A centrist commenting on politics in Canada's middle province from the "Centre of the Universe"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Are Manitoba Liberals ashamed of being... Manitoba Liberals...

The other day I received a notification that I was being followed on Twitter by the  account. 

The account describes itself as "Placing Winnipeg in the path to be 1st Human right city in western Canada. Feb 2013 Visit thinkersconference.com for more info"

Curious, I decided to go check out the website. It looked like an interesting lineup of speakers and an interesting way to tackle policy discussion in the province. 

With Axworthy chairing the event and the description of the website and twitter account, it was obvious that the event had a small l liberal bent to it. Then as I looked further andsaw Jim Carr as speaker the first night with Dr Gerrard as introducing him, I wondered just how non-partisan this event was.  

As I continued browsing the website something looked familiar on the contact us page. The address that came up was 635 broadway avenue. Having worked at the Legislature and lived on Langside south of Broadway, that addressed looked very familiar. A bit of googling confirmed my suspicions that this was indeed the address of Liberal Party HQ. Then I saw this last little bit at the bottom of the website :

In a small font in light grey on a dark grey background, the evidence that this is indeed a Manitoba Liberal Party effort. "Approved by the CFO of the MLP"

This confused me greatly and raised way more questions than answers.

If they were able to organize such a conference, why would they not want to take credit for it? 

Why spend the scarce resources of the party on a public initiative but not do any branding on it? The party needs all the publicity it can get. 

Why is there no mention of the party on the main page of the website or any main part of the website? No party colours, not even the mention of the word liberal in the vision statement. The party is not even mentioned in the related links page! 

Now some of these questions aren't that important to the greater public. However, what concerns me the most is that the only real mention of the party on the website is under the donation's page where it is stated:

"Please make your cheque payable to: Manitoba Liberal Party (Thinkers’ conference), and mail it to the above address, or call us at 204-988-9385.

If you wish to donate online, please visit manitobaliberals.ca, and click on “Donate now”."

I wouldn't accuse the Liberals of deliberately misleading people into donating to the party or attending a party event, but again this raises more than a few questions. 

Is it just they figure they have a better chance of attracting people if they do not advertise it is them doing it? 

I believe they would do more damage to themselves if people unwittingly ended up participating in and donating to a party without their full knowledge. 

If so I think the Liberal Party should look itself in the mirror and seriously consider if it is relevant in the province as a political party. 

Considering how it is going around with this conference, I think there is a fairly obvious answer to that question.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dear Toronto Drivers:

Dear Toronto Drivers,

I know it can be scary when there is 2 cm on snow falling on the roads. I know this scares you and you wish the army's reassuring presence could be called in to deal with this hard time.

As stressful as this time might, I'd like to remind you of a few things that are still unacceptable behaviors on the road.

I encountered all of these today:

- to the van cabbie and the guy in the mazda 3: coming to a dead stop in the right lane of the off ramp of the express onto the collector on the 401 and then both exiting your cars to have a verbal altercations as I approach at 100 is not ok... Good thing I have good brakes and no one was behind me...

- to both of you again... then continuing this exchange in a cat and mouse type of race on the collectors is still not ok... thanks for almost killing me twice... passing me on the left shoulder as the left lane end is not recommended...

- to the grandpa driving the lexus who almost hit the divider for 401-410. I don't know what caused this but maybe its time to rethink your drivers licence. Your family and I would thank you...

- to the Cadillac Escalade on the Allen going south: a line up of 500 meters to get off the Allen to go west on Eglinton does not mean go all the way to 150 feet in front of turn then dangerously cut off whoever is there... We're both lucky I don't need a new front end and you a new bumper...

- to the middle aged lady driving the white Toyota: the three lanes on Eglinton are still three lanes even with snow. They do not become one big left lane and a small right turn lane...

- to the teenager driving a rear wheel drive BMW... I get it... fishtailing in the snow is fun... but please just like I don't want my front end redesigned by the back end of a Cadillac, I don't want to have my rear end redesigned by a BMW...

Thank you,
Amazed I made it home alive...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why I want to support Idle no more but can't support First Nations Leadership

I believe in the grassroots movement...

I believe that we must change the reserve and Indian Act system. First Nations have the right to a stake in the management of natural resources. I believe that the best way to improve the quality of life on and off reserves is through education that respects the traditions, culture and language of first nations, through economic opportunities and most importantly through self-determination.

Until tonight I was lukewarm and leaning towards supporting Theresa Spence's hunger strike and the AFN leadership in their demands for meeting with the Prime Minister and the Governor General. Spence's hunger strike was a peaceful and honourable protest. A nice change of pace of highway and train blockades.

However after her and the First Nations leadership dithering and constant changing demands regarding a meeting the Prime Minister and the Governor General has made me lose faith that something constructive can  develop out of this movement.

While I can understand the symbolic value of having the governor general at the meeting (the Treaties were signed by the crown), if the First Nations leadership actually wanted to achieve results they would understand that having the Governor General in a meeting will actually hamper and stop any actual change happening at this meeting.

What bothers me the most is the constant changing of terms by both Theresa Spence and the First Nations leadership surrounding the meeting. Going from initial joy of having a meeting with Harper to then not participating and then participating again is simply mind boggling. They are constantly moving the goal posts as to what they wish to achieve.

Given the seriousness of a hunger strike and now the potential to Theresa Spence's life given how long her hunger strike has lasted, it displays a certain amount of bad faith.

I want to be able to improve the quality of life of First Nations across the country but so far the AFN and other chiefs have showed that they are more concerned with the semantics and visuals of a meeting than achieving concrete results. And for that reason I cannot lend my support to the First Nations leadership who claim to represent Idle no more.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

what's in store for Manitoba politics in 2013?

NDP: Regaining their mojo?
Task 1: Gain control on the budget.
Manitoba's finances are in trouble. The government hasn't been able to manage the province's finances. Even with greater revenues, the deficit was larger than predicted. It is hard to believe the "fragile world economy" is the reason for greater deficits when revenues are higher than expected...

Task 2:  Find a "raison d'être." I challenge to name of key initiative or defining issue for Selinger? Bi-pole and Hydro are quickly falling into mismanagement fiascos rather than a defining legacy. There does not seem to be a driving goal for the NDP to take into the 2015 election. After 13 years of governing, parties can becoming complacent and we might be seeing the first signs of this with the NDP.

PC: Finding the right message
Task 1: Get back on track.
Communications need to be tightened up. After a good start with some solid policy ideas, the train got derailed with a disastrous December. They lost a great opportunity with the second quarter financial update to hammer the NDP on fiscal mismanagement but ended up playing defence.

Task 2:  Unite the team / balance the wings
Stories like this hurt. Even if there isn't a volunteer crunch, a narrative like this hurts the recruitment of new volunteers. The Maz episode also created more divisions. While Maz's controversial views were known to certain members they were tolerated due to the fact that he was a dedicated volunteer to the party. However his controversial views also kept some less zealous and more moderate volunteers away. As the Republicans and Tea Party have shown, moving farther to the right might motivate the dedicated base but ultimately it will lose elections.

Task 3: Idle no more
Aboriginals and First Nations are one of the fastest growing demographics and will play an important part in Manitoba's political future. They cannot write them off and the current dissatisfaction with the status-quo, especially with the NDP handling of CFS, offers the PC a great chance to make inroads in the community. A younger generation of first nations are much more pro-business and pro-development and there is an opening there for the party.

Mission Impossible? Breaking Fort Knox
It seems that breaking Fort Knox might be an easier task than breaking electorally into Winnipeg. The latest poll numbers had very little good news. They might be leading province wide and the youth numbers were good; the Winnipeg numbers were horrible. If anyone knows how to do this, I'm sure the PC Team would love to hear from you...

Liberals: Staying alive!
Task 1: Avoid irrelevance and generate excitement
The Manitoba Liberals have established a long leadership race to replace Dr. Gerrard. So far they have one declared candidate Robert Young while another potential candidate (Ajay Chopra) ruled himself out. There is still plenty of time to raise awareness for this race but having only one candidate is definitely not the way to do it. A one candidate race is a sure one way ticket to irrelevance.

Task 2: Replacing the Good Doctor with a Good Communicator
The past few elections the Liberals have been able to build solid platforms but have lacked a good communicator. While Harper proves that electoral success doesn't only come from a charismatic leader, he or she must be able to communicate. In replacing Gerrard, the Liberals first priority should be somehow who can communicate well above all else.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory...

I don't think it is a controversial statement to say that the PCs have had a bad few weeks. From Pallister's home purchase story to the Brayd Mazurkiewich's inevitable and unsurprising public outing as a racist-bigot.  The PCs own behavior managed to push off the front page what should have been the conversation over the holidays at many family reunions in the province.

The fact that Selinger reneged on one his main election promise; that Manitoba will be in deficit for more years; and that our yearly deficit is larger than expected even if revenues are up.

The increased spending are even in departments that are easier to predict year of year which points to administrative incompetence.

Rather than discuss the fact that Selinger and the NDP are quickly running out of excuses for running up the provinces debt, Manitobans will be discussing Pallister's new house and Maz's "freeloading Indians" comment.

As the expression goes, the PCs were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this month. Giving the NDP the best Christmas gift they could have hoped for.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A crazy idea: Income taxes

A few weeks ago when Brian Pallister proposed increasing the basic personal exemption I wrote this op-ed I thought of submitting to the Frep. I first heard this idea from my Econ prof during the 1st year of my masters. It has been floating in my head ever since. In the end I figured the idea was a bit too crazy for the Frep but tonight I decided to put on the blog to get some feedback! Let me know what you think. I have a few other crazy policy ideas that I might throw up here if there is interest. 

It is time to expand the conversation about taxes

Up or down? A Carbon tax to save the environment or a job killing tax on everything? Tax credits for enrolling your kids into a cultural or sport activity. The discussion about taxes in Canada over the past few years have revolved around these few simple easy to understand vote-buying concepts. I have also done some basic calculations as to how certain increases-decreases in budgets could impact departments. If anyone is interested in these I'm happy to share them. 

Last week, Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Pallister proposed increasing the minimum exemption for income taxes in Manitoba. This policy is desperately needed in Manitoba as it would help alleviate poverty and ensure Manitoba remains competitive with other western provinces.

However, in a healthy democracy, the discussion surrounding taxes needs to go beyond the simple rates we pay as citizens. It is time that as citizens, we get a greater say as to how our taxes are spent. 

The federal government’s use of an omnibus budget highlights this need even more. The use of omnibus budget bills clearly reflects the fact that local Members of Parliament have lost the ability to have any meaningful impact on government’s spending priorities.  Citizens must be empowered to have a say as to how their tax dollars are spent as parliament no longer represents their will.

Involving citizens directly in the budget making process is one step in reengaging citizens, strengthening our democracy and making governments more responsive to our needs.

The idea is straightforward; an income tax code where citizens decide which percentage of his or her taxes to allocate to each department.  If we can design such a cumbersome tax code with a multitude of evermore ridiculous tax exemptions, why not a tax code where people can decide where their money is allocated?

Take for example the provincial government here in Manitoba. It collected $2.8 billion in personal income taxes according to its 2012 budget. This represented 25% of total revenues for the province. In broad lines, Manitoba spent 44% of its budget on health, 20% on Education, 9% of Family services, 19% on Community, Economic and Resource Development and 7% on Justice and Other Expenditures.

Under this proposal, a taxpayer could decide to allocate his or her income taxes in the same proportion as these or increase their spending on health over community, economic and resource development. Each and every person would have the opportunity to support their priorities. This would ensure that citizens are more engaged as to how their money is spent. And increase demands for accountability from those who spent it.

For politicians and bureaucrats who may fear the prospect of direct democracy, it is important to note that only 25% of the budget would be impacted. This would allow an important amount of citizen participation but would still leave 75% of the budget in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats.

Ultimately the impact of such a move should be hotly debated. Would we see a large shift in public policy or a continuation of the status quo? Would health care continue to see its large increases? Would military budgets see reductions to the benefit of environmental policy? Would we see a shrinking or an enlargement of government? 

Our democracy can only win by discussing these questions and it is exactly this debate I hope to foster by proposing this.