Culture War in our Schools

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 29, 2017

A culture war is on in Manitoba’s public educational system, particularly in universities that used to be all about “higher education.” Recent evidence from the University of Toronto, Wilfred Laurier, and a number of other Canadian universities shows that, in the soft disciplines (Arts, Humanities, Social Work, Education), what is going on is more likely indoctrination than education.

The Faculty of Education of the University of Manitoba is on the forefront of political indoctrination. The Faculty selects  45% of incoming students on the basis of self-identities. Applicants can identify themselves as gay,  multi-sexual, Indigenous, physically handicapped, mentally disabled, and non-White. Those belonging to one or more of those so-called ‘marginalized’ groups receive special treatment in seeking admission to the teachers’ education program. Will students lie when saying they belong to  a “marginal” group? Why not, no one checks to see if their claims are true..

The same faculty accepting students on a questionable basis is launching a series of public dialogues on diversity.  The faculty is bringing in Dr. Lee Airton, Assistant Professor in Gender and Sexuality Studies in Education at Queen’s University. S/he is to talk on “Toward a gender-expansive teacher education: The implications of gender identity and gender expression for professional practice.”

The topic will have no interest to parents wanting an education system that will help their children learn basic math, English, Science and French.  But, if you want to know why a young man who thinks his apparatus is the wrong sex for his self-identity, and he (or she) wants to use the girls’ change room, then you should hear Professor Airton’s talk.  And, if you think teachers should use a variety of pronouns to reflect the various sexual identities of the children they teach, and that no child should ever be called by the wrong pronoun, then you certainly should attend.

But, if your interest is your  child learning the core curriculum, don’t bother going. The upcoming dialogues will not deal with that issue. It seems, for the faculty, the core subjects are not important, but gender and other identities are.

Columbia professor Mark Lilla writes that identity politics has given way to the false politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow, and exclusionary. self-definitions. Lilla concludes that this focus has left children unprepared to think about the common good in non-identity terms.

Nevertheless, too many professors in faculties of education, like at the U of M, spend valuable time and resources convincing student teachers that elementary students need to be enlightened about their gender identities. In the future, these then-graduated young teachers will impose gender politics on elementary school students, regardless as to the wishes of parents, who merely want their children to know basic math, English, Science and French.

Education is being hijacked by so-called progressive educators.  Parents need to act to curtail the gender-obsession of education faculties, and move the focus back to focusing on ensuring a good education for children. Otherwise parents will end up paying tutors to help their children master the basic material while public school teachers indoctrinate them into a narrow-minded ideology.

The culture war in faculties of education needs to be fought. Common sense shouldn’t lose out to nonsense.

Why No Hydro Inquiry?

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 22, 2017

Newfoundland Labrador’s government have announced an inquiry into its troubled Muskrat Falls hydroelectric
project, $5 billion over budget and with dismal prospects. Manitoba Hydro’s disastrous expansion tops Muskrat
Falls. Despite the fact that Pallister’s government isn’t the worst actor in the play, Manitobans are still left in the
dark about just how Hydro came off the rails.

Unless an inquiry is held, ratepayers and taxpayers will never know. There is a need to shine a light into why
and how Manitoba’s most important crown corporation imploded. Why do we need to know? Without knowing,
future governments and voters will not learn what not to do going forward, and what should be done now to
mitigate the damage.

Why were massive projects started – money flowing – before and after the business case for making the
investment had vanished? What options were available? Why were lower cost ones overlooked? Why was $1
billion spent encouraging northern First Nations to support building Wuskwatim, Keeyask, Conawapa and
Bipole III? Why were projects begun without firm construction contracts? Why without adequate volumes and
prices having been first negotiated with export customers? Already the largest boondoggle of our province’s
147 years, Hydro’s problems are still unfolding. The latest: a report predicting Keeyask will cost 62% more than
projected.  When the full cost of the overall expansion is ongoing blunder is properly tabulated, it will likely
exceed $5 billion.

Hydro’s rate application, now being heard by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), isn’t the inquiry that is needed.
PUB cannot neither roll back the boondoggle nor order the government to do anything, let alone take
responsibility for what Sandy Riley, Hydro’s board chair, has accurately named a mess.

Before the election, Pallister and his-then Hydro critic planned to halt the expansion and hold a real
independent inquiry. Before the election, his Hydro critic had assembled a knowledgeable and experienced
board-in- waiting, committed to both the promised quick halt and finding ways to keep the financial tab for
ratepayers somewhat manageable. However, immediately after the election, Pallister double-crossed those
ready to serve by announcing a different board roster and continuing the expansion. An “independent” Boston
Consulting report then took six months, while Hydro went on spending $10 million a day.

Boston Consulting relied on information from Hydro executives, many now long gone. While the original
shadow board, embraced by the PCs before the election, were more than willing to share their knowledge and
views about the expansion, they were shut out and ignored. The delay waiting for Boston Consulting’s report
added at least $2 billion in unnecessary costs, leading to the decision that while the expansion was a mistake it
was too late to halt.

Be clear, Bipole III was not, is not, needed, nor Wuskwatim, nor Keeyask, nor Conawapa. And, as to the new
Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line, it wouldn’t have been required had Hydro built an efficient natural gas
generation station in Brandon. Hydro will end up spending at least 15 times what was needed.

Pallister’s government has proved an “NDP lite” disappointment on several fronts, Hydro being the most
glaring. Why is Pallister protecting the NDP and previous Hydro boards and executives? Why indeed!

Pallister can still do the right thing – call a proper public inquiry. What’s he hiding?

Ontario’s Help to Utility Ratepayers Needs to be Matched

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 15, 2017

Public Utilities Board’s legal counsel has asked Hydro whether the utility made a formal ask for financial assistance from the Pallister government. The question itself suggests that PUB sees government help as a feasible approach to lowering proposed massive rate hikes. Before answering, Brian Pallister needs to understand the risks involved in forcing ratepayers to shoulder a burden not of their making. He should also take into account recent Ontario developments.

Electricity is the lifeblood of economies. Understanding both that and the pain to be caused if Hydro was allowed to go ahead with annual  7.9% rate hikes through to 2024, Pallister should realize that if he doesn’t intervene and bring rate hikes down he will not only seriously damage Manitoba’s economy but also risk the second term he seeks.

The electricity pricing policies of Ontario’s political parties are a major factor ahead of Ontario’s 2018 provincial election. And, since Ontario competes for industries and jobs, with Manitoba, a major cut to Ontario’s electricity rates will affect Manitoba as well.

A misguided contest is on in Ontario over electricity rates. The struggle began when Liberal Premier Wynne, then with a voter approval level around 13%, foresaw electoral defeat coming in 2018. So, she attempted to buy another election victory with a subsidy scheme cutting electricity bills by 25%. After first condemning her plan, then upon recognizing that Wynne’s cuts enhanced her election prospects, Ontario’s PC party promptly upped the ante, conjuring up a 37% rate cut.

This is an unsavory contest. While rates will fall, the cost of electricity will not. A decade or so from now, rates will be even higher than they were before the cut. Ontario politicians will have borrowed billions of dollars to make up revenue lost through the 25% or 37% cut – leaving the next generation of Ontario ratepayers to repay the loans with interest.

Sky high electricity rates damaged Ontario’s economy for years. Past political meddling in utility affairs and a ridiculously expensive “Made in Ontario” green strategy brought about very high rates. Those rates not only proved a disincentive for new industry and potential expansions of existing plants, but drove firms out Ontario – together causing the loss of thousands upon thousands of good-paying private sector jobs.

So far here in Manitoba, and give Pallister some credit, the extent of our electricity boondoggle is being revealed. Yet, he is wrong to want ratepayers, alone, to fund the mess. It is well known that internal expertise within Hydro opposed the NDP’s wildly risky expansion and that it was ultimately NDP politicians who pushed it through, jeopardizing not only Hydro’s health but Manitoba’s economy.

But, between Ontario’s massive electricity rate cuts and Manitoba Hydro’s plan for soaring rates (to pay for projects that should have been postponed and cancelled), Manitoba’s electricity rates could end up higher than Ontario’s. Such an outcome, combined with an ill-conceived new carbon tax, would seriously damage Manitoba’s prospects to attract industry and build its economy.

To avoid potential calamity, Pallister has but two choices. Either meet Riley’s ‘ask’ positively and provide a significant cash infusion, or stop raiding Hydro with massive annual levies. Otherwise, he will seriously damage the economy while reducing his prospect of winning Manitoba’s next election.

Province Needs to Stop Using Hydro as Cash Machine

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 8, 2017

Manitoba Hydro has moved from being a major asset for Manitobans to being an albatross around our necks.

What was once the Manitoba Advantage, this before the 1999-2016 NDP government got its claws into it, has become a millstone — now on a path to bleed ratepayers dry.

Sanford Riley is an experienced business executive. His worries need to be taken seriously, particularly when he, given his position as Hydro’s board chairman, suggests that a yet-to-be new carbon tax be used to assist lower-income ratepayers. After Riley spoke at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast last week a spokesperson for the Pallister government said Riley’s suggestion would be considered. This signal confirms that Hydro is the “mess” Riley has called it.

This is not good news for either taxpayers or ratepayers. Riley has underscored Hydro’s case before the Public Utilities Board — the publicly “owned” monopoly energy corporation is in deep, deep trouble. Riley and his colleagues have been directing and assessing Hydro for a year and a half. Their review has been assisted by an international consultancy, the Boston Consulting Group, along with analysis and suggestions from interveners to PUB’s hearing and local knowledgeable critics.

And, despite that lengthy, extended time of analysis, Riley and his board have not found any way to bring prospective annual 7.9% rate hikes (expected to continue through to the year 2024) down to a reasonable level (i.e. the annual rate of inflation).

Hydro suffers from three major maladies. First, we have an unnecessary expansion. Second, we have successive provincial governments bleeding Hydro ratepayers dry through annual levies of (now) $400 million on Hydro — invisible levies embedded in our monthly bills. Third, we have a timid Pallister government that clearly hasn’t a clue what to do.

There was a fourth malady, but, fortunately for both ratepayers and taxpayers, Riley and his crew are addressing it. It was a swollen personnel complement, one accumulated through Hydro’s expansion phase. Riley and his board should be congratulated for reducing employees by 15% overall — including 30% of senior and 25% of middle management.

As to the first three maladies, it seems there is not much to do but to take it on the chin. The expansion has likely wasted $5 to $7 billion. That expected loss is represented in annual rate requests four times higher than would have been needed had the expansion not happened. As to the second malady, the annual “rip off” of $400 million (and growing) from Hydro by its provincial government, it seems nothing can be done there either. The Pallister bunch plans to pocket that annual rip off, just as the NDP did. As to the third malady, the government having no clue as what to do, I have two suggestions.

Don’t further complicate the mess by building another bureaucracy to use a damaging carbon dioxide tax to provide bill rebates to lower-income households. Address the ridiculous proposed annual rate hikes directly. Bring down the rate hikes to the level of inflation for all ratepayers, and use the Consolidated Fund to do it. Either move debt from Hydro’s ledger to the government’s, but not the way Ontario has, or stop the annual invisible levies of $400 million.

Finally, a public inquiry please.

Experience Tells Us Carbon Tax and Rate Hikes Will Take Victims

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, December 1, 2017

Too many elderly and health-compromised Manitobans will die or become seriously ill if electricity and natural gas bills soar. If Hydro and Brian Pallister have recognized the potential for negative health outcomes, given that the combination of sharper higher electricity rates and Pallister’s tax on carbon dioxide goes ahead, they haven’t publicly said so.

Documents filed by Hydro with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) acknowledge that sharp rate hikes will bring about decreased household electricity and gas consumption. Lower demand means less revenue, therefore Hydro would eventually require even higher prices to cover costs.

Pallister needs to understand the risks and consequences of sharp utility rate hikes concurrent with his new carbon tax. Reducing householders’ disposable income is one thing, damaging people’s health is another.

Pallister is fixated on making Hydro ratepayers pay for the government-enabled electricity boondoggle while bringing in his carbon tax. Perversely, his new tax and massive electricity rate hikes would help him meet his pre-election pledge to cut the PST. Trouble is, low-income families might be “rewarded” with illness and premature deaths.

His carbon dioxide tax and hydro rate increases, combined with his version of austerity, allows him to think the province’s summary budget deficit can be brought under control. A 7.9% electricity rate jump in both 2018 and 2019 would provide $240 million annually for his government’s summary accounts by 2020. Add to that $260 million a year from the carbon tax and he has a $500 million contribution to his summary budget for the year of the next election.

While Pallister focuses on his re-election prospects, he fails to take into account the long-term impact on the province’s people and economy. Studies show that poorer households turn down their thermostats to save money, leading to illnesses and deaths. And, as to reducing “emissions,” those dependent upon natural gas will not move to electric heating. Heating electrically will still cost more than natural gas heating. For those who have spent $5,000 for high-efficiency natural gas furnaces, few will switch.

The rising cost of electricity and natural gas from Manitoba Hydro’s combined monthly bills can be expected to encourage lower-income families to turn down their thermostats. Manitoba has an extreme winter climate and temperatures below minus 30 degrees Celsius occur and can linger.

Reduced disposable incomes and high utility bills will — particularly as the bills mount through 2024 and beyond — accompany increased illness, higher health budgets, productivity reductions, and premature deaths. The cause of those deaths won’t officially be recorded as “turning down thermostat to save on the utility bill,” but will be the reality anyway.

Check out experiences in other countries suffering from high utility bills, such as the United Kingdom. For the four winter seasons ending 2015, the U.K.’s National Pensioners Convention (NPC) reported that 120,000 seniors died in England and Wales from cold residences and illnesses arising from it. NPC charges the British government with ignoring the record and “hoping for the best.”

Should Pallister proceed with his green delusions of massive electricity rate hikes and his “sock it to the economy” carbon dioxide tax given the risk to life, health and the economy? I think not.

Another political party may not either.