Trudeau, The Second Coming?

by Graham Lane

Published by the Winnipeg Sun, November 24, 2017

Nanos regularly publishes polls indicating the electorate’s political preferences. Riding high since the 2015 federal election, with a 60% approval rating, Justin Trudeau is seen as having the attributes needed for being Prime Minister. The leaders of the other parties trail far behind. But, will the high regard many Canadians still have of Trudeau last and result in the re-election of the Liberals in 2019?

The second coming of a Trudeau being Prime Minister brought adulation from many, but growing concern from an increasing minority. Justin, young, personable, fluently bilingual, at ease before cameras and microphones, saved the federal Liberal party and doomed the NDP’s chance in 2015. Unlike his father Pierre, Justin is not an intellectual. He serves well as the lead singer, neither writing the music nor the lyrics for a diverse gender-balanced cabinet run by backroom ‘boys’ who do the heavy thinking.

The Canadian electorate were relatively satisfied with the financially-competent conservative Harper government, but disliked Harper himself. They assessed him as a rather dull control freak running a competent and disciplined regime. While Harper guided Canada safely through the global credit crisis and reduced taxes, the electorate were ready for a change.

For the first two years the electorate were mostly satisfied with Trudeau’s performance, which played out not only on a domestic stage but on a global one. The photos and sound clips of him seemed to so please Justin that it went to his head – he began lecturing the world, asserting that Canada, not the US, is the world’s Camelot.

Yet, through stumble after stumble, the wheels on his train began to squeal. To begin, while Trudeau promised a modest deficit, the spending spigots remained open and that promise went astray. Apparently his government doesn’t have a clue as to when the string of federal deficits will end: sounds like Justin’s dad, doesn’t it?

Paying Omar Khadr $10.5 million shocked Canadians. Captured by American forces in Iraq, kept and poorly treated in a cage by America for a decade, Canada properly liberated him, provided for his medical needs and keep, only to be sued. Justin followed up with another $30 million for three other victims of the terrorism scare. Canadians of all political leanings still don’t accept his ongoing opening of the treasury. Then came his carbon taxes, backdoor pipeline strangulation policies, and ‘wide open borders’. Weak border control allows walk-in immigrants, pushing properly vetted visa applicants to the back of the line. Blunders on conflict of interest, business taxes, and an odd NAFTA bargaining strategy followed.

In politics, the devil is in the details and Justin is not a details guy. While his dad wasn’t one either, he was very intelligent and wasn’t obsessed with political correctness. Pierre’s cabinet included his day’s brightest politicians. As to Justin, his cabinet resembles a mix of recycled politicians from long ago combined with too many newbies biased towards smiley face diversity not competence.

Unfortunately for Justin, the Trump world Canada now faces is one of falling U.S. taxes, cheaper energy prices, and tougher trade policies. Clueless, his advisors are pushing the opposite way.

With the polls suggesting a tighter race for the next federal election, Justin may end up a one-term PM.

Economic Uncertainty Ahead for Manitoba

by Graham Lane

Published by the Winnipeg Sun, November 17, 2017

The Conference Board’s recent update provides a rather dismal outlook for Manitoba’s economy. The corporate think tank and economic soothsayer expects Manitoba’s economic growth to be only 1.3% in 2018 -with that meager gain mainly due to Hydro’s continued debt-funded money-losing expansion. Credit rating agencies have downgraded the Province’s credit worthiness while downside risks loom as consumers lose confidence and household savings rates fall.

Manitoba’s households and businesses have entered into a period of economic uncertainty. The elements of uncertainty include troubled NAFTA negotiations involving Canada, Mexico and a Trump-led United States. If an American tax reform proposal slashing taxes is passed, we will have an even stronger economic competitor down south. Beyond these challenges lies the Pallister Carbon Tax (front loaded to be 250% higher than Trudeau demands for 2018), Pallister’s refusal to help Hydro’s ratepayers, and his approaching 2018-19 provincial budget.

The worst outcome for Manitoba would have Trump taking the USA out of NAFTA – threatening Manitoba’s American exports. Pallister will likely fail to cut taxes in his upcoming budget, instead expect new havoc with his carbon tax and massive electricity rate hikes. The general economic picture suggests both higher interest rates and inflation, coupled with the risk of a lower loonie pushing import costs up. This just as America lowers their corporate taxes towards bringing more work back to the States. (Let us hope that the overdue drought doesn’t show up, damaging Hydro’s results and pushing future electricity rates even higher than already contemplated.)

A combination of negative events would further reduce disposable income for households while worsening the competitive situation of our industries and businesses. Manitoba’s employment base, now heavily skewed to an old-style, bureaucratic public sector, will shrink slowly, painfully and randomly given Pallister’s brutally ineffective small town management style. The lack of a transformative, performance focused model will eventually push deficits further up. Meanwhile, don’t count on marijuana to save the economy!

Recently, the consumer intervener to the Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) hearing of Manitoba Hydro’s massive rate increase application – the Consumers Coalition – tabled a submission from two of the Coalition’s experts. Drs. Wayne Simpson and Janice Compton’s thorough submission reviews Hydro’s rate application, concluding that if PUB grants what Hydro seeks the Province can expect materially lower disposable incomes for ratepayer households.

With economic pain likely ahead, Brian Pallister should realize that combining his new carbon tax with significant electricity rate hikes while interest rates rise will deliver serious challenges to an already vulnerable provincial economy further eroding private sector confidence. The pain will hit lower-income households and those heating electrically more than others. As to industry, firms relying on electricity as a production input will face further cost-push problems while retail and restaurant-hospitality firms will not gain from their customers’ lower disposable incomes..

Brian Pallister is no visionary or transformative leader. Expect his one-man show approach to bring more taxes along with random and superficial snips to spending here and there.

That said, what he needs to do in these uncertain times is to throw his carbon tax out the window and demonstrate leadership on the electricity rate hike file (a looming disaster for ratepayers largely brought on by the actions and inactions of government).

Needed Labour Practices Fixes

by Graham Lane

Published by the Winnipeg Sun, November 10, 2017

The Pallister government did ‘right’ when it brought back the secret ballot for certification of a union. Early in the NDP’s long reign, unions were rewarded for supporting the party by a repeal of the labour law requiring secret ballots. Absence of a secret ballot allowed unions to get an employer union-certified just by signing up 65% of workers – no meeting, no ballot, not even a ‘show of hands’ needed.

One of Manitoba’s then-longest operating electric contractors was ‘secretly’ unionized through the sign-up process.  Without a meeting, without a secret ballot, it was unknowingly unionized through certification by the Labour Board. Regretting having signed cards, electricians tried to ‘take back’ their ‘vote’, but to no avail.

The firm had been unionized and the owners were shocked. Regret came into play as the workers wrote to the Labour Board repudiating their action. Pressure on the Labour Board did nothing, and the owners closed their door. My brother-in-law, a forty-year veteran with the firm, lost his job. He and his spouse, my only sibling, ended up moving to B.C. Had an open meeting been allowed and secret ballot held, no doubt that firm would still be in business.

Manitoba might be the worst province when it comes to keeping the cost of new infrastructure reasonable. Knowledgeable sources estimate that public infrastructure projects come in 30% higher than economically justifiable. The ‘excess’ cost is one of the many reasons our provincial and municipal taxes are so high. With Manitoba’s infrastructure deficit (roads, buildings and utility requirements) exceeding $10 billion, ‘wasting’ 30% is but an extra and ‘quiet’ tax on all of us.

Part of the problem is bureaucracy, evident with the City of Winnipeg and the Province. First, costs are pushed up by excessively detailed requirements, high process costs, and delays for permits and inspections. The problem is also the union centric  structure of labour laws, regulations and governmental practices. Unlike free-market labour rules, which would have owners offering wages to workers relevant to their abilities and productivity, the provincial Labour Board establishes minimum wages for the construction trades (in force  whether a firm is profitable or not, unionized or not). Another problem, finally being addressed by the Pallister government, was public work going only to unionized firms.

A Labour Board committee (involving union, management and public representatives) meet to review labour issues, including amending the schedules of minimum wages for the trades. Minimum wages are set for a lengthy list of construction trades (electricians, plumbers, labourers, apprentices), and, oddly, security guards. Whether the worker has year-round assured work (say, an employee of a university) or not, the minimum hourly wage schedule applies.

Another controversial matter is the arbitration processes when a worker seeks redress for claimed mistreatment. An aggrieved worker can have h/her situation before a multiple number of adjudicators – WCB, WS&H, Human Rights, Employment Services – at the same time. The result: enormous legal and other costs for employers and long delays resulting in anxiety and delayed needed services for workers. One of the adjudicating bodies should address all issues that arise. The Labour Board seems to be the logical choice.

I have but touched the surface of many labour matters requiring reform. More later.

THE PALLISTER CARBON TAX – TIME FOR A NEW PARTY?

by Graham Lane

Published by the Winnipeg Sun, November 3, 2017

Well, it finally arrived.

The Pallister Carbon Tax was unveiled last Friday, along with the provincial government’s new “Green Plan.” Some media outlets positioned it as a plucky plan defying Ottawa. A supportive opinion from a so-called “clean energy” group predictably trumpeted that Pallister’s was THE FIRST Conservative government in Canada to introduce a carbon tax in the “battle” to stop climate change.

Premier Pallister’s spin is that his tax on carbon dioxide is better than having a worse one forced upon Manitobans by the Trudeau Government. It duly choreographed its faux displeasure (headline – Ottawa sees red over Manitoba green plan), claiming the tax was “too low.”

But this is a fake fight over a fake problem.

Computer models purporting to link CO2 to warming are full of errors: no basis for self-appointed green planners and lobby groups remaking the economy and taxing everybody to indulge their shaky orthodoxies. Indeed, Ian Plimer, an award-winning Australian geo-scientist, recently remarked that “doctored” climate change models were “a fallacy based on fraud promoted by fools,” being all about enabling politicians to control people’s lives.

The absurdity of all this faux posturing is mind boggling. Green central planning bureaucrats, and duped politicians, trying to “stop” climate change. How? By raising gas taxes and imposing a “climate change” tax on less “politically correct” natural gas heating in a freezing cold province where folks drive long distances?

What happens when Pallister’s tax raises our production costs while our main competitor, Trump’s U.S., is aggressively moving to lower American energy costs by dismantling Obama’s rogue climate change program? Simple answer: the Pallister Carbon Tax (PCT) will discourage investment and new jobs, making everyone poorer. Except, of course, for the thriving, energy-tax funded green planners and special interest groups.

That Pallister signed off on this interventionist policy boondoggle comes as no surprise — for two reasons. He isn’t a conviction politician, certainly not in the traditional conservative government sense of tending towards less government involvement in the economy, more private enterprise and lower taxes. He is simply following a now popular elite orthodoxy that claims raising energy taxes will, somehow, change the weather.

That orthodoxy stems from the second reason — his former campaign manager, the climate change whisperer David McLaughlin. He hails from Ottawa’s green tax and plan “priesthood.” Watch for him to become the CEO of Pallister’s very own green central planning crown corporation – the Orwellian-named Efficiency Manitoba, tasked with doling out assorted eco subsidies and other goodies.

Such green overreach will have electoral consequences.

Jason Kenney’s first priority, as Alberta’s new premier in 2019, will be to end Alberta NDP’s carbon tax. Ontario’s next government will raze Kathleen Wynn’s disastrous energy policies. And, Trudeau’s regime is increasingly at risk for fiscal profligacy, pandering to the diversity and victim industries, and its climate change obsession.

Here, Pallister’s rewarmed NDP-style “Green Plan” will bring a backlash from his business and rural voting base. As one rural pundit said: “I now understand where Steven Fletcher is coming from. While the NDP treated us like tenants of rural lands, this PC document reduces us to being serfs serving the needs of our urban betters.”

Time for another party?