The First One Hundred Days of Liberal Rule

February 8, 2016

Canada, 100 days after the October 2015 federal election won by the Liberals

  1. The Liberal majority win provides an opportunity to change direction for a number of policies and to change the tone of governing. For the Conservatives the opportunity is to reorganize with a new leader and a new platform which will need to appeal to the centre of the political spectrum where the majority of voters reside. The British Labour party and the Tea Party conservatives in the US appeal to the two tails of the spectrum and will find it hard to get a governing majority in their next elections.
  2. There are around 200 new MPs, many of them Liberals, a party which increased their elected MPs by about 150. Some newly elected Liberals are cabinet ministers with important portfolios such as Finance, Defense and the Environment. With a steep learning curve, these ministers are likely to be dependent on departmental bureaucrats who will be in a position to exercise influence at the outset.
  3. The bureaucrats appear pleased with the results. Their dislike of Harper’s style of government led civil servants to become politically involved in the election, at least around Ottawa. If the result makes the bureaucracy become more politicized, then the idea of a career civil service is weakened.
  4. The global and national economies have received a major shock with the decline in the price of oil. It results in a decline in Canadian federal and provincial tax revenues, as well as lower energy costs for firms and consumers. Loss of revenues to western provinces puts pressure on the government to facilitate the sale of energy to foreign markets.
  5. Debate over the building of energy pipelines is splitting the country with some eastern Canada politicians opposing the energy east pipelines, and some in BC opposing the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline with its terminal in Port Coquitlam BC. Quebec is likely to ask for further financial support for Bombardier which is now a corporate cripple. If the province then opposes policies which will harm the west, it will cause divisiveness.
  6. The Liberals have acted on their elections promise to amend Canada’s military contribution to fighting ISIL, to accept displaced persons from the Middle East, and to raise income tax rates for high income people. Out of fear of offending protected interests (like those benefiting from supply management policies) they have not fully endorsed the TPP agreement despite the importance to Canada of trade in the Pacific region.

The Nature of World War Three

November 23, 2015

The first world war was fought in the trenches of Belgium and France and in parts of the world like Gallipoli. Artillery and ships were used amongst other weapons.

WW2 was more widespread geographically. All parts of Europe were involved spreading into Russia, North Africa and the Middle East, and an extensive Asian front in India, South-East Asia, and Japan where the US played a major role. The opponents were organized in and fought as national armies, navies and air forces, controlled by governments.

Today’s terrorist attacks, especially over the past 15 years, have taken place in different parts of the globe, conducted by non-traditional forces often located  among civilian populations. When these terrorists are attacked by regular military personnel, civilians are placed in danger or forced to move from their traditional homelands. The result is flows of refugees who live in squalid camps or undertake dangerous passages to what they perceive to be safe havens in places like Western Europe and North America.


Since 1914, there have now been three world wars, the last one currently being fought in the Middle East and parts of the world where terrorist acts can be undertaken either by local inhabitants or by persons who can easily cross borders. Modern societies have many places where bombings can occur to kill people, disrupt lives and capital equipment – power grids, travel (road, rail, air, ships), commercial activities dependent on communication systems, cyber attacks on computer networks and so on.

For most of the post WW2 period, potential threats have focused on nuclear attacks from countries with this capability. Today’s threats can be undertaken with equipment like drones, individuals willing to perish as suicide bombers, and other low cost measures which are impossible or hard for civilized societies to guard against.


A listing of terrorist attacks by year and location can be found at

They have occurred in all parts of the world including major incidents like 9/11, bombings and shootings in Madrid, London and Paris, as well as many in other locations. Travelling the globe today is a bit like travel by horse and coach in earlier days when highway men could be expected to attack and there was no protective police force.  Today, I would argue, we are in the midst of WW3 with techniques used which are far different from those used in WW1 and WW2.

World War Three is Underway

November 15, 2015

Terrorists could have conducted the November 13th,   2015 Paris attacks in any country or city in the world. Further actions can be expected to be undertaken by suicide bombers or perhaps by drones or missiles. Nowhere is immune from such attacks, and no country can provide defense from such attacks. Countries are now faced with a form of world war, the third one in the last hundred years. It is being conducted not by government funded military forces, but by terrorist organizations paid for by individuals from around the world. Containing these actions is far more difficult than is the case of conventional warfare.


Globalization which is pervasive in economic transactions now characterizes conflict. Dangers from the spread of nuclear technology, which have been of concern since WW2, are now surpassed by the spread of other technologies which are far cheaper to acquire and use to deadly effect. Drones, for example, are available in toy stores, can fly at low levels and carry deadly substances. Amazon is experimenting with drone technology to deliver packages.


WW3 began some years ago including events such as 9/11, attacks on various US embassies abroad, bombings in Madrid, London, Paris and throughout the Middle East, assassinations in various countries including Canada. Wikipedia provides a list of deaths and injuries from terrorist attacks to-date in 2015 and for previous years. No single event started WW3, but at some point the accumulation of attacks around the world signal that these are not isolated events. Responding to them will require forceful action, not negotiations leading to some sort of peace treaty. An enemy using youth suicide bombers does not include negotiations in its arsenal.

Some thoughts after the Canadian Federal Election

November 15, 2015

There has been a changing of the guard, not only with the governing party but in terms of the number of newly elected MPs. Almost two hundred of the 338 elected MPs are new in that they did not serve in the last parliament. Many are also new to the House of Commons. A number of the Cabinet Ministers are also first timers including the Ministers of Finance, Defense, Justice and the Environment. They have to learn parliamentary procedure, their portfolios and the committees on which they serve. Expect some hiccups. Already we have learned something unexpected about the Science Minister.

The existence of newcomers means that the atmosphere in the HOC will hopefully be more respectful, at least to start with. Question Period occupies a small proportion of a member’s time while the house is sitting, but it provides a public face for parliament and its members.

Originally I was against gender parity in the cabinet, mainly on the grounds that other groups in society will claim representation, as is already given regionally. Racial groups may claim similar representation. Now I am having second thoughts. Parity may improve the atmosphere in the House. If it does not and if Ministers, male or female, don’t perform then they should be replaced and let the gender balance settle where it may. By the way, is 50% female representation an upper limit?

The issues for which the federal, provincial and municipal governments legislate are set out in various constitutional statutes. However in practice and application this is difficult to manage. The provinces are responsible for healthcare and education but actions taken by the federal government, including funding, affect the delivery of these services. A federal Liberal government will be dealing with a number of provincial Liberal governments including Quebec and Ontario. It won’t always be rosy.

The three main parties have resumed their historical positions as government, opposition and the NDP as third party. The orange wave in Quebec appears to have been a one-time phenomenon.

Amending the federal voting system needs to be done with care. Each system has benefits and costs to groups in society. For example if proportional representation had been in effect in the last election, the Liberals would have won less seats and the other parties more. But with PR more parties will be formed which try to attract voters and governing becomes more difficult. If the Liberals move towards PR they will be losing (in the future) some of their recently elected members, which may not be a popular move within the party.

Canada is a poorly defended country. It covers a large area with a long coastline. Its armed forces, especially the navy are inadequate to provide protection. Consequently the country continues to remain under the defense umbrella of the US as has been the case since WW2. Investment in drones may provide more effective security than investment in fighter aircraft and submarines.

Already a budgetary review is undermining promises made in the election. Now the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris may cause Canada to reassess its commitments to allied forces in the Middle East.

Student debt – how much of a burden?

November 2, 2015

Student costs for postsecondary education are primarily a combination of fees and living costs plus the cost of loss of income from employment while studying. Universities have also learned how to charge for services in addition to basic fees. Overall costs are met from student income from savings, part-time work, borrowing from parents, friends and institutions. The burden of any debt incurred depends on the borrowing costs and the terms of repayment.


Those readily employed after graduation will be able to plan their repayment. Those unemployed will carry the burden of debt longer. One interesting scheme is for universities to require no payment at the time of study, but for the student to incur a debt which is paid for after graduation and dependent on the amount of earnings. Collection can be tied to a person’s annual income tax filing.


Many universities have created a country club atmosphere of indoor and outdoor sports, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and shops. These are used to attract students, but at the same time divert student time from academic study. One way to reduce costs and maintain a focus on studying is to register for online courses, which can be taken at lower cost to the student who does not have to travel to and live on a campus.


Of course this is not a direct substitute for an on campus experience, but it is a way to reduce the costs of post-secondary education. Correspondence courses have provided this means of study for years. Today technology makes distance learning that much easier. In fact, many classroom lectures are made available as power point presentations which allows a student to either access the material in the classroom and online or just online. This means of delivery is more suitable for some disciplines (history, english) than for others where lab time is required (engineering, chemistry).


Discourse on student debt is usually engaged in by those experiencing it. My observation here is that while debt cannot be eliminated, its effects can be mitigated by a variety of means. Some of these require the student (and parents) taking action before payment for post-secondary education is required.

Comparative voting systems

October 22, 2015

In the recent Canadian federal election, several parties proposed changing the existing first-past-the-post (FPP) method of electing MPs to one of proportional representation. Be aware of what you wish for.

Each system of voting favours some groups or interests over others. There is no neutral system, so when a new one is proposed it usually favours a group which would earn more seats with a system different to the one in use, in this case FPP.

With FPP, the candidate with the most votes gets elected. This person might attract only 35% of the votes cast in the constituency. Since not all people vote, this would be less than 35% of total voters.

One way to address this situation is to have a system of preferential voting, whereby voters note their first, second and perhaps third choices. The winning count could then be after the subsequent choices were counted and the winner gained 50% based on first and subsequent choices. There are various formats for preferential voting which deal with some of the drawbacks of FPP. Note, what could happen in the Canadian case is that Liberals and NDP voters might give their second choice to each other, whereas the Conservatives might attract few second choices. Preferential voting works more for some than others.

Proportional representation (PR) is another voting system which receives attention. There are numerous forms that could be used, but consider the case where voters vote for a party, and where the proportion of votes received by the party is used to allocate elected representatives. In the 2015 federal election, the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Green parties received a higher proportion of votes cast than seats won, while it was the opposite for the Liberals. The first four might favour PR, but this ignores the fact that with PR there could be more parties putting forward candidates. In some ridings, in this election, there were up to ten party candidates on the ballot. Each party might accumulate enough votes across the country to get representation. Representation in the House of Commons would look quite different as would policy making. Where PR occurs, the legislative process leads to all sorts of tradeoffs and difficulties in governing.


My point is that while FPP has shortcomings of which we are aware because we live with them, alternative systems do not necessarily eliminate these. PR introduces other issues such as giving more influence to party officials who draw up their candidate list, and separating candidates from the ridings they represent. The actual consequences depend on the PR conditions established.

Before enacting any change, outlining its costs and benefits should be undertaken and compared with the existing system. Current discourse tends to list problems with FPP and the expected benefits of some form of PR. The benefits of FPP and the costs of PR are needed to complete the analysis.

How to view today’s refugee crisis

September 20, 2015


  1. There are seven billion people in the world compared with less than two billion in 1900. Some are much better off economically and in other ways than others. The less well off try to improve their circumstances, either where they now live or by moving to better (wealthier) countries.
  2. The world is divided into countries which are artificial entities administered by governments which have established rules for who may reside in a country. They try to get other countries to agree to these rules. Most of them do, but there arise problems of enforcing the rules which deal with things like approved migrants, temporary foreign workers, tourists and refugees.
  3. Enforcement is weakened by a combination of greater information about conditions in different parts of the world (reduced communication costs), reduced travel costs, and the willingness of people to take personal risks which may result in death.
  4. The concept of a sovereign country that can enforce rules about the crossborder movement of persons is being seriously undermined, and may lead to governments attempting to control their borders by force.
  5. The conditions surrounding the present (2015) flow of refugees is sufficiently different from similar past flows that it requires new thinking. Previous empires, Roman, Ottoman and Communist for example, contained the seeds of their own destruction, so capitalism and democracy, as practiced in different parts of the world, may have similar seeds germinating.
  6. One more specific comment on today’s situation in the Middle East. Many point to the causes of unrest as arising from the Sykes-Picot agreement about the establishment of boundaries at the end of WW1 re Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Transjordan. Underlying this agreement was the demise of the Ottoman Empire which had lasted for around 600 years. An excellent BBC documentary (available on the Internet) examines the Ottoman Empire and is worth viewing). Past history and modern conditions appear to me to be causes of the present flows of refugees.


Some thoughts on refugees

September 10, 2015


Conflict taking place in the Middle East has led to a humanitarian crisis involving refugees attempting to reach safer and more peaceful countries, which are often unwilling or at least reluctant to take in the numbers involved. In Canada it has morphed into a 2015 federal election issue as each party tries to appeal to voters by offering more favourable treatment for the refugees. While it is an issue voters understand, I am not sure they are aware of the implications. Note, recent immigrants are often opposed to those who enter illegally or who seek entry due to political conditions taking place abroad.

The immediate conditions which created the crisis is a combination of civil war in Syria and the interaction of various religious groups, Muslim and other in the Middle east extending east into Iran, north into Turkey and south into Egypt and other parts of northern Africa. Refugees who have gone to places like Lebanon and Syria have now chosen to seek refuge in Europe and if possible North America. The latter whose borders are protected by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans do not face the conditions of western European countries to which refugees can travel on foot, by bus and train.

Issues arising from the refugee flow and receiving less attention are:

  1. Where will these persons be located and how will they be integrated into Canadian society? This is not a new concern as Canada is a country of immigrants but excessive numbers could cause political backlash. Most Canadians advocating inflows would probably be less than eager to have these persons camp in their backgarden or neighbouring park. On a smaller scale during WW2 in the UK, city families and sometimes only the children were evacuated to the countryside during the blitz. They were not always eagerly received.
  2. If the numbers are limited, how do you decide who should come and what do you tell those who are left outside in the Middle East refugee camps. Once some are allowed entry, this merely encourages others to try the same.
  3. In Europe, whole residential neighbourhoods, such as suburbs in northern Paris, consist of  foreigners who have arrived illegally as well as legally causing social and political tensions in the country. Most European countries now have and active anti-immigrant party. This may also occur in Germany.
  4. Those seeking refugee status in the west are mainly economic migrants with the funds to pay smugglers, but who would likely go back to their homelands if political stability returned. In such a case the country of refuge is merely a temporary stopover to deal with turmoil elsewhere.

This is not a case for accepting no refugees but recognition that, depending on the numbers, social and economic issues can arise. These get little attention in the debate, perhaps because political parties like to play Santa Claus at election time.







No progress in civilizing behaviour

September 3, 2015

The use of rape as a weapon of war was conscious and emphatic. On every side, proud tales were told of the degradation of enemy women. Thousands of women were abducted, forcibly married to their assailants, and bundled away to the other side of the border. Many never saw their families again. Thousands more were simply used and then thrown back into their villages. There were accounts of women who had been held down while their breasts and arms were cut, tattoed or branded with their rapists’ names and the dates of their attacks. (Indian Summer, 260).

The quotation describes what happened nearly 70 years ago when India and Pakistan became independent states. Nothing much has changed. Similar actions are repeated today by ISIS/ISIL fighters in the Middle East. While Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs attacked each other in 1947, today it is mainly different branches of Muslims fighting each other. When people of other religions get in the way, such as western journalists, they too suffer atrocities.

The rules of war, developed over the past 200 years, mainly apply to states and not to terrorist groups which may operate in or outside a state. Current technology which encourages the use of things like drones, cyber attacks and the use of poison gases facilitate the use of violence by fighters who may deliberately operate within civilian communities. Guerilla warfare is becoming the norm where states are largely impotent to affect what action takes place.

Countries like Canada have in the past offered peace-keepers, but these can do little in non-traditional fighting venues. How countries structure their military/defense budgets will have to be revised.


Stop books becoming furniture

August 15, 2015

Why do our patterns of reading books, watching films and videos and listening to music differ? Homes are furnished with book shelves where often each book is often read only once, if that. Music is listened to frequently and films and videos perhaps more than once.

Each format contains information appreciated by the senses, although different ones. The question arose when I took from the bookcase Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. I had read it before, but when I reopened it I realized how little I recalled or even understood the content of a book, which offers an explanation of the evolution of human history over the past 13,000 years.

So many basic questions are discussed in the book, that like religious texts it could be studied for a lifetime, especially as new scientific information becomes available, which may alter some of the conclusions reached and raise new questions.

Instead of acquiring new books, there is often much to be gained by rereading older ones. New understanding can be acquired from the text which may have been missed in an original reading, and especially in the light of one’s own (hopefully) intellectual development. Jared Diamond offers that to me. A general conclusion is to apply to books the same treatment given to music and films….use them more than once.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers