Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review of David Lewis's Memoir, "The Good Fight".

 <a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="The Good Fight: Political Memoirs, 1909 1958" src="" /></a><a href="">The Good Fight: Political Memoirs, 1909 1958</a> by <a href="">David         Lewis</a><br/>
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Friday, April 16, 2021

List of qualifying digital news subscriptions -

List of qualifying digital news subscriptions -

Seeing the new digital newspaper subscription tax credit was just the nudge I needed to  take out a couple of  paid newspaper subscriptions  to the Globe and Mail and i-politics.


Monday, January 27, 2020

B.C. Politics Today: Green, Red, Orange--and 50 Shades of Grey

When the leader of the B.C. Green Party chooses to sit as an Independent, while the interim party leader attends ( as a sympathetic participant) the same high-profile Native Protest that the Premier has repeatedly refused to attend, you know that something is up in B.C. politics.  We are repeatedly reassured on both sides of the Green-NDP marriage that a painful divorce is not imminent: Dr. Weaver  merely wants some “space” to deal with personal family health matters. But this seems a little odd: The Greens would surely have allowed him to take a compassionate leave from caucus duties, and the other parties would surely have excused Weaver from any committee responsibilities. Why, then, did he have to leave the party?

Perhaps his stated reason is sufficient enough to be taken at face value: he stated on his MLA blog that ““I believe that it is important for the B.C. Green party to develop a new vision and voice independent from mine. My presence in the B.C. Green caucus could hinder that independence.” Thoughtful of him---I guess. But is it considerate of the voters who elected him, in large part because he was a Green?  This could reveal a certain hubris on his part, that of course the voters of Oak Bay voted for him because he was Andrew Weaver, the distinguished climate scientists, and not because he happened to be the leader of a particular political party.

Meanwhile, Premier Horgan looks less than perfectly virtuous himself.  As with the Site C dam, he had to give in on the LNG pipeline, but it doesn’t look great. The message we are getting is that pipelines are evil—as long as they are transporting Alberta oil. If it is fracking BC natural gas on unceded native land you’re talking about , that is a completely different matter. But is it, really?
Then there are the Liberals. They are still in the news because of the blind eye they allegedly took to money laundering in the gambling and real estate industries when they were in office. According to a January 2009 RCMP anti-illegal gaming unit report, a businessman “connected to Asian organized crime” was allowed by a British Columbia public servant to buy part of a B.C. Lottery Corp. casino, and that government employee was later hired in another B.C. casino.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, instead of following the report’s recommendations, B.C.’s government defunded and disbanded the illegal gaming unit just three months later.

So whether or not Liberals did anything legally 'wrong', I have long felt that they were far too relaxed about money laundering whether in real estate or in gambling. On the other hand, as my securities regulator friend put it to me recently, nobody, either in China or the West, understood and predicted the impact of massive mainland Chinese capital flight. Easily a trillion dollars per year moves illegally out of China. When you have that much clandestine money floating around, shit happens. British Columbia, just like Australia and others, needed to make strict and clear rules about Chinese money as soon as it started coming but, again, the weight of the problem was not understood. “To put it slightly differently, when someone starts throwing money at you, you need to have really good powers of analysis and self-discipline to say “No”. You know that one of your neighbours will say “Yes” the next day.”

 We are fortunate to have finally had a change of government in 2017, so that a new party with a cleaner slate could tackle this subject. But that doesn’t mean that an Adrian Dix government between 2013 and 2017 wouldn’t have been just as compromised as the Liberals were—Dix’s own corrupt, dishonest and “process is for cheese” behaviour while Glen Clark’s assistant during the Burnaby casino scandal (and on several other occasions) strongly suggests otherwise.

 I am placing the odds of a B.C. election occurring this year, and not in the spring of 2021 as contemplated in the NDP-Green Supply Agreement, at around 50%. It is impossible to say from the current polls who would be most likely to win that election--- there is plenty to be unenthusiastic about on all sides. So, there you have it: very little black and white, just 50 shades of grey, B.C.-style.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Letter to the Edmonton Journal, Friday, November 2, 2019 (In Response to the October 24 Budget)

We have just one generation left in which to convert the Alberta Advantage (in non-renewable resource revenue) into a New Advantage built upon renewable and sustainable energy and human resources.
It is probably already too late to ever build the Heritage Trust Fund into what it should have been. But by sticking its head in the oilsands and deliberately ignoring the real problem (i.e. government’s continuing reliance upon the  energy-revenue roller-coaster, against the global backdrop of ecologically induced shifting demand and technologically induced over-supply), and ideologically pretending that the solution is simply one of cutting taxes and expenditures, this government risks squandering the few opportunities we have left to get our transition to the low-carbon economy right.
As a result, we may ultimately find ourselves no better placed to face the conditions of the mid-21st century than our neighbours in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And that would be no “Advantage” at all.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Isn't it Ironic?

By any measure, the victory of Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party (UCP) over Rachel Notley and the NDP in the April 16 Alberta provincial election was impressive: 63 seats versus 24 for the NDP, with 54.8% of the popular vote  versus 32.7% for the NDP, on a  71% turnout.  The UCP tapped into the economic insecurity of Albertans caused by a sluggish oil economy and growing frustration with the lack of pipelines. Conservative candidates promised to “stand up to Justin Trudeau” , and “get tough” with opponents in British Columbia and Quebec. Listening to Kenney and his supporters in the right-wing media, you would think that the problem was that Notley played too nice with the Feds and those “foreign-financed” environmentalists and Native peoples, and that all that was needed was to replace the carrot with the stick. In truth, the exact opposite was true: if the government of Alberta had simply tried to force BC and the Feds to allow the pipelines by threatening to “turn off the taps”, the likelihood of regulatory and judicial approval would have been even smaller.

Thus the campaign waged by the Alberta Conservatives was fundamentally ironic.    It was the federal Conservatives between 2011 and 2015, including Mr. Kenney, who discredited the National Energy Board and sparked the Idle No More protests---and ensured defeat in court over Northern Gateway. And, if the Trans-Mountain is finally approved this spring, it will be because governments and TMX have finally met the high standards of environmental protection and First Nations consultation that the law now requires.  This is the biggest irony that I have seen in federal politics since the Harper Conservatives took credit for avoiding the worst of the financial crisis, after promoting the use of sub-prime mortgages in their first budget in 2006.

As for the supposed failure of "social licence", were conservatives suggesting that a truth-based energy and climate policy is only warranted if it gets a pipeline built in under 4 years?  The irony is that our most enlightened oil companies have more in common with Ms Notley on this point than they do with Mr. Kenney: the CEOs  of Suncor,Shell and Cenovus all favour the carbon tax.   Furthermore, the NDP’s farsighted industrial diversification policy was better than anything Alberta  had seen since the days of Peter Lougheed.

All this from  the first gender-equal government in Canadian history, a government whose entire caucus had fewer scandals than any new government that I can remember. Support for pipelines outside of Alberta rose from 40% to 70% thanks primarily to the efforts of Rachel Notley, Canada’s finest premier. Can Jason Kenney really do better? It seems  more likely that he will benefit from a pipeline that was enabled by Notley’s salesmanship and paid for by the Canadian taxpayer. As Alanis Morrissette might  say, that’s more than a little ironic.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Canadian Healthcare at a Crossroads

Canadians generally like their heathcare system, and rightly so. It guarantees basic physician care and hospital care (insofar as such things can be practicably guaranteed, given our geography  and diversity), so that we can get on with our lives, and cope with catastrophic illness when that happens, without having to also worry that it will wipe out our savings or saddle us with huge debts. Most of the world’s leading health economists and health policy experts generally approve of universal care and single payer not just on the grounds of equity and general health outcomes,  but on the grounds of efficiency and cost containment as well: it pools risk, spreads cost, and provides patients generally with bargaining power vis a vis health care providers and drug companies.  From a comparative perspective, the cost  of Canada’s health care system is best described as middle of the pack-- in 2017 we spent about 10.5% of our GDP on health care (7.4% publicly and 3.1% privately), compared to an average among the ten most comparable OECD countries of  10.6%, (7.9% publicly and 2.7% privately),  #11 in spending in the OECD. (The United States, at about 17.3% of GDP,  is far and away the biggest spender.)  The problem is that many of these countries include a broader basket of health  services on a universal basis than we do. 

Canadian medicare coverage has been described as being stuck in a rut that is "deep but narrow". The narrowness comes from our difficulty imagining our dentists, home care workers, pharmacists,  optometrists and physiotherapists, etc. billing the government like our doctors and hospitals do. It also comes from our difficulty imagining a doubling of transfer payments from the federal government to the provinces in order to help pay for the expansion of coverage. Notice that the problem does NOT stem from our single-payer model per se, but from how it articulates with fee-for-service private payment schemes  and our system of fiscal federalism.

Alberta's practice of allowing a small number of visits to physiotherapists to be paid for under Alberta Health (I believe the number is six visits), has a general preventive benefit in terms of encouraging early treatment, as well as enabling workers to gauge the value of physio in managing pain, etc so that they can make an  informed decision about whether to pay for further treatment.  Similar benefits on a larger scale  could be expected from having a basic public dental plan.  I have never studied the economics of dental care specifically, but it seems to me that basic dental care (annual check up and treatment up to $1000, for example) would not only catch many problems early and thereby improve the general health and productivity of the population, but would also act as a payroll tax cut--since our company plans (such as my own) would no longer have to pay for the basic care. In other words, it should not be regarded as a deadweight loss of $1000 to the treasury, or to the economy as a whole. And just think of all the nursing costs and drug costs that could be reduced if we could just remove them from the aegis of hospital and physician care, viz. the most expensive venues imaginable.  A lot of seniors have been housed (at enormous expense) in hospitals because of the lack of space in seniors centres, or the lack of publicly-funded home care. Or kept in a hospital so that their drugs could be paid for. These practices are humane and quintessentially Canadian; but they are also wasteful.If people could access drug treatments and senior care outside of hospitals, we could help more people for the same amount of money.

So the issue is whether we can introduce a broader range of services into our provincial health plans, while still remaining a median country in terms of overall health expenditure.  In Canada , we  probably spend too much of our health care budget  in areas (physician and hospital acute care) that are expensive, and made more expensive than necessary by the fee-for -service system .  We should therefore focus on reducing and modifying fee-for-service, improving the blurred accountability created by federal transfers, and confining any experiments in "new" models of co-payment to the presently uncovered areas of homecare, pharmacare and eye and dental care. In other words,  let’s try not to throw out the single-payer baby with the bath-water.

Monday, August 20, 2018

It's Now Obvious Why We Needed a Change of Government in 2017

If you voted for the NDP in the last election because you wanted to stop the Site C project or halt the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, then you must be very disappointed. But if you did so because of the cesspools of patronage and mismanagement  at ICBC and BC Hydro, and the strong smell of dirty money in gambling and real estate suspiciously coupled with the BC Liberals’ avowed determination  to hang on to outdated campaign finance laws, then your choice has been powerfully vindicated. It was definitely time to have a change of government.

In 2001, the newly elected Liberal government vowed to take politics out of the management of BC Hydro and ICBC, as part of Gordon Campbell’s extensive “New Era” basket of promises.  Accordingly, the BC Utilities Commission had its authority to set BC Hydro’s rates restored, along with the authority to set the rates for ICBC’s compulsory Basic insurance. Following the 2009-10 recession, however, the Liberal government decided  to get more involved in the financial affairs of both major public corporations. Their profits gave the government some badly-needed revenues, and their cash transfers reduced the government’s direct borrowing requirements. The fiscal shell game had begun.  Starting in 2010, the government began to appropriate ICBC’s Optional insurance surplus capital.  In 2011, the Liberals exempted BC Hydro  from rate-regulated accounting rules; then, the following year, the government took direct control of BC Hydro’s annual rate setting authority.

  Richard McCandless  is a retired public servant  whose analysis of  the 40-year financial history of ICBC was published in the academic journal BC Studies in 2013.  His paper exposing the BC government’s manipulation of the finances of BC Hydro from 2008 to 2014 was published in that same journal  in November 2016.  As he described  it, “[t]he government’s politicization of the finances of BC Hydro and ICBC has come at the expense of future customers in a classic ‘pretend and extend’ gambit.”

McCandless shows how in  2013, cabinet imposed limits on the annual change in basic insurance rates, and suppressed  BC Hydro’s rate increases and enhanced  its apparent profits through deferring cost overruns and revenue shortfalls.  Cabinet orders in March 2014 required the Utilities Commission to approve a highly dubious “rate smoothing” deferral account  for BC Hydro, allowing it to count future unbilled revenue.  According to McCandless, “[this device allowed the government to continue to suppress electricity rates while reporting higher yearly profits as government revenue (and to extract dividends which added to BC Hydro’s debt).” 

As a result of these Liberal manoeuvres, BC Hydro customers now face a much higher debt liability, which, when coupled with  recent massive capital expenditures such as the Site C project, threaten to cause the province’s credit rating to be downgraded.  Meanwhile, over at ICBC, the failure to curb the growth in Basic claims costs, and the government’s suppression of the growth in Basic rates, has reduced the corporation’s once healthy capital reserves, making  a future  car insurance rate hike likely unavoidable.  As McCandless wrote on the eve of the election in May 2017, “The [Liberal] government’s  manipulation of the finances of the two public corporations has been incremental, and therefore has generally occurred out of the glare of the media spotlight.”   Now, the Liberals are no doubt hoping that it is the NDP who will be blamed for any rate hikes, tax increases  or credit rating downgrades necessitated by their own poor  governance.

You are probably thinking that it is only a matter of time before the NDP starts playing the same sort of games, or the Liberals get back in and start doing the same things all over again. But maybe this cycle of corruption can be broken by having a more democratic electoral system. If governments are composed of broad coalitions representing a true majority of voters, then we can hope that the parties who are  coalition partners (i.e. friendly competitors for each other’s share of the votes) can keep each other honest, making the kind of financial legerdemain  that we have seen from the BC Liberals more difficult to get away with in the future.

                                          Mark Crawford  is a professor of Political Science at Athabasca University.