Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Foul Ball

Imagine the following scenario - it may sound a little far-fetched, but bear with me:

The NHL has resumed play, and with the new salary cap looking to make the Toronto Maple Leafs (even more) profitable no matter how bad the team does, the team's value has skyrocketed and the pension fund owners are looking to sell while the selling's good.

There are a couple of rival bidders for the team. One is being led by a former friend of Pierre Trudeau who helped put together the National Energy Program and who remains a key fundraiser for the Liberal party.

The other group includes Don Cherry, (flush from sales of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em 32 and the latest round of sub commercials), as a minor partner.

Now, imagine that the honourable Stephen Owen, Liberal minister for sport, comes out and says that, given Cherry's outspoken nature and conservative views on many issues, really it would be better for everyone if Cherry wasn't allowed to own an NHL team and that the NHL shouldn't look for any favours from the government if they let Cherry become an owner.

I'm guessing people might not take this too well.

So what's the point of me bringing up this absurdly unlikely hypothetical? Because if you live in the U.S. it's not absurdity - it's reality.

The excellent baseball blog, 'Yard Work', gives one of the Republican lawmakers in question a chance to explain himself, which he does with surprising candour.

I bring this up for three reasons. One, because it's just so nuts I had to say something and two, to help show why any signs of Canada becoming more like the U.S. make me nervous and three, to help show why I tend to be distrustful of right wing parties which claim to favour a small non-interfering government.

Note: thanks to Spearin for the links.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Section 15

Perhaps I've just watched too much Roswell, but my first reaction on seeing the blog named Section 15 was that it was probably some reference to the Canadian equivalent of Area 51 (a military base in the western U.S. where aliens supposedly crashed/landed a few decades back) or something.

As it turns out, Section 15 is just the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which talks about equal treatment and protecting Canadians from discriminatory laws. Anyway, I bring this up because Mark, from Section 15, has a great post up clearly explaining the legal ins and outs of section 15 and the rest of the charter as it relates to discriminatory laws.

It's well worth a read.
(and I'm not just saying that because his post links back to one of my posts!)

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Same Sex Marriage Round-Up

Just a quick note to point out that in case you are looking for blog commentary (blogentary?) on the passage of the same-sex marriage bill last night, the Green Lantern has a good round-up.

Update: As Andrew notes in the comments, this round-up is pretty much focussed on views from supporters of the bill.

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Same-Sex Marriage & The Efficient Society: Perfection vs. Efficiency

Note: This post is a continuation from this earlier post

In chapter 2 of The Efficient Society, Joseph Heath compares two possible value systems for a society: trying to achieve perfect virtue vs. trying to be as efficient as possible.

Heath argues that throughout time most societies have viewed the pursuit of good (virtuous) living as the goal of society. Whether in the world of Islam, Europe in the middle ages, or Communism in the Soviet Union, society functioned by requiring everyone to buy into the same set of moral values. Of course this required getting agreement on what actions are virtuous and which are vices - here religion traditionally (although not always, as the Communist example shows) plays a big role in determining which actions are good (those which please God) and which are bad (those which offend God).

The (potentially) fatal flaw in this type of arrangement is pretty clear - it only works if there is near unanimous agreement about what is virtuous and what is bad. Seen from this perspective, the greatest threat to this type of society is the heretic or dissident - which helps explain why heretics and dissidents have been treated so appallingly (by modern standards) throughout history and why so many societies/religions work so hard to 'convert' people to their beliefs.

Heath argues that the combination of advancing technology (which made disagreements much more lethal) and the Reformation which split the church in Europe and caused numerous civil wars led people to reconsider whether this was a sustainable model for society. He suggests that it was the 'social contract' theorists, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke et al, who developed a new set of values for society. In this new model, the state would no longer seek to impose values on society but would only use the powers which society agreed (contracted) that it should have, most notably a monopoly over the use of force to enforce contracts and prevent disagreements over values from getting out of hand and causing more civil warfare.

Heath calls this new model 'the efficient society' because, with the state's role reduced to enforcing contracts rather than values, legitimacy is shifted to those transactions which both parties enter into voluntarily. And since both parties enter voluntarily, it is presumed that both gain something - i.e. it is a win-win transaction. But in order for both parties to gain, the transaction must be doing things more efficiently than in the past. Since nobody stands to lose anything from these win-win contracts, there is no reason for violence over clashing values, and everyone can just get along.

In this model, everybody keeps their values to themselves, since to impose them on (unwilling) others would require the use of force, and this is reserved to the state which is mandated not to intervene in matters of values (what we generally refer to as the separation of church and state).

This should become a lot clearer with an example. For a topical example (which Heath also dwells on at length) let's consider the debate on Same Sex Marriage.

In a society which depends on a shared set of values, it is necessary to assess the virtue of various activities, with sex being a major topic of interest. Pretty consistently, societies have decided that the virtue of sex (God's purpose in creating sex, if you will) was for the creation of children - which makes a fair bit of sense. From there it is an obvious next step to say that all sex which can lead to the successful upbringing of children (i.e. intercourse between a married couple) is good and pretty much everything else (gay sex, straight sex which won't lead to children, contraception, abortion, etc.) is bad.

Now consider sex in a contractual society. In this society, the state's role is simply to enforce contracts and to maintain it's monopoly on the use of force. So as long as some sex act has been agreed to by two (or more) consenting adults - that is a win-win 'efficiency' gain1 and the state has no right to interfere. Only where there is a lack of consent (rape, pedophilia) has the monopoly on force been violated and the state needs to step in and punish the offenders.

So, as Heath says, opponents of same-sex marriage may question the values which lead us to accept this act, but these are the same values our society has been built on for hundreds of years now and approval of same-sex marriage is just an artifact of these values finally being reflected in our laws after a long lag time.

We can see this clash of values: perfection vs. efficiency, very clearly in the Canadian blogosphere.

Consider this post from Curt at Northwestern Winds. He quotes an address to the UN by Chris Kempling,
"One would think that tolerance would mean that social liberals would be tolerant about our religious beliefs. In the Newspeak of today, however, tolerance means everyone is obliged to take a liberal attitude towards immoral sexual behaviour, but those who practice that immoral behaviour do not have to tolerate Christian beliefs which oppose such behaviour."

...and then concludes with,
"This trend is appalling abuse of the vaunted separation of church and state, itself ironically an American concept. Too many people think that slogan runs only one way. Get a clue: it means the churches can't set bars to the levers of government and it means that the government will not hinder the thoughts and teaching of the churches in the private sphere. What is happening, and this is why the trend is so alarming, is that the understanding of what is private is shrinking, and very rapidly too."

By suggesting that same-sex marriage supporters are being intolerant themselves and trying to deny the rights of religious people to enter into contracts (speaking engagements for example), same-sex marriage opponents can use the efficiency values of our society against same-sex supporters, and feel as though they have the upper moral hand, even on an efficiency basis.

The trouble is that there is really no significant movement of any kind to prevent churches from doing whatever they want on the issue of the treatment of gays. The catholic church still doesn't allow women(hardly a particularly downtrodden group, especially in comparison to gays) to become priests and the government isn't stepping in and forcing them to and it's not going to.

The reason statements against gay marriage by church leaders draw opposition in our society is that, while the statements are obviously made in the private sphere (where else could they be made?), their objective is to influence the public sphere. Specifically, the objective is to use the coercive power of the state (as Bishop Henry so honestly stated) to prevent gays from entering into win-win contracts (in this case marriage). That is where the opposition to church statements against gay marriage comes from - because, while accepting that society in general operates on values of efficiency, many religious people view the particular case of gay marriage as being so extremely unvirtuous that it requires state intervention to impose the values of one group on another.

Previously, I had never really understood why gay marriage opponents would put themselves through logical contortions and make exaggerated claims but I see now that a lot of it stems from trying to find a rationale for opposing same-sex marriage which doesn't conflict with our society's efficiency values.

Now, consider this post from Skippy over at The Amazing Wonderdog:
"I can understand why some people are so vehemently opposed to gay marriage, why people simply feel that something about this is, well, wrong - and it's why I feel that I'm not vilifying anyone by accusing Stephen Harper of pandering to the homophobe vote.

But there's a difference between me and the people Harper is pandering to: I recognize that this [being uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex] is my problem, and mine alone."

"We have no right to limit their rights, or their happiness, or to place obstacles in their lives purely to make ourselves comfortable.

Your right to swing your fist ends at the end of my nose, as the old saying goes."
"Tolerance is not a matter of having no qualms; if it were, we wouldn't call it "tolerance." It's a matter of putting aside your qualms and recognizing that you cannot impose them on others."

Skippy has fully internalized the efficiency values of our society. The monopoly of the state on the use of force (coercion), the true nature of tolerance and why it's important, and the fact that in an efficiency based society we have no right to deny others from entering into win-win contracts.

For a final word, see why Andrew at Bound by Gravity is such a good blogger in this recent quote from him:
"If we [the Conservative party] are ever going to unseat the Liberals then we MUST stop acting like the Christian Heritage Party, and start acting like Canada's next government. Canadians, by and large, don't give a rat's ass about issues of conscience - they care about day-to-day things like money, medicare, and infrastructure. Talk their language and you might be surprised at how so many of them are willing to listen."

I had to give Andrew the last word because he sums the whole situation up in a few short sentences. Canadians, by and large don't care about perfection of virtue (issues of conscience), what they care about is efficiency (money, medicare, infrastructure). Therefore the Conservatives have to stop speaking the language of shared virtue (acting like the Christian Heritage Party) and talk to Canadians in terms of efficiency. Well said.

Anyway, this was probably my favourite chapter in the book because, even just in the week since first reading it, it has really sharpened my understanding of both history and some current debates such as same-sex marriage.

One thing that I'd like to investigate further is a possible link between these two value systems Heath describes and the two systems of ethics described by Jane Jacobs in 'Systems of Survival'2. Jacobs argues we have two different sets of ethical rules, one for activities which are generally based on taking things (generally government/military activity - things involving the use of force) and one based on trading things (affecting commercial activity primarily).

Clearly there is some overlap here, although Jacobs argues that successful societies need to use both ethical systems simultaneously with each supporting the other, whereas Heath argues that 'efficiency values' have gradually been driving out 'Perfectionist/Common Virtue' values ever since the days of Thomas Hobbes (centuries ago). Food for thought for another time I guess.

1 keep in mind that Heath uses the word efficiency in the sense of increasing overall welfare, not in the narrow manufacturing sense of producing more widgets per worker

2 I've posted on Systems of Survival a few times, most thoroughly here in the context of the NHL lockout.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

But Everything Changes / And My Friends Seem to Scatter...

Via Bound by Gravity, I see that it is not just an internet snafu that gives me an error when I try to visit The Heart of the Matter - Treehugger has signed off.

Treehugger set himself a lofty goal (especially for a blog):
"I hope that everyone who came here saw that I tried to provide a blog that was not an ideological echo chamber. I tried to set an example that it was possible to have people from all walks of political belief talking to, instead of yelling at, each other. That was my goal from day one."

and he definitely succeeded - I can think of few blogs which stimulated more interesting (and civilized) debate than the Heart of the Matter.

You'll be missed Treehugger.

If, like me, you didn't catch the sign-off post, you can see ithere through the magic of google caching.

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Much Ablog About Nothing

I try to vary my topics here at CAtO, but I can't deny that some stories just seem to push my blogging buttons, so to speak. Still, making a strenuous effort, I am not going to blog about today's front page National Post story, "Canada 'adrift': CEOs. Political 'vacuum' threatens nation's standard of living" -

- other than perhaps pointing out that when the article warns of "skyrocketing government spending -- up 20% on a per-capita basis over the past five years", and the CEO's say, "The country's fiscal base remains strong, but is threatened by runaway spending growth,", a balanced approach might have contrasted this whining with the fact that CEO compensation increased by roughly 100% last year.

If this pace of increase was to be sustained for 5 years (and as the Globe article notes, "Compensation experts say the surge in total payouts is likely the beginning of a string of banner years for top executives"), this would compound to a 3100% gain over 5 years.

Which kind of puts public spending increasing by 20% over 5 years (roughly 3.7%/year, which is probably less than nominal GDP growth over the same period) into perspective.

Also, when the CEOs put out a plan for Canada which says that, "Governments should ensure their activities contribute to future economic growth, rather than redistributing wealth for current consumption." they should perhaps pick their words more clearly or people will think they are suggesting an end to progressive taxation and all welfare programs, which might seem a little heartless and selfish coming from people who make millions of dollars a year.

But I'm not going to blog about that. The other thing I would normally blog about but am going to ignore because I've already said too much on this topic recently, is the stupidity of the Conservatives. In case you haven't heard, faced with the prospect of same-sex marriage legislation passing, here was the crybaby Conservative reaction (hat tip Gen X at 40):
"Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says the government's same-sex legislation will make it through the House of Commons only because of support from the Bloc Quebecois, and that, says Harper, means the legislation "lacks legitimacy." BQ Leader Gilles Duceppe immediately pounced on Harper's remarks, saying his party has as much legitimacy as the Conservatives. On his way into question period on Monday, Harper told reporters that the majority of federalist MPs will vote against the bill that extends the right to marry to gays and lesbians. He warned that the Liberals will face a backlash from voters outside Quebec over the bill. "It makes it an issue of Quebec versus Canada. Most Canadians have a skeptical view of Pequistes breaking up the country," said Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay."

I'm assuming you don't need me to point out how dumb it is to write off the elected representatives of almost an entire province as illegitimate so there's no need to blog about this either.

What I will blog about today, is the book, 'The Efficient Society' by Joseph Heath.

First, some background. Over the past Christmas holiday I read a book called 'The Rebel Sell' by Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath. I posted my review here and in the comments Andrew Spicer suggested I might like Heath's earlier work, 'The Efficient Society'.

Andrew recently reviewed the Rebel Sell and concluded that the two books were worth reading as a pair. It's too late for me to do it in the proper order, but nonetheless I got a copy of The Efficient Society from the excellent Vancouver public library (I'm coming to think of it as the free version of Amazon with a better backcatalogue) last week and even found enough free time to read it.

The central premise of the book is that Canada is an efficient society because, when faced with decisions over whether economic functions should be carried about by government or by the market, we go with whatever works best (most efficiently) in that situation - as opposed to just putting personal freedom / fear of government ahead of efficiency (the 'American' approach) or putting collective thinking / fear of the private sector ahead of efficiency (the 'French' approach).

I'm not going to write a review here, beyond saying that I think anyone interested in understanding the proper role of government in Canada (and the world) should get hold of a copy and read it for themselves (it's an easy, not particularly long read and even just reading the first few chapters will give you a pretty good sense of the book as a whole).

What I am going to do, in my next few posts, is to highlight and discuss a few of the concepts in the book I found most interesting, starting with the contrast between a society motivated by improving/maintaining the virtue of its citizens and a society motivated by improving efficiency.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I see that Blogger has finally added picture uploading capability. This calls for a parade!

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Getting Back to Basic

Greg over at Sinister Thoughts made me laugh with this post, which helps explain why federal politics seems to be stuck in an endless loop these days.

Someone really needs to move the punditocracy's cheese.

1 Important: Go read Greg's post before reading this footnote.

So you see, that wasn't a typo in my title after all, it was just a clever pun on the programming language called 'Basic'. What do we learn from this? Any time you see what looks to be type-o, misspelling or improper punctuation on this sight; you should just assume that it is something clever, even if you're not clever enough to see how it is so clever.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Conservative Coyote gets Hit by Another Anvil

I know, I haven't written much about policy lately but I'll get back to that soon, I promise. In the meantime, I was reading the Star this morning when I broke out laughing after coming across the following quote from Conservative party house leader Jay Hill (referring to late Thursday night when the Bloc, NDP and Liberals all agreed to invoke closure and force a vote on the budget when the Conservatives weren't expecting it and didn't have everyone in the house for a vote),
"It's going to be extremely hard to know whether we can trust anyone after what happened on Thursday night,"

Just in case it isn't clear yet, here's some advice for the Conservative party: you can't trust the NDP, you can't trust the Bloc Quebecois and you definitely can't trust the Liberals. I'm not sure about the independents, but I'm guessing you can't trust them either. Heck, after Stronach crossing the floor and Grewal sabotaging his own party, you can't even trust your own MP's.

Trust has a very important place in our society - but parliament hill is not that place.

I'm thinking this is all part of the top-secret, Acme-inspired, Conservative Coyote Plan to shake their label of being 'scary'. You see, the trouble is that, in an ideal world, the Conservatives would like to have a majority government and (potentially) do some stuff that many Canadians would find scary: signing on to the next U.S. foreign adventure, defying the courts by denying rights to gays, cutting taxes and increasing spending plunging us back into deficit, adopting a 'climate change? you don't believe all those silly scientists do you?' policy, starving or shutting down the CBC, removing Federal support for various programs (scientific research, gas tax money for cities), etc. etc. Continuing with the ideal world, the Conservatives would like to shake their 'scary' label without having to shake their scary policies.

Giving lip service to abandoning their scary plans of old hasn't worked well so far - which brings us to the Coyote plan. Anyone familiar with the roadrunner cartoon will remember that while, in real life, being hunted by a coyote is a pretty scary thing for a roadrunner, in a cartoon, the coyote is so consistently, humourously, pathetically inept, that instead of being scary, the coyote is actually kind of endearing and you almost want it to catch the roadrunner sometime.

Maybe this is the Conservative plan, but I'm no political strategist so don't take my word for it.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


Via the Armchair Garbageman1, I see the sad news that Ben Kerr, a fixture busking on the NE corner of Bloor and Yonge for many years (when he wasn't busy running for mayor), has died.

From CP24,
"“Running” Ben Kerr, the busker who made his name singing for his supper at the corner of Yonge and Bloor for over 15 years, has died.

The guitar player famous for his customized T-shirts made a play for Toronto’s top office at least five times. He never won, of course, losing to David Miller, Mel Lastman, Barbara Hall, June Rowlands and Art Eggleton. But he never changed his tune and he always made the race far more entertaining.

Kerr may have seemed like an odd choice for political office, but he was actually quite experienced. Before taking it to the streets, Kerr was an accountant and a former manager and executive with the Toronto Harbour Commission."


"But Kerr was always among his most cherished because of the nature of the man. He was especially fond of one of his compositions called “Let’s Make Toronto Number One”

For more than seven decades, Kerr did just that."

Back when I lived in Toronto for a few years, I passed through Bloor-Yonge pretty much every day and Kerr consistently brought style and (his own brand of) class to what, despite teeming with activity, tended to be a pretty cold, concrete piece of Toronto.

As ideas go, putting a roof on the Gardner2 was pretty much a non-starter but putting in at least a plaque (I'd vote for a statue myself) at Bloor-Yonge in his honour is a no-brainer.

1 Take a look at the Garbageman's post, if only for the hilarious photo.

2 Putting a roof on the Gardner expressway was the central theme of one of Kerr's catchiest (IMHO) tunes. I don't remember the rationale all that well, but it had something to do with the fact that if you were going to put a roof on a baseball field you might as well put one on the adjacent highway as well.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I Want My Own Lobbyists

Jay Currie has a good post up at BlogsCanada on the introduction of Bill C-60, which is officially titled, 'An Act To Give More Rights To The Recording Industry At The Expense Of Giving Citizens Of Canada Fewer Rights While At The Same Time Trying Not To Step On The Toes Of Powerful Internet Service Providers'. OK, technically it is titled, 'An Act To Amend the Copyright Act' but I think my title gives more insight into the bill.

I won't get into all the details of the legislation here (if you want the details your best bet is to read Michael Geist (holder of the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-Commerce Law) who's been following this as closely as anyone) but the general impression I'm getting so far is that, while more balanced than the U.S. legislation in this area, the new laws are basically there to protect business from the effects of new technology by making many of the uses of this technology illegal (or making it illegal to circumvent limitations deliberately built into technology to make it less functional). For example, from Geist,
"Therefore, Canadians may be asked to pay several times for the same work as they may pay once for the CD, once for the digital download, and once through the private copying levy for the blank CD. Attempts to circumvent protections on the CD in order to make a personal copy (a copy already paid for via the levy) will now constitute infringement in Canada."
It doesn't seem like a wise approach, or one which was crafted with my interests (as a citizen of Canada) in mind.

Stepping back from the actual legislation (which we can at least hope doesn't pass before parliament is dissolved and we head to another election), I was struck by this line from Geist,
"There is simply no denying that the lobbying efforts of the copyright owners, particularly the music industry, have paid off as they are the big winners in this bill."

This, I think is the root of the problem. The battle over copyright involves balancing the interests of artists, the industry of copyright holders, communications companies (such as ISPs) and individual citizens. Everyone on that list has lobbyists working the government to get their side a good deal - everyone except for the citizens. In theory, of course, the Members of Parliament themselves are supposed to be lobbyists for the citizens of Canada, but in practice, it seems that MP's have trouble remembering that this is supposed to be their role, especially when it comes to issues in which there is not a big public interest factor (i.e. over 99% of all issues).

What we need are citizen lobbyists who can keep getting in MP's face and reminding them whose interest they were elected to serve. Blogs are a decent start, and indeed when Geist is listing the 'reactions' to the bill, his only source for reactions of 'individual Canadians' is to mention blogs. But I don't think blogs are good enough - we need someone who will stack panels for presentations to MP's, someone who can finance user-friendly studies and reports, someone who can get MP's on the phone or go to lunch at a nice Ottawa restaurant and bend their ear a little bit. We need people with media clout who can get fawning coverage of their every word and make well publicized (even if poorly substantiated) claims about the needs for better protection for citizens. In short, we need our own lobbyists to take on the industry lobbyists.

So here's my proposal. For the next election we should get two ballots. One will be the standard ballot for electing MP's and the second will be the lobbyist ballot. The lobbyists will be elected by some sort of proportional representation and people will be able to vote for lobbyists to represent citizen interests on the issues that are important to them. People concerned about digital rights could vote for a digital rights lobbyist, people worried about health care could vote for a health lobbyist and so on. With luck this would ensure the election of a broad cross-section of lobbyists to represent the public. The number of lobbyists elected would have to be calibrated to the number of lobbyists other interest groups have working for them - I'm sure we could work out a formula. The lobbyists would have to be well paid to avoid the incentive for them to be bought off by private interests, but I'm guessing that the refreshing feeling of working for, rather than against the public interest for once would compensate for a somewhat lower salary than industry lobbyists get. A salary (and benefits) similar to what MP's get now should be sufficient.

OK, I know what you're thinking: if the current group of people we elect to parliament fails to consistently represent our interests, why should this second group be any different? But MP's are charged with the job of drafting legislation, which is a tricky business and requires a balancing of many interests. Since they are already considering various interests, it is relatively easy to tip them towards considering the distant public a little less and the up close and personal industry group a little more. But LP's (Lobbyists of Parliament) wouldn't have to give any weight to the interests of other groups at all. Just like an industry lobbyist they would only care about their clients (the general public) and everybody else be damned.

Who's with me?

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Blog Notes

First off, Timmy, Pogge, Jonathan and Mahigan have combined forces over at pogge's house. They're all great bloggers in their own right, so the combination should make for an entertaining blog.

Also, the dropdown boxes continue their slow but steady march as I gradually try to make my blog function as a web portal for myself. The latest addition links to the 'headquarters' of various blogging alliances so if you're looking for more blogs to read that's a good place to look. I found it interesting that the Progressive Blogger's homesite has adopted a bit of a Daily-KOS, community style approach in which people can register for an account and write diaries on the site even if they don't have their own blog. It will be interesting to see if traffic trends in Canada follow the American example (with big, community oriented 'left-wing' blogs outstripping the traffic of the big 'right-wing' blogs) or find their own path.

Finally, some unrelated movie notes:

1) I saw the movie 'Hitch' (with Will Smith) the other day.

2) As per my commentary here I highly recommend that Simon go rent this movie. It's great. You'll really enjoy it. Honest.

3) Movie ticket sales in the U.S. are down 9% vs. the same point last year.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Telus - The Present is Indeed Hostile

I stole the title for this post from this recently set-up blog, which plans to accumulate stories of Telus' incompetence / poor customer service (hat tip to Azerbic).

From 'the Present is Hostile',
"So, in the coming days and weeks, I will make multiple posts of my experience with Telus from early April, 2005 to early June, 2005 and show you how blatantly disrespectful the Telus company is to it's customers. After reading my story, I guarantee that you, yourself, will not want to venture down this Telus "road to hell". You will know why I now advise you to stay away from Telus at all costs!!! And yes, you do have a choice to do so. I am now a customer with another local phone provider and DSL provider in British Columbia."

If nothing else, I figure I need to post something just to explain that the anonymous author of this blog is not *me*. After all, readers may recall my fairly recent rant against Telus (buried in this post), but the truth is, I can't hold a grudge to save my life so, despite my troubles with Telus, I was just going to let the anti-Telus blog pass without comment, figuring that my posted rant and move to Shaw for internet was enough punishment for Telus, at least on my behalf anyway.

But that was before I saw my last bill. Not only was I charged a late fee for being late with payment on my last bill (my payment was only late because I had been disputing the bill which they eventually fixed so as not to charge us for internet service for the week and a half we had no such service), but they added on a ~$60 charge for labour for them to come out and fix their own problem (which turned out to be a wire outside which had blown) which had caused all the service outage and hassle in the first place. This after explicitly telling us numerous times that we would only be charged for the service call if it turned out that the problem was our fault somehow (like our phone was busted or something like that).

I ended my last rant debating switching away from Telus for local phone service as well to be totally free of them, noting that,"it probably won't be long before Telus provokes me into switching." I guess at least one my recent predictions was accurate! At this point, I'm happy to do whatever I can to hurt Telus, including promoting, "The Present is Hostile" For all I know, it could be an astro-turf operation set up by Shaw or Sprint, but I have to say, it's certainly not the least bit implausible that it's just another unhappy Telus (former) customer looking for somewhere to vent.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic (did I mention pathetic)

Silly me, I've been writing a political blog for months now and I actually thought that, in responding to the stupid bill-bargaining deal the Conservatives proposed yesterday (see my last post), the Liberals only had two options: a) say yes or b) say no.

I should have realized that the Liberals follow their own third way - say yes, but publicly state that they are saying no.

I actually thought the Liberals would just tell the Conservatives to take a hike - if not because if it was the right thing to do, then because it just made sense: if they lost one of the votes then why wouldn't the Liberals want to face the polls as the party that went down fighting for tolerance, the charter, spending for cities, spending for education and so on? And if they won then they get the legislation passed and the appearance of having integrity and steadfastness at the same time.

Maybe, Liberals might argue, they are just acknowledging that the Conservatives can throw up procedural hurdles to slow the legislation down, but if that was really the case, I'd expect rhetoric along the lines of 'We'll do everything in our power to get this legislation passed' from the Liberals, not, “I would like to get to report stage in the spring and do the vote on report stage in the spring,”, as Liberal house leader Tony Valeri is quoted as saying.

These comments only make sense to me coming from a Liberal party that doesn't really care that much about getting the same-sex marriage bill passed.

Liberal party slogan for the next election: "Canada ain't broke, so don't expect us to fix anything".

Update: June 24 - Those Liberals are tricky. Turns out they wanted to publicly state that they had said no, still send a signal to the Conservatives that they would go along and then turn around and backstab the Conservatives a few days later.

You sure can't believe a word these guys say, but at this point it looks like they may try to get same sex marriage legislation passed before the summer break, so perhaps I should retract some of my criticism above - perhaps. At this point I'll beleive it when I see it.

Update: June 29 - seeing is believing, and credit where credit is due, Same Sex Marriage legislation passed last night.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dumb, dumb, dumb (did I mention dumb)

From the Star, I see that the Conservative Party is willing to support the NDP brokered budget (with $4.5 billion in extra social spending vs. the original Liberal budget) in return for a delay on passage of same-sex marriage legislation.

Says house leader Jay Hill, "(One) primary concern of ours is that we get out of the spring session with C-38 [the gay marriage bill] not progressing further,"

I have this memory, from not too long ago, of Stephen Harper referring to the budget amendments as a 'deal with the devil'.

And I believe the Conservatives support civil unions with equal rights for gay couples.

And it seems to me that gays are already getting married in many provinces.

So it is so vitally important for the good of the country to prevent the federal government from formalizing the already widely existing ability of gay people to use the word 'marriage' when describing their civil unions that it's worth supporting a 'deal with the devil'?

This is their number one priority?

I had originally figured that, based on their actions, the Conservative party slogan for the next election was going to be: 'Vote Conservative - We Dare You'. But maybe instead they are going to go with: 'Gay marriage: Worse than a deal with the devil' -
It's kind of catchy...

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Monday, June 13, 2005

One More Link

I was feeling lonely since nobody (or few anyway) seemed to agree with my take on the recent Chaoulli v. Quebec decision, so it made me feel a bit reassured to read this post by Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money (via Crooked Timber)

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More Links

Via, Voice in the Wilderness, I see that I've been remiss in not noticing that Simon had actually started posting to his By and Large blog, which so far appears to be a mix of political commentary and movie reviews. I'll have to start giving Simon bogus movie recommendations since reviews of bad movies are always funnier than reviews of good movies. More seriously, his post on the Downing St. Memo is worth a read, it certainly needs all the exposure it can get since the media doesn't seem too interested.


In other news, just in case anyone out there is still able to hear the words 'Fraser Institute' without automatically raising their bs deflector shields, The View From in Here goes into detail on one of their weaker (even for them) recent efforts - this one purporting to show a 'left-wing' media bias at the CBC1.


Finally, Star writer Antonia Zerbisias has always been one of the most blog-aware media folks so it is perhaps not surprising that so far her blog has been an excellent read - recommended.


1Just in case anyone is planning to comment that of course the CBC *does* have a left-wing bias, feel free, (I disagree) but that's not the point at the moment - the point is that as a piece of research, the Fraser Institute report is pathetic.

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In Lieu of...

...actually writing anything myself, I'm just going to keep linking to other stuff I happened to like. Take this post by Mahigan at True North for example, which talks about the recent struggles of the Conservative party and is worth a read purely for the sheer variety and density of insult contained within, never mind the actual content. If rantings are ecosystems this post is a rainforest.

A sample:
"The unholy marriage of the Progressive Conservative party and the Social Credit Reform Alliance party didn't make much sense in the first place. It was an opportunistic circular firing squad type of arrangement forged by two groups of perennial lusers desperate to change their circumstances. It always more closely resembled a case of the last two drunks left in the bar at closing time going home together because they both knew they weren't going to do any better than it did a real partnership. Throwing the Canadian Taliban into the mix only made it worse."
but you really need to read the whole thing to get the full (pungent) flavour of it.

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Lazy blogger

Yes, I've been a lazy blogger over the weekend, but luckily Greg over at Sinister Thoughts hasn't been.

Whether it's electoral reform or the ongoing aftermath of last week's health care ruling including a link to Paul Krugman's latest column, or the National Post turning on Harper, Greg's been covering the important stuff.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Why I'm Not a Judge

Posts by Greg and Colby piqued my interest in a Supreme Court ruling today. From the Globe story,
"In a Thursday's [sic] decision, the country's highest court said the Quebec prohibition [on private health care insurance] contravenes Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, effectively meaning that the province can't bar residents from paying for treatments already covered by medicare.

"In sum, the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services," the court found."

I read through the ruling and this passage seems to sum up the reasoning of the majority,
"The government undeniably has an interest in protecting the public health regime but, given that the evidence falls short of demonstrating that the prohibition on private health insurance protects the public health care system, a rational connection between the prohibition on private health insurance and the legislative objective is not made out. In addition, on the evidence, the prohibition goes further than would be necessary to protect the public system and is thus not minimally impairing. Finally, the benefits of the prohibition do not outweigh its deleterious effects. The physical and psychological suffering and risk of death that may result from the prohibition on private health insurance outweigh whatever benefit - and none has been demonstrated here - there may be to the system as a whole."

Trying to parse court rulings always leaves me feeling like a bear of very little brains but as I understand it, the ruling was as follows:

1. Canadians (Quebecers) have the right to life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed by s. 7 of the Canadian Charter.

2. Having to wait an unreasonable amount of time for health care can impact these rights.

3. The supreme court considers wait times in the current Quebec health system to be unreasonable.

4. The supreme court believes that aggregate wait times could be reduced by changing the health care system in the manner requested by the people who brought the case.

5. Therefore, the health care system in Quebec is unconstitutional.

Or, to boil it down further - the court knows how to run health care better than the government so it has decided to force the government to change the system to be more to its liking.

It's a good thing I'm not the kind of person who's always getting upset about activist judges or this ruling would drive me nuts.

Maybe it's just confirmation bias at work, but I have to say that I found the reasoning of the dissent a lot more convincing,
"Designing, financing and operating the public health system of a modern democratic society remains a challenging task and calls for difficult choices. Shifting the design of the health system to the courts is not a wise outcome."


For the record, I think we probably could improve our health system by somewhat extending the private component of the system. I just think that that is a decision for provincial governments to make, not the courts.

Update: Robert has some thoughts at his blahg, and links to Rational Reasons who has some good analysis as well.

Timmy has a pretty sensible reaction (in my opinion) as well.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Book Tag Trackback

After being tagged myself, I tagged (among other people) Andrew Spicer to talk about his books. After sarcastically thanking me (and the others who tagged him) he asked (I think rhetorically), who started this thing?

A few days later, the pesky part of my brain that's always causing trouble pointed out that it shouldn't (theoretically) be that hard to figure it out - Just track backwards from tag to tag until you get to the beginning (or a dead end).

So let's see. I was tagged by Greg at Sinister Thoughts.

He was tagged by Damian at Babbling Brooks.

Damian was tagged by Alan at Occam's Carbuncle

Alan was tagged by Jay at the Freedom to Serfdom

Jay was tagged by Freeman, Libertarian Critter

Freeman was tagged twice, so for now I'm just going to go with the first one listed, which was Wally Conger at Out of Step.

Wally was tagged by Thomas Knapp of 'Knappster: Blog Naked for Jesus'

Thomas was tagged by Thomas Luongo of Being Thomas Luongo

Alas, Thomas only says that he is writing as a favour to his friend the e-e and doesn't provide a link. This cryptic reference is resolved by Thomas Knapp who notes that the tag was in relation to a project of the Eclectic Econoclast.

The Econoclast was tagged by Peter Mork at Economics With a Face

Peter was tagged by Tim Sandefur at Freespace.

Tim was tagged by John at TexasBestGrok

John was tagged by Rob at The Llama Butchers

Rob was tagged by The Irish Elk

The Irish Elk was tagged by Father Ethan at Diary of a Suburban Priest.

Ethan was tagged by Zadok the Roman at 'The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman'

Zadok was tagged by Lauren at Cnytr

Aside: I'm starting to wonder if it's just bloggers all the way down.

Lauren was tagged by Cole at Deo Gratias

Cole was tagged by Epiphany at Minivan Mom

Note: A few days later, Epiphany links to Craig Canton (June 6 entry. no permalinks) who had the same idea I did. He tracked this chain back a few more links from Minivan Mom but hits a dead end at Sarcastic Kitty who doesn't provide a link to who tagged her.

Although - she does name the site, and with some digging, it is here - but it's password protected. So there you go, Andrew - someone doesn't want you to know who started this...

Let's try a different branch.

Freeman was tagged twice, so let's track back from his other tag, from Kristen at 'Enjoy Every Sandwich' - no this chain goes quickly back to Wally Conger.


Hmm, if we really want to find out where this started we need to employ some technology on our behalf, specifically Technorati.

After doing some digging, it seems that sarcastic kitty must have either been the first blog to use this particular meme or else changed the wording of the first question, since that wording 'number of books you've (or I've) owned' has no Technorati references (that I can see) prior to mid-May when the Kitty entry appeared.


Looking around more, I see that a slightly different version (which asks 'how many books do you have 'in your house') has been slowly winding it's way through the seemingly large and insular world of knitting blogs for quite a while now - although it seems to be finally dying.

I tracked the knitting thread back to a dead end on April 15 at Stitch but, looking at Technorati it appears that this particular version arose out of the murky, poorly linked depths of live journal sometime in last February (with a few comments suggesting it jumped to there from mailing lists). See here for an entry from Feb 25.


Meanwhile, from March 31, here's a version which asks how many books you've read in the last year.

This version tracks back into French

And it looks like we can actually track this one back to its source at L'Atelier D'Anne on March 4th. This version of the quiz appears to die in early April in English, but is still going strong in French.

Note: Miss Vicky received both this version and the 'how many books do you own' version.


So to summarize, there was a version which asked for the 'Number of books you have in your house' which seemed to emerge out of livejournal in late February but is now dying.

Meanwhile, there was a separate version which asked 'How Many books do your read a year' which started from a French website. This version crossed over into English but died (in English) in early April.

The original 'How many books in your house' may or may not have mutated at some point into 'How Many Books You've Owned' (which suddenly appeared seemingly in many placs at once in mid-May) which mostly likely evolved into 'How Many Books You Own' and then 'How Many Books I Own' - the version I received and the one most active currently. Alas, I haven't found any of the 'missing links' which would show where these mutations occurred, so it's possible that the newer versions were just 'designed' by some 'God'-like being. Or not. But they seemed to emerge around mid-May with an improved reproductive strategy of a specific request to 'tag' 5 more people as opposed to just passing it on to 3.

Finally, via Bound by Gravity I see that Robot Guy tracked a parallel book meme (which asked about Fahrenheit 451) to a source at the Pink Bee on March 4th. Interestingly, the 451 meme spread and died much quicker than the 'how many books' variants. I originally just thought the 451 meme was totally separate, but given the similarity of the last line (Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?) to the late Feb. livejournal entries, it is likely that the 451 meme was also a mutation of this earlier meme (or maybe that's just a standard final line of a meme and they did have separate origins).


Do you ever start something, thinking it will be simple only to end up spending way more time on it that you expected? Anyway, I guess that doesn't really answer your question Andrew, but I gave it a shot.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Keeping Transaction Costs Down*

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that the Chinese government is following the B.C. government's trailblazing example and requiring people to register their blogs with the government.


Meanwhile, pogge takes up a task I considered but rejected, mocking the hyperbolic language of the Chamber of Commerce in this National Post story.

My favourite line from the Chamber was, "To say that program spending is out of control would be an understatement,"

When supposedly serious bodies like the Chamber of Commerce mistake the word 'understatement' for the word 'exaggeration', you can almost see their credibility dropping away - an aspect of this which Rob at 'One Damn Thing After Another' makes some good points about as well.


Finally, I agree entirely with Andrew Spicer's take on some possible amendments to the Same Sex Marriage legislation aimed at placating the 'social conservatives' in the Liberal caucus. What he said.

* A popular theory (generally attributed to economist Ronald Coase) holds that organizational size depends on transaction costs. If transactions between different parties have a high cost then it makes sense to get rid of the transaction cost by controlling both sides of the transaction. In this modern age with low transaction costs, one would expect companies to begin to shrink accordingly (since there are no longer as many situations where it is more efficient to have both sides of a transaction in-house).

Similarly, there is a certain amount of overhead in writing a blog post (coming up with a title, and pressing the publish button mainly). So when the individual entries are small enough, it makes sense to lump them together so as to keep the ratio of the transaction cost / to the cost of the post itself down to a reasonable level.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Welcome Back Timmy

Via Andrew, I see that Timmy has returned fromto the wilderness and is back blogging. Which is good, since now I won't feel so silly going to his site so often.

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Random Thought For the Day

I was reading this article in the Star and a thought occurred to me: maybe Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal really did make a deal with the Liberals - and everything we've seen in the past couple of weeks has been him fulfilling his part of it.

If so I sure hope he got something good in return or the Liberals really ripped him off.

UPDATE: On second thought, this mess makes the Liberals look bad as well as the Conservatives - it must be an NDP plot. And of course, Ujjal Dosanjh is a former leader of the NDP party in B.C. - before *he* suddenly switched parties to join the (federal) Liberals. One switches ahead of time to act as the inside man and another comes along later and pretends to want to switch thus making both the Liberals and Conservatives look really sleazy - brilliant!

With this kind of genius planning, Greg may be right and we could be looking at an NDP government in no time.

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Race To Where?

Let's talk about words - two in particular: 'top' and 'bottom'. These words have a huge variety of meanings in a huge variety of contexts but, when it comes to outcomes, their meaning is fairly clear - you'd rather come out 'on top' then 'hit bottom' - better to be a 'top gun' than a 'bottom feeder'.

OK, enough about words, let's talk about jobs. Let's say that you work (i.e. earn a wage) for your living. I'm guessing that, for the most part, you would generally prefer more pay to less pay, a 35 hour week to a 60 hour week, good benefits to no benefits, fewer people looking to take your job, not having to learn another language to keep your job, and, if you are in a union, the government not making it illegal for you to go on strike.

So would it be fair to say, that if you had a job with high pay, reasonable hours, great benefits, little threat of being replaced and a legal right to strike you might feel like you had come out 'on top' - and if you had a job with less pay, really long hours, no benefits, no right to strike and a high likelihood of just being replaced if you ask for anything better then you would be more likely to feel you had 'hit bottom'?

Now perhaps you are wondering, why am I insulting your intelligence with this mind-numbing discussion of the obvious? Well, the reason, dear reader, is that apparently the foregoing is not at all obvious to some people. And not just any some people, some people who study this kind of thing for a living and write for a famous newspaper.

Which brings me to Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times from the other day. It is titled, 'A Race to the Top'.

And this isn't just the work of some rogue headline writer, the column itself states that, "They [Indians] are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top"
So let's examine this race for the top, using only Friedman's column for source material:

"French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Good luck."

So people will have to work more hours than they do now, or want to, because desperate Indians will work 35-hour days. From our earlier discussion, more work = bad = bottom.

"I feel sorry for Western European blue collar workers. A world of benefits they have known for 50 years is coming apart,"

You know the game by now: fewer benefits = bad = bottom.

"how explosive the next decade in Western Europe could be, as some of these aging, inflexible economies - which have grown used to six-week vacations and unemployment insurance that is almost as good as having a job - become more intimately integrated with Eastern Europe, India and China in a flattening world"

fewer vacations, less unemployment insurance = bad = bottom.

"Are you willing to learn another language to get a job. The Indians are, "A grass-roots movement is now spreading, demanding that English be taught in state schools - where 85 percent of children go - beginning in first grade, not fourth grade. "What's new is where this movement is coming from," said the Indian commentator Krishna Prasad. "It's coming from the farmers and the Dalits, the lowest groups in society." Even the poor have been to the cities enough to know that English is now the key to a tech-sector job, and they want their kids to have those opportunities."

having to learn a new language to get job = bad = bottom.

but wait, what about:

"The dirty little secret is that India is taking work from Europe or America not simply because of low wages. It is also because Indians are ready to work harder and can do anything from answering your phone to designing your next airplane or car. They are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top."

First I note that lower wages, harder work = bad = bottom.

Second I point out that just because the Indians are doing high value added work doesn't mean they are racing us to the top, it means that the race to the bottom they are part of affects not only our bottom but also our top.

But won't Indian wages just catch up with Western ones and then after a little adjustment period we can all have good benefits like the Europeans do?

It looks promising...
"This is not about wages at all - the whole wage differential thing is going to reduce very quickly," said Rajesh Rao, who heads the innovative Indian game company, Dhruva. It is about people who have been starving "finally seeing the ability to realize their dreams."

but the very next line reads,
"Both Infosys and Wipro, India's leading technology firms, received more than one million applications last year for a little more than 10,000 job openings."

Yeah, I can see a real incentive for them to raise wages when they have 100 applicants for every job. Ever heard of supply and demand? Of course there is a way for workers to earn a reasonable share of the value from the work they do even when there is an oversupply of their labour - it's called unions.1

But things aren't looking too good on that front.
"The Indian state of West Bengal has the oldest elected Communist government left in the world today. Some global technology firms recently were looking at outsourcing there, but told the Communists they could not do so because of the possibility of worker strikes that might disrupt the business processes of the companies they work for. No problem. The Communist government declared information technology work an "essential service," making it illegal for those workers to strike. Have a nice day."

Strikes made illegal = bad (if you're a unionized worker) = bottom

The thing is, everything Friedman describes in this article is really happening, and it makes for a very graphic depiction of exactly what a race to the bottom is - communist governments banning strikes, downward pressure on wages and benefits, upward pressure on hours, huge numbers of desperate people willing to accept whatever job is offerred - but I can scarcely imagine the cognitive dissonance he had to face down in order to categorize it as a race to the top. And I can only wonder why he would feel compelled to put such a ridiculous spin on the message his own column is trying so hard to get across.

1 Of course, the truly effective way to raise wages by limiting supply is by instituting some arbitrary examination requirements (see doctors, lawyers, accountants, actuaries etc.) but I don't see Indian IT workers forming some sort of exclusive IT profession which only admits a limited number of people allowed to work in IT every year, so that's not too relevant to this post.

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Child Care - Part 1 / aka A Post About Child Care That Isn't Really About Child Care

Somewhat fittingly, the Amazing Wonderdog has been expressing some concern for the well-being of Canadian children lately - not rescuing them from wells so much as posting about the Conservative party's policy on the Child Care issue, and generating a lot of discussion in the process.

Since then I've been thinking about the child care issue, and as I've started and abandoned a few posts, I've come to realize that the question of what (if anything) the federal government should do in terms of setting up a national child care program (whatever that means) is a pretty interesting one and touches on some of the basic questions that always seem to come up when we talk about government programs in Canada: the division of powers and responsibilities between the provinces and the federal government, when it is appropriate for the government to intervene in the economy, and how that intervention should be structured so as to be fair, efficient and effective.

I'm not feeling overly ambitious at the moment so in this post I'm just going to tackle the first question - what role the federal government should play. I've broken the decision into three parts: legal, practical and theoretical.

From a legal perspective, the division of powers between the provinces and the federal government is set out in the British North America act of 1867. As the act states,
"It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces" (emphasis added)
, so anything not specifically listed as provincial falls under the purview of the feds. Here is the list of items specifically allocated to the provinces:

1. The Amendment from Time to Time, notwithstanding anything in this Act, of the Constitution of the Province, except as regards the Office of Lieutenant Governor.
2. Direct Taxation within the Province in order to the raising of a Revenue for Provincial Purposes.
3. The borrowing of Money on the sole Credit of the Province.
4. The Establishment and Tenure of Provincial Offices and the Appointment and Payment of Provincial Officers.
5. The Management and Sale of the Public Lands belonging to the Province and of the Timber and Wood thereon.
6. The Establishment, Maintenance, and Management of Public and Reformatory Prisons in and for the Province.
7. The Establishment, Maintenance, and Management of Hospitals, Asylums, Charities, and Eleemosynary Institutions in and for the Province, other than Marine Hospitals.
8. Municipal Institutions in the Province.
9. Shop, Saloon, Tavern, Auctioneer, and other Licences in order to the raising of a Revenue for Provincial, Local, or Municipal Purposes.
10. Local Works and Undertakings other than such as are of the following Classes,;
* a. Lines of Steam or other Ships, Railways, Canals, Telegraphs, and other Works and Undertakings connecting the Province with any other or others of the Provinces, or extending beyond the Limits of the Province:
* b. Lines of Steam Ships between the Province and any British or Foreign Country:
* c. Such Works as, although wholly situate within the Province, are before or after their Execution declared by the Parliament of Canada to be for the general Advantage of Canada or for the Advantage of Two or more of the Provinces.
11. The Incorporation of Companies with Provincial Objects.
12. The Solemnization of Marriage in the Province.
13. Property and Civil Rights in the Province.
14. The Administration of Justice in the Province, including the Constitution, Maintenance, and Organization of Provincial Courts, both of Civil and of Criminal Jurisdiction, and including Procedure in Civil Matters in those Courts.
15. The Imposition of Punishment by Fine, Penalty, or Imprisonment for enforcing any Law of the Province made in relation to any Matter coming within any of the Classes of Subjects enumerated in this Section.
16. Generally all Matters of a merely local or private Nature in the Province.

additionally, section 93 assigns education to the provinces,
"Section 93: Legislation respecting Education

In and for each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Education..."

Personally, I'd say that I don't see anything mentioning child care in the list of provincial responsibilities so it should be under federal jurisdiction. But that's why you wouldn't want me as your constitutional (or any kind of) lawyer. The truth is, my legal opinion is worthless. It is widely accepted that child care is a provincial responsibility and indeed, as of this moment, provinces are responsible for administering all child care programs, the same as they do with primary education. I don't know if that's based on convention or legal precedent or just federal-provincial negotiations, or if child care falls under education or local matters or what but none of that matters because everything I read just seems to take it as given that it is a provincial matter.

So on legal issues, the scores is provinces 1, feds 0.

Supporters of child care will likely say to this, 'that's all very well, but how does this do anything to help children? The federal government has money to spend and if it can be convinced to spend it on improving children's lives then that is a good thing, and why would you put some musty old document written in 1867 ahead of the health and welfare of Canadian children living in the here and now'.

I imagine that child care advocates see this less as a legal question and more as a fundraising campaign, in which any possible sources should be tapped and the biggest potential tappee is the federal government. As this study for the Canadian Council on Social Development states,
"Child care and education are both under provincial jurisdiction for the most part, but most provincial governments have been unwilling or unable to put forward the funds necessary for universal preschool programs. The federal government has more access to tax resources and a mandate to develop the framework of national social programs if the provinces and territories agree. Since good quality early learning and care services are expensive to provide, sharing the burden of funding among federal, provincial and territorial governments makes good political sense, even if economists want to emphasize that there is, ultimately, only one taxpayer for all jurisdictions."

True, they could focus their efforts on provincial governments since they are the ones who currently have jurisdiction over and spend money non child care, but you can be sure they are *already* doing that, while working on the federal government as well.

On the pragmatic, more money for kids angle, I'd estimate the score is Feds 3, Provinces 1.

That leaves the theoretical argument. Presumably, the architects of the BNA Act put the powers where they did for a reason. Part of that may have been negotiations, but I figure a lot of it was that they just put things where they seemed to logically fit.

Generally speaking, there are a number of reasons why some government function would logically be undertaken at a federal rather than provincial level. One potential reason is standardization. For example it makes sense for the federal government to be responsible for those items where having different standards/jurisdiction in different areas would lead to unacceptably high transaction costs. For example, coins, weights and measures, and to a lesser extent the post and railways. Another possible reason is economies of scale. If some government function required multi-billion dollar investments than it might be more efficient if the federal government managed it. But the provinces seem to be doing a decent job with providing electricity (their problems aren't scale related anyway) and that's about as capital intensive as it gets, so I don't see economies of scale as a big issue in most files.

Another justification for centralizing is maintaining performance standards and avoiding falling into collective action problems. For example, some provinces might try cutting services on something (health care perhaps) in order to be able to cut taxes lower than a neighbouring jurisdiction and thus lure people to come from one province to another. This might provoke retaliation leading to a vicious cycle of tax and service cuts. In this instance the federal government would have a role in ensuring that provinces meet basic standards and don't try too cut corners to gain an advantage on their provincial rivals.

Finally, many issues which involved dealing with external countries are dealt with federally so as to provide a common front both for the sake of efficiency and to avoid harmful competition amongst provinces in external dealings and also to have a greater influence through the concentration of resources into a single strong voice (imagine if each province had tried to negotiate trade deals with the U.S. on their own and you get a sense of why external issues should be done by the federal government).

So what about child care? Personally I don't see any good economic reason why the federal government needs to be involved. There are no real economies of scale to speak of (maybe a few organizational ones but these are pretty minor), there are no dealing with external countries, and I feel that the willingness of provinces to cut back on child care(or unwillingness to expand child care) due to fear of losing tax competitiveness with other provinces is fairly minor, and I don't see large transaction costs from having different child care systems in different provinces.

Perhaps at most, you could make an economic case that the federal government needs to have a minor role in providing funding and enforcing a basic national standard of care availability but even that seems like a bit of a stretch.

I'd score the theoretical issues: provinces 2 feds 1.

So where does that leave us?

Well, my oh-so-scientific scoreboard puts it at 4-4. And I'm certainly sympathetic to the argument that the most important thing is to get more money to help kids get better care as soon as possible and the most likely way for that to happen is through a federal program. But on the other hand, given the absence of a compelling legal or logical rationales for federal involvement, I feel that the best long term solution is for the provinces to retain exclusive jurisdiction over child care. Mixing two different levels of government will lead to excess bureaucracy and inefficiencies in co-ordination, battles for turf as well as a loss of accountability.

This is not just an abstract concern. During a recent stint working for the B.C. government I happened to be working on a fairly large scale project which (potentially) was receiving funds from the federal government. You would not believe (especially if you've never worked in government) the amount of paperwork, delay, extra effort and headaches caused by trying to integrate the federal funding with the provincial effort.

Not to mention that significant change at the provincial level is likely to not occur as long as there is the promise of the federal government potentially riding in with piles of money.

As discouraging as the prospect of relying solely on lobbying the 10 provincial governments individually may seem, I think that this is the best long term approach.

So, leaving aside the issue of jurisdiction, the next question is what is the best policy/program for the government to implement with regards to child care? But I think this post is long enough, so I'll leave that for another day.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005


As Justin at Flash Point Canada says,
"If this doesn't give you a chuckle, nothing will. The "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries," as selected by several staunch conservatives."
I think my favourite honourable mention is "On Liberty" by J.S. Mill - who knows how much better off the world would be if not for that fearsome work.

In other book news, apparently, I've been 'tagged' by Greg over at Sinister Thoughts, to answer a few questions about me and books. The alternative would be writing something about the latest shenanigans on parliament hill, so I think I'll talk about books as the less grewalling (sorry1) of the two options.

Number of Books I Own

I've moved over 20 times in the last 10 years or so, so any item I consider purchasing is automatically screened for its impact on my total encumbrance2, which tends to keep down my total number of books owned (especially hardcover books). I'd guess that I own around a couple hundred (Note: before any family members protest, this excludes books I own which are sitting somewhere in my parent's house).

Last Book I Bought

'City of Ember' by Jeanne Duprau. Starts well, with an intriguing premise but the ending is rushed and disappointing (not to mention not really an ending).

Last book I read

'Whisper of Glocken' by Carol Kendall. A follow-up to the Newberry Award winning Gammage Cup, it's not quite at the same level but is still a good read.

5 Books That Mean A Lot To Me

1) Systems of Survival - Jane Jacobs

I remember reading in some book (I don't remember which) a discussion of trying to meaningfully analyze the weather. If one looks too closely, trying to analyze individual drops of rain, air molecules etc., analysis is impossible because there is too much data and there are no discernible patterns to it. If you look from too far away, treating the skies around the globe as a single entity, analysis is again impossible since the changes in that one entity will appear random. Only by focussing your attention at the right level, and on the right characteristics, (tracking high and low pressure 'systems' for example) is it possible to extract any meaning or order from the skies.

Similarly, I've spent much of my time reading non-fiction trying to make sense of society and economics and politics by finding some appropriate level of analysis which lies in between the rational economic dream of constructing a tower of axiom-based mathematical knowledge on a foundation of obviously untrue assumptions and the anti rational assertion that there is no systematic analysis of human affairs possible and all we can really do to convey meaning in human affairs is to tell stories.

Jane Jacobs 'Systems of Survival' is one of my favourites because it is one of the few books I know which does in fact convincingly stake out a theory on one such source of meaning. I remember being fascinated by Nietzsche's idea of digging into the roots of why it is humans have the 'ethics' that they do and constructing a 'genealogy of morals' which he talked about in 'Human, All too Human' and how disappointed I was when I bought his later work 'Genealogy of Morals' and it didn't really seem (to me anyway, maybe I missed the point) to answer that question at all. Systems of Survival does attempt to provide a genealogy of our morals and I recommend it highly.

2) Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I can't possibly hope to summarize this book (although the linked review does a pretty good job) but aside from the content which in itself it amazing, just the way the book is written helped me realize that writing non-fiction imposes a lot fewer artistic limitations on how you write than you might think.

3) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
As you might have been able to guess from my answers to 'last book bought' and 'last book read', I read a fair bit of young adult (or old children) literature. If I was ever to get my act together and write something more substantial than half finished stories and long winded blog posts, it would most likely be in this genre.

I read lots of adult fiction too, but whether it's just because the more innocent writing of children's books has an easier time piercing my cynical shell or just me being emotionally immature, I find that books aimed at a younger audience often have a more powerful impact on me. Case in point is Bridge to Terabithia, a deserving winner of the Newberry Medal for best children's book of 1978 (Paterson won again in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved which is also a great book). I won't say anything more about the plot, but I really think anyone of any age would do well to read this book.

4) When Corporations Rule the World - David Korten

I talked about this book recently in this post. Aside from being extremely well written and well argued, one of the ways this book changed my thinking was to change my internal definition of species, or if not species, perhaps organism. Previously, I had only considered biological, cellular life forms as active agents in the world (allowing for artificial intelligence via computers of course). But this book made me realize that there are potentially many other active organisms (or organizations if you prefer) out there which act according to their own logic and their own agenda, perhaps somewhat but not entirely under the direction of people.

Now in a sense, this is not that different from the common wisdom that systems take on a life of their own or, as Marshall McLuhan said, that the medium is the message. But it hits home a lot more when you think of a corporation (for example) as an organism which will never die, which holds many of the same rights as people do, which can exist simultaneously all over the world, which can mobilize resources on the scale of a small country (in the case of the biggest corporations), and which lives or dies, not according to the complex set of physical, emotional and spiritual needs which humans have, but through a never-ending single minded drive to earn a return for investors (in order to grow) or at the very least earn enough money to satisfy creditors (in order to avoid dying).

Seeing the corporation as an active agent in its own right: co-existing, relying on and yet at the same time competing with people for the resources necessary for our survival, is seeing things with another dimension added.

5) Voltaire's Bastards - John Ralston Saul

There's lots I don't agree with in this book, including (possibly) the main premise that the world is suffering due to people taking an overly 'rational' approach to things and disregarding other more humanist elements of our decision making process, but there's a ton of stuff packed in here and a lot that seems dead on, from the culture of celebrity, to the climate of secrecy, to the foolishness of economic dogma, to the stubbornness of outdated methods of waging war and on and on. More than anything, this book shook me out of a phase of somewhat ideological thinking and reminded me to take a critical, questioning approach to everything, never trusting that the conventional wisdom could safely be applied in any area of human activity.

OK, who hasn't been tagged by this yet. How about Trish, Justin, Ainge, Greg (sure his blog is about his baseball pool team not books, but what's blogging if not the freedom to write about whatever you want, whenever you want - and besides, if I recall correctly (which I'm not sure of) he was the one giving me a hard time about liking 'Life of Pi' and not making it more than a quarter of the way into 'A Prayer For Owen Meany' before giving up in boredom) and Andrew Spicer.

Don't worry if you want to dispute the tag, I won't send the meme police after you.

1 I'm not really sorry.

2 I wonder if using the word encumbrance marks me as either a) someone in the financial/credit industry or b) someone who played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid.

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Keep Dancing

Over at Hullabaloo, Digby catches Fox News in a classic media failure two-step, doing a story on why there's been so little coverage of the Downing Street Memo (without of course ever wondering if their own lack of coverage of the issue might be at all connected). Surprisingly, she seems to treat this as an isolated incident rather than recognizing it for the organizing principle of modern media that it is.

Anyway, in case you missed it, the Downing St. Memo is written evidence - from over half a year before the invasion of Iraq actually occurred - which makes it look like the Bush administration had plans to go to war in Iraq and to say they had to because of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and that everything which happened between then and the outbreak of war was part of a pre-planned campaign in which the truth of the claims underlying going to war were irrelevant aside from providing a public basis for the invasion.

Unsurprisingly, people are wondering why the media would rather provide endless coverage of Michael Jackson and runaway brides than talk about how the President and his aides deliberately misled the American public to get them to support going to war.

On the one hand, I could be charitable to the media and say that this isn't really news because everyone who opposed the war already pretty much figured this is what happened and everybody who supported the war either figured the same or didn't really care enough to pay attention. So the fact that there is now some written evidence isn't going to affect what anyone thinks1.

But on the other hand, I'm guessing that if there was new written evidence supporting the allegations which have been made against Michael Jackson, the media would have provided blanket, inescapably-thorough coverage so I think what we are looking at here is simply an (even more egregious than usual) failure of the media to cover what is actually a pretty big story which could be very damaging to the President. Somewhat odd behavior for a 'liberal' media which is out to get the Republicans.

1The fact that this second group is large enough that Bush was re-elected helps explain why people around the world (including in the U.S.) are getting increasingly nervous that America is looking to carve their own unique path down the well worn slope on which civilizations have slid from relative stability and peace into crisis.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why Do the Conservatives Hate Democracy?

Via, Sinister Thoughts, it seems like the Conservative party is blocking any progress on electoral reform in the Federal government. I guess they must still be hoping that they can get 35-40% of the votes in a future election and form a majority government. As Greg says,
"The question is, why are the Conservatives, who see threats to democracy everywhere, blocking attempts to improve our democracy?"

Update: From the comments at Greg's post I see that perhaps the Conservatives are just blocking all government business regardless of what it is. My title was meant to be humorous (see my explanation in the comments) but if they keep this up, I'll have to start wondering if the Conservatives, perhaps don't hate, but have a certain contempt for our democracy. (Certainly the Liberals have shown their share of contempt for our democracy as well recently, but two wrongs don't make a right in my book).

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