Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Honesty In Politics

Politicians have always played fast and loose with the idea of truth.  Facts get weighted certain ways to support a narrative, creative "spin" is applied to manipulate the public perception of events and policy announcements and so on.  I get it - everybody is trying to make their version of the story look the best.  For most of my life, that's been "fair game" politics.  Sometimes a leader (or a party) has stepped over a line briefly, but usually has stepped back after public outrage has made it very clear they were way off base.

Then we come to the last few weeks of politics in Alberta.  To put it nicely, the newly created UCP (United Conservative Party - although other less flattering expansions of the acronym are also running about) has been playing well past the "fast-and-loose with the facts" line.

First up was their little rural crime kerfuffle where they tried to play "gotcha politics" with a combination of lies and procedural gimmickry in the legislature to try and make the government look bad.  Susan On The Soapbox has an excellent detailed run-down of the ridiculous nonsense being played out there.  From my point of view, this is just one example of fact-free politics.  Yes, rural crime is an issue, but it isn't exactly spiking - the rate of rural crime has been pretty flat for years, and is only marginally higher than that seen in urban Alberta.  Given the complexities of securing vast areas of land, this should come as no surprise to anyone. The UCP stunt in the legislature was nothing more than grandstanding, and deserves even less attention except for the fact that it is based upon a lie - that rural crime is "skyrocketing" in Alberta.

Then we hit the last week of the legislative session.  The NDP tables Bill 32, which the UCP immediately starts claiming that it removes the residency requirement.  This isn't even close to reality.  To vote in Alberta, you still must be a resident of the province.  What the NDP bill does do is remove the 6 month suspension of voting rights the former PCAA put in last time the elections act was updated (sometime in the 1970s).

I suspect the rationale at the time was that you needed to live in the province for a while to understand the issues of the day, and what they mean.  In the 1970s, that idea had some merit - for the most part, provincial politics seldom made headlines outside of the province, and the odds of someone moving to Alberta from another province knowing enough about the issues to be able to cast an informed vote would be pretty slim.  But that was in the 1970s - before the 24 hour news cycle, and more importantly before the Internet made it relatively easy to access news from anywhere.  Today, that clause is an anachronism.

Further, those kind of clauses are also arguably in violation of Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which also did not exist in the 1970s):
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Considering that the SCC has declared that suspending a prisoner's right to vote is unconstitutional, one can imagine that these provincial clauses (most of which likely predate the Charter, as well as the Internet) are similarly unconstitutional, should they ever be challenged.

So, what's fact-free about this?  Several things.  The residency requirement is in no way being removed.  An arguably unconstitutional clause is.  You still have to demonstrate that you actually live here on voting day.  What's the bar for proving you live here?  Provincial ID (e.g. your driver's license), or a document such as a utilities bill showing you live in the province.  The argument that this is going to enable voter fraud from other provinces is laughable.  How many people have the resources to maintain two apparent residences in different provinces?  Come to that, Saskatchewan's population is a quarter of Albertas - it would take a sizeable fraction of Saskatchewan's residents deciding to engage in this fraud in order to influence even a couple of ridings.  BC, has a much larger population, but travelling from much of BC to Alberta by car is a fairly long journey and one would have to imagine that few of BC's residents are particularly interested in engaging in fraud either.

On this file, the UCP has simply "made shit up" in an effort to stir up outrage.

The UCP's propaganda campaign on the Carbon Tax has become increasingly fact-free and outrageous as well.  Their arguments range from "it's the biggest tax increase in Alberta history" (it's not), to "they're killing people's livelihoods" (anybody else forgotten that most Alberta's electricity used to be generated from burning coal, and it's being switched to natural gas and renewables?)  Yeah - along with the rest of the world, we need to stop burning coal for a lot of good reasons.  The NDP government has also directed the funds from the Carbon Tax directly back into the Alberta economy in a variety of programs designed to enable Albertans to become more energy efficient.  This includes bridging finances to assist coal workers who will be unemployed within a decade or so.  So, are they "killing people's livelihoods"?  Yes and no.  If you work in the coal industry, chances are you need to start training for something new, but so what?  Remember when the horse and buggy went obsolete?

Lastly, we come to the dust-up between Saskatchewan and Alberta over contractor license plates.  As outgoing Premier Wall is a known ally of Jason Kenney - and has been quite public in his disdain for Rachel Notley.  I would put good money that the phone lines between the Manning Centre, Kenney and Wall have been going nonstop looking for something else to bolster Kenney as Calgary-Lougheed goes to the polls.  Again, this entire thing is manufactured.  It's about as fact-free a pack of lies as I have ever seen.

On the other side of the coin, the NDP has been attacking Jason Kenney for being "from Ontario".  Frankly, this is a silly attack.  There is a kernel of truth to it, but I think the NDP is stretching the point here.  If they want to attack Kenney on this file, they need to go after the fact he couldn't be bothered to campaign in his own riding for the last several elections.  That's a valid criticism.  The fact he was born in Ontario is irrelevant.  The fact that he maintained a residence in Ontario while an MP is also irrelevant - his absence from his riding is not.

There is an ethical issue here - not just the basics of being honest with others (as I'm sure we all learned growing up), but rather of doing one's job well.  The job of the UCP as the official opposition right now is to present Albertans with an intelligent, and useful set of alternatives to the governing party.  That means proposing meaningful amendments to bills, and articulating reasonable policy alternatives.  Not spouting whatever fictional nonsense you think your audience wants to hear.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Post-Rebel Journalism Needs To Become A Recognized Profession

The ongoing collapse of Ezra Levant's "The Rebel" (no links provided - I will not link to what I consider a hate site) makes one thing abundantly clear to me:  Journalism must become a regulated profession in Canada.

Ezra has cried blue murder every time his company was denied accreditation by government press galleries.  What the ensuing discussion has demonstrated is that we don't have a means of identifying what is legitimate journalism from nonsense.  Frankly, in today's environment, parody sites like The Beaverton could demand accreditation and access to media galleries, and yet they do not by any reasonable definition engage in journalism per se.

Paula Simons has argued that because of charter guarantees, there is no need for the media to be a licensed profession:

I respect Ms. Simons - she is one of the good journalists we have in this country.  However, I respectfully disagree with her position, and I will lay out my reasons for this here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

About The WomanMeansSomething Violence Database

[Update: July 1, 2017]
Yet another annoying problem with Dirks' little statistics project is the fact that we know in the US there are Christian activist groups who are staging "men in women's bathrooms" tests in places like Target.  This alone is enough to invalidate Dirks' database.
So, a man by the name of Paul Dirks has created a "Sexual Violence Database" which he claims shows a strong correlation between jurisdictions where trans rights have been provided in law and an increase in sexual predation in female designated spaces.

I downloaded the raw data and took a look through it.  First, the database is fairly small.  At this point, it contains some 255 entries.  It encompasses incidents dating back as far as 1984, and as recently as 2017, in the USA, Canada and United Kingdom.  At a glance, it appears to be a compilation based on whatever he was able to find in the news.  To be fair, most of the data dates from 2004 to present, so I will ignore pre-2004 data since there is only a handful of such incidents.

2004 - 2 incidents
2005 - 2 incidents
2006 - 2 incidents
2007 - 1 incident
2008 - 1 incident
2009 - 3 incidents
2010 - 6 incidents
2011 - 11 incidents
2012 - 20 incidents
2013 - 22 incidents
2014 - 31 incidents
2015 - 52 incidents
2016 - 68 incidents
2017 - 32 incidents

If you look at this, you would think that there is a sudden increase in the number of "male predators invading female spaces".  After all, from 2009 to 2016 represents a 2200% increase in reported incidents.

However, there are a few problems to be considered.  First, Mr. Dirks has gathered his data by trawling through internet archives.  This leaves us with a few problems.  First of all, as good as internet archives are, we have to remember that they are not guaranteed to be complete.  Second, we have to recognize that news media in general seldom reports all such incidents.  For the most part, only the most salacious stories are going to make the headlines.

The apparent increase could simply be a function of perceived public interest in such stories, a little like the way that for a while after a spectacular storm, even minor weather events become part of the local news.  To get a perspective on this, I went to the Statistics Canada Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2015 summary, which contains the following:
In 2015, there were almost 21,500 police-reported sexual assaults, the majority (98%) of which were classified as level 1 sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2015, the rate of sexual assault level 1 increased 3% to 58 per 100,000 population. The rates of sexual assault level 2 also increased (+13%) with a total of 377 incidents reported in 2015, or a rate of 1 per 100,000 population (about the same level as reported in 2013). In contrast, the rate of the most serious sexual assaults (level 3) declined 11% in 2015 with 104 incidents (12 fewer than in 2014) (Table 5).
So, let's put this in perspective.  Dirks' data shows 52 incidents in 2015.  That is 0.24% of the total reported sex crimes in Canada alone (and Dirks' data encompasses Canada, the USA and the UK).  When we isolate Dirks' statistics to Canada only, there is a total of 7 incidents, or 0.032% of the total sexual assaults reported in the country.

Unfortunately, Statistics Canada doesn't provide records at the level of detail that would allow for easy identification of how many sexual assaults occur in the scenario that Dirks and his allies are so worried about.  In terms of frequency, relative to the number of sexual assaults reported each year in Canada, 0.032% seems low - very low - hardly evidence of a shocking increase of any kind.

But, there's a more unsettling aspect to Dirks' data.  If his claim bore any truth value, we would expect to see a marked increase in the number of "men" presenting as "female" entering women's washrooms/change facilities etc. with malicious intent.  Across all countries, and years, there is 20 records in Dirks' database which match that criterion.  That's 7.8% of the records, with between 2 and 5 entries recorded per year between the years 2008 and 2015.  Of these, Canada is only represented in 2 entries, the UK in 2, and the remaining 16 taking place in the USA.  Canada is a country of some 35,000,000 people.  We are talking about 2 incidents - in different years - in the entire country that meet this somewhat bizarre criteria.

So, does this bear even the slightest resemblance to an epidemic of "predators taking advantage"?  Not in any meaningful sense.  It's not even a significant percentage of the raw data in Dirks' sample, much less when held up against the scale of sexual assaults reported in Canada.

There's another dimension to this that I think needs to be discussed further.  Dirks' data set presupposes that either implicitly, or explicitly, the perpetrator of any incident is using the idea that granting Transgender people equality rights under the law as a framework to support their malfeasant behaviour.  Since few of the cases in the database even involve someone who made the claim that they were transgender prior to committing the offence, we really cannot justify that assumption.  It's a bit like noting that there are a lot of cars speeding on a road going past an area where there have been a lot of break-and-enter crimes, and concluding that speeding drivers must have something to do with the break-and-enter crimes.  Statistically, one might even find a significant correlation using a simple correlation test, but that doesn't mean that the two measures are in fact causally connected to each other.  In fact, I'd wager that if you stopped and asked all of the speeders on the road, most would tell you they were in a hurry to get home/to work/whatever - nothing at all to do with the break-and-enter crimes.

Further, we need to question the criteria that Dirks is using for selecting candidate articles.  He seems to have taken the rather broad approach of simply assuming that any crime where a male person has entered a female space is implicitly associated with the granting of equality rights to transgender people in a particular jurisdiction.  No attempt is made to verify that there is any actual connection, he's just hoping that there will be enough incidents to make it look as if there is.  Gathering the kind of data that Dirks wants is actually very difficult work.  Simply trawling through news archives is going to give a very incomplete picture, one which is biased by the coverage themes of the time, as well as the availability of old archives.  Additionally, not all of the incidents that Dirks includes even constitute criminal offences.  There are several which were obvious "baiting" incidents (such as a man attempting to sue a women's-only gym for discrimination), and other incidents which are of similarly dubious motivations.

For Dirks to have any kind of reasonable conclusions, he needs a much more comprehensive dataset, and he needs it to be based on a more meaningful basis than a convenience sample of what he could dredge out of online news archives.  At this point, any inferences he draws from this dataset should be looked upon with considerable skepticism.  Lastly, I would point to the fact that in the entire dataset that Dirks has compiled, there is exactly 2 cases where someone who claimed to be transgender actually assaulted someone.  That person is now serving an indefinite sentence as a dangerous offender.

Remember, Bill C-16 doesn't legalize being a sexual predator.  That is still a crime.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Comparing Transsexualism With Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Today, right-wing opinion site "The Federalist" published an essay "Woman Demands Doctors Sever Her Spinal Cord To Align Body To Mind (Same as a Transsexual Man)" by Glenn T. Stanton.

The basic argument that Mr. Stanton is making is that gender reassignment surgery isn't necessary.  He does this through a rather roundabout argument that attempts to link Gender Dysphoria (GD) with Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID).

Phenomenologically speaking, GD and BIID carry some significant similarities.  Perhaps the most striking of these is that patients who experience these conditions frequently can trace it back to their early childhood memories (First, & Fisher, 2012).  Second, both describe significant dysphoria resulting from their condition, and may seek medical or psychological intervention to alleviate these symptoms.  Dysphoria is a shockingly rational experience, quite distinct from clinical anxiety or other experiences.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

So ... You Think Silence Is An Answer?

There are a number of Jason Kenney's supporters running around with the mistaken belief that because Kenney refuses to answer questions about his Social Conservative (SoCon) beliefs is somehow an endorsement that he will be benign on those issues should he ever become Alberta's Premier.

Like the CPC policy change last year where they "progressively" agreed not to talk about gay marriage in the party platform any more, we have to recognize that silence is not a neutral position.  With most politicians, there is exactly one time that they will be silent on an issue:  when they know that what they would say carries a high political price.

Overtly social conservative issues don't fly in Alberta these days.  There are plenty who wish they would, but one only has to look back to the 2012 election when candidate Rev. Hunsperger's infamous "Lake of Fire" blog post became public to see this.  Then Wildrose Party (WRP) leader Danielle Smith tried desperately to 'duck-and-weave' on the subject, but Albertans didn't buy it.  In a matter of a week or so, WildRose went from being positioned to oust the long reigning PCs to being an also-ran. Albertans - especially in urban areas - withdrew their support from the WRP so fast it stunned both politicians and strategists alike.

Let me clear - Kenney is nobody's fool.  He knows that his socially conservative beliefs aren't exactly electable material.  If he gets hung with them, then his political goose is cooked.  His one hope is to cloak himself in the mantle of "free enterprise" and "fiscal conservatism".  As long as he can avoid being held accountable for his SoCon beliefs, he thinks he can have it both ways.  Appeal to Alberta's long held "free enterprise spirit" and at the same time be revered as a political hero by the religious right (which is strong in rural Alberta).

Fortunately for us, the Internet has a long memory, and it will be difficult for Kenney to entirely avoid the reality that his past has wrought.  Kenney got his start in politics as a pro-life advocate in his undergraduate days:

If this were merely a "youthful moment", I'd be willing to let it go.  But it isn't.  Through the 1990s, Kenney spent much of his time on the 'pro-life rubber chicken circuit', and became quite a sought after speaker.  Unfortunately, even a relatively young Kenney seemed to understand that his track record in this area could bite him.  As a result, it is next to impossible to find transcripts of his speeches, or indeed, any record of what he outside of brief mentions in organization newsletters.

However, it is these speaking engagements which are a large part of what got him such an effusive endorsement from Campaign Life Coalition:

This same record also shows us a consistent record of Kenney voting dutifully on SoCon lines over the course of his career as an MP.  However, we also have to pay attention to his other activities too.  For example, he became a "co-chair" of the renewed "Pro Life Caucus" in 1998.  This is a group which was (and still is) very secretive about both its membership and its activities.  Mentions of it a few and far between.  But searching on The Interim's website, it doesn't take long to find that Kenney and this caucus were quite active.  

If one doesn't dig too hard, it's easy to believe that once Kenney became a cabinet minister, he ceased to be engaged in these matters.  Yet, his name is frequently mentioned in organization articles about events like the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA)'s "God and Government" events.  

These are the things Kenney is refusing to speak about.  He won't tell us what he believes will make for good government.  As transgender Albertans learned in 2009, a politician who isn't talking about these things openly may well be plotting something really horrible.  

There are a myriad of ways for Kenney to attack SoCon issues.  If you are transgender, he can revisit Liepert's actions and yank funding - and he'd get away with it as part of an "austerity" package.  We'll be told to "share the pain".  When Harper was first elected in 2006, the first things his government did (and Kenney was at the table), were overt attacks on women and minorities.  Make no mistake, I would expect Kenney to repeat this same approach were he to ever become Premier. 

You're a woman who is sexually active?  Abortion and birth control access will be on his list.  Attacks could range from going after funding to requiring doctors to provide letters, a return to the "therapeutic abortion review panels" of the 60s and other procedurally oriented attacks.  One only needs to look at some of the crazy stuff that the Republicans have tried to impose - including required vaginal ultrasound procedures before an abortion is permitted.  Contraception can be attack in a myriad of ways, including restricting access to certain "licensed" providers.  (e.g. behind the counter at the pharmacy type of stuff).  

As for issues like marriage, it may be "the law of the land", but that doesn't stop Kenney from rewriting the rules around marriage licenses in Alberta to make it more difficult for LGBTQ couples to access.  Anything from "review processes" to simply underfunding the licensing.

I don't live in the halls of government, and _I_ can figure out how Kenney might proceed.  Someone more familiar with the apparatus of government like Mr. Kenney can no doubt come up with a dozen tools I haven't thought of.  This is why silence is not "neutral", nor should we trust the use of silence. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Information Resources For GSAs

On Twitter's #abed / #ableg feeds yesterday, we were treated to a rather public meltdown by opponents of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) over content on C.H.E.W. Project's website.

Apparently, the "issue" is that they object to one particular resource - a set of information cards which is an "A-Z" of sexual terminology commonly used in LGBT circles (although I should point out that with only a few exceptions, most of the practices are also engaged in by heterosexuals as well).

I decided to go have a closer look at the content on C.H.E.W. Project's resources page.  I'll come back to the overall content.  One document in particular seems to have got the ire of parents:  "Sex From A-Z Cards: Information For Young Gay and Bisexual Men".  Each card consists of a graphic and an obverse which is the meaning for the letter, as shown below. 

Each term is given a brief definition, as well as how to mitigate the risks associated with STI and Hepatitis transmission associated with it.  I'll grant that if you're not "into" these practices yourself, some of them can sound pretty off-putting, but remember that everyone's sexuality is unique.  What gets you going is going to be seen as "ewww" for someone else.   

A brief perusal of the rest of the C.H.E.W. Project's resources page is clearly some excellent documents filled with relevant information and web resource links that anyone should be happy to have access to.  Knowing that information is available to youth who are coming into their sexuality today is a relief.  It might be unsettling to a few, but most parents I know would be happy to see their teens able to access that kind of quality information (objective, well researched, etc).  A heck of a lot better than the "schoolyard wisdom" I remember, and much easier for parents who are often uncomfortable talking about sex and sexuality with their children - all the more so if their children are not straight.  

The argument that this is "grooming" is ridiculous hyperbole.  It goes back to the old myth that LGBT adults are some kind of predator always on the lookout for vulnerable youth to "recruit" into their "licentious lifestyle".  We know today that this is at best hyperbole, at worst a gross mischaracterization of the sexual minorities as a whole.  

Frankly, parents who are "worried" about their children being exposed to this material would do a damn sight better to pay attention to the kind of material routinely available on hangouts like 4chan and 8chan.  The material routinely accessible through such sites makes anything they are getting upset about look positively tame.  By the time most kids are 12 or 13, they've probably seen stuff on the internet that would horrify their parents ... if they knew.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Good-bye PC Party

On Saturday, March 18 2017, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta (PCAA) voted to self immolate.  They chose Jason Kenney as their next leader.

Long time readers here will have long understood that I have been no fan of the PCs for a long time.  In my opinion, they lost their way under Ralph Klein and never have recovered the Lougheed era instinct for doing the best for Alberta.  Instead, they had degenerated into a party so desperate to maintain its grip on power that all that mattered was jingoism and following the demands of a shrinking base of support.

After Peter Lougheed, we were visited upon by Don Getty - a man who wasn't even a shadow of Lougheed - he started the party on the path of knee-jerk reactionary politics.  Then we got Ralph Klein.  Everybody in Alberta seems to revere Klein for "balancing the budget", but what he really did was turn the party on the path of jingoism and sound bite politics.

Klein's success depended on two things: his ability to read the political winds in the province and high resource prices for either oil or natural gas.  Building on George H. W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" moment, Klein would float trial balloons around topics and see how the public responded before actually implementing it.  Numerous times, the Klein government floated trial balloons that would have resulted in dismantling our public healthcare system.  The public outrage that followed was always just enough to get him to back down.  Realistically, Klein's legacy turned out to be a balanced budget at the cost of crumbling infrastructure and a government so dependent on resource revenues that an economic downturn quickly becomes a crippling disaster.

Between Klein and Kenney, the party lurched from leader to leader.  Selecting the mediocre Stelmach who couldn't figure out how to balance the demands of the religious base and the rest of Alberta to maintain electability.  Then choosing Redford who turned out to be a puppet to the demands of the party insiders, and lacked judgment in how she presented things to the public.  The choice of Jim Prentice in 2014 turned out to be fatal.  Prentice was a smart man, but utterly lacking in any ability to read the mood of the public.  The 2015 election turned out to be a series of bungled, arrogant sounding moments which the NDP was able to capitalize on.

Ever since the 2015 election, there has been an ongoing temper tantrum among Alberta's political right.  They cannot believe that they lost an election, much less an election to a dreaded "socialist" party.  Jason Kenney decided that there was political opportunity for him in "uniting" the "divided" right.  He has spent the last six months orchestrating what amounts to a "hostile takeover"  of the PCs.  Reaching out to his base of socially conservative voters, he brought in new members (many of whom are understood to also hold membership in the WildRose party).  Having dangled the prospect of an immediate return to power, many within the existing PC party ranks fell in line behind him, and a majority of party delegates voted for him on Saturday.

Whatever happens next, be it a mass crossing to the WildRose, or a whole new party emerging, the PCs are no longer a force on the Alberta political scene.  Philosophically, Jason Kenney is much more at home in the WildRose tent than in what was the supposed PC tent.  He's a staunch social conservative.  I don't think you can call him a fiscal conservative either. He may talk about "balanced budgets" and "lower taxes", but that only goes as far as its ability to get him votes.

The party that emerges from this will be far more "WildRose" (possibly more extreme, actually) than it will be PC.  The dominant forces in the WildRose party have been intrinsically rooted in the rural social conservative base for ages, and more progressive elements have bene systematically squeezed out.  I fully expect to see the same thing happen in the PCs with this merger.  Kenney has never been one to engage with people who don't see the world through his lens.  I don't expect him to be willing to engage with his critics directly.

There have been attempts to moderate the WRP platform over the years, and "grand success" in that area has been declarations not to talk about social issues.  Real progressive - "shhh...we don't talk about things like that any more" - sounds like a grandmother in the 1950s talking about the cousin or uncle who was a "confirmed bachelor" (code phrase for homosexual at one time).   Kenney's response to challenges of his voting record in Parliament have been similar in tone.

I see it as very unlikely that this "new" party of Kenney's will be much more than a rehash of the Alberta Alliance / WildRose Party.  Fiscal austerity and socially backwards will be their watchwords. If you care about social justice, human rights, or even something as fundamental as access to health care, this won't be your political home. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Budgets and Deficits In Alberta

Today was budget day in Alberta.  More or less, the NDP government brought in the budget that had been expected.  Continued spending on big ticket items that have been put off for years, if not decades.

Predictably both the PC and WildRose opposition parties are crying foul.  The argument is largely that "running up the debt" is a bad thing.  I'd agree ... but for a few small details that both parties are ignoring.  Decades of PC unwillingness to put money into infrastructure has left Alberta's infrastructure years behind where it needs to be.  Edmonton's Misericordia Hospital is apparently in horrible shape; The Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary has been past capacity for years.  The SW Ring Road in Calgary is desperately needed, and there is a laundry list of infrastructure needed throughout the province.

But, the cry from Alberta's right wing politicians is "don't spend during a downturn!".  Let's look at for a minute.

In the short term, this is an ideal time for the government to invest in infrastructure.  Interest rates are still at record lows, material costs are down in some areas, and labour costs will be down compared to what they were at the height of the last boom.  From an investment standpoint, this fits the "low" part of the "buy low, sell high" maxim.  Let's face it, infrastructure is never cheap - it's an investment.

In particular, the Tom Baker replacement has been on the books since sometime in the mid-2000s, and successive PC governments have deferred it time and again on the basis that "now wasn't the time", or "we can't afford it".  This kind of parsimonious thinking pretty much means that anything bigger than a cartful of groceries gets turned into a political football.

The next argument from the political right is that by accruing debt, we are saddling our children with these costs.  This is a more debatable point.  While I certainly have objections to operational deficits (and the NDP deficit includes operational deficit as well as capital spending deficit), it is foolish in the extreme to look at government debt so simplistically.

First, we need to distinguish between operating deficit and capital expenditure related deficit.  Rutherford tried to structure the books to make this distinction, but the brain trust in the WildRose squawked about it as "deceitful", instead of understanding the difference.

An operational deficit is something you might tolerate for a brief period of time - a year or two perhaps before making changes to operations to change cost structures.  Businesses deal with this all the time using revolving lines of credit.  Most individuals do this in their daily lives using credit cards.  When times are hard, we do whatever we have to in order to finance the basics of life - food, clothing, and shelter in particular.  If we're between jobs, or working a job which isn't quite carrying us, we put money on our credit card, or borrow against our homes as a short term measure.  We know it's not great, but we do it.  Alberta has been in the teeth of a downturn which has only just started to show signs of having reached its bottom.  An operational deficit at this time isn't great, but it's not the end of the world either.

Capital expenditures are usually much larger, and need to be dealt with differently.  Buildings, roads, vehicles are all examples of capital expenditures.  Individually, we make these expenditures by borrowing to fund them, and we repay that loan over time.  Few of us have the luxury of being able to plunk down $500,000 to purchase a house, or even $25,000 to purchase a car.  We take out loans to finance this.  On the scale that governments operate, hospitals cost billions of dollars (The new cancer centre in Calgary is expected to cost $1,500,000,000 - a somewhat larger number than your average house purchase), as do the roadways in our cities and towns.  Water treatment systems cost millions, the networks of pipes to our homes are worth billions.  It is not unreasonable for the government to borrow funds for these kinds of expenditures.

In the post-WWII era, our parents and grandparents invested willingly and heavily in one of the biggest infrastructure projects in human history.  New roads were built, cities grew, hospitals were added, water and wastewater infrastructure grew enormously.  They willingly paid taxes to help build this infrastructure, and to operate it.  Even here in conservative Alberta, we undertook these projects. Governments funded them by borrowing - often using bond funds and other investment vehicles as well as loans (anybody else remember the Canada Savings Bond? - that was effectively the government borrowing from its citizens).  We didn't build those roads using money that was at hand - we borrowed to do it then.  We need to borrow to do the same thing now.

Successive PC governments were already running deficits in the years leading up to 2014 (peak boom I will point out).  That was the first clue that we have a revenue problem in the government.  When oil prices tanked, and with it government royalty revenues (which are tied to market prices), it became abundantly clear that the tax revenues available to the government were inadequate.  In response, the NDP government has taken steps to correct this, including introducing a carbon tax (I would have argued for a sales tax in preference, but in this province, that's going to take a level of political will that I don't think even the NDP has).

On the drive home this evening, I heard the PCs going on about how government tax revenues were "drying up because nobody is working", and "the tax regime is so burdensome that companies are fleeing Alberta".  Yes, the investment landscape is changing, and capital is drifting away from the oil sands.  But, it is debatable how much that has to do with taxation.  Tax rates overall are much lower than they were during holy days of Ralph Klein.  Companies don't "flee" because of relatively minor changes in the tax regime.  Companies like Shell, Exxon-Mobil and others have operations in regions where the tax burden is considerably higher than it is in Canada, so this argument doesn't make a lot of sense.  The PC argument was basically "we're going to cut all the taxes and restore our tax advantage" - an advantage which simply was illusory at best.  Employment won't magically happen - the issues aren't simply one of giving energy companies a tax holiday.

We also have to acknowledge that the Permian Basin discovery in Texas is going to attract a lot of development dollars that Alberta is competing for.  It is a much less expensive to exploit find than Alberta's oil sands.  Given the recent "buy American" stance of the newly minted Trump administration, one can imagine that the American based companies will be very interested in focusing their energies there.  This is a political reality which the government of Alberta has little or no influence over.  Practically speaking, it means that oil sands _expansion_ will be at a standstill for the time being.  However, given that we charge next to nothing for the production from an expansion project, I don't see this as a bad thing.

The WildRose and PCAA arguments on this front are ludicrous.  Alberta's population is now the 4th largest in Canada.  We can't operate as if we are a wealthy family living on a trust fund any more.  It's time for Alberta to grow up, and face the fiscal realities directly.  It is ironic that it has taken an NDP government to actually face that reality.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Senator Plett Reprises His Complaints on Bill C-16

Whether we are talking about Bill C-16, Bill C-279 or Bill C-389, there has been one consistent thing in the Senate - the voice of Senator Plett droning on about how terrible this legislation is.  This week, second reading of Bill C-16 happened in the Senate, and sure enough Senator Plett had to stick his oar into the waters (audio here ... if you can stomach it).

I'm not going to dwell overly much on the whining note that Senator Plett starts off with:

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...