Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Loophole around Canadian Content

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has recently drawn attention in this country for trying to regulate Netflix. Netflix’s content competitors, Bell, Rogers and others have complained about Netflix’s ability to circumvent regulations that impede their own performance. The CRTC threatened Netflix to regulate them and impose penalties if they did not voluntarily comply, which Netflix has declined to do.

It strikes me that Canadian content laws rest in a place that between meaningless and useful to make them just ineffective. As I understand it Canadian content laws require a certain percentage of their broadcasts to contain material made in this country. Going off of my memory (and I admit I could be wrong here) during prime time, defined as between 6 PM and midnight has to a certain percentage produce in Canada. Theoretically this is to encourage the broadcast of Canadian television shows, and encourage these companies to produce their own shows set in Canadian locales and themes. However, Global, CTV, CityTV and others use the time to broadcast their news hours, evening and late night, and simultaneously show American television programs.

As near as I can tell the Canadian content laws for television have done nothing to encourage broadcasters to produce new Canadian programs. The occasional show pops up, such as Corner Gas or Murdoch Mysteries, but they are by no means the centrepiece of the private television channels. Just flip through the Canadian channels between 7 PM and 11 PM and that much will be clear. In recent years a certain number of Canadian-light shows have been making an appearance, such as Rookie Blue and Orphan Black, which are both quietly set in Toronto and filmed in Canada.

However, as Canadians turn away from their televisions and rely on pay-as-you-go services such as Amazon, iTunes and subscription services like Netflix these regulations seem increasingly irrelevant. Given their toothless nature of the current laws I see no reason why we should continue them unless we fundamentally rethink the approach. I am not comfortable with the idea of mandating what should be broadcast. I think the changing media landscape and the success of shows like Orphan Black and Rookie Blue in the global market that Canadian produced shows can find success elsewhere. This country has a strong and talented film and television industry. I don’t know why a sitcom set in Toronto, or a police procedural in Vancouver could not be successful. American networks don’t disdain Canadian content, and there are so many of them that they’ll take cheaper foreign-made content.

Instead of mandating quotas perhaps we should do more to encourage more Canadian production. If we insist on regulation is must not be as ineffective and meaningless as it is now.

Note: A commenter on Twitter informed me that the location of a television show does not define it as Canadian content, but who makes it. The example provided was that the TV show "Vikings" is considered Canadian content. To my point of view this points out further flaws. This commenter, Ian Kiar, added that the main complaint of companies have is that they pay revenues into the Canadian Media Fund and Netflix does not. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Worth Reading – September 25, 2014

The Fords, Trudeaus, Bushes, Kennedys are just some of the political dynasties most familiar to Canadians. Robert Fulford asks why we are drawn to dynasties

Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) has announced that he and the rest of the Liberal caucus will not be engaging with the Sun News organization until Ezra Levant or the Sun News executives address comments the commentator made regarding him

Brampton’s City Council did not debate the spending scandal engulfing Mayor Susan Fennell. Apparently, Mayor Fennell threatened Council with law suits were the debate to go ahead. 

John Ivison is suggesting that Prime Minister Harper may be calling an early election to avoid the Duffy trial from bringing down his government. 

Gary Bettman. The name inspires anger and frustration among hockey fans, in my experience. Mr. Bettman recently discussed the conditions for a second hockey team in Toronto

This is an incredible video. Thomas Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) challenged the government to answer some basic questions about the Canadian mission in Iraq. The answers from the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary gave was a stunning insult to parliament

Related to the above, Maclean’s take on the incident in the House of Commons. 

New Brunswick had an election earlier this week and it was quite a mess. The Globe and Mail asks what we can learn from it.  

This is something I’ve written on before, despite the fact that crime is dropping the number of police continues to grow. The number of officers does not reduce crime, so why the increase? 

Another proud political story in Brampton, a brawl reportedly broke out in a parking lot during a Liberal Party nomination. 

Now that the Scottish referendum has ended there are big questions about how devolution will occur and the future constitutional structures of the United Kingdom. The Telegraph lay out the groundwork for the coming discussion

The Speaker oversees the proceedings of the House of Commons. The British Speaker is an entertaining and remarkable man. I share this speech he gave before his election as speaker. I share his idealism and think he presents a vision that would improve our own House of Commons. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Democratizing the Constitution by Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, and Lori Turnbull

Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government by Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, and Lori Turnbull sets out a rather simple case. It’s a case often presented by the intelligentsia in this country in newspapers and debates, and here it is again in this book – that our democracy is unwell, and requires reform to continue to function. The origins of the monograph can be traced to the 2008 prorogation/coalition crisis.

The 2008 prorogation/coalition crisis revealed a number of deep concerns to constitutional scholars in this country. In 2011 experts in the field were brought together by Peter Russell to discuss the issues and come to some consensus over how the various “unwritten conventions” of our parliament should be applied. The authors write that political scientists were unable to reach a common ground, and point out that if experts were unable to come to a clear answer then how are everyday citizens supposed to draw a conclusion? 

A book critical in understanding true democratic reform in Canada.
Should the Governor General have prorogued parliament despite expressions of non-confidence from the House and parties willing to form a new government? Should the Prime Minister have ultimately control over these powers when the source of his power, confidence in the House, falls into question?

Ultimately the authors do not weigh in on the issue but point out that this kind of confusion and abuse by the Prime Minister fundamentally undermines our status as a responsible government and democracy. The Prime Minister, using the full executive power of our system, can abuse and run roughshod over the House of Commons, which is supposed to be supreme.

Critically, the authors highlight how Canada is the outlier when compared to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Documents in those countries expressly define the rules and conditions for the conventions. In Canada a vague set of precedents that are easily violable are in place where the realm of partisan interest increasingly holds sway.

The book is composed of five chapters, the first lays out the overview of the problem in Canada’s parliament, the second is a discussion of responsible government; how it is supposed to function and how it actually functions, third discusses how conventions have broken down in Canada, fourth explores the various issues in our democracy such as control over the political parties and the caucus, along with elections. The fifth fleshes out the issues in our actual elections and government formation, and finally, sixth the authors propose a package of reforms.

I should be clear that the authors are not particularly concerned with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Though his actions have stretched, broken and violated parliament to the greatest extent the authors see a clear pattern in the accumulation of power to our head of government. The trouble is with institutional decline.

This book caused me to fundamentally change my opinion on one matter. The authors state that whatever flaws the first-past-the-post system Canada may have reforming how we elect MPs is irrelevant if the fundamental issue of prime ministerial power is not checked. Democratizing even has me reconsidering my position on fixed election dates. 

The authors propose a number of reforms to check the power of the prime minister. They include:

·         Establish a deadline requiring the House of Commons to be summoned within 30 days of the election, forcing the incumbent or winner to test their confidence
·         Establish a fixed election dates every four years on a specific date, binding both the prime minister and the governor general, unless a majority of two-thirds of MPs approve a motion to dissolve Parliament for an early election
·         Adopt the “constructive non-confidence” procedure, put briefly, it would mean only specific motions calling on non-confidence and proposing a new prime minister would be confidence motions
·         Require the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons in order to prorogue Parliament
·         Adopt legislation limiting the size of ministries to a maximum of 25 individuals and the number of parliamentary secretaries to 8 at any given time
·         Use secret preferential ballots by committee members to select House of Commons’ committee chairs for the duration of the parliamentary session
·         Adopt a set schedule for opposition days in the House of Commons that cannot be altered by the government unilaterally
·         Reduce by 50 percent, the partisan political staff complement on Parliament Hill
·         Restore the power of party caucuses to dismiss the party leader, including a sitting prime minister, and to appoint a new interim leader
·         Remove the party leader’s power to approve or reject party candidates for election in each riding
Taken from Chapter 6 of Democratizing the Constitution

It is a lengthy and detailed list of reforms. They compliment, support and help constrain the power of the prime minister while empowering individual MPs, the House of Commons, and by extension, citizens.

Reading chapter six I could not help but wonder what Ontario would look like today if these reforms were in place over the last few years. Premier McGuinty’s crass prorogation for his party’s leadership contest would have failed. The brinksmanship that tormented the legislature would have been useless because no legislation would have doomed Ontario to a fresh election. Perhaps under the circumstances the Tories would have been inclined to govern with the Liberals, or the ONDP would have been offered a power-sharing deal.

This is a frank, straightforward, though academic, discussion of the crisis at the heart of Canadian democracy. It is a necessary read for citizens concerned about our country and wondering what is going so terribly wrong. The authors offer peace of mind in a positive set of reforms and forceful rebuke of naysayers and defeatists. It is important to note that the abuses the Harper’s opponents have decried will continue under a Prime Minister Trudeau or Mulcair without these reforms. The problems are institutional and will require great leadership to end them. As a country Canada cannot remain on its current path and expect to be anything other than a semi-democratic state. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Worth Reading – September 18, 2014

With votes being counted in Scotland tonight that is where at least part of my attention will be. My schedule has been busy, to say the least, so my list of articles for this week is a tad bit short.

First, if you’re interested in following the Scottish results here in Canada Ashley Csanady offers a guide

Results for the referendum can be found here

John McGrath wrote an excellence piece against the secession of Scotland. 

Ms. Csanady writes, again, on Ralph Goodale’s (LPC – Wascana, SK) support of the preferential ballot. Many Liberals have come out in favour of various reforms, but the party remains a defender of the status quo time and time again.

Jon Loninc writes on Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis and the possible impact on the mayoralty race

Steve Munro, perhaps the highly regarded commentator on transit in Toronto lays out some of the options facing the city of Toronto. 

Martin Patriquin writes a great long-form piece on the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Breaking the Union

On Thursday September 18th the people of Scotland will cast their ballots on a simple question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Scottish voters will have two choices: Yes, or No. One will irrevocably change the future of the country and reshape the British Isles, the other option is a murkier future.

The outcome is unpredictable, however, polling suggests that the No vote is barely edging out, and that Scotland will have a renegotiated positioned within the United Kingdom.

The case for an independent Scotland is compelling. Culturally, historically, and geographically Scotland is distinct from England. The UK’s highly centralized government means that Scotland is largely ruled by a parliament dominated by English people. In a world of supernational governments like the European Union there is a certain logic to bringing authority closer to the people.

However, aside from seeming logic of the separation of Scotland I oppose its removal from the United Kingdom. Previously I have written my concern over that multinational states seem unable to hang together. Much has been written about the economic reasons for the United Kingdom to hold together, which is valid. The Scots do not have a truly compelling reason to leave the United Kingdom. Their culture is not under treat, their people are not oppressed. Prime Ministers and cabinet ministers come from Scotland.

Couldn’t Scotland negotiated a greater devolution of power? Perhaps a new constitutional arrangement that would benefit all the regions of England and central authority still held at the Houses of Parliament. Federalism may be the ultimate solution to this crisis, not the independence of Scotland. This would help with the growing political schism between Scotland and England. It is important to note that Scotland is a country, and for most of its history was independent. The past 300 years are the aberration. The separation of Scotland and the UK is more logical than most.

Perhaps I am wrong. Ultimately it is up to the people of Scotland. It will be a fascinating series of political events and worth watching closely.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Worth Reading - September 11, 2014

The provocative title of this article says it all, “How the War on Terror is Killing America”. 

It could be a tough weekend for Andrea Horwath (OND – Hamilton Centre) when she meets with provincial council. Her leadership is up for review at a convention in November and it is likely her approval will steeply decline. Steve Paikin writes about the ONDP’s position in Ontario politics. 

308 Blog breaks down the polls of the Toronto mayoral race.
Andrew Coyne writes that a decent economy might not be enough to win Stephen Harper re-election.

David Soknacki, sadly, withdrew from the mayoral election in Toronto. Here is a piece written by a reporter on his last day. It’s a real shame.

Scott Reid in the Ottawa Citizen writes on the nomination process and how Justin Trudeau is approaching this critical issue of party democracy and management. 

Jon Lorinc in Spacing writes about the central issue of the Toronto mayoral campaign – transit, and how it is all a farce

Brent Rathgeber, MP for Edmonton-St. Albert is writing a book about control by the PMO over the Conservative caucus. 

Jim Prentice recently won the election to become the leader of the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta, and thus Premier. Here is a nice article offering some background on the man

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Independent Economy

While most people enjoy the comfort and familiarity of chain stores and businesses I think there is a greater interest among people, at least myself, for independent businesses. There is a definite strangeness to being on the other side of the world but the fast food chain your standing in is indistinguishable from one anywhere you’ve ever been before.

In my recent reading I have come across quite a bit talking about the nature of independent business and chains. I think our communities are missing a great deal by the triumph of the chain. We may have sacrificed the good of our towns and cities on the altar of familiarity and predictability.

Communities in the Northwest Territories are quite different from those back home. In Fort Smith there are only a handful of franchises or large businesses in town. Home Hardware, RBC, the Northern Store, and Staples are the only ones that come to mind, and Staples isn’t technically in town, they just have a deal with a local distributor. The grocery store, the general goods, the hotels, the restaurant, the garage, the small engine dealer, the coffee shop, the bakery, etc. are all owned by independent operators. This largely applies in a larger centre like Hay River as well.

One of the things I’ve thought about is starting my own business. Looking into something like that in Ontario is a very daunting task. On an episode of Strong Towns Chuck Marohn discussed the impact of “franchization” of our economy, he wrote about the idea here. Let’s use a Canadian example. Coffeeshops might be the lowest barrier to entry business an entrepreneur could start. It doesn’t require the extensive equipment of a full restaurant, or very much space. However, in this country seemingly only two coffee chains make any headway at all: Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. Getting enough of the market to survive is incredibly difficult.

Assuming an entrepreneur decides that it is impossible to beat the big guys so joins them and seeks a franchise. The last I heard a franchisee needs about $600,000 to purchase a business. Essentially they must already be wealthy if they hope to enter the merchant class. Our chain economy has barred new entrants and stifled innovation and competition. This stands in stark contrast with what I saw in Korea where small, even tiny businesses had the freedom to sprout up in small places and be patronized out of convenience and quality of service. Many of these businesses were quite modest but could easily grow over time, renovate their spaces, hire more staff, expand their facilities, etc. Such a landscape was hard to imagine at times back home in Ontario. 

The impact on the local economy is obvious. The corporate owners are essentially mining the local economy. Some money returns in wages, but mostly money leaves the local economy and gets concentrated in centres sometimes far removed from the area, or even the country. A study I heard referenced suggested that for a chain business only 5% of the money spent there by customers stays in the community, compared to 70% for an independent business.

While corporate chains will occasionally express some gratitude to their communities they are not rooted to them they way independent businesses are. Businesses here are intimately tied to the fate of their towns and are therefore quite active in the local chamber of commerce and give back generously to local schools and charities. They are citizens of their community and not merely visitors, or exploiters.

This is part of the reason I find it baffling that so much our local governments do are targeted at big businesses and boring chains. Their interests are not in the community, and would it not be better to help local businesspeople get off the ground and empower residents than enrich someone else? These are some things to consider in our shopping habits and how we grow our cities.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Worth Reading - September 4, 2014

Peter Kormos, former MPP for Welland, was a popular figure in his community and within the NDP before he passed away. Professor Larry Savage of Brock University has recently completed a book about his life and politics

Steve Paikin of TVO writes about John Tory, frontrunner for mayor of Toronto, his accumulation of high-profile Liberal endorsements

Jon Lorinc in Spacing writes about the Toronto mayoral election and how candidates would wise not to count out Mr. Ford

There’s no story here just a map. This a map of Syria and which groups control which areas. 

A provocative piece from the Telegraph in the United Kingdom on how the current structure surrounding cars and roads requires drastic change

Michael Den Tandt of the National Post writes on Prime Minister Harper’s legacy in the North

The public editor of the Globe and Mail writes about why it is so difficult to report on Rob Ford

This heartbreaking piece on Tina Fontaine’s final days in the Winnipeg Free Press. 

Chantal Hebert is coming out with a new book looking at the referendum in 1995. Here is an excerpt from the book

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Inquiry for Change

With disturbing regularity I read news articles or see photographs of Aboriginal women who have gone missing or who have died through information channels. The latest to grab my attention was Tina Fontaine of Winnipeg. However, even while thinking about this story two other Aboriginal girls were reported missing.

Perhaps more tragic than the death of young Ms. Fontaine, at 15 years of age, was the life that preceded it. Her grisly end was a closing chapter on a difficult life. Though Ms. Fontaine’s story is not unique, including her death, and it is increasingly familiar to Canadians more broadly, and a familiar tale to law enforcement officials and First Nations across Canada.

Advocates and leaders across the country have been calling for an inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. Recently the voices of the Premier of the Northwest Territories and Ontario joined the chorus that the causes of this national tragedy need to be exposed.

While I support a national inquiry into the problems confronting First Nations, Metis and Inuit women I fear we already know a great deal of what an inquiry would find: legacy of colonialism and residential schools, poor education and opportunities, isolation, endemic drug and alcohol abuse, lack of services, ineffective policing, and so on. Regardless of the broad strokes an inquiry may find answers to certain problems. An inquiry launched in 2014 may be better able to dole out responsibility and blame than the ones founded in earlier times.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest) has rejected the calls for an inquiry and instead used the issue to promote the “law and order” legislation his government has passed and intends to pass. This legislation, of course, would do nothing to prevent Ms. Fontaine’s death, the causes for that will be found elsewhere.

Ultimately the fate of marginalized and disadvantaged people should weigh heavily on the conscience of the Canadian public. For all the glorious nature of this rich and wonderful country there are far too many who live in darkness without hope or opportunity. An inquiry will not fix that, but it might awaken the desire to make meaningful change and produce valuable ideas how to make that happen.