Monday, August 31, 2009

A licence to cut

I recently attended a "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" conference in Eastern Ontario and in the parking lot I saw a car with this great licence plate.

Turns out the car belonged to my friend Karen Selick, who works for the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

I should have known.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

God's verdict

According to a media report Prime Minister Stephen Harper is more concerned with "God's verdict" than he is with what historians will ultimately say about his government.

This got me to thinking as what it will be like when Harper does one day meet his maker at the Pearly Gates.

It might go something like this:

God: OK, what's your name and where are you from?

Stephen Harper: My name is Stephen Harper and I am from Canada.

God: Canada? Refresh my memory, where is that again?

SH: It's on Earth; in North America.

God: Yes, yes, yes. Canada. Hmmm the last thing I remember doing for Canada was helping Paul Henderson score that goal. Wow, that was some series. Tell me have the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup yet?

SH: No! But wait a second, are you telling me you don't know what happened in Canada since the early 1970s? You're God aren't you supposed to know everything?

God: Look, buddy, I have to keep track of the whole cosmos ... do you have any idea of how big that is? Do you really expect me to keep an eye on your little country, located on a second rate planet circling an insignificant star?

SH: Well I ...

God: Hey, I am sorry. I didn't mean to blow up like that. It's just I am in a bad mood. The inhabitants of Rigel V really ticked me off and I had to smite them ... smite them good.

SH: Why, what did they do? Did they build a false idol?

God: Worse. They put their planetary budget into deficit; they packed their upper house with partisan hacks and they actually appointed a socialist as ambassador to Vega 2. It made me so angry I nearly took my own name in vain. Anyway, that's enough about Rigel. Let's get back you. I need to bring down a verdict on your life. Tell me, what was your job in Canada.

SH: Well, er, um ... I was president of the National Citizens Coalition.

Putting Ted Kennedy into perspective

Professor Don Boudreaux of George Mason University and one of the people behind Cafe Hayek, recently sent the following letter to the New York Times:

Ted Kennedy’s canonization is too much.

Every day brings the deaths of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are known only to their families and friends. These people aren’t mourned by politicians, reporters, or the general public.

Yet almost every one of these unheralded persons has been more productive than has Ted Kennedy – or Chuck Grassley, Nancy Pelosi, the Georges Bush, or any other politician you name, whether he or she be still breathing or buried.

Who installed the windows in my house? I don’t know. Yet he provided value to me and never forced his hand into my wallet or his nose into my eating habits.

Who will fly the plane that will carry me home tomorrow from Michigan to Virginia? I have no idea. Yet that pilot will render unto me (and dozens of others) a valuable service in exchange for funds that I voluntarily paid to his or her employer. That pilot doesn’t force me to fly. Nor does he or she presume to know better than I do what is best for my family and me.

Who caught the fish that I will eat tonight? Who trucked it from the sea to my hotel? Who will cook that fish? Who designed the dishwasher that cleaned the plate and utensils that I will use?

I know almost none of the millions of people whose daily efforts make possible my life and that of countless other Americans. These people don’t hatch grand plans for arrogantly re-working society.

They offer only to deal voluntarily with me and with others, never pretending – unlike Mr. Kennedy – to be endowed with a mysterious genius and a saintly inspiration justifying haughty intrusions into the affairs of others.

Politicians are mortals. But as their greedy lust for power and glory reveals, they are mortals especially flawed.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Taking taxpayers for a ride

While getting on the bus the other day I was handed a pamphlet detailing "New Transit Service Changes."

Always intrigued by the workings of mass public transit I eagerly started reading.

It began promisingly enough: "Oakville Transit is offering more convenience, more choice and more connections than ever before. This is the first step in a multi-year plan to offer Oakville residents and visitors the type of transit system they have been asking for."

But then a few sentences later the pamphlet drops this bomb: "Route 11 (which is the bus I take) will move to a 60 minute service instead of a 30 minute service."


Since when is doubling the wait time for a bus more convenient? And I don't remember "asking for" 60 minute service!

Oh and did I mention, the town recently raised taxes.

So I am paying more money for less service. And the public transit people think this is an improvement.

Typical government logic.

Mind you, it's not a total loss. Maybe now I will take the car more often which will add to global warming, which will aggravate David Suzuki.

Always look on the bright side, I say.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A modest proposal for Senate reform

All this news about Prime Minister Harper's Senate appointments has once again triggered talk as to how we can reform the Upper House.

And one idea which keeps popping up is that Senators should be elected.

But alas it seems there are too many political and constitutional obstacles to making the Senate more democratic.

Does this mean we should give up?

Of course not. It just means we need to be more imaginative.

Luckily I have a wonderful imagination and after giving the idea serious thought for about five seconds, I have come up with a great way to reform the Senate: What if the Prime Minister selected Senators by pulling names of Canadians at random out of a hat?

I'm serious!

Every Canadian eligible to vote would be a potential candidate. (Admittedly this will require one very large hat.)

Not only would this end the odious practice of making patronage appointments, but it would provide the basis for a great new reality TV show: "Canada's Next Senator".

Imagine the excitement as names were selected on national television; every citizen would be glued to their set wondering if they will win the Senate appointment, meaning they would get a "job" for life and a wonderful salary and tons of perks.

Now you're probably saying to yourself: "Gerry you are admittedly a top political mind, but won't your idea mean unqualified people could enter the Senate?"

To which I reply, the only qualification needed to be a Senator is that you can efficiently and effectively do nothing.

My dog is qualified to be a Senator.

Besides there's a precedent. The ancient Greeks chose political leaders by lot, and they invented democracy, right before they invented the gyro.

And by the way, this proposal of mine has nothing to do with any disappointment on my part that I wasn't named to the Senate -- even though let's be honest, I would have made an excellent Senator.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Tory news at last

If this is true, it's the first good news I have heard about the Conservative Party in a long time.

John Williamson is a great guy, a good communicator and a true conservative.


It's definitely true. So congratulations John and good luck.

Angling for a job

Despite what I have written or said in the past, I firmly believe Stephen Harper is the greatest, most magnificent, most brilliant Prime Minister in the history of the universe.

And I look forward to one day serving the Great Leader with unthinking, blind obedience and with complete loyalty.

(There, if that doesn't get me a Senate appointment, I don't know what will.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Politics of summer

A couple of days ago I posted about why we shouldn't take August polls too seriously.

Well this Globe and Mail cartoon sums it up perfectly.

Conservatism and spending

My column in the Sun Media yesterday, in which I proposed a conservative-sounding speech for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, generated an incredible response.

Most of it was positive, along the lines of "I wish the Prime Minister really would talk like that."

But it wasn't all supportive.

I got a negative reaction from the usual left-wing types and also from people who support the Conservative Party's current Liberal-lite approach.

One "Blogging Tory" in particular got all out of sorts.

Among other things, he or she took me to task for my idea that a conservative government should cut its spending.

This individual says conservatives actually only believe in eliminating "ineffectual spending."

This I suppose is in contrast to the Liberals whose slogan in the last federal election was "vote for us because we support ineffectual spending."

Anyway, one problem with this Blogging Tory's approach is that while it's easy to say you are opposed to ineffectual or wasteful spending, it's a lot harder to actually find it.

In fact, what constitutes wasteful government spending is a matter of opinion. Every single cent the government spends is crucial or important to somebody.

In other words, you will find someone or some organization to passionately defend every government expenditure no matter how outrageous it may seem to ordinary taxpayers.

So to say you favour eliminating only ineffectual spending is basically the same as saying you won't cut any government spending.

And indeed, that's why governments rarely do cut spending.

Yet if you agree that government is too big, that it's too intrusive and that it takes too much of our money, then its spending must be cut.

That's not a fantasy or an extreme ideology, it's just a fact.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the The Afternoon News with Tom Young (News 95.7 Halifax) at 1:00 PM EST to talk about my column in today's Sun Media.

Speaking for Harper

Back when Stephen Harper was president of the National Citizens Coalition, I used to help him write his speeches.

So maybe that's why in my latest Sun media column, I offer a speech for the PM, which I sure wish he would deliver.

Check it out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another August poll

OK here's another poll, this time from Harris-Decima, which has the Liberals and the Tories in a dead heat.

Earlier today, an Ipsos-Reid poll showed the Conservatives way ahead.

How to explain the discrepancy?


Like I said before, it's summer time and nobody is focused on politics. (Except for the anonymous Tory partisans who love to read my blog to get a political education.)

About that poll ....

An Ipsos Reid poll shows the Conservative government has jumped into an 11 point lead over the Liberals.

This almost puts the Tories into the hallowed territory of Majority Land.

Reactions are predictable: Liberal partisans suggest it's the biased work of Canwest News, which sponsored the poll, while Conservative partisans are already planning the victory parade.

Yet there is something both sides should keep in mind -- opinion polls conducted in the heart of August are virtually meaningless.

Canadians these days are more focused on cottage parties than on political parties.

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be on CBC radio's The Current, this morning somewhere before 8:00 AM to talk about the government's foreign policy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Freedom to get a tan

Check out my latest column which appears in today's Sun media.

It's about freedom, politics and summer . . . oh yeah, I also mention mud wrestling.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Murphy nails it

Rex Murphy had a good piece in the Globe and Mail yesterday on how the Liberals and Conservatives are mirror images of each other.

About Prime Minister Harper, Murphy writes:

"Stephen Harper, despite the image he bears of being a dogmatic, ideologically fired conservative, is as Liberal as Liberal can be when it matters most. Whether it's a bailout for the auto companies or a blissful embrace of the return to deficit financing, Mr. Harper is as flexible as the most pliant Liberal. The stimulus funds that are being dispersed these days – for those of us with long memories – have all the focus of those programs the Liberals used to scatter across the land to build tiny bridges over dried-up streams or paint the larger rocks in village playgrounds. They also did a lot for graveyard upkeep, a forgivable piety perhaps, but not one that should be confused with an industrial strategy for those above ground."

Read the rest.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keeping NDP delegates in line

Was watching the NDP convention last night (perhaps evidence of hidden masochistic tendencies?) and I saw something rather interesting.

At one point, after a spirited debate as to the validity of a sub-amendment to an amendment to a motion, two members of the party’s “Anti-Harassment Committee” took the stage.

Their job was to remind delegates of the NDP’s strict anti-harassment policies. Delegates were told what constituted harassment (essentially saying anything that would offend just about anybody) and the strict punishments they could expect should they dare engage in harassing anybody.

This got me thinking. If the NDP sees the need for special squads of anti-harassment police just to keep their own super-politically correct socialists in line, what would they have in store for the rest of us non-Marx reading, unenlightened, bourgeoisie?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Red-Tory Tosh

I have a letter to the editor in today's Globe and Mail responding to a column by Lawrence Martin who was praising Prime Minister Harper for embracing Red Toryism:

"Lawrence Martin says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s move to the left has “validated” Red Toryism (The Resurgence Of The Red Tory Brand – Aug. 13).

Isn’t it a little soon to make such a statement?

After all, Mr. Harper’s Red Tory policies – increased government spending, bailing out failed corporations, racking up monstrous deficits – could lead to serious economic problems down the road.

Politically speaking, his embrace of Red Toryism has essentially made the Conservative Party a carbon copy of the Liberal Party, meaning the Prime Minister is in danger of alienating his small “c” conservative base. It’s hard to win a majority if you don’t keep your base loyal.

History may yet show that both Canada and the Conservative Party would have been better off had Mr. Harper stuck to his free-market principles."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

With friends like these ...

As someone who has been critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s move to the left, I must concede his unconservative policies have achieved at least some successes.

They have, for instance, won him new friends from Canada’s left-wing establishment.

Case in point is journalist Lawrence Martin who praised the Prime Minister in today’s Globe and Mail.

Martin writes approvingly as to how Harper has abandoned his principles and wholeheartedly embraced Red Toryism.

The Conservative Party’s “migration to the moderate middle, evident in so many policy areas,” writes Martin “denotes a triumph of the traditional Tory way.”

And the “traditional Tory way” translates to acting and governing like Liberals.

For Martin this is a good thing,

“You get the impression,” he writes “that the office has matured him, (Harper) broadening his perspective from that of a regional man to a leader who sees the country and the world in a more enlightened context.”

Yes thank goodness Harper no longer stands for the unenlightened concepts of smaller government and balanced budgets.

Of course, the real reason Martin is praising Harper isn’t that he suddenly likes him, it’s that Harper has helped put conservative ideals into disrepute.

And Martin will go on liking Harper for that reason, all the way into the ballot box … where he will vote Liberal.

Some friend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Writing the Bloc's obituary

In today’s National Post, my friend Adam Daifallah speculates about the future of the Bloc Quebecois should its leader Gilles Duceppe decide to resign in the near future.

Without its charismatic leader, argues Daifallah, the Bloc would lose its relevance and “the federal political dynamic would be redrawn in Quebec and the door would be thrown wide open for the Harper Conservatives to stage a comeback.”

Maybe he’s right.

But then again many predicted the Bloc would fall apart when its first charismatic leader, Lucien Bouchard, stepped down back in 1996.

In fact, people have been writing the Bloc’s political obituary for years and yet the party stubbornly keeps on ticking, winning enough seats election after election to maintain itself as a force in federal politics.

And it achieves this success without even offering the possibility of ever winning power.

What’s the Bloc’s secret?

Well, I am certainly not an expert in the murky world of Quebec politics, but it seems to me the Bloc succeeds because it alone among the major federal parties reflects the modern Quebecois political mindset.

The fact is many Quebecois simply don’t see themselves as “Canadian” and hence they have no emotional connection to either the Liberals or Conservatives.

The Bloc, on the other hand, not only offers them the emotionally satisfying vision of an independent Quebec, but it speaks for them culturally like no other federal party ever could.

To be blunt, comparatively speaking the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are led by outsiders.

That’s why I don’t think Duceppe’s departure would change this political dynamic.

With or without his leadership, the Bloc will be around for a long time.

Update: Adam Daifallah responds to my commentary

Monday, August 10, 2009

The name game

Sometimes picking a name can be the hardest part of creating a political organization.

You want a name that says who you are but which is also catchy and interesting.

And getting agreement or consent as to what constitutes a good name is nearly impossible. Usually you end up with a name which everybody hates the least.

That's why I have some sympathy for the socialists at the New Democratic Party, who are contemplating a name change.

And I can understand why some think a change is needed; I mean how long can you be considered "new."

Yet they should proceed with caution.

Years ago, when I worked at the National Citizens Coalition, we once considered changing our name.

We just believed "National Citizens Coalition" didn't properly convey our mission, that we were a group promoting free enterprise and less government. Plus, "citizens" and "coalition" were words commonly found in the names of left-wing groups.

What we wanted was a name that declared our dedication to freedom!

Anyway, an American political consultant talked us out of it.

His point was that over the years we had given "National Citizens Coalition" meaning; establishing a brand which people recognized.

It's probably the same for the NDP. Yes, it's bit of a dorky name, but over the years they have given it meaning.

So maybe they should keep the name, and just change their policies.

Mr. Nicholls goes to Washington

I was in Washington DC last week for a few meetings and while there I stopped by the Cato Institute to attend a talk by Tyler Cowen, an economics professor and blogger.

Tyler was talking about his recently released book, Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered Word.

Ironically, the book isn’t about economics, it’s about information and about how the Internet is changing the way we categorize information.

Cowen thinks this is all for the good.

He also hopes the spread of information will defuse what he calls the “Us vs Them” and the “demonize your opponent” mentalities which dominate political discussion.

Cowen, who considers himself a “small l libertarian”, says if we could get away from “conclusion-based” thinking and focus on building bridges to those who share “similar thinking patterns” political discussion would be a lot more civilized.

He also says he is less worried about influencing public opinion and more worried about the prospect that he might be wrong.

It was all interesting stuff, very philosophic, very wonky.

But for a guy who has a background in advocacy, it’s hard for me to get away from “conclusion-based” thinking.

Plus, I am not even sure politics would exist without an “Us vs. Them” mentality.

Anyway, like I said it was an interesting talk.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet you can watch Cowen's talk.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Bad sign for freedom

Check out my column which appears in today's Sun media chain.

I make the case that government has no business being in the sign business.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Finding history in Washington

Just got back from a business trip to Washington DC.

And the coolest thing I saw while there, wasn't the monuments or the museums, but this:

That's a first edition issue of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations from 1776.

It's on display at the Cato Institute.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A different take on Aboriginal issues

There's an excellent new blog out there called Indigenous Analysis which discusses aboriginal issues from "a non-conventional perspective."

And by non-conventional I mean it takes a "classical liberal" point of view: ie why individual rights and economic self-sufficiency are important for First Nations.

So check it out if you want to get a different take on this topic than you usually get in the MSM.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A Liberal takes me to task and makes good points

A few days ago I posted my views on the Cato Institute's Will Wilkerson's idea that libertarians should seek some sort of fusion with liberals.

In the process I made a few cracks about the Liberal Party, comments which Ron McKinnon a former Liberal candidate and current president of the Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam Federal Liberal Association took exception to.

He wrote a thoughtful letter to give his side of the story and made some interesting points. I asked his permission to reprint the letter and he agreed. (Please note - his comments contain to personal attacks or insults, no profanity and no knee-kerk partisan responses. I found it quite refreshing.)

Here it is:

In his opinion "Can libertarians and liberals learn to be friends?" (July 27, 2009) Gerry Nicholls discusses Cato Institute Will Wilkinson's argument for Libertarians to seek alignment with left-wing-liberals.

An odd juxtaposition to be sure, but Mr Nicholls sprinkles his discussion with a number of contentious asides, of which I address three:
1. "Besides the fact that liberals just don't like capitalism ...”

2. "The best way to convince the Liberals to adopt a pro-freedom agenda ..."

3. “... Tories, the more natural allies of freedom.”

These comments suggest a striking misunderstanding of liberalism, yea even Liberalism, for which freedom of the individual is a fundamental tenet.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, et al, liberalism is “... a political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government.”

More particularly, the constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada itself affirms that the Party “... is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons.”

It is hard to see where Liberals need in any way to be convinced to adopt a pro-freedom agenda, nor that freedom has any more-natural allies.

From freedom of the individual flows the right for an individual to own his/her labour and the product of such labour, and the right to give or exchange these with others in non-coercive transactions.

Free markets and capitalism itself follow from this. Hence it is similarly hard for me to reconcile the general notion that followers of such a philosophy dedicated to freedom "...just don't like capitalism."

On this point, however, while I contend that Mr Nicholls errs in the general case, I will grant some truth as regards some of our more extreme 'left-leaning' friends: while celebrating the right of an individual to own his/her own labour and the product of their own labour, they do seem to lose track of this by the time such value accrues and is used to capitalize ventures that create profit (even while arguably creating employment and opportunity for others, as well).I find this odd, too, but the crux of the matter is that even rights that we fully recognize are not necessarily unfettered.

Living in a society of free persons means that our individual freedoms must by times be bounded such as to also give meaning to the rights of those other persons. That's where it gets difficult, and that's where it gets really interesting.

That's where we have to find and strike a balance. Such balance will vary of course from person to person according to their individual circumstances, values, understanding and experience.

And reasonable people do sometimes differ, wherein arises our great political conversation that will dwell long into the future.

Ron McKinnon
Port Coquitlam