Thursday, July 27, 2017

Worth Reading - July 27, 2017

The Globe and Mail has an opinion piece about the virtues of our constitutional monarchy

From Huffington Post, The Culture of Smug, White Liberalism

The Beaverton has a brilliant satire here on the right-wing merger in Alberta: Alberta's two right-wing parties merge to form an oil company

Eric Grenier looks at the electoral potential of the united right-wing in Alberta. 

Strong Town tackles some myths about suburbia

NDP leadership contestant, Guy Caron, announced his infrastructure and jobs plan

Rolling Stone did a glowing piece about Justin Trudeau, Canadian critics had some fun picking it apart

This piece looks at the factual errors in said Rolling Stone article. 

The New Yorker looks at the TV program that created Donald Trump

Steve Paikin makes the pitch for honesty in political advertising

Progressive Conservative in-fighting continues over nominations

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reviewing NAFTA

Assuming Donald Trump isn't forced to resign, or is impeached there is a major area of policy Canadians should begin thinking about because it's entirely possible things could move very quickly on this file: trade and NAFTA.

Though it may be difficult to remember now both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ran on platforms seeking to address shortcomings in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The politics of NAFTA are a bit difficult to parse. I will try to lay out the basics as I understand them.

NAFTA in many ways is associated with the collapse of the manufacturing sector in Canada and the United States. As a result critics among the left and workers say that NAFTA destroyed their jobs. While I'm certain consolidation harmed employment to a certain degree the NAFTA trade deal has also greatly expanded the volume of trade and economic activities between the three countries. As a piece of anecdotal evidence, about half the people in my family had work that directly or indirectly benefitted from the NAFTA trade agreement. The collapse in manufacturing has a great deal to deal with poor management by corporate players, changes in technology, increased competition from foreign competitors, and finally automation. In the case of many of the jobs people point out there is very little hope of them ever returning let alone in the numbers they once existed in. Factories do not employ thousands anymore, the often do not employee even hundreds.

In the United States I think it is fair to say that a significant component that drives criticism is the distrust or discomfort towards Mexico. Here criticism of NAFTA gets tangled up in feelings about immigration and migrant workers, which are entirely separate issues. I believe when Canadians think of NAFTA they generally think about the United States while the U.S. often thinks of Mexico and this shapes each nation's opinion.

I am far removed from a trade expert. From the limited media reporting I've read on this topic I have come to two basic conclusions: Canada's economy is dependent upon NAFTA, or a NAFTA-like, trade agreement and there are areas of the treaty that deserve revision after all this time. NAFTA is over twenty years old now. The world has changed substantially so perhaps it is time to modernize.

As odious as the current federal government of the United States we have no choice but to deal with it. Our economies are deeply intertwined. Any stress to that existing network will have a devastating impact on our economy. That doesn't mean we should bow to Donald Trump and his Commerce Secretary's dictates, which I fear is the road Trudeau is walking down. We should unite with Mexico on as many issues as we can and use our combined leverage to extract concessions from the United States.

There are a number of areas Canadians should be concerned about and anxious to defend. The first that comes to mind is water and healthcare. Water should not be treated as a tradable commodity under NAFTA. We should resist the imposition of American intellectual property laws, which strike me as deranged at times. Easing access for certain agricultural products, and dismantling supply management, could be a nice bonus out of these negotiations. Perhaps we could settle issues like softwood lumber once and for all within a revised NAFTA. Surely the telecommunications provisions could use a refresh given that the internet was in infancy when it was signed.

I'm sure the Canadian government has a list as long as my arm of issues they would like corrected in the treaty. Ultimately we need to see our leaders start to discuss this in a concerted way and why this matters. The last thing we can allow is some quick fixes to get pushed through without the public's informed consent. This critical aspect of the Canadian economy should not be allowed to be distorted by demagogues or abandoned without the understanding by Canadians for the consequences. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Worth Reading - July 20, 2017

Jagmeet Singh received an endorsement from a Quebec MP

The Telegraph reports the pornography has profoundly impacted the life of young people. 

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has announced intentions for a gender diverse shadow government, with Lisa Raitt as his deputy. 

Steve Paikin that the prospect of victory, ironically, has some unease in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. 

Strong Towns examines two New England towns and sees whether or not they are truly 'strong'. 

Also from Strong Towns, Chuck Marohn discusses what he sees for the future of American cities

Martin Regg Cohn writes about the intersection of politics and statues

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Shape of the NDP Leadership Race

Note: In the wake of the posting of this piece several criticism have emerged which I wish to address. First, the Brampton South NDP has reached out to every leadership campaign and solicited their interest in visiting our riding to meet the regional membership. Second, this piece does not discuss Niki Ashton. This is, I admit, my own bias. I didn't address her directly because I didn't wish to publicly point out why I think she is a flawed candidate for leadership. Ashton came dead last in the last leadership race, and I have not seen in her the capacity to be leader now. I will add that speaking to members has confirmed my biases. I haven't met, in person, a party member who is ranking her first or second. If you're a supporter of Ashton I wish you the best of luck, but on an opinion-based blog I am not required to write about anything or anyone other than what I choose to. 

For those outside observers the NDP leadership race may seem like a quiet conversation in a neighbouring room. As a local activist it has seemed akin to several independent campaigns that do not really interact with one another until they cross paths in the debates. I can proudly say that my riding association, Brampton South, under the leadership of our riding association president has had Peter Julian, Guy Caron, and soon Charlie Angus in to meet with local members. I feel this has given me a greater sense of what's going on in the campaign than perhaps the average member.

I should say, that while I am not formally committed, I am inclined at the moment to support Guy Caron. My interest in Caron started after I watched the first debate and he displayed the kind of humour and rhetorical deftness that I think the next leader will require. My support of Mr. Caron was solidified when I saw him speak in person. He is a trained economist, and didn't back down, or shoot talking points at any of the questions posed to him. Perhaps most importantly when asked about certain economic problems he said there were no easy solutions and to those making blanket promises, like free tuition, were oversimplifying and misleading party members.

The next important caveat is to remember that no one knows anything about this leadership race. Polling party races is incredibly difficult. This is only magnified when you consider the issues around using a ranked ballot. Endorsements and fundraising may indicate some things, but they are not definitive indicators.

The media's near-total disinterest in the NDP leadership exists in stark contrast to the attention is paid to the Conservative race that concluded a few weeks ago. It is pat NDP response to cry into our beers about how the media maligns us, but I feel the contrast is justifiably strong to make that point. To be fair, we don't have any 'crazy' people running, and gaining support to lead the party. The general consensus among the candidate is to generally align more clearly with left-wing policies. There is little disagreement among the candidates and they are all perceived as serious contenders. In short there are no Kellie Leitchs or Kevin O'Leary to grab media attention for the contest, and so it languishes in the public consciousness somewhere back where PEI provincial elections do.

What we do know is that Peter Julian has withdrawn from the race due to disappointing levels of support and fundraising. Charlie Angus has led in polls, which are notoriously unreliable in this context. Jagmeet Singh has a lot of positive perception in the media. He is often spoken of as a breath of fresh air. Being a Brampton and Toronto-area New Democrat I see a lot of enthusiasm for him, but I am aware I exist within a bubble. Singh also leads the candidates with endorsements. Endorsements are not necessary for victory, but Andrew Scheer had the most caucus support during the Conservative campaign. July 31st is when the next fundraising numbers will be disclosed.

I have heard Eric Grenier, polls analyst with CBC, say that Ontario and British Columbia are the big targets/battlegrounds in this leadership race. The NDP uses a one-member-one-vote system, and those provinces have the most members. This would seem to indicate that Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have a slight advantage. Singh has also been building a network in British Columbia for years and has received significant endorsements there. Quebec is a serious question in this leadership race. While 2015 devastated the party's standings in the province the NDP still has a significant presence there. I think it could be argued that Tom Mulcair partially won in 2012 because members wanted to hold on to those Quebec seats. Would this give an advantage to Guy Caron?

In situations like this often gut instincts and anecdotal evidence is just as valuable as 'hard' data. First, it doesn't seem like anyone is running away with the race. New Democrats are undecided and have no engaging issue that divides the membership/candidates. Indications would suggest that Charlie Angus and Jagmeet Singh are frontrunners in a very fluid race. I think momentum is behind Singh, but there is a lot of time for that to evaporate. This is likely the shape of the range until the vote. What do you think? How do you see the race at present?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Worth Reading - July 13, 2017

Tabitha Southey's column argues that the far-right's bravado is a way to deny responsibility

Steve Paikin contends that the Mayor of Brampton has the hardest job of her peers in the GTHA. 

Briefly during the G20 meeting Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, filled in for him during a conversation about Africa. Perhaps the reaction was strong, but it's hard to understand why a family member of the president rather than a State Department official didn't take his spot.

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns writes that the concept of 'negativa' might be the solution to our bizarre housing markets

On a related topic, the Toronto Star is reporting that the region is undergoing a 'housing correction.' 

Toronto City Councillor Pam McConnell recently passed away. She had a tremendous impact on the city of Toronto and her voice will be missed by many.

From a great Councillor to... well, John Sprovieri of Brampton is under fire for insensitive e-mails he sent suggesting that newcomers to the city needed to learn white values

Finally, I end with a video. This film critique looks at the trend of young, naive women out of their element as a plot in science fiction and fantasy movies. He calls it 'Born Sexy Yesterday.'

 Worth checking out. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TV Review: House of Cards (U.S.) Season 5

Political fiction, for reasons beyond my understanding, are incredibly difficult to do well. I think it might be because I know just enough to break the suspension of disbelief. I know enough of the norms of American, Canadians, and (to a lesser extent) British politics to know what is reasonable and plausible. I suppose I should say something like "asterisk Trump" but he, tragically, exists within a certain norms.

Beau Willimon, showrunner and creator of the American House of Cards, is a passionate critic of American politics so it is easy to see these influences on the show.

I consider myself an intelligent fellow and savvy viewer of television, yet after 13 episodes of House of Cards season 5 I feel reasonably confident I couldn't tell you what the hell is going on in this season.

As I start parsing the show I come up with easily a dozen plot lines but none hold primacy, nor stand out. I suppose the primary plot is Frank Underwood's desperate gamble to stay in power. He faces twin threats: a congressional committee investigating his potential criminal acts and the election. The latter is the far more interesting angle. Elections are fantastic sources for drama and intrigue. Even the savviest politician in a democracy is powerless in the face of the electorate's will. Willimon takes the audience through an electoral crisis. Key states are unable to certify (confirm) their election results due to widespread disruption. This throws the entire election into question. While some of the wheeling and dealing is interesting the minutiae is tedious at times, especially because the same characters flip-flop back and forth.

House of Cards has a real character problem. It doesn't know how to grow, develop, or introduce new characters. Three major new characters joined the show, and for the life of me I cannot tell you their names, nor could I while watching the show. I looked it up, the characters I have in mind is Campbell Scott as Mark Usher, Patricia Clarkson as Jane Davis, and James Martinez as Alex Romero. *Shrug*

I hate to repeat myself, but much of my reservations about seasons three and four are only worse here. We are no longer co-conspirators with Frank. The audience is left in the dark, or at least I was. The fun of the show is cold and dead. All that's left are hollow twists purporting to be clever schemes.  

It's a real shame. The show has a some great moments and was truly exciting at points. Here I'm particularly remembering those great fourth-wall-breaking quips of Frank's. I hope the early season inspires future TV creators to produce works that give the audience what season five fails to deliver.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Worth Reading - July 6, 2017

This week's Worth Reading is a bit brief, I spent most of the last week out of town. I hope this sample still offers something interesting. 

This article from Maclean's takes a look at political extremism and meme culture on the internet. It expresses some ideas I've been rolling around in my head lately. I find its implications interesting and distressing.

Andrew Coyne calls Prime Minister Trudeau's tone-deaf approach and missteps in government

On a related note, Chantal Hebert writes that Trudeau's popularity among Canadians may have more to do with the small standing of his first minister peers

Paul Wells interviews our illustrious Prime Minister on Canada Day

John Michael McGrath argues that the political interference with Metrolinx means that the institution has no purpose

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Canada 150: Tomorrow

 In the final entry in this three-part series I would like to discuss Canada moving into the future. Four days ago Canadians from coast to coast to coast celebrated the formation of the country. I think many of us reflected on our present position. We rejoiced in the many riches this country has offered us and our families and simply enjoyed ourselves. I am sure that some among us took a moment to reflect on our history, with pride and with criticism. I wonder how many of us took some time to think about the future of this country and its people.

Now that the big party is over I think it would be wise for us to start to think about where we want our country to go and what we want it to be in the future. For me the question comes down to this, 'What do we want Canada to look like when we celebrate its 200th birthday?" 2067 is approaching sooner than we may think. More importantly the decisions we make today in our communities, cities, provinces, and country will shape our/their future.

Perhaps it is out of character for me, but I am quite optimistic about the future of this country. Unfortunately I do not think our leaders or we as citizens give much attention to long-term thinking so here are some questions we should start thinking about today.

On Canada Day there were approximately 36.5 million Canadians. We are one of the smaller wealthy, Western countries of the world. That does not seem likely to remain the case. By 2067 Canada will have nearly doubled its population (based on estimates) to over 60 million. That would make us roughly the same size as Italy, the UK, and France. I think Canadians are comfortable thinking of themselves as a small country, but this is going to change in the space of a couple of generations.

Canada today is about the size of Poland, and despite our greater wealth, we are only expected to contribute so much to international military operations, foreign aid, and leadership. This will change in the coming decades. Barring unforeseen consequences or disasters this is the path we are on. As we grow we must also mature into a country more willing to exert its influence on the world. All signs point to less stability in the near future, so a more robust Canadian military and foreign policy will likely be needed.

Nearly doubling our population alone will have a tremendous impact on our communities. What will be the next great cities in Canada and how will we prepare for that? How do we spread growth around so that our largest cities don't crack under the strain? How do we prevent the loss of valuable green space and farm land in sprawling cities? How do we adapt/expand our infrastructure to meet these new demands? Some provinces and cities have plans on the books to try to address the medium term change, but many are failing to comply. It is reckless to just stumble blindly into the future given the costs that will be involved.

One thing that will probably be a big question for Canada is how we adapt to and deal with the impacts of climate change. I have my doubts that humanity will be able to bend the curve on CO2 emissions in a meaningful way in time. What is our policy about the Arctic? How will we enforce our sovereignty? Will this expand our agricultural potential in the 'near North'? Will we have to move people as sea levels rise and storms become more powerful? How will we deal with inconsistent precipitation leading to drought and flood years? These are things we need to start thinking about and will shape 2067 Canada.

There are many things we cannot predict, nor do anything about. We are entering a period of intense automation, which may make work as we know it obsolete. Perhaps we are on the verge of the Star Trek utopia, or, a dismal society where there is a large underclass of unemployed/unemployable people. New industries will rise and fall. New technologies may change our lives, communities, and society as we know it. Politics domestically and internationally are unpredictable to say the least. However, as we walk into the 21st century I feel there is every indication that for next fifty years Canada is set to continue on a path of becoming an even greater country, if we have the wisdom and foresight to make it so.