Roundup: Concern trolling over tax loopholes

There’s been a great deal of concern trolling going on over the past few days when it comes to the planned changes to self-incorporation to close the tax loopholes found therein. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted out another of his disingenuous messages yesterday, talking about “hiking taxes” on doctors – who are leading the concern trolling charge against this closure of self-incorporation loopholes – which is not surprising, but nevertheless not exactly the truth about what is going on.

Meanwhile, economist Kevin Milligan has been dismantling the concern trolling arguments with aplomb, so I’ll let him take it from here:

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Roundup: Ontario superballots?

One of the many challenges of Canadian democracy is our geography – especially the fact that we have so much of it. Rural and remote regions tend to have large riding boundaries, and that causes its own share of problems, particularly when you have a number or ridings larger than countries like France, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. Ontario has been in the process of redrawing their riding boundaries after the federal government did in advance of the last election – notable because Ontario largely follows the federal riding boundaries, but in the past, they split one of the giant Northern Ontario ridings into two for practical purposes. Under this new redistribution, it looks like they want to split it into four instead. Where this becomes problematic is not only the fact that it far exceeds the usual 25 percent variance in rep-by-pop weighting that the courts usually allow, but it’s being justified in giving votes to francophone and Indigenous communities in the area.

In the National Post, Chris Selley takes on this particular proposition, and makes a very good point in that we don’t have any particular basis in this country for awarding “superballots” to traditionally underserved communities as a means of reconciliation or redress. Add to that fact, that while the commission may talk a good game about better enfranchising these Indigenous communities, they traditionally have lower turnouts not only for lack of access by elections officials, but because in some of those communities, they resist taking part because they don’t see themselves as part of Canada, but as a sovereign nation within Canadian boundaries, and participating in Canadian elections would undermine that sovereignty. I’m not sure that “superballots” would change that particular consideration for them either, which could make the commission’s excuse for naught. Would that mean that in these newly created ridings that the non-Indigenous voters who do participate have their votes count that much more? Quite possibly. And while one does understand the frustration and challenges of an immense Northern riding, there are other ways to mitigate those issues, with greater allowances for offices, staff and travel considerations that the government should be ponying up for. I’m not sure that this new proposal is going to pass the Supreme Court of Canada’s smell test.

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Roundup: A bit of NDP Kremlinology

On New Year’s Day, the leader of the provincial NDP in New Brunswick resigned and quit the party altogether, citing party infighting, and more curiously, took a few swipes at the federal party along the way.

Why is this interesting? Because the federal NDP are in the midst of a leadership race that will double as some soul-searching about the party’s direction. This while the leftist parties in the States saw the “success” of Bernie Sanders (and I use the term loosely but his followers are totally serious about it), and the selection and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, where there is a definite shift in tone that follwos these leaders. And with that in mind, we saw a series of tweets from former federal NDP (and prior to that, UK Labour) staffer Lauren Dobson-Hughes which helps to put the New Brunswick and general NPD dynamic into context.

What Dobson-Hughes says here I think will have a lot of impact on the NDP leadership contest, and I think explains a little as to why the party wasn’t willing to give Thomas Mulcair another chance in his leadership review post-election. It’s also what the (eventual) leadership hopefuls will be navigating, so I don’t think this is the last of the internal power-struggles in the party that we’ve heard of. And while Cardy’s critics continue to grouse about him in the media, there are tensions at play that we should be cognisant of, and that will matter as the party goes forward.

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Roundup: What free market mechanism?

The Conservative reaction to the imposition of a federal minimum carbon price has been fascinating, in part because of just how counterfactual it would be to how an actual conservative party would behave. You would think that an actual small-c conservative party would believe in market principles and would think that imposing price incentives (the carbon price) would be great because it would force the market to innovate to reduce the costs associated, hence reducing the carbon emissions in the least onerous way possible with the costs being fully transparent.

But no. We don’t actually have a small-c conservative party in this country, we have right-flavoured populists who would rather rail about “taxes on everything” and give sad homilies about how hard done by the workers of this country are, and how carbon taxes are just letting millionaires claim tax credits on the backs of the ordinary people of this country. No, seriously – these are things that the Conservatives have said in QP. And Rona Ambrose then goes on TV and says that the government should be regulating major emitters in a way that won’t cost consumers (never mind that regulations are the most costly mechanism available and it simply hides the true costs). It’s mind-boggling.

And so we now have all but one leadership candidate railing about carbon taxes, and the only one who agrees with carbon pricing, Michael Chong, insists that this is the wrong way to do it, that it should be revenue neutral for the taxpayer (never mind that provinces could institute that if they want, but they are given the flexibility to do with as they choose). Meanwhile, Paul Wells takes a torch to Lisa Raitt’s overwrought homilies about the poor people suffering under carbon taxes, and applies a little math to the analysis, which doesn’t fare well for Raitt. Likewise, Andrew Coyne laments the lack of a serious discussion on carbon pricing as the cheapest and least onerous way to reduce emissions. But this is currently the state of conservative politics in this country.

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Roundup: Incentives and outcomes of electoral systems

After four days of electoral reform committee hearings, the general sense that we’ve come away with is that academics in favour of reform are in favour of their own particular models, and that’s really been about it. (Kady O’Malley’s latest liveblog here). The most discussion that seems to have come out about outcomes from different electoral systems has been largely that one professor said the research hasn’t shown that everything will be sunshine and rainbows if we adopt a new system as each system has their own problems, and a lot of back-and-forth about how other systems will magically result in more compromise and nicer politics will somehow come out of it in the end (against all logic or evidence).

It was with some surprise that I noted that Fraser Institute of all places probably had the most to contribute to the discussion this week with the release of an academic essay (which appears to be the chapter in a forthcoming volume) that actually tested some of the outcomes and incentives for different electoral systems against fiscal policies of countries. While I didn’t find the results all that surprising, others might – that systems that result in more parties and more coalitions tend to have public spending as a far higher percentage of GDP, and much bigger deficits than countries with plurality/majoritarian systems like ours currently.

The logic is fairly simple and the research in the essay proves it – that coalition governments tend to be higher-spending because they require buying off the various parties in said coalitions; higher spending means growth of the public sector, and or deficits. There was also some more serious discussion than I’ve seen all week about the incentives to create smaller parties in PR systems than in plurality/majoritarian systems, where the coalition is more internal to the party, because the need for a coalition gives small and single-issue parties greater power and leverage to make demands as a coalition partner, thus incentivising the creation of more parties. This is not an insignificant consideration when it comes to outcomes from different voting systems, and I hope that this particular essay gets some traction rather than just being shrugged off as yet another Fraser Institute report.

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Roundup: Revolving door alarmism

Oh noes! Civil servants take positions in ministers’ offices! How terribly partisan of them! Yes, it’s time for another head-shaking column from some of our more alarmist media friends, bemoaning sweetheart deals and revolving doors, but as usual, it lacks all pretence of nuance or much in the way of a reality check on the way things work. I find it mystifying that someone would rather have a twenty-something fresh out of university, whose only real qualification is loyalty to the PMO, filling those ministerial office positions rather than professionals with years of experience in the department. Because while yes, some civil servants went to work in ministers’ offices in the Conservative years, there were a lot of these twenty-somethings on power trips, trying to play power games with departmental officials, which one presumes that people who have civil service careers would be less likely to do. And yes, they get good salaries in those positions, but they’re also a) quite ephemeral given the nature of party politics, and b) enormously stressful jobs that have some people working eighteen-hour days, and they should be compensated for it. And the “revolving door” back to the civil service afterward? Again one asks why they shouldn’t be able to translate government experience into the civil service, particularly if they’ve gained some policy expertise? So long as they perform their duties in a neutral fashion once back in the civil service, I’m not seeing why this is a problem. We need good people doing public service in this country, and we have already set up so many barriers that make recruitment a real challenge for anyone not being bridged in from school, and the growing list of restrictions makes work in ministerial offices increasingly unattractive because their post-political opportunities have become increasingly limited. If we’re not careful, all of our political staffers will be twenty-somethings trying to get experience rather than established people of substance, and I’m not sure that’s a situation that anyone relishes.

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Roundup: Pipeline drama queens

It really doesn’t take much to set Brad Wall off these days, and in ways that are both a bit unseemly and frankly nonsensical, and really, really unhelpful in the long run. Yesterday is was Quebec’s environment minister filing a court injunction related to Energy East, but unlike what everyone was up in arms about, it wasn’t to block the pipeline – he made several assurances that he had no opinion on it. Rather, he wanted TransCanada to submit paperwork with the Quebec government for their own environmental process, and TransCanada has thus far said no. It remains to be seen if Quebec’s position holds legal water (there was a precedent in BC that may or may not apply), but from the apoplexy coming from the likes of Brad Wall or Brian Jean in Alberta, you’d think Quebec had declared the project dead on arrival. Except they didn’t. Rachel Notley kept a level head saying she knows it’s not a veto, so she’s keeping her guns holstered. Justin Trudeau said he understands the province’s desire to get social license for the project, but listening to conservatives, both federal and provincial, you would have thought that those terrible lefties had put a stake in the heart of the oil industry. In fact, it’s the opposite of helpful when they are quick to declare a crisis of national unity when really, it’s Brad Wall fighting an election, and the Federal Conservatives and Wildrose party in Alberta trying to assert themselves into the debate in the most divisive way possible (and seriously, guys – that’s not how equalization works, so stop using it as a talking point). Suffice to say, everyone is acting like a bunch of petulant drama queens, demanding approvals to pipeline projects without actually going through the proper process, claiming that Trudeau politicized the process (err, except it was the Conservatives who changed the law so that Cabinet was given final sign-off on these projects, completely politicizing the process), and that if he doesn’t do things their way that he’s destroying the country. That’s a mature way to handle things, guys. Slow clap.

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Roundup: Go knock doors

While I’ve pretty much said my piece on the Manning Conference, one last headline caught my eye yesterday, which was the “Traditional campaigns dead! It’s a digital world now!” variety, which made me roll my eyes a bit, but here it is. The “experts” – all American – talk about how Facebook and digital ads are where it’s at instead of TV advertising, but it seems to me like they missed entirely what happened during the last federal election – you know, something that the Conservatives might have a vested interest in actually learning from their mistakes in, rather than what is going on south of the border, with their utterly insane primary season and unlimited corporate and private money. Because seriously, if they paid attention to what the Liberals did here, it was actually a lot of traditional campaigning, which was door-knocking. Yes, they flooded social media with their “days of action,” which featured candidates and their teams – wait for it – door-knocking. There wasn’t a series of YouTube or Facebook ads that won the election for the Liberals – in fact, the only commercial that anyone remembers is the one with Trudeau on the escalator, and mostly because everyone tried to mock it (not all of it effectively). How often in the last decade did we hear about the Conservatives’ fearsome electoral machine with their CIMS database, and how that was helping them cut swaths though campaigns based on the smiley and frowney faces of voter identification? It didn’t win them the election. Yes, the Liberals rebuilt their own voter identification database (“Liberalist”), but again, what was it used for? Door-knocking, and canvassing donations, but it also bears noting that the Liberals did not spend the most money, disproving that money is what wins elections. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take the words of these American “experts” that the Conservatives enlisted with a grain of salt, while the traditional shoe-leather method of direct voter engagement and going from door-to-door is putting in the hard work that won a majority of seats.

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Roundup: Mindless populism leading the way

As Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has made his voice heard in recent weeks in the lead-up to his re-election campaign, and the Conservatives in Ottawa have taken up his banner on all manner of topics, it is the issue of carbon pricing that is driving home a few truths about both Wall and the Conservative Party. While there is talk about setting a baseline $15/tonne carbon price nationally, which can be implemented either by carbon tax (per BC) or cap-and-trade (per Ontario and Quebec), Wall is adamant that he doesn’t want it imposed on his province, and is going so far as to suggest that any “national carbon tax” (which, let’s be clear, it is not what is being discussed) would be exempt from SaskPower because it’s a provincial Crown corporation. And in the House of Commons, former Speaker Andrew Scheer gave a ridiculous and gobsmackingly boneheaded Members’ Statement on Monday which mocked the notion of a “carbon tax” (which, again, not on the table) as a market mechanism, and tried to apply it to other forms of taxation, generally making a fool out of himself in the process. But if you listen to what both Wall and Conservatives like Scheer are saying, it becomes obvious that intelligent, principled conservatism in this country has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo, and that we are left with right-flavoured populism in its wake. Because seriously, an actual conservative thinker would look at a carbon price, and using whichever mechanism (but likely an actual carbon tax), use that in order to encourage the market to find their own ways to reduce their carbon emissions. In fact, it’s what the oil sector has been demanding for years now, and they’ve even built carbon pricing into their books while they waited for some kind of direction as to just how much it would be and by what mechanism it would be applied. But rather than having an actual conservative government that would take this tool to and use the market to innovate and achieve the desired end (being lower carbon emissions), you have a bunch of populists in both Saskatchewan and Ottawa who howled instead about a fictional “job-killing carbon tax” and who held their breath and stamped their feet rather than dealing with the problem of carbon emissions for an entire decade. So while the Conservative Party starts to re-examine itself in advance of its leadership contest, perhaps this is something that they should consider – a return to actual conservative principles rather than this populist noise, which resulted in a decade of poor economic decisions (like lowering the GST), incoherent policy decisions, and as we can see here, childish tantrums to what should be an actual conservative approach to solving problems.

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Roundup: Cullen pens a hot mess

NDP MP Nathan Cullen penned an op-ed for National Newswatch over the weekend, and it’s a total hot mess. Hot. Mess. Where to begin, where to begin? Let’s start with the opening paragraph:

One of the recurring conversations I’ve had over the years, with folks of all political leanings, is the condition of our democracy and how our voting system doesn’t reflect their voices at the national level.

Demonstrably false, since what we vote for are who to fill individual seats. People who are elected to those seats are the reflection of the wishes of that riding. Ergo, our voting system actually is reflective of voices at the national level. The entire second paragraph is a gong show:

It’s not a new charge that the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system too often produces false majorities. Our current voting system is broken. Too many Canadians simply feel their vote does not count. Something is deeply wrong if our very voting system encourages people to tune out of our democratic process.

Nope, nope, nope, and nope. There is no such thing as a “false majority” because the popular vote is a logical fallacy. You can’t extend 338 separate and simultaneous elections, mash them together and come up with a figure when you don’t have the same number of parties running in all ridings, nor does it reflect the fact that we elect individual seats, not parties. The voting system is not broken – it accurately reflects that we elect individual seats in individual ridings. Canadians feel their vote doesn’t count because of sore loserism, and apparently votes only count when the person you voted for wins, which is childish and wrong. Our voting system does not encourage people to tune out of our democratic process – our appalling lack of civic literacy does. From there, Cullen goes on to defend his idea of a “proportional” Commons committee to consult on electoral reform, except it’s a) not proportional, b) it’s designed to play up his desire for proportional representation (if the committee can be proportional…) and c) it’s designed to game the process, while he professes new ways of doing things. From there, Cullen meanders into a defence of the NDP as “progressive opposition,” which sounds more defensive by the day as the Liberals continue to outflank the party on the left, and finally, the piece moves into a defence of Thomas Mulcair as party leader, with Cullen professing support – you know, to look like he’s not angling to replace him should Mulcair happen to fall well short of expectations at the upcoming leadership review vote. After all, the federal NDP have a culture of it being unseemly to not be in complete and total lockstep at all times when the cameras are on. So there you have it – a complete hot mess. What is that old journalistic expression? Get me rewrite.

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