated a willingness to confront these painful realities. On overall economic policy, he offers qualities indispensable to genuine leadership for America-patience, fairness, candor, and vision. At this critical time we need an administration that understands and believes in coherent, comprehensive and equitable policies that promote sustainable and healthy economic growth-and, on that count, Democrats have a winning record.

About Arthur Blaustein  

Professor Arthur Blaustein teaches Community and Economic Development and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books are Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport… and The American Promise-Justice and Opportunity. He served as chairman of the Presidents National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity under Jimmy Carter and on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities under Bill Clinton.

Who Creates More Jobs? Democrats or Republicans?

Democratic Data PAC has assembled and analyzed the historical US Government jobs data from 1940 to 2012. The data, arranged by Federal Fiscal Year, shows that, since 1940, Democratic Administrations have created an average of 904,000 more jobs per fiscal year than Republican Administrations.

Updated* Job Creation Numbers 1940-2012  (by Fiscal Year)

            ---In 36.25 Fiscal Years of Democratic Administrations, Jobs grew 67,345,000
            ---In 36.25 Fiscal Years of Republican Administrations, Jobs grew 34,567,000

This difference of 32,778,000 jobs means that since 1940 in 36.25 years each:

Democrats created 904,000 more jobs per year than Republicans, and
Democrats created 75,300 more jobs per month than Republicans

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Christy Clark Disaster Update : I told Ya so!

When someone yearns for the spotlight and dreams of becoming premier,  yet shows little interest in policy ideas and little patience or ability for the details of public administration, they risk becoming a political caricature.  Th at is why, upon Christy Clark's accession to the leadership of the BC Liberal Party in early 2011, I  predicted that she would be a "disaster".  Despite being the heir apparent of the Liberal Party for years, her reocrd as Minister of Education and Deputy Premier had revealed her as someone who had little taste for policy or administration. The fact that she audaciously ran for mayor without spending any time on Council  did little to dispel that impression.  Even Albertans can see that this is someone who seeks the limelight but has little affection for the details of thinking and governing.  This might be seen as Clark's last chance to win on an issue; instead she has mangled that political opportunity as perfectly as she mangled the HST. Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid had this to say about  Clark's behavior last week during her visit to Alberta, including the premier describing the benefits of the $5 billion Enbridge pipeline as "chump change" compared to B.C.'s plans for liquefied natural gas."She is, by a wide measure, the most inconsistent, self-contradictory and desperate politician in Canada," Braid wrote, also describing her as a "peculiar unelected premier, who can seem perfectly normal for about five minutes."

But dear readers, if I was so prophetically astute about Christy Clark, why won't more people listen to what I have to say about Adrian Dix? He is the Stephen Harper of the Left, so methodical and professional in his control-and-spin ways that he will have many people yearning for the days of goofy amateurishness, and the environment of open, democratic politics that that allows for. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

How Liberals and Conservatives Conspired to Bring You a Tainted Meat Crisis

In 1997, the Chretien Liberal government bowed to pressure from a combination of provincial government and business interests to transfer the responsibility for meat inspection from Health Canada to Agriculture Canada.  (A similar combination of provincial and business interests lobbied successfully  for the non-implementation of the Kyoto Treaty --see a pattern?) Since then, corporate concentration and free trade have led to the development of huge meat processing facilities like the one in Brooks, Alberta.

More recently,  the Harper Conservatives have loosened regulations and modified immigration policies to ensure a supply of less educated, less secure  and more deferential workers to do the hard work of meat processing.

While acknowledging the seemingly inexorable arguments about the value of economies of scale in this-like-any-other industry, I wonder if we shouldn't miss the decline in local  butchers and abbatoirs. And the decline of high standards, whether in the integration of  foreign workers or in the ensuring of meat safety, on the part of  the federal government.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Let's Consider a Street Nursing Program For British Columbia

When Athabasca University alumnus Tracey Collins walked across the stage to receive her Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, she brought attention to her pioneering work in street nursing--and made more than a few people like myself aware of the potential that exists for this exciting and remarkably simple idea:
“I’d been working as a hospital nurse for more than 30 years,” she explains, “and in 2000 I saw a large gap in health services. People weren’t getting the help they needed because they weren’t ‘seen’ by the health-care system.” (Cathy Nickel 2012)
Street people are too often "unseen"  because health care human resources are naturally over-concentrated in doctor-run medical clinics and hospitals--the two areas that are most easily funded under our fee-for-service health care system. Tracey, who is currently  a primary care/psychiatric outreach nurse practitioner based out of St. John’s Community Kitchen in Kitchener, Ontario, has as her  core idea  improving services delivery outreach: “I work with the psychiatric outreach team to go where needed, when needed to provide care and facilitate connections to the many services this population needs,” she says.

As a British Columbian,  I can see how this adds a whole other dimension to the value of training more nurse practitioners, especially among  the aboriginal population.  Not only are they needed to improve health services delivery in small or remote communities that don't  have full time resident physicians (this is a commonplace observation made by politicians), but also to improve services delivery to the street people of downtown Prince George, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Nanaimo and East Vancouver.   Another implication: more First Nations nurse practitioners are simply worth their weight in gold, wherever they choose to reside.

There is a federalism dimension to this as well. as my colleague Katherine Fierlbeck has commented,  the decline in  conditional funding in recent years  has meant that  provinces don’t have to worry about channeling their money into these kinds of programs; now provincial governments have the discretion to use health care money as they see fit, rather than being limited by the Canada Health Act. So don't thank Harper's "open federalism" (i.e. less money and looser reins except for the Onsite Clinic?) for what Tracey Collins has accomplished. Blame recent federal governments for creating conditions that make innovative programs such as this less likely to occur.