Thursday, December 31, 2015

Should there be a referendum on PR?

The Conservatives are vowing to filibuster attempts by the governing Liberals to reform the way we elect our MPs - be it alternative vote or some kind of proportional representation, unless there is a referendum. Normally, changing the rules for representation only requires a vote of Parliament. But this just might require a constitutional amendment of the kind that requires the consent of at least seven provinces, especially if we're going to tinker with the idea of proportionality for the provinces.

Remember that several provinces are over represented thanks to a grandfather clause - if there were strict proportionality, Saskatchewan would have 10 members, Manitoba 12, New Brunswick 7, Prince Edward Island 2, Nova Scotia 9, Newfoundland-Labrador 5. Instead, they have 14, 14, 10, 4, 11 and 7, respectively. Will a new PR system require provinces get strictly what they're entitled to and no more?

Also, there is the issue of "overhang" seats. This commonly happens in Germany, when a party's percentage of the popular vote means it gets fewer seats than the number of constituencies they're entitled to by that vote - or vice versa. In such case, new seats are created out of fresh air and people on party lists who might not have been entitled to be elected, end up with seats.

What could that mean? Presume we stick with 338 seats, but after the votes are counted about 20 overhangs are created. Where to sit them?

You may have noticed a change in seating arrangements for this Parliament. The seats used to be two by two. To make room for the 30 new members this year, the seats had to be arranged so members now sit in blocks of five.

One could argue if we're going to have a referendum on this, then the entire constitution will have to be reopened. I don't think so. But I think there's a point here. In every country I'm aware of that has made the switch from FPTP to something else, voters were asked first. So, I think we should be here, too.

For myself ... If it's alternative vote, I'd go against. But if we went to something like STV or MMR ... that is something I could support. I'd prefer the latter because you could vote for a list (i.e. for PM) for one party and a local candidate from another.

The GOP's worst nightmare, a brokered convention

Before we went to a primary-style system of selecting party leaders, we were used to the idea of contested party leader conventions in Canada. Sometimes you just never knew who might win, and there might be the occasional surprise - take Joe Clark and Dalton McGuinty, just to name two. But there hasn't been a seriously contested GOP convention in nearly 70 years (the last time was 1948, when Dewey defeated a field of 11 other candidates, including future Supreme Court justice Earl Warren). But given how the candidates have been acting, it just might be a possibility.

The rules are if you're a delegate you are committed to your candidate but only for the first ballot. If no one gets the magic number (in this case, 1237) then it could be a nasty fight. Say, for instance, The Donald manages to take the lead but only gets 40%. What kind of deal making will have to be done amongst the other candidates? Who gets to be prez, veep, State, etc.? Also complicating the matter is an obscure party rule that says a candidate may not even be considered at the convention if he or she hasn't won a prescribed number of states. In that case, their delegates are released and it becomes even more chaotic.

This could easily play into the hands of the Democrats, especially if their candidate wraps it up early. This could be a huge advantage since he or she will be running the general election from the time they actually clinch the nomination. And if the GOP leader turns out to be someone who isn't all that charismatic or a hero (and I don't consider Trump to have the charisma needed to be President) it could be smooth sailing.

P.S. The Democrats aren't immune from this. In 1924, the Democrats took 103 ballots before settling on a dark horse named John Davis. John Who? I couldn't resist. Sorry, Joe.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

This El Niño could be the worst ever

Remember El Niño 1998? The mild winter where we got more rain than usual in most places, while Montreal got the ice storm? Well, if the weather predictors at NASA are right, this winter could cause even more problems thanks to the warm weather phenomenon. I can't say global warming is entirely to blame for it, but there's no doubt the cycle has been occurring more frequently over time.

One thing to look out for is flooding. Areas below escarpments and mountain ranges in the lowlands are prime targets, and when we have winter storms followed by rapid melting, there's going to be problems. Storm sewers just aren't designed to handle that capacity, and in rural areas there is no where for the water to go at all.

We've already seem massive floods in Latin America. We saw what happened in Missouri earlier this month. And let's not forget Africa, which has food security issues due to drought.

We might, just might, escape the bullet. But I doubt it. Sometime that should happen every seven to ten years is now happening as often as every other year, and that is not a good sign. Governments need to wake up and prepare for the worst case scenarios. No one should have to die because the weather is screwed up ... in no part thanks to us.

Weather happens, but customer service ...

Hamilton's airport isn't exactly a busy place. Although Westjet did run a lot of flights out of there for a while citing Toronto's massive landing fees, most flights eventually migrated to Pearson although there are still a few WJ planes every day from Munro. For the most part, the white elephant airport has been running on charter flights. The facility is known for very quick check-ins, easy security checks and being able to walk right up to the plane to fly.

Such wasn't the case Monday night when the first storm of the winter season kicked in. A Sunwing flight from the Dominican Republic made a stop in Hamilton before reaching Calgary. It got stuck on the tarmac for eight hours. The airline says the weather made it difficult to attach the ramp to the plane meaning passengers had no recourse. The situation was only resolved when someone called 911. They finally got to sleep at a nearby hotel before flying onward. As compensation, the airline is offering $150 a head.

Maybe it's me, but I was on a flight that was delayed for one hour because someone who checked baggage never showed up at the gate - which made sense. I can't imagine being on a plane that long - no food, no other attempts to comfort the passengers. Not to mention no ventilation.

Friendly skies this is not. I realize charter airlines have a different mandate than commercial operations, but one would still expect a level of service that is comfortable even during an emergency. Friends of mine have flown SW and have had no complaints - but I'd think twice the next time I'm headed to the Caribbean.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Falwell U allows guns in dorms

Yes ... Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, has announced that it is ending its ban on guns in dorms. Like this is supposed to make us feel any safer. They claim it's a stand against terrorists. Apparently students can already keep guns in their cars. The campus police is even offering free firearms training.

I would kind of expect this from one of the most conservative universities in America (as well as one with one of the best debating clubs).

But Jerry Falwell Jr, in making his announcement, also made an off-the-cuff (we think) remark about the need to "end those Muslims". Muslims actually do attend the Christian university. Not thinking there, pal.

Besides, what if an armed person actually came on campus and started shooting up, like what happened a few years ago at Virginia Tech? I think it would be an even bigger bloodbath, especially if students pointed the wrong way and shot fellow students or staff members.

I get the Second Amendment. But with rights come responsibilities. This idea comes off as totally irresponsible. It's only asking for trouble.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Libs to repeal spanking law

It is decades overdue, but finally in response to a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the Trudeau government will move to repeal §43 of the Criminal Code, which allows for "corrective force" (i.e. spanking).

No doubt this will get the socons riled up as yet another example of social engineering. But there is simply no proof corporal punishment works. If anything, it makes for more resentful children which in turn leads to higher rates of crime, especially among minors. At the least, even if it doesn't lead to crime, the resentment can be life-lasting which doesn't bode well for when they become parents.

We don't live in Biblical times. This is the 21st century, and we need to find appropriate ways to discipline our children. Spanking, switches, tree branches etc. are no longer appropriate. Actually ... they never were.

Yeah, like I'd turn over my tax refund to Queen's Park ...

... yet since the Mike Harris days, people in Ontario have actually had the option of donating some or all of their tax refund to help pay down the province's debt. How much has been raised so far in the last 19 years? $2.8 million. That's it. What is Ontario's debt? At the end of FY 2014, it was $288.1 billion. We're close to matching New York State, which is $300 billion or so in the hole.

Yet now, Ontario's deputy premier is suggesting that the people of this province seriously consider ticking that box at the bottom of page 4 to help the debt burden.

Are you serious? We're about to be hit with a 1.9% payroll tax for a pension plan most of us don't even want. It'd be a lot easier to get rid of corporate welfare, and work with the CRA to go after the black market (oh, excuse me, the underground economy). Heaven knows how much we lose just on that second one - if the feds are losing $80 billion a year nationally, that works out to about $13 billion in lost provincial revenues. You'd balance the budget right away! Better yet, listen to the province's auditor-general and get rid of the waste.

That purple box on the bottom of the return, they should just get rid of it. It hasn't worked.

Ontario needs to clean up its act. Just because they gave the Liberals a fourth term doesn't give it the right to go on a spending spree.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

First they want to ban Muslims. Now this ...

... an opinion poll shows that 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats want to bomb Agrabah, Saudi Arabia. Just one problem - it's the fictional town in Disney's Aladdin. This canard was thrown in with such serious questions as if one is evangelical and how much of a raise there should be in the minimum wage. You'd think those being polled would pay attention. Then again, I've been polled several times and I've been asked stupid questions like how much glasses of milk I drink a day ... as if that has a bearing on how I'm going to vote.

Some of the responses to the other questions were shocking. 33% of the Tea Party believes Islam should be illegal in the US, compared to 26% of mainstream GOPers (and that second one is shocking). 32% of the Tea Party said the internment of the Japanese during WWII was a good thing. And get this - remember Donald Trump saying Muslims on the Jersey shore were cheering when the Twin Towers came down? 36% of mainline Repubs believe that. It jumps to 51% for the Tea Party.

The first item was laughable. But as we get into the nitty-gritty, such as if mosques should be banned, it becomes totally unfunny. Politicians should be playing to our best hopes and not our worst fears. I'm worried it has become just the reverse.

Right now, either a Republican or a Democrat could win 2016, according to the current cycle's "Keys to the Presidency". The Climate Change agreement can be seen as a foreign policy success for the Democrats, but a lot lies on who gets the Dem nomination and if there is a third party run. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, I think it's game over. If he makes a third party run, it could be more complicated but when it comes down to the crumbs I don't think he's as a credible candidate as Ross Perot was in 1992 - a business person who actually had some practical ideas that Clinton adopted. (Balancing the budget, for one.)

I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm almost hoping Martin O'Malley picks up the pace in the Dem race - he's way more credible than Bernie Sanders and could pose a challenge to Hillary Clinton if he does well in the debates. Besides, he actually has real executive experience - he ran both Baltimore and the state of Maryland.

Agrabah. Seriously?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What is going on at CHCH?

Seriously? Has Channel 11 finally gone off the rails? This is the station that gave Canada The Party Game, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Tiny Talent Time, The Great Debate, The Party Game, Smith and Smith (which spawned The Red Green Show) ...and became the Canadian home of what used to be known as the WWF. Several celebrities got their start on the station including polka maestro Walter Ostanek and actor Martin Short.

Now CHCH has filed for bankruptcy, and has been stripped of virtually ALL of its programming. The all-day news. Sportsline. Square Off. And the evening news is now just half an hour. What's even more bizarre is that the news division was actually outsourced and not owned by Channel Zero (which owns Bloomberg Canada, Rewind, Silver Screen Classics and three "adult" channels). Some people have been there for 35 years and were told, pack up your belongings and go home.

Last year, the station celebrated 60 years on the air. But I suspected something might be up in the air for quite some time. Sometimes, it would run commercials that were weeks out of date - such as a Boxing Day sale in March.

It ran a commercial for itself , selling ads real cheap. You had to buy them in a block of a hundred, but it worked out to just $99 per pop. When networks in Canada sell prime time ads for a hundred thousand for a thirty second commercial, a business model like CHCH's is just not sustainable.

To see one of the most innovative stations in the country go to the trash heap in such a short period of time is sad. It was bad when it was an affiliate of E! Now it has nothing going for it except history.

A sidebar, if CHCH shuts down all together then the transmitter which is currently a dual stick with "Yes TV" (owned by Crossroads Ministries) will become the sole problem of the latter. The station is technically separate from 100 Huntley Street but it would be interesting to see if it decided to keep it running or just become a cable-only entity, like the late Sun News Network was forced to do when it was told to shut down its transmitters in Toronto, Hamilton, London and Ottawa (and that was nearly four years before SNN went off the air for good). It costs $30,000 per month just for the power for the stick, never mind tuning it up to make sure it still works.

The only other option is the model CHEK in Victoria has - the station is owned by its employees. That model has worked out just fine - and it can work here. It won't be easy. But it would be a big loss of ego if Hamilton lost its only commercial station. I can't say I've watched the channel lately because it is too much focused on local news and gives lip service to national and international events. But I'm still crossing my fingers.

Make the ORPP voluntary, or enhance the CPP

Kathleen Wynne seems hell bent to introduce an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan by the year 2017. The idea is if a company doesn't have a pension plan or deferred profit sharing plan of its own, it will be required to pay a payroll tax of 1.9%, to be matched by its employees from their paycheques. This would be on top of the nearly 6.7% we already pay for the CPP and EI.

I wouldn't necessarily mind paying the extra levy, provided there actually was a pension at the end of the line. There really is no guarantee that there would be.

I don't understand, however, why the plan can't be made voluntary. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is a good example of this. You don't have to contribute, but you can up to $2500 per year. The caveat is that it reduces your RRSP contribution room for that year. No indication if the same would be the case for the ORPP.

Far better of an approach would be for the feds and the provinces to ensure the long term sustainability of the CPP.  In 2012, it had an unfunded liability of just over $829 billion (the last year for which we have numbers). While it is claimed the 9.9% payroll tax (split between employers and employees) is enough to make sure the plan makes future obligations, a liability of that size is enough to make one wonder.

Certainly, a plan that guarantees that you will be paid only 25% of the best five years of income isn't enough to live on. Even when you add in Old Age Security which is funded through general revenues, it's not close enough either. Many Canadians simply do not have the means to save.

I happen to think the ORPP should be voluntary. Given the right marketing, I think most people in the province would sign on regardless. But it should work more like a group RRSP rather than a pension plan. Whatever the case, it will require a team of very smart managers on the par of the Caisse de dépôt in Quebec.

But we also need to fix the CPP to make sure that there is a secure income for everyone, at least a livable one. And the cap on which contributions are collected from needs to go up - way up. Here in Canada, you stop making contributions at $51,100. In the States, FICA dues caps out at USD 118,500. This would mean people with higher incomes get higher pensions, to be sure, but it would also give the plan a much needed cushion to ensure the long term viability of the trust. I simply do not believe that the plan won't run out in 75 years, it will be much sooner than that. (It should be noted that the Wynne plan would call for payroll deductions up to $90,000 - better, but it should be aligned with improvements to the CPP rather than on a separate track.)

Would it mean higher payroll taxes? Sure it would. Is the security of our elder and disabled population a priority? You're damn right it is. If we can get this right, Wynne's plan could easily be discarded. Even she has said as much. Trudeau should sit down with the premiers and come up with something that will benefit all Canadians. The status quo just doesn't work.