Alberta Diary: Deputy Health Minister Janet Davidson’s compensation: glaring omission in Alberta Sunshine List coverage explained

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne with Janet Davidson shortly after he announced her appointment as Deputy Minister in September 2013. Below: Service Alberta Deputy Minister Jay Ramotar; Lord Black of Crossharbour in his role as honourary lieutenant colonel of the Governor General’s Foot Guards. And the top paid Alberta civil

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Canadian Political Viewpoints: Thoughts on the Throne Speech: Part Two

After a bit of time, here’s the second post covering the recent Throne Speech. I think we should be able to get everything into this second post, so let’s get down to the brass tacks.

“Respond to emerging threats to our sovereignty and economy posed by terrorism and cyber-attacks, while ensuring Canadians’ fundamental privacy rights are protected;”

There’s a few interesting things about this comment. Firstly, one has to wonder how hard it was for the government to include reference to ‘cyber-attacks’ as our country has been caught engaging in its own cyber actions against Brazil. While not necessarily adhering to the classical definition of a cyber-attack, in that there was no aim to take down servers or compromise accessibility, there is a case to be made that cyber-intrusions are basically cyber-attacks themselves.

Secondly, there’s no mention of the latest investment into CSEC and the building of their new headquarters. One imagines that CSEC would be on the front line in defending the country from cyber-attacks; yet there is no mention of the $1.2 billion dollar headquarters being built for the little known agency. Likely, the mention has much to do with the first problem: Brazil. After all, mentioing CSEC now would just remind people that Canada, and the rest of the so called ‘Five Eyes’ countries, are being a little less than diplomatic when it comes to countries that are supposed to be our friends.

“Reduced red tape so veterans can access the benefits they need.”

Yes, they’ve reduced red tape so much that veterans haven taken the government to court. (LINK) For the TL;DR version: The government changed disability pensions for injured soldiers from a pension based system to a lump sum system. The lump sum system pays out less benefits to injured veterans, and fall short of covering worker compensation claims as well.

Understandably, veterans are angry about the changes to the system and are feeling shortchanged by the government. Notably, this isn’t the first time the Harper Government has gotten into trouble with Veterans advocates. When the government brought forward the new Veterans Charter, it also ruffled feathers and led to some court battles between the federal government and veterans; notably Sean Bruyea. (LINK)

Basically, the key argument here is that the Harper Government’s track record with veterans and the military isn’t great; and changes that have been made, especially with regards to veteran affairs, have met opposition and condemnation from a lot of former service members. It’s rather disingenuous for the government to try and make the claim that they’ve done a great service by veterans.

“Our Government has established the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. This world-class science and technology research facility will open in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation.”

This is one of those tricky issues. A lot of people will remember the waves made when it was announced that PEARL was having its funding slashed, and that the research site currently in Canada’s far north was likely to be shuttered. From finding alternative funding, PEARL was able to stay open. At the same time, the government made it clear that CHARS was going to be Canada’s go-to research centre in the North.

Yet, some scientists have brought forward concerns about closing down spaced apart stations across the North and putting everything under one roof. (LINK) Furthermore, many have also commented that CHARS will not be able to replicating the kind of data PEARL did, due to the major gap in latitude difference. PEARL is situated in the ‘true high arctic’, where changes to the landscape due to global weather change patterns are more easily recordable. CHARS has the potential to minimize this kind of data, due to the difference in location.

“The story of the North is the story of Canada. In order to tell that story for Canada’s 150th year, our Government will continue efforts to solve one of the most enduring mysteries of our past. We will work with renewed determination and an expanded team of partners to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition.”

As mentioned in the first post, we have a government preaching fiscal responsibility and then announcing a completely random expenditure. There isn’t a price tag attached, but one can imagine what the cost will be.

After all, this plan was already announced back in August. (LINK) The expedition is being led by Parks Canada, and includes help from the “Royal Canadian Navy, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Space Agency and the Nunavut government.” Keep in mind, Parks Canada was one of the departments put on notice to cut jobs in order to help turn around the government deficit. (LINK)

I’m sure there’s solace for laid off Parks Canada employees to know that funds that once provided them a job are now being used to find out the fate of an explorer that isn’t even taught about in schools now a days. And before you wash off that comment, I took several extensive classes in Canadian History throughout my University career; some of which covered directly explorers who explored the Canadian landscape, and at no time did John Franklin or his lost expedition ever come up.

So, the only enduring mystery here is why if it’s so important to the fabric of Canadian identity, that we aren’t teaching our children about it. Or the better mystery, is why we’re going to be spending what will likely turn out to be a large amount of tax dollars to do so.

As one commentator on Twitter put it; money for finding Franklin, nothing for missing Aboriginal women.

“Building a Memorial to the Victims of Communism, to remember the millions who suffered under tyranny.”

This one is semantics, but it is worth talking about. If you’re familiar with the work done by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, then you would know the 20th Century use of the word “communism” is a bit of a misnomer. No country, let me emphasize that, NO COUNTRY that has ever claimed to adhere to communist ideology has ever actually followed through on that.

Lenin and Stalin’s view of communism was markedly different from Marx’s view. So much so, that their foundations are often referred to as Leninism and Stalinism rather than Communism. The ideals that they helped create (cults of personality around leadership, use of secret police, elimination of political rivals, etc.) were not and are not tenants of communism as laid down by Marx.

So, calling a monument a memorial to the Victims of Communism is quite misleading. More accurately, this monument would be better served by branding it as a memorial to the Victims of Authoritarianism. After all, it is controlling governments in general (not just the ideology they serve) that create victims out of their people.

Furthermore, Elizabeth May has taken flak for her tweet about a memorial to victims of Capitalism. I posted a similar tweet on the day of the Throne Speech, and would like to expand on that.

For people who say capitalism didn’t endorse mass disappearances or murder against rivals, you need to look to our past and outside our borders. Early industrialization was not pleasant for the workers. You had no safety equipment, children were used as workers, wages were low, and you couldn’t complain under threat of being immediately replaced.

Look to the hostility against unionized labour in our past, and in the USA. It was not uncommon for police to actively and forcibly use violence against workers attempting to organize. It was also not uncommon for workers to be let go, and in some extreme cases, killed for trying to bring forward some modicum of protection at work.

Furthermore, there are still cases today of victims of capitalism. When a company decides not to invest in better safety practices, or less training for employees in potential dangerous situations, things often go wrong. The latest epidemic of train derailments in this country speak to companies often putting their bottom line ahead of proper safety regulations.

It’s bad enough when this lack of expenditure harms or kills workers, but we’re seeing it starting to harm average citizens. If these people are not victims, I don’t know what you would call them.

And if you want to see the same kind of ‘tactics’ under Stalinist Russia, look to countries outside our borders. Places like Mexico, India, and countries throughout Southeast Asia. Places where union leaders have been actively murdered, or just ‘disappeared’, by large companies attempting to maintain the status quo and a cheap operating budget.

Capitalism has blood on its hands; as does the so-called ‘Communist’ regimes that have existed in our world. But this is pandering of the worst kind; and it is insane that any reasonable Canadian would accept the logic presented by the government on this issue as sound. We do need to remember the wrongs of the past, especially in cases of genocide or mass murder. But we cannot white wash our own history in the guise of a different, therefore better, ideological system.

“The Government continues to believe the status quo in the Senate of Canada is unacceptable. The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish. The Government will proceed upon receiving the advice of the Supreme Court. And, the Government will propose changes to Canada’s elections laws to uphold the integrity of our voting system. Legislation will be introduced in time for implementation prior to the next federal election.”

For most people, this was the major point we all wait for. In the end, it amounted to very little of the overall speech, and contributed no concrete ideas.

While it was refreshing to hear the Governor General say that the Senate must reform or be abolished, the odds of the Harper Government moving towards abolition are practically zero. After all, they’ve spent too much time talking about reforming it and holding true to the classical idea of the Triple E senate. Abolishing it would be a win for the opposition, primarily the NDP, and I just can’t see Harper giving the NDP that kind of talking point going into an election.

And again, we have talk of electoral reform…but no reference as to what this could mean. I doubt this will result in a strengthening of Elections Canada; due to the Harper Government’s seemingly distaste of the organization, so it leaves one wondering just what they might do.

My knee jerk reaction, and worry, is that it could be tightening on requirements for voting. The Harper Government made waves over their change requiring female Muslim voters to remove facial coverings prior to voting, so I’m wondering if perhaps they won’t be hammering home a greater need for identification at the voting booth.

They’ve already made some headway on this front in previous sessions of Parliament; but given that allegations of unregistered voters being allowed to vote at polls, I could see a tougher crackdown on that coming. It’s also one of the few issues that hasn’t been directly tied to any of the past Conservative campaigns, so it would allow them to look like they’re doing something, while also allowing them to avoid talking about ‘in-and-out’ financing, robocalls, and campaign overspending.

But, I suppose time will tell on that.

In the end, this was one of the more controversial Throne Speeches in recent memory; but more so for what happened behind the scenes than for the content of the speech.

The Media has been hammering the Conservatives for sending out a fundraising appeal following the speech claiming that media members snubbed a Conservative event prior to the speech in favour of the opposition parties. In truth, the event had banned the media from the event. Many media commentators are calling this a new low in the relations between the media and the Federal Government; and I think that’s a fair term for it.

There’s also been the cry from the NDP that the speech contains as many as 10 policy ideas carried by the NDP in previous elections; and that had been brought forward at one point in time, only to be defeated by the Conservatives.

Then of course, there’s also been the deriding of the Throne Speech as a temporary distraction from growing Conservative scandals. From deeper allegations against the Three Exiled Senators; to Dean Del Mastro, and conflict of interest allegations, the Conservatives continue to find themselves mired in ethical lapses that have dominated conversation and public opinion. The underwhelming presence of the Throne Speech has only further cemented to most observers that the move was indeed less about setting a new agenda, and more about trying to put some distance between the scandals.

In the end, the Throne Speech in and of itself is immaterial. What matters is what the government brings forward from the speech for debate in the Commons, and how they attempt to implement the agenda set by it; or more importantly, whether or not they actually mean to carry through on the policies set out.

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Canadian Political Viewpoints: Thoughts on the Throne Speech: Part One

Source: National Post: Throne Speech 2013: The Full Text

Well, that was an ordeal.

In one of the longer Throne Speeches in recent memory, Governor General David Johnston laid out the blueprint for Stephen Harper’s government over the next session of Parliament. Considering that Harper prorogued Parliament in order to hit this reset button, the result was decisively underwhelming. 

In addition to some creative historical revisionism (as has always been the case with the Harper Government), a touch of war-mongering chest thumping, and a sprinkling of wide-defined issues with ill-defined solutions, the Throne Speech was not the reset that the government was looking for. Using the source above, we’ll talk about some of the things the Governor General talked about. We’ll also touch a bit on some of the historical revisionism and general cheerleading that over looks facts and reality.

“By taking decisive action Canada has stayed strong where others have faltered.” 

Well, there’s a few things wrong with this one. As we’ve talked about before, the Conservatives were denying a coming financial crisis all the way through the 2008 Election campaign. Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper both denied a coming economic crisis; then when the crisis hit the US, they denied the possibility of the crisis extending to Canada. When it did, Harper dismissed it as a great time to invest in the stock market. 

The Economic Action Plan, which has been carried so proudly by this government, was born from the opposition ranks. Without the opposition threatening to topple Harper’s minority government unless stimulus spending was coupled with his proposed tax cuts to corporations, Harper gave in. And while the program has left a lot to be desired, it was far from decisive. 

And it will go further. Our Government will enshrine in law its successful and prudent approach. Our Government will introduce balanced-budget legislation. It will require balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete timelines for returning to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”

Just like the same way the government enshrined set Election Dates? Again, however, this is incredibly loosely defined. What are normal economic times? What happens to a government that fails to meet timelines in an economic crisis? 

Essentially, this is one of those laws that sounds really good. After all, no one wants to be the party who campaigns against anti-deficit legislation. However, there will always be occasions where a government will need to go into deficit. It’s almost as certain as death and taxes. I think the Harper Government has proven this point, given that they campaigned as sound financial managers and enjoyed the backing of small government/small deficit economic conservatives…Yet, they managed to ring up the single largest deficit in Canadian history.

Ultimately, as well, this is a law that will be modified by whichever party is in power. If ‘normal economic times’ is ill-defined, the sitting government will be able to set the guidelines and decide whether or not times are normal. As such, they will be able to decide whether or not they need to try to prevent a deficit. Which is more or less how the system works now.

It sounds nice on the surface, but when you scratch away the gold paint, it’s just a block of lead underneath.

Just as our Government manages debt, so too is it tackling spending. Every day, Canadian families make tough choices about how to spend their hard-earned money. Guided by this example, our Government will continue reducing the size and cost of Government to ensure that taxpayers get value for money.”

Well, there’s a lot of things wrong here.

For starters, the bureaucracy has grown under the Harper Conservatives. (LINK) So, you can’t really ‘continue to reduce’ the size of government when you’ve presided over it growing. On top of this, though this should come later in our discussion, the government also committed to spending money to find Franklin’s lost expedition in the North. 

An event so important in Canadian history, that I was never taught about it once in a formal education setting. I’ll have a few more things to say about this idea once we get to it in the rest of the Throne Speech.

To address this job creation gap, our Government is implementing the Canada Job Grant. It will increase employment by ensuring Canadians are able to fill job vacancies.”

Kind of awkward that they left out the part about the Canada Job Grant being almost universally panned by the provinces; without whom, the project is dead in the water. Come to think of it, the Governor General did mention working with the provinces numerous times throughout the speech. But Harper’s track record with the provinces (especially considering his deficit reduction plan is downshifting as much debt from the federal government to the provinces) leaves a lot to be desired. If he’s hoping for provincial cooperation, he seems unlikely to find enough to get any program in full swing.

“The Government will soon complete negotiations on a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. This agreement has the potential to create 80,000 new Canadian jobs.”

The key word here is potential. But many experts, including economist Erin Weir, suggest that the Canada-EU Trade deal has more potential to cost Canada jobs. (LINK) (LINK) As you’ll note, the Global news report issue on the deal suggests as many as 150,000 jobs could vanish from the Canadian marketplace as a result of the deal.

“Our Government secured and extended the softwood lumber agreement with the United States.”

Some of you may not quite remember the events of 2006, so let’s remember them together. The Softwood Lumber debate between Canada, the US, and NAFTA Tribunals continued to drag on. Despite Canada continuing to receive favourable rulings in NAFTA Tribunals, the US continued to unlawfully collect tariffs and duties on Canadian Softwood Lumber imported into the US.

Harper’s grand deal was to allow the US to keep $1 BILLION of these illegally collected tariffs. (LINK) And in 2009, Canada and the US were in international arbitration again over the softwood lumber issue that ended with Canada having to collect an addition $68.26 million from lumber producers for export costs. (LINK)

So, I guess if you call just throwing away money that could have been spent elsewhere a success, then this was a real humdinger.

“Our Government will introduce legislation to enshrine the One-for-One Rule in law: for every new regulation added, one must be removed.”

This one is a little worrying. Again, since it’s bare-bones, we don’t entirely know what they are suggesting. For example, would it be like your standard mail-in coupon where the regulation being removed needed to be of equal or lesser value to the one being added?

Could a new regulation saying that all small business owners must employ dogs as mascots, be used as a pretext to remove a much more serious regulation?

I guess we’re asking for relativity. Again, this is one of those measures that sounds alright when you first hear it. We get the sense that we’ll get new, clearer regulations to replace older, muddled ones. But if a weak regulation replaces a strong, but NEEDED, regulation then we’re just asking for trouble. I’m sure there will be some expansion on this idea, but unless it is coupled with the need for the new regulation to directly address the regulation being removed, this is just another smoke screen.

“Canadians work hard for their money. And we know families are better placed to make spending decisions than governments. That is why our Government has lowered taxes, year after year—for families, for businesses, for each and every Canadian.”

Again, we can look at Harper’s tax record to see a lot of flaws here. As pointed out by Ralph Goodale, Harper’s actions in other areas have caused price increases and tax increases in areas that Canadians may not be aware of. (LINK) Add to that that Harper’s decision to slash the GST, while politically popular, contributed directly to the deficit problem that he finds our government in today.

“Canadian families work hard to make ends meet, and every dollar counts. While companies will look out for their bottom line, our Government is looking out for everyday Canadians.”

This is the big one. Part of Harper’s reason for proroguing was to bring forward consumer protection in the next session of Parliament. Sadly, this entire section seems mostly glossed over. Other than ripping apart TV bundles there is not much concrete here. There is talk of decreasing roaming, but no clear proposal or idea on how to do this or get the big three wireless providers to agree.

“But for the worst of all criminals, even this is not enough. Canadians do not understand why the most dangerous criminals would ever be released from prison. For them, our Government will change the law so that a life sentence means a sentence for life.”

This one was a surprise, though I’m sure the right-wing base are whooping in celebration over it. This is one of the best examples of cognitive dissonance in this speech. Johnston talked about reigning in government spending, for example, but the cost of housing a prisoner for a true to word life sentence is a staggering number.

According to the Toronto Star the cost of housing an inmate in Canada’s prison system for a year was $113,974. (LINK) So, let’s say a 26 year old is arrested and sentence to a full life sentence. Canada’s life expectancy is 80 years old. As such, our corrections facility would be housing this single individual for a minimum of 54 years. That totals $6,154,596 to incarcerate a single inmate; presuming they have the common decency to not live longer than the average life expectancy and costs don’t increase (in other words, likely much more than that.)

And since Harper came to power in 2006, prison costs rose by 86%. (LINK) Which, if anything, proves that the current cost of $113,974 is only going to get higher. Effectively, this is a very costly proposal. We’ll talk about prison and what it is meant to accomplish in another post, likely after this one, so for now I’ll wrap up our prison talk on this.

These numbers are staggering. You can’t talk about being financially prudence while also staring down the barrel of increasing costs of housing a single prisoner for life by as much as SIX MILLION dollars.

“Close loopholes that allow for the feeding of addiction under the guise of treatment.”

A swipe at InSite, no doubt. The Harper Government has always been at odds with the safe injection site, and it seems like they’re getting ready to make another run at shutting the place down. It also makes me wonder, in conjunction with a renewed call to battle prescription drug abuse, if the Conservatives aren’t getting ready to fight the next election on a heavy anti-drug platform. After all, with Trudeau in favour, and the NDP historically inclined to study legalization, it seems like the Conservatives are entrenching as hard as they can in the anti-column.

That seems as good a place as any to take a break. A long speech requires a long post, and we will split up the remaining parts of the Throne Speech into another post. (Unless I decide to go the Peter Jackson route and decide the second part is still too large and we’ll need a third.)

So, we’ll talk military, arctic sovereignty, ‘Canadian values’, and Confederation celebration in the next post.

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