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Monthly Archives: August 2015


The Prime Minister After Next?

It isn’t uncommon for Canada’s finance minister to become the country’s Prime Minister. Paul Martin did it. As did Sir Charles Tupper, R.B. Bennett, John Turner, and Jean Chrétien.

So who is Joe Oliver? He is a Montrealer who got a civil Law degree and an MBA and became an investment banker. He also became executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission and CEO of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.

So Mr Harper has picked a Finance minister straight out of the financial sector. That will affect Mr Oliver’s view of the world. At the very least he thinks the stock market is important to the economy and that the opinions of people in the financial sector are well founded.

He won’t be the next Prime Minister. A likely scenario for the next October election is that the

Finance Minister Joe Oliver waits to be introduced as a speaker at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Finance Minister Joe Oliver waits to be introduced as a speaker at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Conservatives will lose and either the NDP or the Liberals will form a minority government. That government will fall within two and a half years and the Conservatives will fight the election with all the public money they get from Elections Canada. By then Joe will be 78. Rob Ford’s brother has a better chance.

In the meantime we can think about what having Joe for Finance Minister means about the direction of the country.

Materials, financials and energy, make up roughly two-thirds of the TSX’s weight. Materials are actually derivatives – financial instruments – so most of the TSX and the financial sector is about speculative investing. Some capital is raised, but really we are looking at a giant casino. The focus is not or “real” investment of the sort that creates jobs. It is on making speculative gains, and these largely come at the expense of less well informed and less well represented investors. It is a sector that produces very little of value but generates high incomes for many people in the business.

Since 15% of the TSX total market cap in 2013 we can be sure that Mr Oliver is sensitive to the needs of the oil industry. Of 378 oil and gas companies listed on our exchanges in 2013, 355 were domestic companies according to Thomas Kloet, Chief Executive Officer TMX Group. Joe probably knows quite a few of the executives of these companies personally.

The mandate of the Ontario Securities Commission is “To provide protection to investors from unfair, improper or fraudulent practices and to foster fair and efficient capital markets and confidence in capital markets.” As a past Executive Director of the Commission, Joe understands how important it is to keep people believing in stock markets, and he knows that attracting international funds is important to the people he worked with.

My question is whether he knows anything at all about how a national economy generates real wealth.


Greyhound, Maley Drive, the Mayor, and the Sinking of of Sudbury

The Mayor is hot to get money to build the Maley extension. Kathleen Wynne is happy to waste money on this road to nowhere. Meanwhile Greyhound is cutting service to Northeastern Ontario.

Who loses? Sudbury taxpayers. Two ways:

Laurentian University is one of the city’s most important growth industries. The city exports intelligence. We import about half of our students, add value and send them home. Each student brings over $20,000 per year to the city. they rent rooms, buy beer, and pay fees.280815_Greyhound_2

Laurentian has a serious disadvantage in the market for southern students – we are hard to get to. Making the city harder to get to will hurt recruiting. My conservative guess is that it will cost Laurentian about 100 students a year. That is $2 million a year in lost income for the city. Don’t forget there is a multiplier. We use 1.4 for the architecture school business plan, and that brings the loss for the city to $2.8 million per year.

Now think about retired people. Sudbury is already one of the oldest communities in the Province. The city needs a plan to hold the growing number of retirees. Everyone that leaves reduces the tax base and raises the cost of living for those who stay.

Many retirees – I am one – have kids in the south. Many make medical trips south. Increasing numbers don’t drive or don’t have a car. Cut the bus service and some will leave.

How many? Out of the 31,100 projected to be over 65 in Greater Sudbury in 2017, lets say that just over one third of 1% will decide to move south because of the cut to bus service. That is 100 people who have, according to national figures, a median income of $42,000 per year. The annual loss would be $5.8 million. At current interest rates the negative impact has a present value of $400 million. Lost tax revenues for the city could total over $100 million.

Adding up the effect, the Greyhound cuts could cost the city $8.6 million dollars per year. they probably save the Scottish owners about half a million a year.

So here is a question for Mayor Brian, Premier Kathleen and Greg Rickford, Minister for FedNor: Are you guys totally insane?

You are each willing to throw $23 million at the Maley Drive project, which I have shown makes a negative net contribution to the Sudbury economy. The same money would probably keep the Greyhound service for 25 to 50 years. Or it could be used to build Ontario Northland services.

An addiction to road projects may be popular among politicians who don’t understand the northern economy. And it may be the way to sink the Sudbury economy.


There Will Be Deficits

There will be a deficit: Although the Harper government claims it had a balanced budget, it only did so by selling assets and making unrealistic projections. The tiny technical surplus that Finance Minister Joe Oliver promised is like the periscope of a submerged submarine – the ship is under water, but technically it has broken through the surface.

Mr Harper has been Deficit Man – running up a series of 8 deficits after starting with a decent surplus inherited from the Liberals. He did this intentionally by cutting the GST that former PM Brian Mulroney brought in partly to encourage growth. Mulroney was told you can have a good tax or a bad tax to deal with YOUR deficit and he chose a good tax. Harper chose the deficit. Repeat after me: Harper CHOSE the deficit.

To fight this election he has been promising tax cuts and new projects every time he leaves home. The strategy seems to be to leave the cupboard bare for the next government – promise money so that the next government won’t be able to spend it. And he hasn’t budgeted for all the new government pensions for all the Conservatives who will lose their seats. There will be a deficit.

Mr Mulcair knows there will be a deficit too, so he is promising to balance the budget from 2016 forward. Good luck. When you rent a house to bad tenants you expect to have a mess to clean up and a lot of repairs to do. Mr Mulcair has budgeted for the unpaid rent, but not for the cleanup.button1

That leaves the Liberals and the Greens. The Liberals have essentially adopted a version of the Green platform with two big exceptions. They admit there will be a deficit. They are now focusing on the infrastructure deficit. They plan to spend on infrastructure, and they emphasize that this will provide economic stimulus. So far so good.

The Greens go farther: They want to eliminate the infrastructure deficit – that will take more than a 3-year stimulus package. The Greens would commit 1% of the GST for transportation improvements and an additional $3 billion annually and permanently for infrastructure upgrading. This represents a move back toward the days when the Federal government funded a much larger fraction of Canada’s infrastructure. Those were prosperous times with a declining Federal debt and the Federal government spending helped drive that prosperity.

The Greens go farther in another way. The party platform does not talk about “environmental deficit”, but that is really what we have. Every molecule of CO2 added to the atmosphere is an addition to the world’s environmental debt. Only the Green Party has a plan that deals effectively with carbon emissions. Mr Harper hopes to make poor countries pay for the Canadian share. Mulcair and Trudeau are committed to costly and inefficient cap-and-trade systems. The Green Party is committed to taxing emissions directly and making sure the revenue goes back to Canadians.

By being honest about what needs to be done, and honest about the fact that we will have to pay for infrastructure and emissions, the Green Party is dealing with another huge Canadian deficit: the Honesty Deficit in Canadian politics. Let’s eliminate the Honesty Deficit this October!


A Signpost on the Road to Hell

The July 2015 average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average. July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, so this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880-2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°F (0.08°C).July-2015-Global-Temp-Percentiles-Map

The July globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.73°F (0.96°C) above the 20th century average. This was `only’ the sixth highest for July in the 1880-2015 record.

On the other hand, globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average in July. This was the HIGHEST TEMPERATURE FOR ANY MONTH in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in July 2014 by 0.13°F (0.07°C). The ocean has been serving as a global air-conditioner, sucking up heat. The warmer it gets the worse job it will do. At the same time it melts arctic ice more quickly when it is warmer.

None of this is surprising for people who have been keeping track of climate trends – it is just a bit ahead of schedule. And it is just another signpost on the road to Hell.

We will be passing an off-ramp at the Paris COP talks November 30 to December 11, 2015. The current Federal Election may determine whether we take that turn. think about it when you talk ot people about the election.

The information comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The Centers report that the US July temperature was only 0.2 degrees above the 20th century average.


The Top 50 Stephen Harper Protest Songs

TOP Fifty? How many ARE there? AT least 70, because 68 are listed at the site below and I know of two more. Do you know of any more?

Cathy Cook is a terrific east coast blues singer that I stumbled on because someone sent me a link to her singing “Stephen Harper Hates Me,” which led me to “Stephen Harper Hates Me Too” at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR9wFrdY7cw .

So here is a question for the audience: Has there ever been an election that or a Prime Minister in Canada who has inspired so much music?

Fooling Ourselves about $12,000

Mr Harper borrowed money to reduce the GST in 2006 and 2008.

He promised to cut the GST, and he did it. What he didn’t say is that every dollar of reduction would end up as debt and that we would be paying interest on that debt for at least 20 years.

Inside the Conservative Party the slogan must have been something like “Buy votes now, let voters pay later.”

For the country the Conservatives seemed to offer a free lunch. A tax reduction with no cost. Enough Canadians took the bait.

Did Mr Harper think that he could actually balance the budget without the revenue that previous governments needed? Maybe. He would have had to be either ignorant or deluded, but he might have believed it. Or he might have been cynically buying a majority with other people’s money. He might have thought, ” If they are dumb enough to take this deal they deserve what they get.” Economists warned that it was a poor idea.

The total increase in debt under Harper is about $160 billion. That is $12,864.32 per Canadian household. That $12,864 is debt you will have to repay someday. It is Mr Harper’s legacy to Canada, to Canadians, and to you.

The loss in revenue from the GST cuts seems to be about $140 billion. That is 20 percent of GST revenues from 2008 to the end of this fiscal year plus 10 percent from 2006 to 2008. Blogger Scott Ross calculated the interest costs at $48 Billion. Feel free to offer alternative estimates. A billion more or less wont affect the argument.

Maybe your remember all the talk about what a great Finance Minister Flaherty was. The truth is he participated in passing off an enormous lie on the Canadian people. He was an economic shyster who never balanced a budget.StudentDebt-Post

We were fooling ourselves if we thought we wouldn’t pay for the sins of the Conservative government that we elected. Judgement Day will come. Mr Harper will retire with a terrific pension. We will be left holding the bag.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Richard Carlson (May 16, 1961 – December 13, 2006) was an American author, psychotherapist, and motivational speaker, who rose to fame with the success of his 1997 book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all Small Stuff”.

Carlson gave a lot of good advice about not getting caught up in small problems, petty worries, annoying situations and good old stuff you can buy. He didn’t deny that there are big issues — he even wrote a book called “What About the Big Stuff?”

It seems to me that in the current election a lot of people are “sweating the small stuff.” They focus on stories about receipts and minor slips of the tongue, about leaders’ hair styles or their nasty personalities or their beards. In the end what will matter is whether the next government gets a few big things right. The very biggest – or, if you are a doubter, just one of the biggest, is the question of climate change. Would-be politicians have to get that issue right.

The world’s most important climate talks start in Paris on November 30th. Here in Canada, while the election is on, we should be asking each candidate what position Canada’s new government will take at those talks.climate-change

It seems like a very simple question, but it is really the litmus test for whether a candidate is worth voting for. Anyone who can’t promise that their party will commit to decarbonization by 2050 doesn’t understand the real state of the world and shouldn’t be running. (Either that or the poor fool is in the wrong party and his or her judgement can’t be trusted.)

I am not saying that there aren’t other issues – I have been working on policy issues most of my life and I care passionately about many of them – Canadian democracy, youth employment, education, economic development, pensions, innovation policy, to name a few.

I am saying that we don’t have to figure out every candidate’s position on every issue. We only need to know what their commitments are on a few big issues. If they are not strong and clear about the big stuff, don’t vote for them. Don’t waste your vote. An election isn’t the time to “sweat the small stuff.”

(Apologies to Richard Carlson for borrowing his line.)