Transit Fair Increase: The Correct Decision

So, the city decided to increase transit fares by $0.25, an increase of about 10%, ostensibly for the purpose of funding future rapid transit purposes.

This has caused some reaction from the Winnipeg blogosphere.

Some of the criticism is valid: for example, the seeming amateurishness of a sudden unstudied rate increase does not look that good and is no way to run a city (but I don't generally expect better of politicians).

On the other hand a lot of the criticism of fare increases reeks of entitlement.

Speaking as someone who buys a pass every month for work and has been using the transit system regularly for almost a decade, it is only right and proper for transit fares to increase significantly; in fact $0.25 is too small an increase, and the increase should not go to rapid transit improvements, but rather to operating costs.

Transit is a very heavily subsidized service for a very small minority people. The Winnipeg 2010 operating budget can be found here.

About 5% of Winnipeg's budget ($43.2M) goes to direct Transit subsidies (p. 9).

In addition, Transit gets a $30.8M direct subsidy from the province (p.20).(This is, of course, subsidizing Winnipeg at the expense of the rest of Manitoba).

Only $69.2M, just under half the operating costs of Transit ($143.2M), comes from fares.

The operating cost to the city in 2010 was $2.43 per a passenger (p. 23), while bus fair was $2.35 ($1.85 reduced), and even less if you bought tickets ($2.05) or passes. The city paid more for passengers bus ride than the passengers themselves did, in many cases by a substantial amount.

On the other hand roadway construction and maintenance, is funded for $43.2M (although, 2010 is significantly lower in spending than previous years due to lower debt charges and increased service revenues) (p.4). Municipal roadway construction and maintenance in 2010, is effectively the same as the transit subsidy.

Snow removal and ice control is another $31.3M (p. 15). Another $11.8M goes to transportation planning (p. 10). (None of these three expenditures gets program-specific, direct provincial funding).

Transit's combined direct provincial and municipal subsidy for Transit was roughly the same as the entirety of the city's funding for road construction, maintenance, and snow control. Given that Transit uses these same roads, this road funding is also an indirect subsidy of Transit.

We see that Transit passengers get an excellent deal, paid for primarily by homeowners and taxpayers.

For those who will then argue about subsidies for vehicle users, the Federal Gas Tax, which is paid for by vehicle users provided $40.5M in revenues for Winnipeg (p.211), about the same as road construction and maintenance costs. The costs of snow removal and transportation planning would then be fully subsidized. Snow removal and transportation planning also directly benefits Transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians, so these subsidies subsidizes them as well. Transit users also enjoy the benefits of roads, but Transit's gas tax costs would be part of the Transit operating expenses, so it's a wash. (Although, I am of the belief that these too should be paid for through fuel consumption taxes rather than through property taxes and general revenues).

Now, let's look at usage figures (p. 9). Transit users make up only 13.5% of work-trip users; vehicle drivers and passengers make up about 78%.

In other words, Transit subsidies which roughly equaled the entirety of roadway spending, are used to support only about one in seven workforce travelers.

In conclusion, a fair bus fare should be about $4.80, double what it is now.

Those complaining for personal/financial reasons about a higher bus fair should realize the amazing deal they're getting on transportation at the expense of everyone else and should not be complaining about a small increase, especially when it is earmarked to benefit them (through rapid transit) rather than making up the operating deficit of the service.

Those who support massive Transit subsidies for ideological or "practical" reasons should consider a few questions:

1) Why should the rest of the population be heavily subsidizing the transportation choices of the small Transit-using minority?

2) Why should those in the rest of Manitoba be subsidizing transportation choices available only to those in Winnipeg?

3) Why should the city be operating and subsidizing a mode of transportation that requires so many resources for so few persons, many of whom would likely not use it were it not so heavily subsidized?

4) For the urbanists, if you desire population density and the renewal of the core, why should the city be heavily subsidizing a service that lowers the cost of commuting, thereby promoting suburban/commuter lifestyles? It seems counter-productive.

5) Would a private and competitive transit system be superior? (Would a competitive transit system even be possible or is transit a natural monopoly-like situation?)

As for myself, I'm not sure what my position is on transit. Basic transport infrastructure is generally best carried out by municipalities, funded by fuel consumption taxes, due to the natural monopoly of roads in a crowded urban environment, but a transit system for Winnipeg seems fairly inefficient given the subsidies necessary to even keep it running. Would a transit system where users paid the full cost of the system through fairs be viable?

Maybe a transit system only open during peak hours would make it more efficient? Maybe Winnipeg is too spread-out to sustain a transit system? Maybe the system is necessary for other reasons? Maybe a redesigned system could be more efficient?

Anyway, that's enough for now. Maybe I'll discuss Transit again another time.


CWB: Hypocrisy

The WFP had this little gem of an article on the CWB battle.

First, notice that the 7 wheat farmers elected to the House of Commons all belong to the same party. They also all support the elimination of the CWB.

So, which politicians should we trust on the CWB: the western wheat farmers who were elected by rural populations, or an urban union man?

Second, that the opposition parties would even have the gall to argue that eliminating the CWB will provide benefits to wheat farmers so as to better position themselves in voting against it speaks a lot.

As for the mandatory CWB issue as a whole the only question worth asking is this:

Should farmers be imprisoned for selling their own crops?


CBC and Quebecor: Dishonesty

In case you're not up on the going-ons of Canadian media, Quebecor (the owners of the Sun News media chain) and CBC have been having a spat recently.

Sun News has been pressing a freedom of information request on CBC, so they will open up their finances. The CBC, the paragons of public media that they are, have been stonewalling these requests, and have been losing.

Sun News has also been complaining regularly about the $1-billion or so in subsidies the CBC gets each year.

So anyway, the CBC has released a press release accusing Quebecor of receiving $500-million in subsidies over the last three years.

First, we'll skip over the fact that the subsidy is only about one-sixth of what CBC has received over that same period.

We'll investigate the claims:

The biggest chunk of the subsidy is $333-million in spectrum cost that, according to CBC, Quebecor saved in 2008.

It is true that Quebecor was in a restricted auction and won spectrum in that auction, along with other media companies. They also probably saved some money.

On the other hand, this was nothing special that was created for Quebecor. In 2008, Canada decided to increase competition in the television market, so, when they had an auction, they reserved some of the spectrum for new entrants. Quebecor, and Globalive, participated and won this auction.

This was not a direct subsidy, it was not something made to benefit Quebecor, and Quebecor received no public funds.

The second largest chunk, is $117-million in production tax credits Quebecor has received. This is a subsidy and Quebecor did receive the money, but these tax credits are available to anybody making Canadian content and meeting the conditions.

This was not a special subsidy for Quebecor, it was not a direct subsidy, and Quebecor received no public funds.

In total, these two make up $450-million of this supposed "subsidy". I'm not going to waste time on the smaller subsidies, because this makes up 90% of the supposed "subsidy". If you're interested you can find Quebecor's initial response here, which addresses other claims.

On to my point, it is fundamentally dishonest of CBC to compare $450-million in tax credits and savings at an auction, in which Quebecor received no public funds and which were/are freely accessible to anybody, to a $1-billion/year in public funds given directly to a specific corporation.

As for accountability, CBC is a public corporation, their books should be open to all, without hassle. If they want to continue to be a public corporation, then they should realize that we, the people, own them and they are accountable to us. They should not be spending public money to stonewall access to information requests.

Quebecor is a private corporation, they are accountable to their owners, and their owners alone.

There is no valid comparison in accountability and no valid comparison of the "subsidies". CBC is lying and in the wrong.

BTW: I am against the tax credits and any public subsidies to media coporations, be they to Quebecor, the CBC, or anyone else.


Provincial Election

It's been a while since my last post, but with the provincial election on the way, it's time to weigh in on the platforms of the various parties, and see who the blog endorses.

First up, the governing party: the NDP. Here's their plan.
Followed by the opposition: the PC's. Here's their plan.
Finally, the perpetual also-rans: the Liberals. Here's their plan.

Right off the bat, the Liberals have an advantage. Their platform is coordinated in one .pdf document. I normally hate .pdf files, but I do like having everything in one convenient document, rather than spread across multiple .html files, or, for some absurd reason, multiple .pdf files. It is 2011, surely these parties can hire someone with enough web design sense to let me see the entire platform without having to load a half dozen pages. We all have broadband now.

Now that the petty rant is over let's get to the meat. I'm going to go over what I see as the highlights (and lowlights) of the plans by topics of my choice.


The NDP spends a few paragraphs bragging about their fiscal irresponsibility and slagging the PC's. On the other hand, they do promise to end the small business tax, a surprisingly wise move from them.

The PC's predictably slag the NDP's economic performance. They promise to reduce red tape by 20% and establish a more transparent procedure for creating regulations, which is a fantastic promise. They promise a decrease in income taxes and a permanent Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit (yawn).

The Liberals promise to reduce marginal tax rates. Outside of their platform, they promise to eliminate the payroll tax.

For some reason, the "conservative" party is offering less tax cuts than the other parties. Anyway, this goes to the Liberals. Eliminating the payroll tax is simply smart policy.

Fiscal Responsibility

The NDP has promised deficits until 2014, and rewrote balanced budget legislation to allow them to do so.

For some reason, the PC's think it is smart to be even more fiscally irresponsible and promise to have deficits until 2018, blaming the NDP for lying about Manitoba's fiscal problems. Given the lies the NDP has spread about the bipole costs, I'm willing to believe the PC's on that, but still, a conservative party should at least pretend to be more fiscally responsible than the social democrats. At least they make vague promises to try to end our have-not status (an admirable goal, but there's no substance to the promise). They also promise the ever-popular reduce "waste and mismanagement".

While not in their actual platform document, the Liberals vaguely promise to "act fiscally responsible."

Sadly, that vague promise is the most fiscally responsible of the 3 plans; it beast 8 years of deficits or rewriting the law to spend irresponsibly, then bragging about it. So I guess, fiscal responsibility goes to the Liberals. (sigh...)

Manitoba Hydro

As far as I can tell, the NDP do not mention their obstinate idiocy on this subject in their platform (embarrassment, perhaps?), preferring instead to lie about the PC's planning to privatize Hydro, despite there being a law that they cannot do so without a plebiscite. Although, I guess it is possible for the PC's could simply do what the NDP and simply rewrite the laws constraining their ideological impulses.

The PC's predictably promise to move it down the East Side. A good plan.

The Liberals have the intriguing under-the-lake plan. If John Ryan's figures are correct and it could come in at under $2-billion, I'd support this plan. That the Liberal platform said they would only do this if it was "feasible and affordable" makes it even better.

The NDP lose on the Bipole. The PC's and Liberals tie, because the PC's plans are known to be possible, while the Liberal's plan while theoretically better is untested.

My position on the Bipole has already been posted.

New West Partnership

The NDP do not seem to mention their refusal to enter the New West Partnership. The PC's promise to enter the partnership in their platform. The Liberals do not seem to mention it in their platform, but they promise to join elsewhere. To be fair to the NDP, it seems that they changed their mind on their initial refusal and have been exploring the partnership, but that's a little too bit, a little too late.

PC's and Liberals tie.

Law and Order

PC's: Gang database, more police, fugitive lists and bounties, and more prosecutors. Typical tough on crime stuff, I like it.

NDP: More police, more prosecutors, some community programs. A solid plan.

Liberals: More use of police Cadets, an FASD

Health Care

Why bother? They all promise more money, more doctors, more nurses, less hallway medicine, etc., etc. The specifics of the more doesn't matter, it's all more or less the same track with difference emphasis. None are promising any underlying reforms and nothing will change. The demand for free health care will continue to grow, and so will the costs, and there will be no real improvement in service.

Manitobans lose.

Child Care

The NDP promise 6500 new spaces and 1000 new nursery spaces.

The PC's offer a child care tax benefit.

The Liberals offer more spaces and the integration of some child care into public schools.

The PC's have the best plan. The government should not be subsidizing the lifestyle choices of those choosing to work over those where a parent stays home.

Post-Secondary Education

All three parties support freezing tuition at inflation. The Liberals and NDP promise to expend the education rebate program. The NDP promise to increase spending on post-secondary education by 5% a year.

No one wins on post-secondary education, as a tuition freeze is a horrible policy. The PC's do slightly less worse, because they don't promise to expand the useless rebate program.


The Liberals and NDP offer a bunch of relatively meaningless fluff on education. The only seemingly important thing here is the Liberal plan provide affordable broadband to everybody, not sure what I think about that.

The PC's don't seem to mention education, except to say they will put police officers in schools. They mention some happy sounding progressive-babble about "counseling" and "relationships", but police in schools. This is Canada. Why the hell do we want or need police in our schools? This plans reeks of police state. I simply can not vote for a party advocating police officers in schools.


Anyway, I think the Liberals win the blog's endorsement (sigh...). Ending the payroll tax is a great idea, the NDP are sticking with the West Side route despite all the evidence that it is a wasteful idea, and the PC's want to put police in schools (police in schools!!!) and spend 8 years in deficit.

I have never voted Liberal before, but I guess I will have to swallow my bile, hold my nose, and vote, (then probably try to drink away the feeling of uncleanliness and corruption) the other options are horrible.

The only consolation I have is that this is the provincial party. If this was the federal Liberals, well, I have all the disdain any Westerner has had for the party since the abomination that was the Trudeau years, and I probably would refuse to vote if the Liberals were were the best option. Even so, this is going to be one hard election day.

Sadly, the Freedom Party doesn't seem to exist anymore, because after reading these platforms I really wish I had a third (fourth party, I guess would be more accurate?) to dump my vote on.


Manitoba's Petroleum Industry

Recently learned that the Fraser Institute released their 2011 Global Petroleum Survey which measures the attitudes of oil industry managers and executives towards doing business.

Out of all the jurisdictions in the survey, Manitoba was 12th (down from 8th in 2010, but in things like these a few positions one way or the other are not generally indicative of much). Saskatchewan was 11th, while Alberta was 51st Alberta seems to have a royalty regime and environmental policies are hurting their ranking, a permitting process that takes too long, and harsh aboriginal consultation requirements. The NWT are way down in the rankings due to land claims issues and the Mackenzie Gas Project, which spent three decades after proposal in consultation, review, and just sitting around before finally being approved a couple months back.

Comments on Manitoba included:

“Qualified labor and best tax regime.”
“Manitoba has a relatively small piece of the basin but is smart enough to want employment rather than worry about trying to collect royalties.”

There are also no "horror stories" from Manitoba.

It seems our government is friendlier to the economic expansion of the oil industry than Alberta, something which surprised me enough that I thought it was interesting enough to point out.

My off-the-cuff guess is that this is most likely due to the fact our sector is a lot smaller, so there's not as much pressure to try to exploit the industry for political purposes. It would be a lot easier for the oil industry to leave here than Alberta, so Alberta can get away with more.

But whatever the reason, good for Manitoba.

Manitoba's oil industry is located in the southwest. A map of Manitoba's oil fields can be found here.

For "fun" facts about the oil industry in Manitoba, you can go here.


Bipole III: Statistical Mutilation, Bad Math, and Outright Lies

So, in the never-ending bipole debate two numbers have recently been bandied about as the differences the cost of the east and west side route. The PC's are using $11,748, the NDP are using $13.68. Now when the $13.68 was first proposed (after the $11,748, had already been set forth) I figured someone more knowledgeable than me would come forward and destroy one (or both) of the numbers, because the completely absurd disparity between the numbers means someone (or multiple someones) is either lying or mutilating statistics to the point it might as well be a lie.

But other than some credulous partisanship, and a bunch of crap in the comments I can't say I've seen much talk on it. (The best discussion of the numbers I've seen are from the Purple Rod comments a few months back, before the $13.68 estimate). I have certainly not seen anybody analyze how two such vastly different numbers could possibly be put forward. (It is possible I may have missed it).

Time went on, then this from yesterday, and still no real analysis beyond a classic Abbott and Castello routine (of which I approve).

So given that nobody else seems to think these numbers are absurd enough to analyze, here goes:

First, the PC's number.

The cost difference between west side line vs. east side line is an estimated $3.62 billion. East Side: $788 million ($600 million for the line, plus $188 million for licensing) West Side: $4.1 billion plus $300 million line losses (the value of the energy lost in transit via a longer route).

A decent start, but perhaps somewhat unfair. The east side cost has almost doubled since the original cost, so it's quite possible the original cost of the west side was also underestimated. On the other hand, I know of no more recent estimate so I can't argue it's wrong.

Also, the $4.1 billion was an unofficial leaked figure and the NDP claimed that it was out-of-date and meaningless and the Hydro CEO says he never saw it. But then again the accepted NDP price estimate has increased from $2.2-billion to $3.2-billion, something they insisted on until very recently.

So take that as you will.

The only people who know the true projected costs work for Hydro and would likely be risking their job if they provided information not cleared by higher-ups.

By using a Manitoba population figure of 1,232,550, the per person differential cost is estimated at $2,937. This population figure is not a current Statistics Canada number. It looks like an about June 1, 2010 number.

Using the most current population number of April 1, 2011 of 1,246,396 gives a per capita value of $2,904.

The difference in population due to the date is a minor issue and not really worth mentioning (especially given that these are not census numbers and are likely closer to estimates than an actual head count).

The main problem is that the use of population is somewhat inaccurate. The Manitoba population will (hopefully) not be paying for this, ratepayers will. (Obviously there is a huge overlap, but the distinction between ratepayers and taxpayers is important). A better number would be 510,000, the number of Hydro ratepayers. This would increase this number particular significantly.

But then again, ratepayers includes businesses and industry who would use much more power than your average home owner. I found this on residential vs. commercial/industrial usage page 16 of this forecast from 2002, where it states that general usage (all commercial and industrial use) accounts for 65.9% of the total usage, according to page 10 33.7% is residential, while street light usage takes up the last tiny chunk. I can think of no reason why this would have changed significantly in the last decade. According to this survey from 2010, there were 439,096 residential customers (which would mean about 70,000 industrial customers).

But this distinction between residential and commercial might be meaningless. Any greater costs in rates accrued by a company would simply be passed on to consumers through higher prices and/or onto workers through lower wages, so the general Manitoba population would be paying for most of the "general use" rate increases anyways.

Continuing on:

So, if the differential cost is $2,937, then the differential cost for four individuals is 4 x $2,937 or $11,748.

In this analysis the number of families of size four is not used at all. It’s a per individual approach.

This is shoddy use of statistics. If they wanted cost per family, they should have calculated by household (which is available from StatsCan) not by individuals/4, but this is fairly irrelevant because the use of taxpayers rather than ratepayers is invalid on the face of it.

Conclusion: The PC's showed poor use of statistics and a gross error in the use of taxpayers.

So onto the NDP's number. (I know technically it's Brennan's number, but I have little doubt he was pressured by NDP to play along with their questioning for political purposes. At least, I really hope the CEO of Hydro is not actually as incompetent as this discussion makes him out to be).

So when I multiply that number by the number of families that the chief statistician tell us exist in Manitoba, I get a total amount of $3.8 billion. Now I’ve looked at the presentation you made. The total cost estimate of the bipole is $3.2 billion. So this advertising seems to suggest a total that’s more than the cost,

See above for earlier talk on the disagreement over the cost. I'm not sure which I'd use (so I'm actually going to calculate with both later on) because both are playing partisan games with numbers, but to attack the PC's calculations based on a potentially valid number from a leaked document strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. So, write off the bat we see the NDP are using a fundamentally different start point from the PC's.

yeah, I took the difference in length between the two routes. I took the total transmission cost, calculated the cost per kilometre, which really works out to quite an expensive amount I think it was $940,000 a kilometre, and applied that to the incremental length and got a number of $428 million,

This is just plain sloppy calculation and borderline dishonest. This assumes that the cost per kilometer on both sides is the same. Whether it is, I have no idea, but there is not way I would base a cost estimate on that assumption. There are far to many variables, such as terrain, existing infrastructure, political impediments, land use compensation, etc. to make it even remotely reasonable to make this assumption.

Second, his number of $940,000 is an outright lie (I really hope the CEO of Hydro is not this incompetent). The cost was stated as $3.2-billion; according to Hydro documents, the preferred route is about 1,364 km long. Simple division makes the cost $2,346,041/km. Almost exactly two-and-a-half times the amount he calculated.

The east side route is about 479 km shorter. The calculated extra cost on this is $1.1 billion, again about 2.5 times greater than Brennan's number.

I did not include what Mr. McFadyen was talking about, increases losses that occur, I excluded that. But that, it wouldn’t double this number, that’s for sure, it would be even less than that.

Notice this. I have no idea if it's double or not, but Brennan has stated that he didn't include part of the PC's calculations. The numbers are automatically not comparable because of this. Any number Brennan gives after this will automatically be lower than the PC's number. Any claim the numbers are comparable is a straight-out lie.

So then I took the number of households, escalated up to 2017. And that number’s less than the current number of customers, and I took the incremental cost per household (inaudible…)

That number came out to $821 per household.

At least he's using households not individuals, but he should be using ratepayers, not households. Similar problem as with the PC's number. The last census counted 448,780 households in Manitoba in 2006. So, $953/household if we use Brennan's earlier number. $821 sounds reasonable given that the number of households has increased since 2006. But his math was wrong earlier, so the number is actually almost $2,500 per household, but we can say $2,000 as the number of households has increased since 2006.

And then I said, well, that’s over the life of the line so I divided that by 60. And so the annual cost would be $13.68.

After all the bad math and poor statistics, this one is the most disgustingly dishonest. You can not compare a total number like the PC's with an average yearly cost over 60 years like this one. The dishonesty of it just reeks.

Not to mention that if we amortize the cost over 60 years like this calculation suggests, the interest rates will well over double the cost of the project. You can play with this amortization here, but even if we put everything in Hydro's favour: 1 payment a year, a low 3% interest rate, the total interest paid will still be 140% of the cost. So, interest costs would be more than the project itself. (I really, really hope the CEO of Hydro is not incompetent enough to amortize over 60 years).

If we aren't amortizing over 60 years, then the rate increases will not be paid over 60 years, they will be paid over the period of amortization. So the use of 60 years is fundamentally dishonest.

Conclusion: The NDP/Brennan abused statistics and math to the point where I consider it an outright lie and they even got basic division wrong. The PC's calculations were sloppy and based on poor assumptions, but the NDP/Brennan calculations were just disgustingly dishonest.

Now onto a more accurate number than either of those sad, partisan little bits of statistical mutilation.

I'll calculate a few numbers using both a low using the NDP's $3.2-billion and a high using the leaked report's $4.1-billion.

The average cost per ratepayer (510,000) for constructing the entire west side line could range from $6275 to $8039.

The average cost per ratepayer (510,000) of the east side line using the $788-million estimate is $1545.

So, if we use the original estimate for the east-side line the additional average construction cost per ratepayer of constructing the west line over the east line could range from $4370 to $6494.

An honest assessment on the available public information would put the extra cost of construction (not including transmission losses) of the west side line at somewhere from $4370 to $6494 per ratepayer. These are the numbers I would use depending on which west side project cost estimate I accepted as true.

I'll perform some other calculations and why I wouldn't use them.

Extra total cost of west side project based on the average cost per a kilometer of transmission line (calculated earlier): $1.1 billion.

Average cost per ratepayer (510,000) based on this: $2157.

This number is not exactly dishonest, but, as mentioned earlier, it assumes that the cost per kilometer is the same in both projects, which is not an assumption I would make unless there was some hard proof. It's use is fundamentally unsound unless said hard proof is offered.

Now let's calculate the cost per residential ratepayer, this will be a bit more complex, so I'll put the math in.

$3,200,000,000-788,000,000 = $2,412,000,000
(Extra total cost of west side line).

$2,412,000,000 * 33.7% = $812,844,000
(Cost of west side line borne by residential ratepayers).

$812,844,000 / 439,096 = $1851
(Lower limit extra cost of west side line per residential ratepayer).

$4,100,000,000 - 788,000,000 = $3,312,000,000
$3,312,000,000 * 33.7% = $1,116,144,000
$1,116,144,000 / 439,096 = $2542

So, the total extra construction cost (not including transmission losses) of the west side line per residential ratepayer would be somewhere between $1851 and $2542.

This would be a perfectly legitimate number to use. I would not use it myself, because the extra costs borne for commercial and industrial use will simply be passed on to either Manitoba consumers or workers as mentioned earlier. But let's calculate commercial and industrial ratepayers increased costs.

$2,412,000,000 * 65.9% = $1,589,508,000
$1,589,508,000 / 70,000 = $22,707

$3,312,000,000 * 65.9% = $2,182,608,000
$2,182,608,000 / 70,000 = $31,180

So, the total extra construction cost (not including transmission losses) of the west side line per a commercial/industrial ratepayer would be somewhere between $22,000 and $31,000.

Transmission losses have been estimated at about $300-million by a group of engineers. So that's about an extra $588 per ratepayer of losses.

The costs of this will borne by the Manitoba consumer, so prices of goods and services will go up (or it will be borne by the workers, in which case wages or benefits will go down).

So there you have it, the actual extra costs of the west side route as opposed to the east side route calculated as accurately as possible with the information publicly available.

As for what side of the debate I support, I support the East Side route because the experts that are not being leaned on by the government to express a certain view support it, and being no engineer and seeing no real flaw in their arguments I accept their expertise.

BTW, their estimate was $4,200 for a family of 5, or about $840/person. Although, it is not clear if that includes transmission losses or not. They are also using old estimates from almost a year ago, and the cost of the west side has increased.


Bill C-51: Digital Fearmongering

It seems that some of the digital world is getting in a tizzy concerning the new Bill C-51 which will be included in the omnibus crime bill, in particular "online spying". The Globe and Mail has a somewhat recent article.

Anyhow, here's the legislative summary of Bill C-51. As far as I can tell the actual text has not been released and won't be until Parliament is back in session and the omnibus crime bill is introduced.

At first reading what has been written about it, I was worried. Reading the summary, the fear of internet spying though seems exaggerated. The first part seems somewhat ominous:

According to the Department of Justice, the new investigative powers within the proposed legislation give law enforcement agencies the ability to address organized crime and terrorism activities online by:

enabling police to identify all the network nodes and jurisdictions involved in the transmission of data and trace the communications back to a suspect. Judicial authorizations would be required to obtain transmission data, which provides information on the routing but does not include the content of a private communication;

requiring a telecommunications service provider to temporarily keep data so that it is not lost or deleted in the time it takes law enforcement agencies to return with a search warrant or production order to obtain it;
Requiring the keeping of data by ISPs seems somewhat uncalled for. My guess is that many people just read this section and panicked. But, if one looks on the section talking about the tools of "internet spying" it's actually a very reasonable bill: Preservation Demand and Order (Clause 13)

Information in electronic form may be easily and quickly destroyed or altered. Clause 13 of the bill therefore adds a new investigative tool to the Code to preserve this type of evidence, which may take one of two forms: a preservation demand or a preservation order. A preservation demand is made by a peace officer (new s. 487.012 of the Code), while a preservation order is made by a judge, on application by a peace officer (new s. 487.013 of the Code).

A preservation demand or order directs a person, such as a telecommunications service provider (TSP), to preserve “computer data”13 that is “in their possession or control”14 when they receive the demand or order. However, a TSP may still voluntarily preserve data and provide it to a law enforcement agency, even where there is no demand or order (new s. 487.0195 of the Code).

This new investigative tool is different from the data retention measure in effect in some countries,15 which compels TSPs to collect and retain data for a prescribed period for all their subscribers, whether or not they are the subjects of an investi­gation. On the other hand, a preservation demand or order relates only to a particular telecommunication or person, in the context of a police investigation. A preservation demand or order may be given to a TSP only where there are “reasonable grounds to suspect”16 that an offence has been or will be committed17 (new subsections 487.012(2) and 487.013(2) of the Code). However, the person who is suspected of the offence may not be compelled to retain data under a preservation demand or order (new subsections 487.012(3) and 487.013(5) of the Code).18

Preservation demands and orders are temporary measures: they are generally in effect long enough to allow the law enforcement agency to obtain a search warrant or production order. The maximum length of a preservation demand is 21 days, and the demand may be made only once (new subsections 487.012(4) and (6) of the Code); the maximum length of a preservation order is 90 days (new subsection 487.013(6) of the Code).

A person to whom a preservation demand or order is made is required, after the demand or order expires, or after the data have been given to the law enforcement agency under a production order or search warrant, to destroy the computer data that would not be retained in the ordinary course of business (new ss. 487.0194 and 487.0199 of the Code).

Contravention of a preservation demand or order is an offence punishable, respectively, by a fine of not more than $5,000 (new s. 487.0197 of the Code) or a fine of not more than $250,000 and imprisonment for a term of not more than six months or both (new s. 487.0198 of the Code).

In other words, a police officer(or a judge)can temporarily require an ISP to hold a specific piece of data under their control for 21 days (90 in the case of a judge) so that they can get a warrant if there is reasonable grounds to suspect a crime has or will occur.

There's even a little section on how it's different from other countries who require the retaining of data for all internet users.

The next section on production orders also seems sensible: Production Orders (Clause 13)

A production order is made by a judge and is similar to a search warrant, the difference being that the person in possession of the information must produce it on request, rather than the law enforcement agency’s going to the site to obtain the information by searching and seizing it. A law enforcement agency with a production order will be able to more readily obtain documents that are in another country, for example.

The Code already provides a procedure for obtaining a general production order, that is, an order that applies regardless of the type of information a law enforcement agency is seeking.19 Issuance of the order is based on the existence of reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed. The Code also provides for specific production orders, that is, orders for obtaining certain precise information, such as banking information or telephone call logs.20 Issuance of specific production orders is based on the reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been or will be committed.

Clause 13 of the bill creates new specific production orders, issuance of which is based on the existence of reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been or will be committed, which allow a peace officer to obtain two types of information from a TSP:21 “transmission data” (new s. 487.016 of the Code) and “tracking data” (new s. 487.017 of the Code).22

Essentially, “transmission data” are data that indicate the origin, destination, date, time, duration, type and volume of a telecommunication (e.g., a telephone call or Internet communication), but does not include the content of the telecommuni­cation.23 This type of data is useful: for example, it may be used to identify all TSPs involved in the transmission of data and identify the initial TSP and thus determine the origin of a telecommunication (new s. 487.015 of the Code). “Tracking data” relate to the location of a thing or individual.

These new production orders allow law enforcement agencies to obtain historical transmission or tracking data, that is, data already in the possession of the TSP when it receives the order. To obtain these types of data in real time, law enforcement agencies need a warrant.

A review procedure is provided for challenging any type of production order, existing or new (new s. 487.0193 of the Code).24 A person who has received an order may apply to a judge to revoke or vary it if production is unreasonable25 or discloses privileged information.26 As for a preservation order, violation of a production order is punishable by a fine of not more than $250,000 and imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or both (new s. 487.0198 of the Code).

Basically, with reasonable grounds, a judge may require an ISP to provide information to police officers.

This seems like a perfectly sensible piece of legislation; a good compromise to give police powers while not hurting privacy. Objections of "internet spying" seem to be nothing more than hyperbolic fear-mongering.

On the other hand, the bill is not without worries, particularly the hate propaganda section: Hate Propaganda (Clauses 4 and 5)

Hate propaganda offences must be committed against an “identifiable group.” Clause 4 of the bill adds “national origin” to the definition of “identifiable group.”8

Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed by any means of communication and include making hate material available, by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted, for example.

I generally dislike hate propaganda offences; free speech should be free no matter how repugnant it may. Hate propaganda may not be nice, but any curtailments of free speech are worse. On the other hand, expanding it to national origin is not really that big a change and nothing to get newly excited over.

Besides the expansion of hate propaganda, clause 5 could be worrying, depending on the exact wording, as it could make hyperlinking to a site an offence. The way it is written it seems far too over-reaching, but given the poor-writing in the summary, the actual text may not be as bad as the impression gives.


Public Waste: Perspective in Discussing Government Spending

This week, for those not closely tied to the public sector, is National Public Service Week (NPSW). A time where the Canadian public service engages in self-congratulations.

(That's not a knock on the public service, these special days, weeks, and/or months of self-congratulation are common; everyone from engineers to secretaries to clowns have them nowadays. The idea of special weeks of self-congratulations has always seemed silly to me, but that's not reason for this post, so I'll move on).

This morning the Sun had the op-ed "Flagrant misuse of tax dollars" on the front page, which complained about the use of tax dollars for a public service event. For some reason, probably due to its visibility and a lack of knowledge of other events, they focused on this one particular inter-government event, but most government departments and units usually have events in this week, with these events ranging anywhere from free cake to discussions/speeches on the public service to an afternoon of team-building games to the discussed party. There's even a ceremony for the awarding of the Public Service Award of Excellence in the National Capital Region.

The Sun's piece was somewhat pathetic. Generally, I am in agreement with the Sun's editorial stance against government over-spending & over-taxation and in favour of sound fiscal management, but this article was petty and borderline vindictive.

(Advice to the Sun, articles like this only serve to undermine the cause of limited government and fiscal responsibility. It may rile up parts of your base of right-wing populists, but it drives away moderates, fiscal conservatives who'd agree with you but would be more apt to read the National Post, and even parts of your own base with a little more perspective on things).

In a coincidence, the WFP had an op-ed on the Harper Hockey "scandal". The WFP article (originally from the Calgary Herald) was a well-done piece, I would suggest a read.

Also floating around in the news in the last little while are the Canada Post strike, the Conservative spending review and promise to reduce the budget by $4-billion by next year, The Auditor's report on G8 spending, and discussions on Senate reform.

This prompted me to write this post on the necessity of perspective when discussing government finances. Both the ruckus over Harper flying to the Canucks game and the Sun's reaction to NPSW event are seriously lacking in this.

The cost of the Canuck's flight is estimated to cost up to $10,000/hour and a direct flight is under an hour each way. Harper followed the rules, paid for his own ticket, and paid the amount of commercial-equivalent airfare, so there's no ethics questions involved in this debate. In total, this cost at most $20,000 for Harper to show support for "Canada's team" in the finals for "Canada's game". You may or may not agree whether Harper should have flown to support the team, the fact is that the cost would not matter either way in this discussion. $20,000 may seem like a large amount to individuals, but in terms of government spending it is not even a rounding error. The National Post puts it into perspective for us here. Canada paid almost $50-million in MP pensions for this year alone. Making a ruckus over a one-time use of less than $20,000 is pointless, petty, and idiotic.

I can find no data on the cost of the NPSW or any on average civil servant wages in Canada, so I'll guesstimate.

PM, EC, AS, and CR are the most common wage categories in the federal civil service, CR's are paid significantly less than the other categories, who are paid roughly the same. Rates of pay for government workers can be found here. We'll use a salary of $50,000 (roughly equivalent to a PM-02 and and easy number to work with), so the wage would be roughly $25/hour.

The event had 300 employees, and we'll estimate it took 2 hours. So, in total we can estimate cost in salary as near $15,000. $15,000 is not that big a deal when it comes to government spending. If we calculate a two hour event at that wage over the 263,000 civil servants in the federal service the cost would be a bit over $1.3-million, which would seem like a lot, but again in government finances, a million or two is hardly a rounding error. (For another example, the 2011 budget came in at an unexpected $4-billion less than was forecasted).

On top of this, team-building exercises and celebrations are common practice in private organizations, so it's not like it can even be pretended that this is some special perk for civil servants.

To put it simply, complaints, such as the Suns, about the NSPW are as petty and idiotic as complaints about Harper's trip to the Canuck's game.

The Senate debate and the Monarchy debate also sometimes display this kind of fiscal lack of perspective. In complaining about the Senate, the anti-Senate NDP notes that the Senate costs $90-million a year. A seemingly large amount, but in reality a paltry $3/Canadian. The governor general costs about $35-million a year, about $1/Canadian. In terms of government finances both of these number are next is nothing. This doesn't mean objections to the Senate or the Monarchy are not to be taken seriously, but the minimal cost should be irrelevant to whether you believe they should exist or not.

The cost of an election is another issue lacking perspective. Elections Canada pegged the cost of an election at about $300-million causing the Toronto Sun to whine. This is about $10/Canadian. Surely any reasonable person would say that $10 is worth a free electoral democracy.

At this point, though, I may be giving off an appearance of a free-spending socialist, but I am not. I am very much fiscally conservative. The thing is though, government expenses have to be evaluated realistically and in perspective, the costs of the previous issues are all examples where the impact of the costs was blown out of proportion.

Also blown out of proportion are funding cuts. The Conservatives announced that they would cut the federal budget by $4-billion/year by 2014-15. The usual suspects of socialists and unions cried foul and scare-mongered about massive job losses and cuts to public services. The reality is $4-billion is 1.7% of the 240.8 billion budgeted for last year.


Let that sink in a bit. The biggest budget cuts since the 90's that is to bring ruin to the public service is a piddly 1.7%. This is only half of the projected $8-billion increase in federal expenditures between from last year to this year. It is also only 11% of the projected deficit for this year. $36.2-billion deficit for this year. The impact of these cuts is also grossly over-exaggerated. The cuts are substantial, but they are not earth-shattering.

Maclean's illustrates the exaggeration surrounding the impact of these cuts.

So then, how do we keep things in perspective?

First of all, little things do add up. "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money." Enough small cuts can add up to major savings. The reverse is also true, enough new small expenditures can quickly snowball to take large chunks of the budget. As the Maclean's article stated:

The federal government will spend nearly $40 billion this year in “other transfers,” that is, neither to provinces nor to people, but to organizations: big businesses, small businesses, native bands, social clubs, in fact just about anything with a business card and a mailing address. Just to list the “grants and contributions” over $100,000 takes up 280 pages in the Public Accounts, in six-point Helvetica.

Enough relatively tiny expenses can rapidly add up, so just because something might be little more than a government rounding error, does not mean it should not be evaluated, but neither should all sense of perspective be lost.

Second, don't get caught up in partisan or ideological rhetoric lacking fiscal perspective, whether from the left or right.

Third, remember that there are reasons for cutting programs other than monetary. This was mentioned earlier in relation to the Senate and Monarchy. As another example, the Gun Registry has to go. $2-billion over 15 years is pocket change, but the program is more objectionable for its purpose of controlling gun owners than for its costs (although being 2000% over-budget is a sign of gross incompetence).

Fourth, keep in mind that just because costs might be relatively small and we should avoid a lack of perspective, they can still be helpful. For example,
the CBC can be privatized for $1-billion savings each year, as TV and radio services are readily available from the private sector and as such, there would be no real loss to the Canadian public at large, despite the protestations of some special interests to the contrary. We should avoid pretending that the $1-billion would be some budgetary windfall, it would not be, but enough $1-billion cuts here and there and it would add up.

Fifth, keep in mind the big ticket items:

Civil servant salaries & pensions - Salaries, benefits, and pensions make up the bulk of operating expenses. A small percentage increase in civil servant salaries can lead to billions in new spending. Reigning in public sector unions and continual large increases in civil servant wages is important in controlling government costs. Civil servant pensions are fairly well run in Canada and should not present to much of a problem. In the US they are a lot more of a problem, because the US has had a habit of raiding pension funds to spend, leaving their plans with gaping fiscal holes. Canada only had one major pension raid in the Chretein era during a time of surplus, and is well run enough that it should not present to much problems, but with defined-benefit plans, continually lengthening life expectancies, and the boomers retiring there could always be problems if markets do not do well.

Health spending - This is the big one; the expense that really needs to be watched. The Conservatives committed themselves to a yearly 6% increase in health transfers. This is not mathematically sustainable unless GDP also increases at an unrealistic 6% a year (it usually only increases only about 3 or 4%). This does not even include the inevitable increases in provincial spending. With the boomers growing old, public health spending will likely become unsustainable in the context of the current system. It will have to be reformed, likely with some amount of privatization and market reforms or the system will break (barring massive, unexpected productivity gains from technology).

Pensions - Again, the CPP have been fairly well run, has a diverse investment portfolio, is a hybrid between pay-as-you-go and fully funded, and as far as I know the CPP has never been raided. This should be fine, but it is a big ticket item and a prolonged recession combined with extended life expectancies and the boomers retirement could cause serious fiscal problems. It is something to be watched, but should be stable.

Debt servicing - This has decreased tremendously since the 1990's, but last year we paid $30.9-billion out of a total spending of $271.7-billion, about 11% of the federal budget on nothing more than interest payments. And this is with exceedingly low interest rates. A rate hike could increase this substantially.

Notice how all the most important items are those that will have the most public resistance to cuts. This is why deficits occur and taxes increase. Few are willing to pay the political costs necessary to reign in the important items. Chretein kind of did, but did so through raiding pension funds (creating its own problems) and devolving to the provinces (simply shifting the tax burden) in addition to public service cuts.

Essentially, what I am saying is that when discussing public spending avoid losing perspective. Some expenses, such as a hockey game, are just so small they are not worth making a big deal over. Some expenses, such as elections, are large, but the value is well worth the expenses. Small changes add up, but hysteria towards either small cuts or increases does no one any good.

To finish off, I can't have a post called Public Waste without mentioning the Kipling poem of the same name, it's only tangentially related to today's topic, but an excellent poem nonetheless. I would suggest you check the link and give it a read.


Elitism, Art, and Right-wing Populism

It's been a while since I posted on here. I said what I wanted to say about the election in my last post and I've been busy. Since the election the only thing I felt somewhat compelled to post on was the 60% statistic going around, but that would have been little more than a rant on idiocy. Graham posted on it and his was a lot more fair and a lot less harsh than mine would have been. I've now probably lost whatever little momentum I had for this blog when I started, but oh well.

So anyway, I hope to post more through the Manitoba election season (we'll see), but for today, I'm going to talk about right-wing populism. I was reading Margie Gillis, The Media, and Them High-Falutin' Ideas on Nothing in Winnipeg and thought I'd respond. I'll start with the caveat that I did not watched the news segment discussed for more than a couple minutes and got bored, but the segment itself is not that important to the discussion.

Before I begin, Sun News is the voice of right-wing populism in Canada, just as Fox is the voice of right-wing populism in the US. The Sun News channel was specifically created to fill this market. There is no major left-wing populist media outlet in North America as traditional left-wing populism has been almost wholly abandoned outside the intelligentsia and public service unions (whose membership base is often not in full agreement with the more activist agendas of the unions). More on this in a bit.

That anything that doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority must be “elite,” and thus suspect. (False.)
* To be fair, there are people in the arts who could certainly be considered elite — I would point to the many extremely wealthy private citizens who are often prominent or silent donors, board members, and fundraisers for everything from the ballet to the most esoteric art galleries. It’s telling that these folks (and I applaud their efforts) are usually not the people referred to when certain crowds discuss the “elite” who support and work within the arts.

This is one misinterpretation a lot of individuals with more left-leaning or centrist beliefs make a fair amount. They miss the presuppositions behind right-wing populism, often imputing left-wing populist assumptions onto them.

Traditionally, the category of the "elite" are viewed based on a left-wing, quasi-Marxist conception of economics. There are the rich elite and then there are the poor working masses who the elites extract "surplus value" from. This class warfare conception forms the basis of left-wing populism and it has been largely abandoned in North America. While there's the occasional "soak the rich" rhetoric, most left-wingers have abandoned the class warfare approach, recognizing that if you "soak the rich" over-much they'll just shut the factory down and move it to China. Most progressives realize that you can not destroy the rich as you need to keep them around to support the welfare state, which the rich pay the lion's share of.

What class warfare politics that does exist generally resides in academia, which is relatively isolated from economic realities due to their centrality in the modern credentialism system, public service unionism, which are also fairly isolated from economic realities exceptingin the occasional public service slash, and in racial minorities, who are still relatively economically disadvantaged but their populism is generally more racial in tone than strictly economic.

Most of the white working class, the traditional base of left-wing populism in North America, has abandoned it because as long as there's a basic social safety net and jobs (which they know will leave elsewhere if the country is to punitive the rich), they live fairly comfortably.

Despite the abandonment of left-wing populism, the political language and pre-suppositions that formed the basis of it are still in use. The conception of the elite as being economic elites is one such remnant.

Populism in North America has largely become the domain of the right, but it is a different animal. This populism traces it's routes back to the "silent majority" reaction to the 60's counter-culture. It is not based on economics (although, the Tea Party movement may change this, but it's too early to tell). Rather, it is based on culture. The counter-culture tried (and succeeded to a certain degree) to radically alter North American culture form its traditional value and right-wing populism became the go to of the "silent majority" in reaction to this attack on traditional values. At this point, the basis of political disagreement began to move away from economics to post-materialist values. Thus the "culture war," the original basis of right-wing populism.

Knowing this, we see that when right-wing populists talk of elitists and elitism, they are not talking about the traditional economic elites, rather they are talking about cultural elites. The economic philosophy of right-wing populism is generally somewhat producerist in tone, setting "producers" (ie. workers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, etc.) against "parasites" (ie. "welfare bums", "corporate welfare", public bureaucrats, etc.). Most economic elites, excepting those seeming to survive primarily off corporate welfare and rent-seeking, would be among the producers and would be seen as models rather than enemies.

To the right-wing populist, the elitists consists of those who are seen as those who are becoming wealthy by being parasitic (ie. the bureaucratic and political elites) or the gate-keepers of culture who are seen as hostile to traditional values. (It should also be noted that right-wing populists often use "elitists" and "elitism" rather than "elites" as "elites" has a more economic connotation, while elitists is more to the point).

Now, we'll isolate art in particular. First, we must make a rough distinction between "high art" and "popular art". Right-wing populists generally don't have a problem with popular art in general (except where the values being espoused by a particular piece of art are antithetical to right-wing populist values). Except for some extreme religious fundamentalists (which are a small and waning sub-section of right-wing populism and have never really had any strength in Canada) there would be little political objection (taste is another discussion entirely) to Hollywood movies, popular music, trade books, classic paintings etc. that were not directly espousing hostile values.

The problem is more with "high art" such as modern theatre, interpretive dance, and modern paintings. I know these categories are rough and over-lapping, but this distinction is essential.

The first problem is that "high art" is generally "parasitical" these days; it is funded in large part by government through taxation. I'm not going to start the art funding debate, but this "parasitism" is one of the primary reasons for populists dislike of high art.

Second, is that much "modern" art is generally inimical to right-wing populist values. (At this point, we should also distinguish between "modern" and "classic" art. The "classics" like classical music, Shakespeare, paintings that aren't "modern", etc. are less prone to dislike. As defining features of Western civilization there is some love for classic art among right-wing populists. There is less hostility towards this and more mixed feelings about public funding). Modern high art generally embraces leftist values and generally are hostile to traditional values.

The third is perceived condescension. Nobody likes feeling that they are being condescended to, right-wing populists are no different in this regard. The arts debate feels condescending to populists and, to some degree, the general public at large. If say, a metalhead and country-western lover disagree, they might argue that the other's taste is horrible, but, generally, no one suggests that liking one genre or the other makes you an inherently better person, but high art is different. Those who support high art often give off a strong tone of superiority in taste and that those who don't like high art are lacking as a person. This is often the basis of why high art is argued as deserving of government funds where popular music might not be. (Whether supporters of high art mean to be condescending is irrelevant, that is the way they come off to many who do not particularly enjoy high art).

Knowing this we can begin to more accurately understand right-wing populism's (and thus Sun News' and Krista Erickson's) reactions to "art".

No, it’s everywhere, really: the bold and brawny pride of Not Getting certain art forms, or philosophical concepts, is a common feature of American media in particular — and it’s cropped up with some frequency in many Canadian outlets over the years.

"Not Getting" high art would be a source of pride for exactly the reasons illustrated above. It's a form of social signalling that you are not an elitist, that you are not a parasite, and that you are agreeable to right-wing populist values. Sun News and Krista are doing just this sort of signalling to their intended audience.

For similar social signalling reasons, cultural elites would generally turn up their nose at and deride, for examples sake, Tom Clancy novels, which are right-wing military fiction written for the "common man".

And is touting that ignorance as some sort of credential really what we want to be striving for?

Given the basis of right-wing populism, it is excellent credential to strive for if that is who you are appealing to (which Sun News is).

Also, once you understand the basis of right-wing populism that hostility towards the arts becomes perfectly understandable. It would be akin to the left-wing elite deriding Ayn Rand or "Not Getting" the appeal of Tom Clancy. It signals that you are one of the group and that you reject culture that is inimical to the group and its values/culture. There is no good reason to bother to try to "Get It" and some very good reasons to deride it.


Be a Smart Voter

A must read from the Globe and Mail, Be a Smart Voter. (Via Volokh).

When you vote you are exercising the force of the government over your friends, family, neighbours, and countrymen. You have no moral imperative to vote, but if you do vote you have a moral imperative to those around you to be informed and to vote responsibly.

This is one of the reasons I oppose compulsory voting systems, like Australias. If someone is not voting because they are disinterested, uninformed, or unable to decide a voting preference, they are exercising their right to vote (or not, as the case may be) responsibly by recognizing this and refraining from forcing their disinterest and lack of knowledge on others. It is those who go to the polls because when they are uninformed or undecided who are acting irresponsible. They are the ones who are exercising the force of the state against their countrymen without either understanding the consequences of their actions or not heeding their understanding.

So be informed. Learn the party's platform and promises, then learn whether their platform will actually benefit your country or harm it. Learn the social sciences so you are capable of understanding the effects of various policies. The most important social science to learn in regards to government are the political sciences, statistics, and economics.

The political sciences are important so you know how our system works. A respected introduction to Canadian politics is How Canadians Govern Themselves, which is published by the Library of Parliament.

A less respected work I'd recommend is an American humour book, Parliament of Whores. This book illustrates, in a humourous manner, the reasons that government just sometimes doesn't seem to work as well as we'd like (and no, it's not because bureaucrats are lazy and politicians are evil).

For specific political topics, there are too many to give an intro. book for each, but wikipedia is always a good place to start. It will often have

Statistics is important so that you can understand what those numbers politicians, newsies, and that jerk on the internet love to constantly throw at you actually mean. The must-read classic on this is How to Lie with Statistics. It's a simple read, is not that long, and has all the basics you need to know so that you can protect yourself from being lied to by statistics.

Economics is probably the most important thing to know when you are studying the issues. At the route of almost all government issues are economic issues like taxation, spending, the redistribution of wealth, and economic control. Economics is also the area that (and many politicians) seem least knowledgeable about when it comes to voting. I would highly recommend Naked Economics. It is simple and easy to understand, but detailed. Definitely a must read. Learn economics.

So, if you are going to vote, be informed. If you aren't informed, be responsible and don't vote (or at least spoil your ballot, if duty compels you to vote anyway).


Election Date

The federal election date is May 2 this year, while tax returns are due on April 30, but because that is a Saturday the deadline has been pushed back to the Monday, May 2.

Now, I think this is excellent timing. Hopefully, with the tax season coinciding so closely with the election season, voters will look more to the cost of the multitude of expensive promises politicians will make instead of just thinking, hey free money.

Anyway, hopefully the fixed election dates will start landing around the end of April/beginning of May.


The US and Canada's Stimulus Compared

I was going through the budget and came across the estimates of the Economic Action Plan. According to the budget, through the EAP "$60 billion in extraordinary stimulus is being delivered to the economy" and that there has been the "creation of more than 480,000 jobs since July 2009."

Now I've heard that the cost per job created by the US stimulus was rather high, and decided a comparison might be interesting.

The number above is not the number of jobs created by the EAP, but rather the number of jobs created by the economy as a whole. The Seventh Report to Canadians stated that the EAP created or maintained over 220,000 jobs.

So, $60 billion/220,000 comes to a cost of $272,727 per a job created.

The CBO report on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act puts the cost of the ARRA at $787 billion and estimates it increased the number of full-time equivalent jobs by somewhere between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs. This results in a cost per job created costing somewhere between $238,484 to $562,142.*

It seems that Canada's stimulus was fairly efficient compared to the US stimulus, coming in at the lower end of US costs and being almost half of the high end of US costs. Although, one wonders why ours was accurate, while the US' was less so.

But, even so, it seems that stimulus was a rather inefficient method of job creation in both countries.

Not to mention, that in the US' case, there is some indication that most of the jobs created evaporated once the stimulus was spent. I would expect the same happened in Canada, but do not know for sure.

In comparison, according to Mintz' recently released paper, which has gotten some media attention lately, the current corporate tax cuts would create about 100,000 jobs. The lost revenue of these cuts will be a total of $10 billion over the next three years. So, using this we come to a cost of $100,000 per a job created. But as Mintz says in his paper, most of the lost revenue of these cuts will be made up for by increased corporate activity in Canada leading to increased tax revenue.

It seems that corporate tax cuts are a much more efficient method of job creation than stimulus.

* The CBO report also had between 2.0 million and 4.8 million full-time equivalent jobs, which is higher because it includes as transitions from part-time to full-time and increases in overtime as created jobs. The cost per a job would have been somewhere from $163,958 to $393,500.


Frances Russell on Attack Ads

Haven't had much time this last week, but looks like a federal election's going to happen, which will be interesting. Hopefully, there'll be time for some in-depth posts on some of the issues, but not much time tonight either.

I just read Frances Russell in the paper today and had to comment. Seems the conservatives are evil for their "personal attacks" on Ignatieff. By personal attacks, she means the conservatives questioning that Ignatieff's rich, aristocratic grandparent's is the same normal immigrant experience as your grandfather coming off the boat with nothing, which is not untrue.

But, what I found amusing, is that a large portion of the last decade or so of Frances Russell's career has been devoted to negative and/or personal attacks on Harper and the Conservatives. Many of her articles have been little more than a continuous re-iteration that Harper is a controlling, domineering, social conservative with a hidden agenda who's bent on destroying democracy and turning Canada into the US. The blatant hypocrisy is amazing.

For example, just a few weeks ago, she said Harper was contemptuous of Canada and that he wanted to turn Canadian politics into American politics. This is almost exactly what she's condemning the Conservatives for doing to Ignatieff in today's article.

Unlike many commentators, I don't think negative ads and negative politics are that big a problem, as long as they are more or less truthful. I care about who is leading me and would rather all their dirty laundry be aired, so we can see what kind of person they are. It also makes campaigns more exciting. Although, I would prefer more actual policy discussion, as opposed to soundbites and partisan wankery.

Also, contrary to her and Ignatieff's claims these kinds of attack ads are hardly unprecedented. For a Liberal example, the soldiers with guns in our cities ads of 2006. More attacks like this could be gained from ads by all parties. There's nothing unprecedented about this.


The Most Important Right

The single most important right found in the Charter is Section 7:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

The freedom to preserve your life is the single most important right there is, which is is why I fully support Bill C-60, the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-defence Act. Any act that expands an individual's freedom to protect himself, others, and his property deserves my utmost support.

What I question is how the Canadian Civil Liberties Union and their BC counterparts can call themselves advocates for civil liberties while opposing this bill?


More on Dewar

Looks like some others have responded to the transcript.

The Black Rod has an interesting piece on the topic. Written in his usual inflammatory style.

Also, Sinclair at the WFP has issued something resembling an apology for his part in the Dewar attacks. Although, his original piece was relatively balanced on the matter and more from the human interest side. Good for him.

On the other hand, the Globe and Mail continues ripping quotes from context even when they have the full transcript. Bravo.


The Media Failure on Dewar

Before I begin, I'd like to thank Melissa at Nothing in Winnipeg for the plug. It's much appreciated. Now onto the show.

So, for my first content post I thought about doing something small and simple, but decided instead on something long and complex. Might as well start with a bang.

Anyway, the transcript for the Rhodes case containing the comments made by Justice Dewar that have caused a national furor has been released, so I’ve decided to analyze that for my first post. From the beginning I’ve thought that there was something off about the story and how it was portrayed in the media, as the short quotes presented by the media seemed devoid of context. So, now we have the chance to see if my gut was right. (Warning, this is going to be a long post with much quoting).

Section 273.2 of the criminal code, which deals with consent, is mentioned a few times, so I’ll post s273.2:

273.2 It is not a defence to a charge under section 271, 272 or 273 that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the activity that forms the subject-matter of the charge, where
(a) the accused’s belief arose from the accused’s
(i) self-induced intoxication, or
(ii) recklessness or wilful blindness; or

(b) the accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain that the complainant was consenting.

Dewar’s sentencing rationale starts at after the recess on page 70, I will be focusing mainly on his rationale, as that's the controversial part.

First off, there’s some talk of deterrence and denunciation and the uniqueness of this case (it’s not archetypical). He establishes that 3 years is the general minimum in major sexual assaults on the bottom of page 72.

The reason he gave for his conviction is given on page 73:

My conviction in this case was based upon the notion that the accused took no steps, once he got to the highway, to be sure that what was about to happen was an activity that was mutually desired.  Some signals had been sent early, but they were not enough for the accused to conclude that the heightened sexual activity would be consensual, only that it was a possibility.  He acted at the side of the road without any further inquiry.  He took the lead and expected the complainant to follow.  He was not entitled to the benefit of the honest, but reasonable belief defence because he did not take reasonable steps to verify the consent.  Put another way, he was insensitive to what the complainant wanted and Section 273.2 of the Criminal Code mandated a finding of guilt.  His lack of reasonable inquiry deemed a guilty mind whatever he was truly thinking.

We can see that Dewar clearly believes that the sexual “signals” of earlier were not a sign of consent, only a sign of a possibility of consent (of which there is a difference, one that is important in this case). Rhodes was convicted because he did not take reasonable steps to verify consent. So, the accusations against Rhodes that he believes a woman’s manner or dress means she deserves to be raped, or that they imply consent, or what have you are false. He clearly states that consent must be obtained and can not be implied by “signals”.

We can also see that Rhodes was convicted not for engaging in sex against the stated wishes of the victim, but rather because he had not taken the proper steps to ensure that the victim consented.

Page 73-75 have him relating what he had said earlier in regards to the mistaken belief defence, this is where many of the quotes the media carried concerning clothing, partying, sex in the air, etc. were from:

I say this because the complainant herself testified that on the gravel road between the lake and highway she gave some indication of willingness to engage in sexual activity by returning the kisses of the accused. It must be acknowledged that the parties met in what can only be described as “inviting” circumstances.  At 2:30 on a summer morning two young women, one of which was dressed in a tube top without a bra and jeans and both of whom were made up and wore high heels in a parking lot outside a bar, made their intentions publically known that they wanted to party.  Then the women, in particular S.M., made the suggestion that the group should go swimming, notwithstanding that not one of them had any bathing suit. 

These facts could fairly conjure up, in the mind of the accused, that getting together with these women had potential that sexual activity lay ahead.  Then to see Mr. Lederhous and S.M. “making out” at the stop at the Jonas Road could further heighten the anticipation in the mind of the accused that further sexual activity could well occur.  And although the complainant had rebuffed his advances in the backseat of the car, her demonstrated willingness on the gravel road to hold onto him and kiss him and pretend to like him could surely leave an impression that the door was then not closed to further sexual activity.  This is especially so since there is no evidence before the group got out of the car by the lake there were any threats or excessive advances made by the accused.  

By the time he was walking hand in hand with the complainant up the gravel road to the highway, I find that the accused was not aware of the complainant’s fear of him and that he honestly believed that the increased sexual activity was still a possibility.  I do not accept that the accused had formed any intention at this time to impose his desires upon the complainant, since it would have made more sense to impose them in the privacy of the gravel road than in the more relative openness of the highway.  

After all that description of why he thought the accused might think sex was going to happen and did not form intention to rape, he then says of this:

I did prefer the complainant’s evidence over Mr. Rhodes evidence as to what happened at the side of the highway.  But that describes the activity.  It does not describe Mr. Jones (sic) mind.  In effect, that doesn’t matter because of  Section 273.2.   

So, Dewar basically says that, although circumstances may have led Rhodes to believe sex was a possibility and that he had no intent of imposition, it doesn’t matter; Rhodes was still guilty of sexual assault because he did not take reasonable steps to ascertain consent.

This flatly contradicts the accusations against Dewar that he believes clothes, kissing, partying, and suggestions of nude swimming justify non-consensual sex. He specifically says quite the opposite, that it does not justify a lack of consent.

Dewar then further illustrates Rhodes lack of concern over the next few paragraphs, but it’s not really controversial, so I won’t quote it here.

As an aside, there is one point of note, at no point in Dewar’s description of events did he ever describe the victim as saying no. Rhodes seems to have been convicted not because he pressed on when the victim said no to sex, but because he did not try to ascertain whether she wanted sex or not.

The only sign that I can find that the victim indicated sex was unwanted were on page 76:

forging on with the sexual activity on the side of the highway without further inquiry either before it began or midway through after she exhibited discomfort, does not satisfy the test of 273.2(b).

So I looked backed over the first pages, like I said I wouldn’t at the beginning, page 4 had this: “I further note that Mr. Rhodes continued with penile penetration of the victim’s vagina and briefly her anus, after she had expressed pain from her comment when he was digitally penetrating her vagina and fear. Your Lordship did find on the facts that there was a comment from her asking if he planned to kill her.”

On page 5 this: “I draw to My Lord’s attention that the victim was so afraid that she fled through the pan – without pants through the woods.

And this: “He did pursue the victim after she had clearly rebuffed him.  Although, the Crown does concede that this attenuate by the victim’s response to subsequent advances by Mr. Rhodes during the walk to the highway.”

On page 31-32, Dewar asks this:

It’s one thing – the fact that a complainant is passive does not satisfy the – does not act as some sort of a defence – does not satisfy the consent And if there’s no consent then there’s a conviction.  So then you come to sentencing.  And – and (inaudible) there may be circumstances which are ruled out for conviction that may have some bearing.  I don’t know how much, but some bearing on sentence.  The fact that she didn’t say no, at any time, is not a defence to the conviction.  But does it add anything; is it part of the sentencing consideration?

He indicates that the victim did not say no and says that that is not a defence, but may affect sentencing. There’s some pages of talk of prior court cases by the prosecutor, then on p. 33-34 Dewar asks this:

it’s what – what concern I have is the – is the conduct on the highway – on the road leading up.  And I think when I made the decision; I found that at that point in time there was no intention on the accused to sexually assault the lady.  And there was a possibility out there – the door wasn’t closed and … The door to any kind of sexual conduct was no closed as they were walking up to the 24 highway… Now in this case, and I’m not critical of the complainant, I understand she was frightened, but she did something, he said – he made some comment about sexual activity and she said; let’s go to the highway.  

After some more talk about prior cases and a recess comes this from the prosecutor on page 40-41:

Firstly, one of the findings that I believe you made was that there had been at least three independent indicia of rebuffing of the accused prior to that circumstance.  There was a specific rebuffing in the car, there was a certain coldness, as described even by the accused, and there was the fact that she’d gone off into the bush.  Those indicia would not have led a reasonable person to believe that there was a reasonable likelihood of behaviour after that.  
On page 45 speaking to the defence Dewar states:

Well, I – I think she did rebuff him – I think I found she did rebuff him in the backseat of the car.

The following pages have the defence defending and indicating that at no point did Rhodes use violence.

So it seems that while she did rebuff his advances earlier in time, she later came to, at least on the surface, accept some of his advances afterwords and even suggested going to the highway when propositioned for sex. But at the time of the assault, I can not find anything that indicates (it’s possible I may have missed it) she actually indicated to Rhodes that she did not consent (although, Rhodes did not take reasonable measures to obtain it, which was why he was found guilty of sexual assault). After penetration and during the assault, she seems to have made a comment indicating pain along with a question about whether he would kill her, which was callously brushed off by him; this seems to be the closest the victim seems to come to actually verbally protesting the attack.

All this to say, that Rhodes never heard a straight-forward turn down of his advances except earlier on, after which the victim did seem to agree to some contact, although she did not agree to sex.

But, anyway, back on track, on p. 76-77 Dewar states:

This is a case of misread signals and inconsiderate behaviour.  There is a different quality to these facts than found in many cases of serious sexual assault.  There were signals given by the circumstances and indeed by the complainant, albeit the latter based upon self preservation, which ought not to be overlooked.  This is not a case in which Mr. Rhodes’ anticipation was groundless.  However, its consummation without reasonable inquiry was not justified. 
As I stated before the digression: Rhodes was convicted not because he pressed on when the victim said no to sex, but because he did not try to ascertain whether she wanted sex or not. This seems to have had some influence on Dewar’s sentencing.

Further on page 77 comes the “clumsy Don Juan” quote that was one the 'objectionable' statements he made:

But when talks of proportionality (similar sentences for similar offences), the court must compare apples and apples, not apples and oranges.  Yes, there were common threads. There was sexual intercourse; there was cunillingus and digital penetration. 

But here there were no threats knowingly given, there was no violence knowingly imposed.  Mr. Rhodes, in his testimony, had said that he wasn’t out there to hurt anyone.  Even his sexual activity, bizarre as it was and as hurtful as it was to the complainant, cannot be said to be only self gratification.  It had the characteristics of a clumsy Don Juan.  I don’t condone it, but it simply does not fit the archetypical cases cited.  

Unlike the sleeping women cases, there was no inert woman giving no signals at all.  There was some invitation however involuntary.  I’ve read you the facts that I found.  I don’t criticize the complainant.  She was a frightened young woman all alone in the presence of a large, perhaps loud, overbearing older man.  But she did give signals that he read the wrong way and was not considerate enough to make sure of what they were saying.
Again, this quote seems to have been ripped from context. It is not used to justify or condone Rhodes actions or justify rape, but only to show that Rhodes was not out to hurt someone and had no intent for rape (only a disregard for his victim), and because of this the sentencing of the archetypical cases shown earlier where there was intent may not applicable due to considerations of proportionality.

On page 78 Dewar quotes and earlier case:

Provocation of the offender by the victim is an obvious mitigating factor. More difficult to decide is whether, in a given case, there has been provocation. It is surely not provocation, for example, simply to be a woman, or to be attractive, or to be prettily attired. Sexual arousal is not the same thing as the arousal of a desire to seek sexual satisfaction by violence to another, and provocation of the first is not necessarily provocation of the second.

And then Dewar says on it:

The case uses the words provocation.  Perhaps enticement is a better word.  But even that is not really apt here.  I’m sure that whatever signals there were that sex was in the air were unintentional.  But that does not change the fact that they were there, more then just a manner of dress, more than the fact that she was a woman.  And they are a relevant, mitigating factor.  

So again, Dewar specifically states that attire, being a woman, being attractive, and causing arousal are not provocation for sexual assault and are not a mitigating factors, but that the victims signals were beyond that and into the realm of provocation, which can be a mitigating factor in sentencing. He then sites some relevant case law saying provocation can be used in sentencing.

Sex was in the air had appeared earlier in the transcript, on page 47. The prosecution is describing what Dewar had stated earlier, during the trial:
You say at page 22, at sentence nine, I conclude that although the accused was led by the circumstances to conclude that sex was in the air, he was insensitive to the fact the complainant was not a willing participant.  It was fairly argued by the Crown that as required by Section 273.2(b), he did not take reasonable steps to verify consent.  

In context, the “sex was in the air” quote was exactly the opposite of what the media and Dewar’s accusers tried to portray it as. The media and Dewar’s accusers had portrayed the quote as Dewar justifying sexual assault, when, in fact, he uses the quote to say that it was not an excuse for not taking reasonable steps to verify consent.

Then comes the sentence on page 80:

The signals given here, in this case, are at least relevant to the degree of moral blameworthiness of Mr. Rhodes.   So this case is different.  Make no mistake Mr. Rhodes’ failure to make inquiries warrants sanctions.  Apart from anything else women deserve respect and consideration.  And when strangers are involved, greater care must be exercised in showing that consideration because there is no track record of familiarity on which to gauge the consent.  But in this case therefore, not only is deterrence and denunciation important, so also are the other criteria in Section 718, including:  

1. Protection of society,
2. Rehabilitation, and
3. Promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done to the victim and to the community.  

Protection of society, I do not believe is advanced one iota by putting Mr. Rhodes in jail.  The Pre-Sentence Report suggests that there are no psychological or antisocial patterns and Mr. Rhodes’ history confirms that.   

As to rehabilitation and promoting a sense of responsibility, a lengthy prison term, in my view, for non-thinking behaviour tends to stifle constructive change rather then encourage it.   

The Pre-Sentence Report is favourable.  Mr. Rhodes has no criminal record, has steady employment, a supportive girlfriend.  There is no real suggestion of recidivism.  By this conviction he is branded a sexual offender, at least in the eyes of many members of society.  And he has been living under this cloud for four and a half years.  I do not view either Sandercock or Arcand as particularly helpful where an accused is found guilty because he failed to measure up to a deemed intent.  Mr. Coggan is right that the moral blameworthiness of Mr. Rhodes on this night, in those circumstances was not at the same level as the accused persons in either Sandercock or Arcand.  Not all guilty people are morally culpable to the same level.  This difference is not reflected in conviction. It can be reflected in sentencing.   

If I were forced to utilize the Sandercock approach, the lesser level of moral culpability in the unique circumstances of this case is a material mitigating factor.  However, I do not feel the Sandercock

starting point should be applicable in this case because of the different fact situation, which I have earlier described.   I mention also the fact that Parliament has now determined that conditional sentences are not available for cases such as this anymore.  However, when this offence was committed, conditional sentences were not only available, they were not infrequently utilized.  Mr. Rhodes ought not to be prejudiced by the shifting sands of time, and I am able to draw upon a conditional sentence for this offence as one arrow in my sentencing quiver.  

The real question is whether, in this case, it is appropriate to do so.  Deterrence to Mr. Rhodes is not a factor.  With his past and his Pre-Sentence Report, I see no basis for believing that he is at greater risk to do this again if he doesn’t go to jail.  He has been living with the system including the vagaries of placing a position before the court.  If he hasn’t learned to be more respectful towomen by this experience, he never will.  

I also am of the view that general deterrence and denunciation can be found in a properly crafted conditional sentence.  The Pre-Sentence Report demonstrates that Mr. Rhodes likes his freedom; to fish, to camp, to go out and visit.  A conditional sentence which restricts those activities, in my mind, imposes jail like conditions that do impact on a person’s quality of life.

He then goes on to list the terms of the conditional sentence.

The conditional sentence was imposed because Rhodes wasn’t as blameworthy as to require jail as there was no intent to harm, just signals that were taken the wrong way that entered the realms of provocation and a disregard for reasonable inquiry on his part, for which he was convicted. He wasn’t likely to reoffend, deterrence is not a factor, and jail wouldn’t rehabilitate him.

Dewar believed being a sex offender and having jail-like restrictions on freedom were enough of a punishment.

So, my conclusion, the sentence Dewar handed out may or may not have been appropriate, and that’s to be decided on appeals, but the justification for his sentence was not unreasonably inappropriate. He was definitely not the misogynistic rape apologist that critics of the sentencing have been accusing him of being and he does not deserve disciplinary punishment.

On the other hand the media-led attacks on Dewar were grossly unfair. His judgment was quote-mined and the controversial remarks were ripped completely out of context, sometimes to the point of making Dewar seem to say the opposite of what he actually said. Dewar specifically and repeatedly said that attire, demeanor, attractiveness, suggestions of nude bathing, sex being in the air, etc. were not excuses for sexual assault, were not invitations for sex, and did not justify rape. He very clearly stated that consent can not be implied from any of these but must be given and that reasonable measures must be taken to obtain consent.

Rhodes was given a conditional sentence because he was not a threat to reoffend and would not be rehabilitated through prison and because his blameworthiness was limited as (although, he was still blameworthy) as he did not intend harm, but rather had callously misread signals. Dewar thought that being a sex offender and having jail-like restrictions on his behavior were punishment enough.

It is perfectly legitimate to take these factors into consideration for sentencing and it occurs all the time, whatever you may think of the leniency of the justice system and this case in particular.

I hope his accusers apologize for the attack on Dewar and, by consequence, the justice system as a whole, but I have no real expectations of this. Hopefully, he will at least be able to get back to work without restriction. Also, I hope the next time they’ll wait for enough information rather than just ripping quotes out of context in a knee-jerk fashion and destroying a person’s career for headlines.

One other anecdotal thing stood out to me in the reaction to this case. A lot of those who would normally be opposed to mandatory sentencing seem to have been supporting mandatory sentencing in this case and were advocating that he not get less than the generally accepted three years for sexual assault. But, either the judge is given leeway to sentence as he sees fit or the judge is not. It is hypocritical to attack mandatory sentencing as a matter of course, but then demand that judges use mandatory sentencing despite the circumstances in specific cases. Whatever your position on mandatory sentencing, at least be consistent in it.

Edited: on March 13 to make some things more clear.