Aboriginal Peoples

The real truth about reconciliation…

Is that all is good with our native peoples. I mean it would have to be if the government department tasked with providing services to them was able to lapse a billion dollars in budget over the past five years.

Of course there is also another possibility, that the Conservatives just don’t care.

Canadian politics

A question for the crowd…

Today’s announcement that Peter MacKay is not going to run for his seat in Parliament this fall has me thinking that maybe this is a sign that Stephen Harper is losing control of his party finally. Some months ago when John Baird announced that he was stepping down to spend more time with his corporations, in discussion with friends we hypothesized that maybe that there would be a “leave now or you’re in for the long run” date stamped on the caucus.

Five months before the anticipated election date has got to be later than Harper would have wanted a high-profile minister to depart?

Is this a “screw you” from MacKay to the guy that defeated him for the party leadership these many years ago? Is it MacKay realizing now that his re-election in the fall would be far from a sure thing with the Liberals polling super strongly in the Atlantic provinces and high-profile screw-ups involving helicopters and ACOA appointments still in the public eye? Has he seen John Baird cashing in and figures that he’s got a “best before” date stamped on his ass?

Canadian politics

The miracle of birth…

It’s so thrilling to see a foundling cracking the shell for its first few pecks at freedom. (And never has a better beak been built to crack one, too!) And now, with today’s announcement, Peter MacKay marks his transition from pupa form (Canadian politician) to what I can only assume to be a fully-fledged adult lobbyist. (Sorry, he meant respectable member of a handful of corporate boards, of course – editor)

Fly, my little one, fly!

Bye, bye, Peter. Don’t forget to thank your father for the tremendous career opportunity he gave you. It’s good being born, right, isn’t it?

Canadian politics

It is on… apparently

With the new round of polls in the hopper and the NDP surge from their surprising provincial victory in Alberta quantified, if it didn’t before, it looks like the national election campaigns are firmly up and running for the three major political parties. The campaign ads are beginning to appear and the editorials are getting written. The Cons, awash with ca$h, have traditionally thrown the early punches, hitting often and hard against Ignatieff and Dion, after early swipes at Trudeau seemed heavy-handed and churlish, have decided a different approach, softer and, if anything, more condescending.

In these opening rounds, it looks like the Conservatives have been caught a bit by the upsurge of the NDP in national polls and they are still targeting Trudeau’s Liberals. Ad making takes time, and I’m sure that if the NDP lead is maintained for any length of time, even a week or three would be enough, the attack machine will roll out against Mulcair and his party.

Things are gonna get interesting.

I should tack onto the end of this little post the Globe and Mail piece on Mulcair’s success in Quebec and ponders whether the NDP can hold onto the “Orange Crush” seats won in 2011. If they can, and if they are the real regional opposition to the Conservatives in the West, October might well be a two-horse race.

Though maybe not the two horses most people would have predicted a year or so ago.

Canadian politics

“It’s real – get over it”

So says ipolitics (pay wall), referring to the NDP surge that was confirmed this week by polls released by EKOS and by other groups. They go on to demonstrate that, while NDP numbers jumped dramatically with the recent Alberta provincial election results, the upsurge really began as early as February. What this graph (shown below) also shows is the NDP vote appears to be coming at the expense of both the Liberals and the Conservatives, indicating that they are benefiting both from disapproval of the performance of the government and uncertainty (or outright distrust) of the Liberal Party.

Screen-Shot-2015-05-22-at-10.22.29-AMThere are probably a hundred reasons for this, and I’d love to hear what others think. I will highlight two. First, the NDP have been aggressively announcing their platform in very frank and clear terms – $15/day daycare, home mail delivery, changes to income splitting, amendments to the first-past-the-post electoral system, and others. The Liberal strategy, conversely, has been to keep relatively quiet about their platform for now. Their only campaign-style announcement was their plan for daycare, but even with that came questions as to whether they had botched their own accounting of the costs. If the Liberal strategy is to keep their powder dry until the campaign is in full swing, they had better get their timing right or they might find themselves out of the discussion.

The second thing I can quickly put my finger on (and again, there are I’m sure many others) is the partys’ stands on Bill C-51. The Conservatives are trying to run the standard boogeyman strategy – keep the population scared and hope that they decide to cast their ballots on security issues. They peaked in popularity with the attack on Parliament Hill last year and see this as a strong issue for them. C-51 keeps security in the discussion, which is a good campaign strategy, however they may have misplayed their hand by making it too strong, and opening up the civil liberties argument. This is a place where the Liberals and NDP have starkly different stands – the Liberals voted in favour of the bill, saying that they will amend the more odious bits of it later should they win the election, while the NDP rejected it outright and said that should they come to power in October they will scrap it root and branch. Forum polling on the bill shows that Canadians are beginning to have reservations about it and are concerned about the civil liberties issues it represents and it may be that the NDP are being seen as their champions in this case.

I will leave this post with another graph from the ipolitics article, this one showing the vote distribution as it breaks down on income level (see below). It would usually be expected that right-leaning parties would do well in the higher income brackets and the left-leaning in the lower and so the basic shape of the distribution is unsurprising – the Conservatives dominate among the most wealthy and the left-leaning NDP among the poor.

This time around, the Conservatives have to be concerned with the results, as the groups they do well in are shrinking in size as a result of the well-documented wealth gap. Add to this the fact that they will have an uphill job fighting against the perception that they are the party of the rich, as the opposition parties and the media have done a good job showing how their taxation policies have preferentially benefited the wealthy and employment results keep showing troubling trends towards instability and lower wages. Also, their one real hope appeared to be to look like the responsible economic party, carrying a balanced budget proudly into the campaign. This has gone badly. Delaying the budget because of the economic situation seemed desperate at its face, and the “balance” was immediately questioned as it was created by fuzzy economic growth models and raiding the EI fund.

The results have to be a concern to the Liberals as well, as the NDP lead in the “lower class” demographic is massive and it represents a sadly large potential voting block. If the electorate is really going to make a choice this election on “left” versus “right” issues, the traditional Liberal place in the middle, which has made them the natural governing party for many years, might be a dangerous place indeed. They may find themselves forced to one side or the other during the campaign, and that will leave them with the job of convincing the electorate of sincerity of their intentions.

If this is a high-turnout election, which it often is when the public is unhappy with the performance of the incumbent governing party, and the NDP can mobilize their base, this election might not even be close.

It’s early days yet, but these are interesting signs.Screen-Shot-2015-05-22-at-10.23.51-AM


Oil buck$

Playing around on the internet at lunch today, I came across a couple of interesting databases that confirm, at least visually, that we are a petro-economy. With data on the daily price of West Texas crude from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (thanks Google!) and daily foreign exchange closing data the following graph shows graphically just how linked the Canadian dollar value is to the price of crude oil. crude_dollar

I haven’t the statistics background to tell you *how* linked they are, but the picture is stark and convincing.

If, and this is a big “if”, the value of our currency is a reflection of the attitudes of investors on the strength of the Canadian economy, what they see in us is pretty apparent. Note that this graph goes back to the start of 1999, the earliest I could find currency data for, and the trend pre-dates the Conservative government, upon whom I blame all things bad. This one has not been helped by them, but it was not caused by them. I fully expect that pushing both of these databases further into the past would reveal a similar pattern for at least a generation or os.

It’s easy to draw up a couple of curves for unrelated things and claim some sort of linkage between them where none exists – follow this link to see some fun ones. I would argue that these curves are in fact related because they are normalized using the US dollar. This is a useful measure, as all formal trading in international oil bourses has used the US dollar as the price by which oil is set since the early seventies.

What does this graph mean?

First, if we really are a petro-economy, we had best keep finding and exporting oil if we want our dollar to be worth anything. Oil and gas are not going to last forever, though, and nor should they. The tar sands represent the last gasp of the Alberta oil industry, and while it could last for many years, it is still finite. East coast gas has proven to be a disappointment, at least while the peasants are still allowed to get their asses up about fracking. (C-51 may well settle that issue by making anyone protesting the destruction of their watertables for short-term profit a ‘terrorist’. We shall wait and see.) Atlantic oil flows from the Grand Banks, and there is every chance of other discoveries up the margin along the Labrador shelf and Baffin Bay, but development in these areas is still in its infancy. And Arctic resources are likely to be harder and therefore more expensive to access, making them less economically advantageous. Hopefully, before they become an issue we will be moving away from oil as our central fuel source.

The recent crash in the Canadian dollar and the simultaneous precipitous drop in the price of oil also has to do with our little normalizing factor up there, the value of the US dollar. The US economy has been booming along the last couple of years as they distance themselves from the depths of the 2008-09 recession. Job growth is up, exports are up, and they have quietly become the world’s largest producer of oil. For now, this spike in production south of the border has not been offset by cutbacks in OPEC production, and the price has been allowed to fall. How long this will go on is anyone’s guess and I’m not going to venture one.

Historically, Canada has been a resource-sector economy – we don’t really make much, instead we produce raw materials that are turned into goods by others, which we then buy from them. There is no shame in that, and the scenario works well provided the supply of raw materials is not exhausted. We are a fishing economy, a lumber economy, a farming economy, an oil economy, and a mining giant. There is no reason to think that these will all disappear after the oil goes. Whatever happens, resource exports will always be important.

However, as this graph and our fluttering economic growth show, when we become too dependent on one thing, we put ourselves at risk. And, this is where I can place some blame on the Conservative government. Instead of trying to promote industrial growth and manufacturing, the government sat on its hands while the high value of the dollar murdered our exporters. If we are to prosper as a nation, we need wise and courageous leadership to help foster blended economic growth. As I’ve said, resources will always be important, but there is no reason we can’t make stuff, too.