Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Trudeau's Headaches and Possible Solutions in an Election Year

The next general election for Canada will take place on or before Oct 21, 2019. While various polls show Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the lead, with right wing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh failing to capture the public's attention, a lot can change from now to October. The never ending honeymoon that Trudeau was seemingly enjoying in the first two years has all but vanished, and there's a growing sense that he might be in trouble during the election. I will talk about his good work, and his challenges, and how the Liberals can overcome those.

Here are some good things Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has done:

1. He kept promises such as overhauling the child benefit plan, legalizing cannabis, giving parents option of extended parental leave.

2. Lowered taxes for the middle class, while increasing the taxes for the wealthiest 1%.

3. Reversed many of the excesses of the Harper era, such as unmuzzling government scientists, enabling the long form census for Stats Canada, revitalized federal ocean science programs and promoting the national parks program.

4. Made all of Canada's national parks free for the Canada 150 event.

5. Strengthened the Canada Pension Plan, and increased infrastructure funding to a historic $120 billion over the next 10 years.

6. Simplified family immigration by decreasing the time taken to sponsor new family members, particularly spouses.

7. Signed the Paris Climate Change agreement.

8. Took in over 30,000 refugees from Syria.

9. A gender balanced cabinet.

Trudeau also had some major disasters, such as the trip to India, the broken promise of electoral reform and his problem with deficits.

Going forward, these are likely to be his greatest challenges in the election:

1. Some Canadians are feeling left behind.

It's a bit surreal, but the Canadian economy is motoring along nicely. Unemployment is at its lowest in decades, and inflation is on target at just over 2%. Canada has also managed to sign a new free trade deal with US and Mexico, and have dealt efficiently with Trump.

Yet there is no question that some Canadians feel left behind. They are uncertain of the economic direction of the country. The finance department has said deficits could remain till 2040. House prices remain high. Millennials are finding life more expensive and harder than their parents. There is a sense that the middle class is slipping. For Trudeau, who campaigned on the promise to help "the middle class and those working hard to join it", that could spell trouble.

2. Oil

There is the carbon tax, which is being heavily fought by a few of the premiers. And then there is the neverending saga of the pipeline. Trudeau wants the pipeline to be built, yet he has been unable to deliver on this. This is hurting Alberta and hurting the Liberal-friendly NDP government there. While Alberta was never a Liberal stronghold, a combination of low oil prices, carbon taxes that may not work exactly as planned due to market variations and a hostile new provincial government in Alberta helping the Conservatives might spell deep trouble for the Liberals.

3. Immigration

Issues like healthcare and economy usually dominate the Canadian list of concerns during an election. But this time immigration could play a role. In the past two years, over 38,500 migrants have crossed the border illegally in order to turn themselves over to authorities and make refugee claims. The sheer number of asylum seekers has strained the resources of government and community organisations. The wait-time for hearings by Canada's refugee board has edged up to an average of around 20 months. But with a report projecting that supporting and processing the asylum seekers could cost taxpayers over C$1bn, there is a growing sense the file has been mishandled.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is one of the least popular ministers in Trudeau's cabinet, according to the Angus Reid Institute. Given the subject tends to bubble up into public consciousness in late summer when migrant numbers have jumped in the past, this could be a lurking vulnerability for Trudeau.


1. Keep the focus on Scheer's extreme right wing tendencies.

Canadians still remember the dark era of the Harper majority government. Trudeau should keep reminding people about how similar Scheer is to Harper, and in fact he is even more extreme. He should remind Canadians about the assault on democratic institutions; the war on the press; the muzzling of scientists; the drumbeat of official lies; the assault on the Supreme Court; the politicization of the RCMP; the abandonment of the UN; the retreat from multilateralism; the rush to war; and a string of corruption scandals, including one that led directly to the door of the Prime Minister’s Office. The senator Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright Affair. Trumpland before Trump.

2. Remind Canadians that he is the only one to have dealt properly with Trump, neither making him an enemy nor caving to him on every front.

There is a sense that the Conservatives would simply bend over to Trump and give everything to him on a silver platter. Trudeau should remind voters that he has gone toe to toe with the US President and come out a winner.

3. Remind Canadians about his promises kept and the Conservative broken promises.

If Jason Kenney wins in Alberta and harrumphs about the shortcomings of former Premier Rachel Notley and the Prime Minister, Trudeau should note that the Harper government, in which Kenney was a senior cabinet minister, never delivered a single pipeline to Alberta. Not one. Trudeau meanwhile has not only supported the Kinder Morgan pipeline, he has bought it.

4. Cut down on the feminist part, and play for the male voter.

Trudeau needs to show to the male voters that he gets their pain. That he understands the bread and butter issues. "Because it's 2015" is not going to work in 2019. According to NANOS polls, more male voters are drifting away from the Liberals due to their concerns about the economy. Tour the factories, the construction work on the infrastructure, and cut down on the selfies.

In other words, more steak, less sizzle.

Monday, January 07, 2019

What is the Conservative Plan for the Environment?

What is the Conservative Plan for the environment?

Image credit: Moudakis

Lately Scheer, the leader of the Opposition, has been in the news for criticizing PM Trudeau's carbon tax plan. And while it's never good for your criticism itself to make the news, the Scheer was not only using false information (and outright lies) in his rebuttal, his party did not seem to have a comprehensive plan of their own to offer.

The challenge for any Canadian government is to reduce greenhouse emissions, but at the same time not hurt our industry or jobs.


Starting in 2019, Canadians will start to pay more for the gas they burn and the products they buy, but the cost will depend on where you live – and whether your province has its own carbon tax, or whether Ottawa is imposing its own. Ottawa’s goal is to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Yukon and Nunavut will have to pay a tax of $20 per tonne of emissions (4.4 cents per litre of gasoline). The tax will increase by $10 a year until it reaches $50 per tonne by 2022, but most of it will be returned to residents in the form of rebates — which for many Canadians will be more than what it will cost them (as per the government). Here’s what that means for the average family in Ontario: According to the federal government, the average Ontario household will pay $244 in direct and indirect costs for carbon, but will receive $300 under the “climate-action incentive,” for a net benefit of $56.

The federal government said 90 per cent of the carbon tax revenue collected will go back to households in the affected provinces and territories through Climate Action Incentive payments; the remaining 10 per cent will go to hospitals, schools and businesses in order to help develop greener solutions.


That is the government plan. Now let's see what (or where) is the Opposition's plan. The Conservative Party opposes the carbon tax and are trying to make it a wedge issue ahead of October’s federal election.

- First of all, Scheer was caught in a lie. Previously he said his own plan would meet the Paris accord, now he is saying it won't. Second, despite MOST economists saying a carbox tax is the most efficient way to reduce emissions, Scheer has opposed it from the beginning on ideological grounds. Once again, what's his plan?

- In the New Year, Scheer was caught making false statements again. First he said a carbon tax won't reduce emissions and cut jobs.

Fact: B.C. ALREADY has a carbon tax plan. According to the B.C. government, since implementation GDP grew by 17 per cent and net emissions dropped by 4.7 per cent. So the idea that carbon taxes stifle businesses by itself is false. Alberta has already followed with its own carbon tax plan.

Fact: Countries and provinces which already have carbon taxes in place haven’t reported that factories or companies left, and in places like Sweden the economy has grown under a carbon tax, and the government says small- to medium-sized businesses were competitive on the global marketplace because of their green initiatives, the World Bank reported in 2016.

- Next, Scheer said there is an "exemption" for largest emittors so the plan won't work.

Fact: Environment Canada spokesperson Sabrina Kim explained that this is the same approach taken by the EU, California, Quebec, Alberta, and it will cut pollution, drive innovation and keep Canada's industries competitive. Chris Ragan, chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, said it’s less of an exemption and more of a tax break to keep Canadian companies competitive.

If all you did is you put a carbon price in place, you’d be paying that tax on your carbon emissions but your competitors in Nebraska wouldn’t be. So Scheer is challenging the very mechanism used to keep Canadian companies competitive.

So, one has to ask:

WHERE IS THE CONSERVATIVE PLAN? Is it all hot air, and nothing to show for it? Do they even care about the environment at all?

Source: CBC, CTV, Global News

Sunday, January 06, 2019

USMCA: How Trudeau Tackled Trump

Everyone remembers the handshake. Or the buttering up of Trump's fragile ego by Team Canada and the soft appeal to his daughter. Yet, underneath all that angst and bitterness, the Prime Minister of Canada has shown a firm resolve to ensure Canada does not suffer under the gross and inept stupidity that is the current US administration. Here is how Team Trudeau protected Canada during the NAFTA (and ultimately USMCA) negotiations.

1. Cars

Cars sold now must be more North American (75%). This is a win for Canada as there is also a US$16 minimum wage requirement, which cuts competition from China and Mexico. Very smartly Canada hid behind a US push for this to protect their own interests.
And when Mexico caved in first to US, this gave Canada more leverage to smoothen out irritations. Moreover, Canada was given a quota to export 2.6 million cars to the US every year, tariff free, and currently we ship much less.

2. Dairy

This is where Canada gave some concessions, but no more than what was already given to the trans Pacific free trade and the EU free trade agreements. Trump wanted to dismantle our supply management system, yet now they had to be happy with access to 3.6% of our market.

Additional imports mean less captive domestic market for Canada’s farmers, which means more farms may downsize herds and close. It will force our dairy sector to become more competitive, and may eventually translate into lower grocery prices, according to Sylvain Charlebois, a business professor at Dalhousie University.

3. Steel

Pretty much nothing has effectively changed. US still needs much more steel and aluminum than they can currently produce, and they HAVE to import it from us, so their tariffs are hurting their own consumers, while our tariffs remain in place as well.

4. Dispute Resolution

Despite much hot air from Trump, Canada has ensured that Chapter 19 resolution process remains in place. The fact that Canada prevailed here will be touted as a significant win by the Canadian negotiators.

“Having a robust and fair dispute-resolution mechanism is absolutely critical to maintaining a rules-based trading system and providing an avenue for Canada and Canadian companies to appeal unwarranted duties,” Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, said in a statement.

5. Sunset Clause

Another stupid idea floated by Trump, Canada has ensured there is no expiry date for the new NAFTA. Hence businesses can plan for growth and future without worrying about the treaty expiring.

6. Others

Oil. Labour. Drugs. Wine. On all those issues, pretty much nothing has effectively changed in a major fashion, despite much US complaints. In all of those issues, Canada has held firm and Trudeau managed to get his way.

Source: Washington Post, Maclean's

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why Ford Will Get Away With His Use of Notwithstanding Clause

Regardless of whether you think Ford was right to use the notwithstanding clause, what is not in debate is his right to use it. All the talk about him suspending Charter rights and democracy is rubbish; the Charter specifically gives Premier Ford the right to use the notwithstanding clause. Here is why I think he will go politically unscathed despite using what is called a "nuclear option" on such a small thing.

  1. Most polls actually show a broad public support for reducing the size of the Toronto council. At worst case for him, the support is split even. Let's face it: when was the last time you felt we needed more politicians? So Ford is trying to do a thing which has public support.
  2. All these talks of how "experts" think we need more members in the council and how "experts" have railed against Ford's plans is useless talk. Think about it - these same "experts" have been saying we don't need to expand Toronto subways, we need LRTs. These same experts think we need more taxes. These same experts think Toronto is functioning well but we need to reduce cars in the city. Meanwhile, traffic in Toronto is now at a crisis, commuting takes longer than ever, and the subway across Toronto has been stuck from Kipling to Kennedy for the last twenty years. These same so-called experts have totally failed, and missed the ball. Toronto needed subways twenty years ago, not now. When Ford (and previously his brother) railed against LRTs and said we need more subways, they were right, and the people knew they were right, experts be damned. So if Premier Ford wants to do this to help him build transit in the city, the people are going to be behind him.
  3. The notwithstanding clause was specifically meant to be used in cases of judicial overreach, or an activist jury. And this is precisely what we have here. I mean, which judge uses the word "crickets" in his statement? His disdain for Ford showed through every word of his ruling. Like it or not, Ford as Premier has the right to overrule City Council any time. The cities are creatures of the province. Yes, the writ has dropped for municipal elections, but that doesn't mean anything. The judge specifically said this law limited candidate's freedom of expression - which doesn't even make sense. An appeal process would take far too long - hence comes the "nuclear hammer" or the notwithstanding clause.
  4. Ford was elected by Ontario. You can say that most people don't vote or complain about the FPTP system, but the fact is that this guy was elected with a majority mandate and he has the right to go ahead with his agenda. Four years later, he will be judged by the public on this. Using the courts to stall and delay what is not essential attacks on Charter rights is just a stalling tactic and the general public gets it, even if the elites at Toronto Star don't.
At the end of it all, Ford will be judged on whether he got transit built. He is right when he said John Tory talked a lot and got nothing done (*cough* SmartTrack *cough*). So let's give Ford a chance and see if he can get something done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I am endorsing the NDP for the 2015 Elections

There are two things you should look at when you select anyone for a job.

One. If he or she has the qualifications and strength necessary for the job.

Two. The person be an honourable man or woman of integrity who can be trusted.

Tom Mulcair of the NDP has been a successful cabinet minister in the government of Quebec, and the leader of the Opposition for the last five years. He has over thirty five years of experience in government, and can draw on the experience of the NDP in provincial governments around the country. Clearly he can do the job, and do it well.

However, it can be argued that so can the others. Stephen Harper of the Conservatives has been a Prime Minister for the last ten years (his job and economic record can be debated) and Justin Trudeau, despite the "Not Ready" campaign, can draw on the experience of his vastly qualified slew of candidates in cabinet.

Where Tom Mulcair triumphs the others is with his integrity, honesty and trustworthiness. He is a man of principles who stands by his principles when he is convinced he is correct, regardless of how unpopular his stance may be or the political cost. This is in sharp contrast to the Liberals, who will say anything to get elected, throw their principles out of the window if they are against the political climate and the Conservatives, whose principles are actually to divide the country and set Canadians against each other to win votes.

Mulcair didn't need to support a woman's right to dress as she please - he knew it was going to cost him votes in Quebec. Mulcair didn't need to oppose Bill C51 - it was a hugely popular bill at the time. Yet in both those cases, he made the correct decision despite the short term cost, and history will vindicate that he was on the right side in the long term.

This is a leader, the only leader, who has the support of the First Nations, who has reached out to communities across the country without patronizing them, who has supported the minorities and the less privileged of the society when it wasn't fashionable to do so. He has been opposed to the Conservative agenda from day one and when he says something - you can be sure it's because he believes in it himself, and not because it will get him some votes.

On this election, forget strategic voting. Polls in Canada have been consistently wrong since 2008 elections. Vote for your conscience. Vote for the only party that cares about you.

Vote NDP.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

elexn42: Harper's Economic Policies

So I am definitely not pro-Harper. I am almost certain I will vote NDP. I want the Conservatives to be dethroned from power in Canada. Despite all of this, I have to say Harper probably has the better economic suggestions so far.

- Can't really blame Harper for the economy; this is a global catastrophe and Canada is a smallish player. Look at Ontario: it's in terrible condition and it's all Liberal governments there.

- Harper is blamed from deficit budgets when it was forced on him initially by a minority government where the Liberals and NDP had the balance of power.

- Harper isn't really adding any permanent spending (obligations) on the Canadian government unlike the NDP with their childcare plan (good intentions, but it would be a disaster to run).

- My taxes have actually gone down under Harper and benefits gone up.

- Harper's proposal to limit foreign ownership of property (especially Chinese ownership) is long overdue (question: why hasn't he done it in 5 years as a majority power?).

- Liberal plans to increase taxes on wealthy but not corporate taxes is pretty stupid when it's proven that raising corporate taxes forces them to spend the money on employees and equipment.

Where Harper definitely deserves to go is on fields more important than economy. He has downgraded the democracy and the openness of Canadian society, increased divisions and apathy, changed our long standing foreign policy and increased the reach of government in our private lives.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A New Streetcar Everyone Desired

The Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) had been teasing us about the new streetcars for a year now. They were supposed to be accessible, air conditioned, quieter, smoother and so on. I knew that they would be rolling out the new streetcars on the Spadina route on Aug 31, 2014. Two days before that, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the new streetcar while they were testing it.

It really looked slick. It was futuristic and looked completely different than the streetcars currently used in service. I couldn't wait for Aug 31 to come.

On September 1, Labour Day, my brother and I decided to head downtown for some work. We would be using the Spadina route. As we waited for our streetcar to come, I was disappointed to see they were still using the old streetcars on the route. I asked someone with a TTC badge, and they replied initially there was only 2 new models on the route; the rest would be rolled out gradually. Something about a workers' strike at the Bombardier plant. Ah, strikes - the price of freedom and labour equality and all that stuff. Grunting a sigh, I boarded the old streetcar.

Yesterday, September 3, I stepped off the subway platform at Spadina and saw a huuuuuuge lineup for the streetcars. What was going on?

It turned out that it was just a regular rush hour crunch. We were all waiting for streetcars. I was wondering - would I get to ride the new streetcar?

YES! Suddenly the new streetcar rolled into the station. Almost immediately everyone headed for the doors. There was no time to take a picture - I had to board. I was in! Once seated, I noticed just how big (and spacious) this new streetcar was. This one streetcar had almost four times the capacity (or even more - I am estimating) of the old streetcar. It was crowded, but not suffocating.

And then, it was my stop. My ride lasted a mere 4 quick stops, and it was over before it had begun.

Hmm. I thought. That was great (it was a very smooth ride) but how do I get to ride one again? I had the lunch hour coming up, and I have a transit pass that allows me unlimited rides, but I knew there was only 2 new streetcars on the route. I didn't want to spend 30 minutes waiting streetcar after streetcar until the one I wanted came by.

Enter the Internet. So there is this website that lets you know where the next streetcar is, and if it's the new one or not. I love living in the First World where this sort of thing is possible. I picked a time a little after lunch hour, when I thought the car would be less crowded, monitored the map, and then headed out for the stop.

And old streetcar came ambling by.

I let it go. I noticed that they had installed new fare machines on each stop, and there was a TTC person on hand to explain the machine to riders. And then I saw the new streetcar come into view.

I got in! My plan was to ride it to the Spadina station and then back again to my stop. Boy was it spacious inside. It almost felt like I was in a train or an LRT instead of in a streetcar. There was a streetcar route map on board. By 2019, every one of those routes would have these modern streetcars.

Surprisingly the streetcar was fairly packed. Not quite full, but not empty either. Talking to some people I found that like me, they had especially waited to board this new streetcar.

There were displays for the street name, and even an announcement of every stop. Besides, if someone requested a stop, you would see the signal light up. Very good UI.

 There was that familiar yellow strip bar to press in case of emergencies. Just like the train.

Big windows and doors let in maximum sunlight, thus creating a roomy feeling. The floor was quite low, and yet the ride was very smooth. You would not even hear the wheels against the rails. I guess the true test would come in the years ahead - the older streetcars had been plying the roads for over 30 years.

And then the streetcar got to Spadina station. This was the terminus stop. I would probably have at most a minute as the passengers unloaded, and moved away, before the next set of passengers would load. Time to take some pictures of the now empty streetcar.

It was long. The new streetcar has 5 modules, and is almost 30 metres in length. This is more than 4 times the length of the older streetcar.

The driver no longer collects the fare. You pay your fare on these new machines that takes tokens or cash. You can board through any of the doors now (which prevent the jamming up at the front problem that occurs on regular streetcars as people don't move to the empty space at the rear). I wondered what would happen on a really crowded car - how would you get to the fare machine? The answer - every stop on route has a fare machine, as well as the stations.

See the blue seats? That's part of the new designated Priority Area for customers with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Besides, the new streetcar has a low floor, and is accessible to all by a ramp that is deployed by operators when requested (you push the illuminated blue accessibility button on the second set of doors). As folks were now starting to board, I got to see the new ramp in action.

It soon got busy again as the streetcar started to head back down Spadina.

Everyone was taking pictures of the new ride and enjoying the roomy seating and the bright, big windows.

I moved to the end of the streetcar and saw a button on the door. I asked one of the TTC folks (helpfully seated there to orient riders with the features of the new car) on why this button was there. He replied that this will open the door of the car at the stop. On busy routes at rush hour, all the doors automatically open, so I wouldn't need to press the button. However, at night or if the streetcar isn't on a busy route, doors may remain shut unless there are passengers waiting to exit. I like it.

Soon it was my turn to exit. All in all, it was a great ride, and makes for a much better transit experience. And to think this is what some people who hated streetcars fought against! I can't wait until they replace the whole fleet on every route with these new vehicles.

Note: All pictures taken with my Google Nexus 4 phone camera.