Monday, June 27, 2011

Will of Farmers Only Hope For Wheat Board

Canada's largest and greatest voice for family farms is slowly riding off into the sunset. Ralph Goodale discusses what - if any - recourse Canadian farmers have for this important - farmer-run - organization.


When Parliament votes this fall on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, there’s no doubt that Stephen Harper will get his way. That’s the reality of a majority government.

As a consequence, the CWB’s single-desk marketing system will be destroyed.

The law requires the government to hold a proper democratic plebiscite among prairie grain producers BEFORE introducing any new legislation that would have the effect of killing the single-desk.

But Mr. Harper plans to ignore that law.

His rationale for denying farmers their right to vote is laughable. He says a plebiscite is necessary only for minor tinkering with the single-desk, but by some strange logic, farmers should not get to vote when the government is totally getting rid of it.

Say what? That’s like a doctor saying, if I’m taking out your tonsils, I’ll consult you. But if my proposed operation is euthanasia – to kill you altogether – I won’t bother to ask.

Another nonsensical proposition is the false notion that without its mandate for single-desk marketing, the CWB could survive for those who want to pool their marketing efforts voluntarily.

Voluntary pooling never worked in the early days of the Canadian grains industry. It’s a shambles in Ontario. It failed completely in Australia. And it won’t work here either, after the CWB is gone.

Either you have a single-desk system, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you have the open-market, period. It’s misleading to suggest you can have a bit of both.

That’s why the Harper government has refused to describe how the CWB would function without its single-desk. They know it will just fade away. And that’s exactly what they want.

But is that what farmer’s want?

Only farmers themselves have the political clout to raise enough concern to force a democratic plebiscite.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Goodale Speaks Out For Canadian Pensioners

A point that Ralph and other Liberals have been pointing out to Canadians for quite some time now: our growing pension crisis... If anyone thinks lower taxes are more important to Canadians seniors than decent pensions, they are really drinking the wrong kool-aid.

Here's Ralph's take:


In the early days of this new Parliament, some of the most contentious public issues have resulted from collective bargaining disputes between management and labour.

The disruptions at Air Canada and Canada Post are probably the most prominent so far, but there are more brewing.

In each case, the Harper government has been quick – some say hasty – in introducing “back-to-work” legislation. Such an approach provides a short-term political “fix”, but it’s crucial to search behind these disputes to find the real causes.

Pension inadequacy and insecurity lie at the root of much of labour’s anxiety.

Many employers have large unfunded pension liabilities which they have not properly financed over the years. Some, like Nortel, have gone bankrupt, leaving thousands of former employees with only a fraction of what they were promised – or nothing at all.

While preserving elaborate retirement plans for senior executives, there is a trend in some companies to try to lower the boom on employees – like shifting from “defined benefit” pensions to “defined contribution” plans with lower payouts and no certainty.

Worse still, some two-thirds of all employees in the private sector have no company pension plan at all.

These folks will have to rely on government-administered plans – like Old Age Security (OAS), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). And that simply won’t be enough for retirement security.

Yes, they can set aside their own individual savings through tax-assisted instruments like RRSPs and TFSAs. But only a small fraction of Canadians do so.

With the retirement of post-war baby boomers now occurring at an accelerating pace, Canada’s pension predicament is only going to get worse. We’re about to have the biggest generation of senior citizens in history.

Time, demographics and costs are all working against us. It’s time to put pensions at the top of the national agenda

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Extraordinary... Nothing "Ordinary" About It

Here's my take (and dilemma) on the resolutions/proposals, simplified:

If we choose a leader too early - before we have a chance to build/re-build a new way of doing things - we fail. We will open ourselves up to attack from other parties, while we still work at building our party infrastructure (which needs some serious re-thinking, including bringing in requirements for monthly EDA meetings, regular "come-and-go socials", lower cost of entry for events, etc.) and base to combat such attacks effectively. Of course electing a leader within a year or 1.5yrs will allow the leader to get themselves "known" among the public. It also exposes a newly elected leader to attack ads a'la Dion and Iggy. Will we be ready organizationally to fend of such attacks? Will the funds be in place to sustain an immediate and long-term pro-Liberal/pro-Leader PR campaign? Will the front-line be organized with riding websites, discussion groups, regular meetings, doing pre-writ door-knocking, etc.?

If we wait too long we risk becoming irrelevant as a party. Already the NDP is coming to the forefront... the media has interest in the results of the "orange crush", the young MPs, and the new dynamics of Parliament. Even with Bob around, it's become a case of "what about Bob?" as we won't get much airplay perceived as "lame duck" (as a party, and referring to the interim role). A leadership convention creates much valued media coverage, a new level of energy as thousands across the land are engaged by candidates and their teams, and a general bringing-to-the-forefront of the party.

If we set the date "too early", will we really be swamped with "leadership politics"? Does the public even care right now? Will ANY leadership hopeful actually successfully sell many new memberships at a time when we are the 3rd party, and when the NDP and Conservatives are seen as the "best chances" for many who are seeking political involvement?

A lot of what I've mentioned above will change depending on the new leader. A bold, effective leader who is a strong public speaker, will attract more than party stalwarts and long-time members. An effective "retail" politician will play the populist card well. We are no longer in a position to mold our leader strictly by ourselves. Other parties WILL attack past positions on issues. They will attack her/him on their "style" - aided by a vocal private media.

So, what do we do?

Right now I'm leaning towards delaying the leadership. I strongly feel our party organization and structure need an overhaul. I strongly feel our EDAs are too often ineffective - and lack clear direction on simple effective communication strategies. Too many members are left "out of the loop". Many party "insiders" are blind to this fact. In elected positions, or working for the party many have become comfortable with the status quo. The "fix" is not a 6 month, or even one year process. Leadership politics can throw a wrench into the works, as leadership teams work to "control" EDAs (while online memberships have resolved this problem somewhat, the old "urges" are still there - and will just galvanize sides).

The other point to consider is this: We put a very dynamic, very intelligent interim leader in place - who is keen on re-building. We have a dedication to work towards this goal. Holding a leadership in 2012 won't even let that process get much past the starting point. After some "formal" organization processes we will need to "train" riding associations on effective marketing, online resources and tools, organization building, and campaigning. This will take time.

This is a very special "extraordinary" process. So... tell me... How should I vote? Please feel free to debate in the space below...

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vancouver Riots: The Power of Overheated Sports Culture & Consumerism Run Amok

I lament our "civilization's" approach to sports.

Used to be, it was just a game. No more. Sports, and athletes in general, have been elevated to the level of demi-gods in our North American culture. Role models have been created of a number skating around on the ice, or running up and down a field. They've probably never saved a life, or taught a kid, or even done much in the way of public service. Yet they are our "heroes".

Fans of this sports culture in overdrive are more than willing to get into fights and resort to other violence in "support" of their team. We see it everywhere: outside of MMA fights, at hockey games and football games... Heck, even at KID'S hockey games.

A lot of media people are saying the Vancouver rioters weren't hockey fans. Not true. These were "normal" teen aged kids. We saw them out there. We watched them walk past our Vancouver condo.

These were greedy little punks caught up in consumerism who decided they'd just grab that iPod or that Coach bag. Real anarchists would have just set fire to the buildings... This was NOT political protest. This was not the G8 crowd. They may certainly have been inspired by the media coverage of that event, but they were NOT that crowd.

Our society has some growing-up to do. Athletes are NOT heroes, and over-paid twenty-somethings are NOT role models. Sports - while being an important part of life - has become too much a part of culture that thrives on feeding the masses with an attitude of machismo, arrogance, rampant consumerism, aggression, skewed hyper-patriotism, and a me-first mentality.

Look at the pictures. We all know who the rioters were. Not "scary anarchists", but someone's middle class suburban kid. Pimple-faced teens with a need for "bling" were the ones smashing the windows and grabbing $5000 purses at the Coach store. They were the ones grabbing iPods from the electronics stores.

Some parents have a LOT of owning up to do. This is what we call "mob mentality", and so-called "perfectly normal" people were involved. Of course they weren't "normal" because they were soaked in booze, living in an age of "me first/might is right", and all about the "bling". I just hope the police presses serious charges after reading the Riot Act. No holding back because these were "normal middle class kids caught up in the moment".

Our "modern" culture took a back seat to something more primal last night.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Conservatives Discriminating Against 10 Million Lower Income Families

The Latest Ralph Goodale Weekly Report:


The recent federal budget discriminates against lower-income families.

The problem flows from the Harper government’s use of “tax credits” as their way of favouring certain categories of Canadians – i.e., if you do certain things, you can claim a credit against the federal taxes you would otherwise have to pay.

The budget offered three such tax credits – one for those providing homecare services to dependents, another for volunteer firefighters, and a third for parents who put their kids into arts programs. It all sounds quite attractive.

But there’s a catch.

To benefit, you must have an income high enough to result in taxes owing to the federal government. The credit is applied against those taxes owing. If your income is so low that you have no taxes owing, you get no benefit.

Ask yourself – which caregivers, or kids, or volunteer firefighters are in the greatest need of a little help from the Government of Canada?

Surely it’s those with the lowest incomes. But they’re exactly the ones who cannot qualify for tax credits. They’re excluded because their incomes aren’t high enough to be taxable.

How many Canadian families are in this boat?

About 25 million people file tax returns every year in Canada. Some 15 million of them have incomes high enough to pay taxes, while 10 million do not. It’s that group of 10 million low-income families who get left out. A tax credit doesn’t work for them.

The federal government can fix this problem. They should pay the value of their tax credits in cash to those low-income caregivers, volunteer fire fighters and parents of children in arts programs who otherwise qualify, but just don’t have taxable incomes.

The benefits should not go only to middle and higher income Canadians, to the exclusion of families of more modest means.

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