The Axe Sharpens for the Pallister Carbon Tax

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 31, 2017

Brian Pallister’s government was elected because Manitoba’s electorate was tired of NDP spend and tax philosophy. Selinger’s downfall began when he promised not to increase taxes only to do just that. Pallister has learned nothing from Selinger’s electoral evisceration.

Pallister is leading his government and caucus down the politically-perilous path of breaking promises and raising taxes. His rationale is climate change ‘Salvationism’, and its lucrative bastard child and convenient cash cow policy for government – a carbon tax. A conveniently sooty-sounding abbreviation for a tax on carbon dioxide, a harmless trace gas greening the planet by making plants thrive. Never mind the crumbling climate change narrative itself.

Canadian politicians, Pallister included, might have gotten away with trying to change the weather with special taxes on energy had our main economic competitor, America, agreed to stick with Obama’s/Clinton’s anti-hydrocarbon narrative. But, the American working class that resoundingly voted for change last November didn’t.

The Trump regime is dismantling climate change programming, removing the Environment Protection Agency from areas the jurisdiction of state-level government. Aggressively promoting cheaper energy, Trump is ending Obama’s over-reaching policies that discouraged fossil fuel development and pipeline construction.

The implications for the Canadian and Manitoba economies cannot be ignored. It is obvious: new investment, factories and jobs will be created in a world where American policy is to aggressively lower energy prices.

If the Pallister Government adopts Ottawa’s policy of increasing local energy costs with carbon taxes, investment will simply flow south. As for the resource sector, where producers, particularly farmers, receive international prices and have no pricing power, carbon taxes will simply come out of their bottom line. Having a carbon-energy tax when our American competitors have none means lower returns and wages here. Ultimately, the conceit of stand- alone carbon taxation spells a lower living standard for Manitobans and Canadians.

Folks are not stupid, and Pallister’s private sector voting base understand basic economics. So, why is Pallister stumbling haplessly down a perilous path where a “made in Manitoba” carbon tax policy is a post-Trump “shoot yourself in the foot” policy?

Pallister is heavily influenced by David McLaughlin, a New Brunswicker who ran the PC’s election campaign last year and now commutes in weekly as a policy advisor. McLaughlin is a most rare bird, a conservative operative who is a climate change evangelist. At a recent conference in Ottawa, he stated publicly that Pallister had campaigned on a carbon tax without any problem. Indeed!

One can find oblique language about carbon pricing only buried deeply in a 2016 PC campaign brochure. But, let’s not kid anybody, Mr. McLaughlin. The spendthrift NDP lost the election – neither a stampede for Pallister nor support for a carbon tax. And, virtually no one expected Trump to win and throw the climate change industrial complex into the garbage can.

Which brings us to the upcoming April 11th budget: all signs point, foolishly, both politically and economically, to a carbon tax. Understandably, various private sector lobby groups are moving to a war footing, sharpening their axes to oppose the witless Mr. Pallister’s carbon tax folly.

The famous economist John Maynard Keynes once said “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

REAL CHANGE NEEDED, TORY TWEAKS NOT ENOUGH

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 24, 2017

Despite ongoing improvements in all kinds of technology, massive investments in Information systems and pay increases well above inflation, we continue to see falling productivity in government operations. Nowhere is this more evident than here, where large increases in spending by the previous NDP government produced bottom of the barrel results – particularly in healthcare, education and social services.

Despite massive increases in spending, the public sector unions, academia, and left-wing commentators rattle on about the sanctity of high government spending – arguing that borrowed money is cheap so why not run billion dollar deficits indefinitely. They equate service with staffing levels – usually trying to obfuscate any and all performance measurements that would lead to the simple question: is ever-more money and more staff needed to improve service, or is there something else going on?

Recently the Frontier Centre determined that Manitoba’s provincial and municipal public sector staffing levels are 34% higher than the average in Canada. Just what does this mean for the vast majority of Manitobans, slugging it out in the private sector, often for lower pay and fewer benefits while paying high taxes for mediocre public services? FC’s report concluded that if Manitoba had the national average for government employment there would be 35,000 fewer public service workers. If this was the case, taxpayers could save about $2 billion a year, more than enough to wipe out a $1 billion deficit and allowing for substantial tax relief.

The release of the think-tank’s sober report was met with cries of foul play and “you don’t understand” by labour and left-wing academia, groups some main stream media sought for such negative comments.

In the private sector, virtually every company attempts to control costs and improve the quality of their product or service. Consider the transformation of MTS. It went from a simple provider of land-line services to a company also delivering smart phones, email, internet and TV. During this period of increasing services, its staffing levels fell from about 3700 to 2700 (excluding Allstream). While when MTS was under government ownership, you had to wait a week or so for the commencement of telephone service. Now, much more services are provided in minutes and at competitive costs. A privatized MTS had to up its game in the face of both fierce competition and rapid technological change.

Contrast that customer-driven dynamic with the morose monopolies of Manitoba’s continuing low- performing public sector.

The tip of the iceberg explaining this dysfunction: civil servants have too little authority to do their work, buried under mountains of paper work, paralyzed by layers of supervisors and management, and burdened by more sign-offs than ever before.

Sadly, there has been no incentive among the public sector unions or management to change this situation. Government managers are rewarded for having larger budgets and staffs, not for reducing costs and providing excellent services. Similarly, the public sector unions maximize union dues via giant ever-growing bargaining units, with complicated job classification systems that artificially drove up compensation.

Manitoba’s byzantine NDP public sector model screams for real reform. A carbon tax, relatively tiny staff reductions, more healthcare centralization and a late but delayed pay freeze are not the answer, Mr. Pallister.

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

Budget approaches: pick low hanging fruit in education

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 17, 2017

Not too long from now, Manitoba’s PC government will table its provincial budget; the first real budget test for the new finance minister. Until the budget is tabled, there will be considerable hand-wringing as the Premier and his ministers look to ways of cutting costs and, hopefully, increasing the effectiveness of their departments.

The big departments – Health, Education, Justice, Crown Corporations and Social Services – will be under more pressure than others. Ministers responsible for these departments will be particularly hard-pressed to find ways to deliver better services to Manitobans and increase efficiencies while cutting expenses. Mr. Schuler, responsible for crown corporations, has already felt the heat. Every Crown has been directed to reduce their personnel complements, focusing on what the Premier has concluded redundant management.

As for the situation at Manitoba Hydro, it is dire, and options must be developed and examined very closely. The corporation’s board of directors, Minister Schuler and the Premier must decide how to deal with a multi-billion shortfall that threatens taxpayers, ratepayers and Manitoba’s future economy.

Mr. Wishart, the Education minister, however, has a much easier job. Why? Because there are a number of “low-hanging fruit” in education that should be easy picking. Leaving aside for this article the bloated administration found in universities and colleges, the soft working requirements and lives of many profs, and programs continuing with poor attendances and societal interest, I suggest two NDP campaign originated programs that should go the way of the dodo bird and into the trash tray.

In a recent report on higher education in Manitoba (universities and colleges), expert commentator Alex Usher pointed out two Manitoba student aid programs that could be eliminated. If his sage advice was adopted by Mr. Wishart and his boss, that action would provide about $67 million to be put towards cutting back the deficit.

The two programs that should be discontinued are “The Education Amount Tax Credit” and the “Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate.” Hardly anyone knows what these programs do, and there are few, if any, critics that would defend these wasteful programs. They are simple tax rebate schemes ‘designed’ to return tax money to students staying and working in Manitoba after graduation.

Similar tax rebate programs have been closed in Ontario and New Brunswick bringing their governments virtually no political fallout. Likely most Manitobans would react the same way if the similar programs in Manitoban followed their lead. Cutting the programs would better reduce the budget deficit than continue paying students to do what most choose to do anyway. Funding bad programs is not a good idea, as Mr. Wishart presumably can understand.

Eliminating these two programs would provide some good news for Manitoba taxpayers. Even if he took only $50 million back and paid off some deficit while putting the other $17 million into effective programs for colleges and universities, Mr. Wishart would be seen as being a
more effective Minister, a friend to education, and a politician truly concerned about digging out of the government’s deficit trap.

There are many other cutbacks that could occur in the interest of taxpayers without damaging our universities and colleges, the two raised here are but a sample of what could be done.

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

Stop Queue Jumping, Even Use the Notwithstanding Clause

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 10, 2017

Articles on a building wave of illegal immigrants entering Canada have met with a tremendous response. Canadians deserve protected borders. Walking-in asylum claimants should not be allowed to jump the refugee applicant queue. Current inadequate processes need to be tightened and changes to our laws made.

Getting around the refugee queue by ‘walking in’ avoids the 6-18 months of careful checks undertaken in Refugee Camps. The necessary checks involve the UNHCR, CSIS and Interpol, with assistance from US Security Agencies.

The challenge we face to secure our borders is largely the result of the 1985 Singh case. Canada’s Supreme Court, abiding by the then-new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ruled that anyone setting foot in Canada claiming refugee status is entitled to a full oral hearing of their case. Full taxpayer support follows until the process is done. Lawyers love it, the government pays bills for tens of millions of billable hours since.

The federal government of the day recognized that the ruling required significant changes to protect society, but sat on their hands. Still now, 32-years later, no effective mechanism has been put in place to deal effectively with in-Canada refugee cases. Successive governments promised to set up the necessary infrastructure, all failed to do so.

A result of the court decision was the case of Mr. Harjit Singh. He claimed refugee status after arriving as a visitor in 1988. Refused refugee status and losing his appeal, he continued applying again and again (on claimed humanitarian and compassionate grounds). Finally he was deported: 17 years later and then only due to a $1.1 million fraud conviction. Allegedly he travelled out and back to Canada 20 times, using using other people’s passports while pursuing his appeals.

Even more egregious is the case of Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad. In 1968, he was convicted of hijacking an El Al aircraft in Greece and killing an aircraft mechanic After his conviction, his terrorist group hijacked another aircraft and negotiated his release: which came only a few months into his jail sentence. Incredibly, he arrived in Canada on a fraudulently obtained visitor visa in 1988. While his true background was quickly found out, it took 26 years before Canada was able to deport him.

The signing of the Canada-USA Safe Third Country Agreement has a profound and positive affect in reducing bogus claims, as have improvements to airline check-in procedures applying to those seeking travel to Canada. Still, we are left with a dysfunctional system allowing people to simply walk into Canada. Walk-ins receive full legal protection along with social, health and economic support awaiting a final review of their refugee claims.

So far, 50% of failed refugee claimants have been allowed to stay. Regardless of risk, Canada doesn’t deport people to failed countries like Somalia, Burundi and Yemen. We can only ask ‘those refused’ applicants to leave – we cannot force them. Most are single men. Some marry and start families in Canada, they are allowed to remain. Jumping the queue works.

Trump has already had a massive impact, millions of illegals fear deportation. Our government, ill prepared, must find a solution. Consider the Notwithstanding clause of our constitution.

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

The Trump Affect – What Will Happen to our Border?

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 3, 2017

Donald Trump’s first and loudest campaign promise was to build a wall and clamp down on 500,000 of illegal immigrants flooding into America every year from Mexico – another 1 million cross the border legally. Prior to the campaign, then-Secretary Clinton also talked about tougher border protection, touting building a fence. Neither said a word about the Canadian border.

The USA has 11-14 million illegal immigrants, Canada only 75,000. America’s illegal workers represent 5% of their work force, impacting on wage rates in manufacturing and service jobs. Canada’s illegals represent only 0.4% of our work force, having no discernible affect on wage rates.

One huge difference is that illegal workers in Canada cannot source CPP and EI, whereas USA illegals can pay in but not access similar benefits. The Canadian Government won’t accept payroll remittances for those without SIN Numbers (or false ones), the US Government accepts payments even for those with false Social Security Numbers. Those contributions flow into the US government’s coffers, never to be paid out (billions of dollars every year- a huge cash grab by the US Government).

Illegal US workers are in a panic and are looking for solutions. Most look to legal options to remain within the USA. But, as deportations rise and construction of “The Wall” starts, many will look to Canada rather than accepting being returned to their home country.

Canada’s system was developed to deal with up to 10,000 illegal border crossings a year – and is funded on that basis. The annual number of illegals fell from once over 20,000 per year due to the Canada – US Safe Third Country Agreement. It requires asylum seekers to make refugee claims in the country they first arrive in. One loophole in the agreement is that those who cross illegally, away from border stations, are considered to have made their claim from within Canada and are not subject to the treaty.

Our government must now wake up to the new realities brought by a Donald Trump Presidency, and understand how it will affect our borders. US Border Patrols will do nothing to stop the flow of illegals into Canada – there is suspicion that some US agents act as tour guides, providing illegals direction and instruction.

Canada takes pride on its fairness – particularly as it relates to the selection of refugees and immigrants. But, we have seen those walking-in illegally at Emerson rise from 50 or so per year to likely over 1,000 this year – perhaps much more. For all of Canada, we will see the number across Canada escalate to levels never seen before. It is not unthinkable that walk-ins could reach 100,000.

So far, there has been no government response, except to do nothing. Warmer weather, the start of the construction of “The Wall”, and more US deportation orders will create an emergency for Canada.

Our government needs to decide: do we want to protect our system of fairness and equality in the selection of immigrants and refugees? Or, do we prefer at any cost to be perceived as a country of compassion and continue to let in a growing wave of illegal migrants (most of which having already applied for refugee status in the USA)?

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).