Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Census helps to define Canada

February 21, 2017

A satellite view of Canada at night shows lights along the US border and precious little north of that. The 2016 Census reports that 83 percent of the population of 35 million lives in cities of 10,000 or more, 40 percent in the 15 largest cities, and 8 percent in Toronto. Immigrants have accounted for about two-thirds of the 5 percent population increase over the past five years.

These few facts show that

  1. The landmass of Canada is largely unpopulated, not unlike the eastern seven time zones of Russia. Canada’s maritime boundaries are virtually unprotected at least by Canadian forces with its under equipped navy and airforce. The US is the de facto defense provider, although the NORAD agreement has been in place since the 1950s.
  2. Recent immigrants like previous ones prefer to live in cities, and many head for Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. They don’t want to live in rural areas where there is masses of space but limited services. (Note, all Canadians are immigrants, arriving at different times, including native peoples who are traced to Africa and migrating over the Russian land bridge to North America around 60,000 years ago. In this sense, there are no indigenous people. All arrived at different times in the past. Those that arrived after 1500 brought diseases which helped to decimate those who arrived earlier.)
  3. The immigrant wave, from say 1500, came, settled and stayed. Until recently, they had no cell phones or wifi that could keep them in daily contact with family and friends at home. Travel and communications were expensive. Today’s immigrants are less connected to Canada in this regard, especially with the reduced cost of travel and communications.
  4. Life was hard for early immigrants. Access the Doukhobor website to see a photograph of women harnessed to a plough, as evidence of the hardships faced by those who arrived in Canada around 1900.
  5. Conditions for today’s immigrants are different. Some will want to stay. Others may decide to return home when and if conditions improve and are in transit. Canadians have largely welcomed recent arrivals, although there is resistance to those crossing the US border and applying for refugee status, as is permitted by Canadian law. Unlike the refugee crossing from North Africa and the Middle East to Western Europe, North America is bordered by the expanse of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which gives rise to different physical barriers. Policy enforcement also differs here, although it has resulted in an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US and perhaps 500,000 in Canada….no one knows.


The latest census and geopolitical conditions are factors describing the circumstances facing Canadians today.


What future for news?

October 2, 2016

My gold standard for news reporting use to be the BBC. While still highly rated, PBS Newshour for news and Charlie Rose for interviews now top my list. In Canada, I tune into Steve Paquin and The Agenda on TVO for interview programs. The CBC and CTV are not priorities for me. Although both have some excellent individual reporters, the news programs have political slants. What the Newshour team, Rose and Paquin have is a thorough knowledge of the issues, a willingness to present opposing viewpoints, and to suppress their own opinions on the issues under discussion.


Their competitors in the print but especially radio, TV and online media focus, for commercial reasons, on making the news entertaining in order to attract audiences. It’s understandable, but it comes at a price for the quality and authenticity of the news content. Fox News in the US and Sun Media in Canada are illustrative of the adulteration of news and informed views on particular issues.


The internet is another means of delivering news content. There are now umpteen web sites offering both general and specialized news stories and opinions, so that audiences have an overwhelming number of options including Tweets and Facebook. These range in quality from good to mediocre to awful, with an increasing number in the last category. So how does the reader/listener/viewer choose? Consider the situation.


An audience member works with one ironclad constraint…. there are 24 hours in the day, and only a fraction of these will be allocated to consuming news along with sports, recipes, videos and competing items of possible interest contained in various media. When someone suggests downloading another App, my reaction is why? It may be useful, such as say Uber, but it is likely to divert me from other priorities that I have, and which have to be fitted into the 24 hours. Each has to make their content decisions.


What role does the government have in providing news? Each year the federal government allocates about $1bn to CBC/Radio Canada some of which is used for collecting and distributing news and news-type programming in both official languages for radio and television. The public broadcaster also sells advertising which puts it in competition with commercial broadcasters, a continuing cause of tensions. Note, the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation use a different funding model.


The circumstances which gave rise to public broadcasting no longer exist, so that the Canadian federal and provincial governments will have to decide its future. There is no shortage of news sources for Canadians and in my view no need for public support. The audience share of CBC English and French language television programming has been declining, so that unless it is servicing some essential (in someone’s view) market niche, the funds could be better spent elsewhere. What Uber has done to taxi services, the internet has done to distributing many types of media content.

Clumping Along

September 16, 2016

Sixty days to the US presidential election presents a period of uncertainty. Whichever candidate wins, the issues that propel this election will remain. Countries including Canada are far from immune from the outcome and may well be sideswiped by what follows.

My observations at this point are:

1. The US has a first class economy and a third class political system. A danger is that the latter will undermine the former. Respect for the economy is shown by the fact that many if not most people want to hold US dollars, visit the US whether to work there as legal or illegal migrants, do business and study there. It has some of the best universities in the world.

2. The political system was designed to be first class and to address the weaknesses of the Westminster system that prevailed at the time of independence when George III reigned. It has become sclerotic as voters and politicians have learned how to play the electoral process and the steps needed to pass and implement legislation. Elizabeth Drew describes this well in The New York Review of Books August 16, 2016, “American Democracy Betrayed”. I recommend that it be read.

3. Clinton and Trump or Clump, the two candidates reflect different aspects of this political train wreck. Clinton is viewed as having been for the past quarter century an insider and part of the forces that shaped the malfunctioning politics. Trump is seen as a political outsider without the Clintonesque scars, but someone who benefited from the gravy that the political system produced and still produces for some. Thus there are many voters who don’t want to support either candidate and may turn to the two third party candidates.

4. While the winning count of 270 electoral college votes seems to favour Clinton at this stage sixty days out, the voters could upset these predictions. They did that when it came to the Republicans choosing their candidate Trump, out of seventeen contenders.

5. After election day the issues that gave voters the Clump choice will remain, and until a way is found to revise the underlying conditions the US political system is likely to stay either broken or severely damaged.

6. Many Canadians seem to think they are separate and isolated from Clump on one side and Brexit in Europe. I doubt this is the case. How this will all work out is a mystery to me.

Where will the jobs be – 3

July 18, 2016

Can machines replace humans?

As background to forecasting jobs and education/skills for the future, a McKinsey Quarterly study provides input.

“Michael Chui, James Manyika, and Mehdi Miremadi have been exploring what jobs are likely to be altered more or less by technology. They present some results in “Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet)” in the July 2016 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly.” (from The Conversable Economist, July 11, 2016 posting.)


In order to view this chart please click on:

( I was unable to copy the chart to this posting!)

The chart lists sixteen sectors of the economy in different manufacturing and service sectors. Each row lists seven activities which are broadly common to each sector, thus “managing others” and “data processing” for the agriculture sector are an example of two of the seven activities in this sector.

The size of the circles shows how much time is spent on each activity – a small circle for little time and a large one for much time. Thus a lot of time is spent on “unpredictable physical work” in agriculture and on “predictable physical work” in manufacturing. The colour of the circle shows how easy it is to automate that activity, thus easy to do in retail trade for “predictable physical work” and hard to do in “applying expertise” in finance and insurance. In accommodation and food service, a large amount of time is spent doing “predictable physical work” and this is easy to automate. In general a worker entering a sector where anything is easy to automate will probably have a lower salary and a higher risk of losing that job.

The table provides information to job seekers and counselors regarding employment opportunities. What sectors and skills to prepare for (education and training) can be gleaned from this figure. While some jobs are likely to be lost due to some form of automation, others will be created to provide whatever needs to be substituted. The US Department of Labour lists 800 occupations and 2000 tasks performed in the context of these occupations.

Data on wages and salaries in Canada is another source of what remuneration can be expected today for particular jobs. A web search will locate this type of information for different occupations in Canada.

One example, and there are many more, is at:

This listing shows expected jobs by title, median salary, 5 year wage growth, 5 year job growth and demand outlook.

Brexit or 2016 and all that

June 29, 2016

“Every might at six o’clock Alvar Liddell brought us news of fresh disasters. ….Never you mind the thousands of dead, I said, you put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice cup of tea.” (Beyond The Fringe skit).

What will happen next? The most accurate answer is that no one knows. We are pretty good at reporting what has happened and fairly hopeless at what will happen after some major event. In order to have forecast today’s global economic circumstances, investment advisor John Maudlin writes as follows (from his website for June 25, 2016).

“If I had come on to this stage four years ago and told you … that we were going to have 40% of the world’s governmental debt at negative interest rates, $10 trillion on central bank balance sheets, and $10 trillion worth of dollar-denominated emerging-market debt, and that global GDP growth would average only 2%, unemployment would be below 5%, and interest rates would be negative in much of the world and less than 50 basis points in the US, you would have laughed me out of the room. You would have all hit the unsubscribe button. Today’s world was unthinkable a mere four to five years ago.”

Maudlin causes pause for consideration for those who think that anyone has a good grasp of what is likely to happen in the political-economy sphere over the next five even two years. Economic and political forecasting is far less reliable than weather forecasting and that’s not saying much. The forces of globalization perhaps sums up what is happening, but that overused term needs interpretation and refinement in today’s world.

What appears to be happening?

The Brexit vote is described by some as a tectonic shift in world events. I have my doubts. In the past 110 years there have been two world wars, many smaller ones, as well as a great depression and numerous recessions. Another source of disruption is technological change. It has affected a wide range of activities with the introduction of the steam engine, trains, planes, ships, cars and more recently computers and communications technology. Schumpeterian “creative destruction” took place. Economies were shocked by these technologies, but adapted, sometimes more quickly than others, and life went on. Some people were affected more than others, but in general the standard of living in the world improved. There were winners and losers.

Coinciding with these developments world population was increasing, so that whereas median world income rose there would be more people in the lowest quartile of incomes. It’s a good or a bad news story depending how you spin the statistics. If your income is below the mean today, you are worse off than those above it, but you may be significantly better off than those below the mean twenty or fifty years ago.

With many more people, the current world economy also has more international trade and investment, and more crossborder movement of people as migrants, workers, tourists, criminals and refugees. Developments in communications technology allow people in different countries to have immediate information about conditions around the world, including through the use of social media. In this sense, the world has shrunk, not physically but in the ability of people to be informed about what is happening elsewhere, and in being able to visit and trade with each other. Just listing and mapping trade and investment agreements between countries produces a spider’s web of people and firms connecting around the world.

A similar set of linkages can be mapped by listing the supply chains of firms manufacturing goods and services. The inputs of items like cars come from many countries where part of the value-added is undertaken before shipping to another location in the same or another country. A Japanese car sold in North America may have been made there with few actual Japanese inputs.

Along comes an event like Brexit. Some view it as an unraveling of the movement towards economic and political union in Europe since 1945, and a return to nationalism and the antagonisms between nation states, especially if other countries decide either to leave the EU or weaken their ties to it. Others see it as a restoration of state sovereignty and the desire of countries to shape the social and economic environment within their borders. For reasons similar to why clubs are formed, people want to live beside other like-minded persons, as they do in neighborhoods, clubs and religious communities. Concerns are raised because state sovereignty can lead to nasty nationalism, but this is something that the promotion of human values tries to ameliorate, not always that well as the record of conflict shows.

My take is that things will settle down as people and firms view their options and make adjustments. These will occur in trade agreements, defense alliances, the way industries are structured and organized, .and the ability of people to move between countries.

What is the alternative?

If Brexit had not occurred something else would have to relieve the pressures caused by a combination of the crossborder movement of persons whether as refugees, illegal migrants or others, the debt situation outlined in the Maudlin quote, and the environmental movement.

The last does not seem part of the Brexit debate. It takes place in other circles but will likely become part of the dialogue. My take on this is that there are obvious visible signs of environmental problems such as air pollution in Asian cities, and water pollution in rivers, lakes and oceans. The plastic junk pictured in the Pacific and other oceans is a visible cause of concern with viable alternatives available to address the situation. The link between human activity and global warming is, in my mind, an interesting hypothesis but not one where the facts collected so far confirm the linkage, but that is for another day.

As far as Brexit is concerned, it will cause adjustments to be made. If the vote had gone the other way, the pressure for change would still have been there and would have become manifest in other ways. The pressure for change exists in continental European countries for reasons similar to that in the UK. In the current US presidential campaign, the desire for change is manifest by the widespread support of Trump on one side and Sanders on the other, together with a visceral dislike for Clinton by some. But for now as the opening quote said about the WW2 bombing of Britain,

“Never you mind……you put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice cup of tea.”

The Idea of Canada – a review

June 21, 2016

David Johnston, The Idea of Canada, Letters to a Nation (Penguin 2016).

A challenging topic is addressed in an interesting and highly readable style. The contents certainly justify the title, which should be required reading for all foreign diplomats posted to Canada, and probably all Canadian officials posted abroad. Although not written as a history of Canada, it is one, with morsels of the historical record in each chapter. Each is written as a letter to some Canadian or foreigner past or present who has excelled in some manner. Many could be expanded into a chapter for understanding some aspect of Canada.
The Idea of Canada could also be used in school and university classrooms for the presentation and discussion of Canadian history, a subject woefully under-taught at the moment, judging by what students today seem to know about their country. It would also require that teachers having a better knowledge of Canada, which I fear may often also be missing. My understanding of the country is vastly improved by this book. Especially how the parts fit together and how values have emerged.

The author’s hero is Samuel de Champlain (1574 – 1636), one of whose skills was to learn about coping with all aspects of the environment, from those already living in what was to become Canada. (Note, these natives were themselves immigrants from earlier years as humans moved out of the African continent. All Canadians are immigrants of some generation. I am one from 1956). As an individual, Champlain achieved on land and sea with the limited technology available, at least by today’s standards, what NASA is achieving in exploring space supported by vast amounts of public funding.

Foremost in David Johnston’s life is his family, especially six womenfolk and twelve grandchildren, who continue to educate him. Through their lives and work they provide linkages to various aspects of Canada, especially those related to current conditions.

In the letters the author has written to a wide variety of persons, the combination of people, places, values, and events become both summarized  and intertwined, providing material for understanding Canada’s history. Few are able to take these pieces and fit them together so that the jigsaw becomes a comprehensible picture of a society, and what can be viewed as a nation. The author has done this.

The sections of the book are entitled What Shapes Me, What Consumes Me, and What Inspires Me. Summarized in each section are topics such as education, caring, innovation, philanthropy, volunteerism, and support for families and children. Many of these are in letters written to Canadians who have won awards in one of these areas.

Readers will have their own “aha” moments. One of mine was p.179  “…I’m a regular churchgoer, I tend not to get caught up in the doctrinal aspects of religion. To me church is a way to connect with friends and neighbours to get a sense of the views of others…..” (Though both my grandparents were vicars, I am not a regular churchgoer, but I understand how the various aspects of religion may satisfy individuals and contribute to societal wellbeing, as does club membership).

It would be easy to extend this review, but I recommend that readers read the book themselves, find out what interests them, and use it for discussion purposes. Each chapter is short, well written, understandable and thought provoking….easy to pick up and put down.

Galileo would be smiling

June 14, 2016

The climate debate

  • A lethal phrase about a highly contentious issue is that “the science is settled”. Climate change is one such subject. There is an ever expanding literature claiming that human activity, and especially the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2), is responsible for global warming. Galileo must have felt like today’s climate deniers, when he asserted that the earth rotated around the sun thereby contradicting the religious experts. Although eventually proven right, Galileo had to appear before the Inquisition whose membership of learned clerics held the opposing view that the sun circled the earth. In the end the clerics were found out to be charlatans. (The film The Name of the Rose, and in a lighter vein a Monty Python skit, illustrate how the Inquisition worked in a less than politically correct manner.) My colleague Michael Hart explains this and much more in Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change.


  • I enter this debate with no background in climate research, having written nothing on the subject except a blog posting on Dec 8, 2014 ( But after a half century in academia, I do have some ability for detecting bullshit, how it gains financial backing and then becomes considered a financial entitlement.


  • The essence of the global warming argument goes something like this. The temperature of the earth varies over time, by the hour, season and era, either rising or falling. In the past few decades it has been stable, but in the last decades of the twentieth century, it rose by perhaps as much as half a degree. Human related activity is thought mainly responsible by causing increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The consequences are bad if not catastrophic for humanity, and thus the need to introduce policies to prevent the rise. So goes the argument.


  • This doctrine has a large following around the world, and those who think otherwise are viewed as heretics. Elected politicians dare say nothing critical for fear of offending true believers, while pouring forth policies to support it. A recent example is the Ontario government’s Five Year Climate Change Action Plan, 2016 – 2020 – see (  There are many others in the bible of climate change.


  • (As an aside, less than flattering commentary is made about how Ontario has dealt with similar policies to-date.  “ The Liberal Government brought in the Green Energy Act and signed multibillion-dollar deals with manufacturers of solar- and wind-power parts and were very proud of it, and then they watered down parts of the law and carved billions of dollars off the manufacturing deals and are very proud of that too. They pushed for offshore wind farms and then scrapped them, and now we’re being sued for a billion dollars. They brought in variable pricing for electricity to make it more expensive to use when it’s more expensive to generate, but didn’t make the difference sharp enough to make a really big difference. Wynne (the Ontario Premier) herself promised an adult conversation about raising money to pay for a giant transit construction program, then backed away from all the(Ottawa  hardest ideas like increasing sales and gasoline taxes. Nobody’s built a new toll road either. (Ottawa Citizen, June 9, 2016, A7).


  • Similar behaviour took place when the Limits To Growth hypothesis was proposed in 1972, and later found to be wanting.”The original version presented a model based on five variables: world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resources depletion. These variables are considered to grow exponentially, while the ability of technology to increase resources availability is only. The authors intended to explore the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among the five variables under three scenarios. They noted that their projections for the values of the variables in each scenario were predictions “only in the most limited sense of the word,” and were only indications of the system’s behavioral tendencies. Two of the scenarios saw “overshoot and collapse” of the global system by the mid to latter part of the 21st century, while a third scenario resulted in a “stabilized world.”


  • The science is settled was the cry of the “Limits To Growthers”. It turned out differently in many ways. For example, today the planet is awash with oil and natural gas. But examining this earlier religious belief, which turned out to be flawed, is for another time. For those interested, Wikipedia, source of the above quote, provides a summary account of what happened and why some still claim its validity while others disagree. A scientific approach is to state a hypothesis and then collect facts to support and refute it.


  • How might science be able to help regarding the present climate change debate?  “The science is settled” mantra reflects a misunderstanding of what is generally considered to be scientific methodology.  It involves stating a relationship which can be tested against available facts and information. The information is either supportive of or contradictory to the proposed hypothesis. Those wanting to support a hypothesis should search diligently for information which will reject it. If they find none, then they have not settled the issue, but they have reason to believe in it until conflicting information is found. Science is never settled as Galileo’s opponents found…..maybe one day we will find Galileo was wrong but at present most support his view.


  • What scientific inquiry aims to establish is whether global warming is taking place, whether carbon dioxide is increasing due to increased human activity and whether this is the cause of global warming today. By testing these hypotheses it will be possible to say that available evidence supports or rejects the relationships. It will never be possible to say that the science is settled, because it never is about any hypothesis. Religious beliefs can be settled for believers, but not scientific knowledge for scientists and those using their research. If you, the reader, know the science is settled, then there is no need to read any further. You are a believer not a scientist, and you will join a large band of believers, who unfortunately, in my view, are driving the debate for policy change.


  • How do you measure the temperature of a planet consisting of land and water, of places with different latitudes and longitudes, of seasons that vary from hot to cold, and of land areas and oceans with different altitudes and depths? These are only some of the variables that may affect how the temperature of planet Earth is determined.


  • There seems to be general agreement that the temperature of the planet changes over time, and that at present it is experiencing a warming trend from an earlier ice-age some centuries ago. There is also agreement that the population of the planet has increased from around 2.5 billion in 1950 to over 7 billion today, heading towards 10 billion by 2050 before it starts to taper off. Finally there is agreement that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by a combination of factors, one of which results from human activity. There is no agreement that the increase in CO2 today is primarily due to human activity as opposed to the other factors which cause changes in the level of this gas.


  • In the past there have been periods when the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increased but global warming was not observed. Something else was the cause of global warming. This should at least give pause to the views of some believers.

Finally, a modest suggestion to the Canadian Environment Minister,that she appoint at least one advisor who has  a scientific frame of mind and is willing to go beyond the “science is settled” mantra. It is not the number of people who take a particular position but the quality of their case that matters.The proposal here is for an adult conversation about these important issues.

Canadian Content – Milking the System

May 31, 2016


What do cows and culture have in common? Both crave protectionism, supply management for dairy products and content quotas for culture. While technology has driven a stake through the heart of cultural protectionism, Canadian dairy content at present remains intact.

The Liberal government is re-examining Canada’s cultural policies, which includes the hoary issue of the nature of Canadian content and whether it needs protection. Robert Fulford speaks of this in the National Post (May 27th, 2016)

 “Canada notably lacks a collective imagination. Individual novelists find ways to develop Canadian stories that win both national and international readers. But for the CBC “our stories” remains an empty slogan, a claim that commanding and important legends live offstage, waiting for broadcasters to bring them to life. Federally mandated Canadian content regulations express a yearning for a more robust national spirit, but it’s not something you can regulate into existence.”

On the same general topic, Andrew Coyne in the National Post (May 25th, 2016) writes

“… “American” TV, much of which is created by Canadians. As if the other paradoxes and contradictions of cultural nationalism were not enough, there is no self-evident definition of “Canadian content.” How do we define a Canadian? Parentage? Place of birth? Residence? What makes a Canadian story? Written by a Canadian? Set in Canada? “Identifiably Canadian themes,” whatever they are? 

Now add together all the moving parts needed to make a film or TV show — producers, directors, actors, writers, “in-betweeners” — and you have the absurdity of CanCon as it is actually practised, teams of dedicated bureaucrats using precision-crafted calipers to determine that, say, a Blue Jays broadcast from New York is Canadian but a Bryan Adams song is not.”

Lobbyists for retaining CanCon are the cultural industry associations, their lawyers and academics who feast on the policies.

So should cultural nationalism be supported? The answer here is a conditional yes, but not as presently structured. Questions to be answered include:

What is a Canadian story?

When do Canadians create them?

Why should Canadians listen/view them?

What happens if Canadians don’t read, listen to or watch them?

I will try to address some of these questions and suggest some policy options, one of which is to do nothing and let audiences decide. This is pretty much the view of Andrew Coyne, and one which has merit.

One qualification I would make is to recognize that at the birth of film-making, radio and TV, there may have been an infant industry argument for granting some support/and protection, so that Canadian producers and distributors could get started. This was one reason for establishing public broadcasters like the BBC, CBC and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in a number of countries, although not in the US….ok, PBS and NPR have elements of public broadcasting.

The difficulty is that once the infant is supported it is never weaned from the public teat. Canada made the mistake, in my view, of funding its public broadcaster with a combination of public funds and commercial advertising revenue, unlike the BBC and ABC. If the public broadcaster is to remain, it should not be in competition with private broadcasters for commercial revenues.

What is Canadian?

Content is usually considered Canadian if it is authored, acted/performed or produced by Canadians, involves Canadian writers, actors, performers etc, or Canada is where the money to produce it is raised and spent. Some connection to Canada is required. A movie made in Canada about Denmark would likely be considered Canadian content, while a movie made in Denmark about Canada would not. All sorts of anomalies arise.

In the case of current policies, whether Canadians are actually the audiences for Canadian defined content does not matter. For example, the audience for CBC English language TV has been declining markedly, and French language TV to a lesser extent.  CBC radio in both languages has experienced a lesser decline. It does not broadcast commercials.

A private Canadian broadcaster is required to distribute a certain amount of Canadian defined content regardless of whether anyone watches it. It is a push as opposed to a pull strategy where audiences choose to see certain programs. Check the channel packages you are forced to purchase with channels you never watch. Or imagine going to the grocery store and being told that if you want to buy a cabbage, you have to buy a turnip as well.

 Why the need?

The need for Canadians to create Canadian stories is argued to be good for national cohesion and as an aid to education. Canadians need to know about Canada, and the media is an important avenue for this to happen if it transmits the “right” content. So goes the argument.

The problem is that Canadians often do not fall into line. They choose to spend their time with other types of print, sound and visual content. Never more so than now, when the internet age makes it possible to access content either for free (if you own the right hardware) or at low cost and in a wide variety of locations.

So is there another way to proceed? That is to meet the desire of governments to support the arts, which is a branch of education, and to get larger Canadian audiences to pay for the output and delivery?

An alternative approach?

Those most in need of support are in the early stages of their artistic careers, where they have yet to gain a reputation and a track record whether as author, director, producer, performer, artist, etc. Similar to the support given to education and athletes at an early stage of their careers, assist those developing cultural related talents.

Subsidies directed to those who are already established can be both a waste, and a disincentive to survival without dependence on state support. The state does have a role, but it is with measures like copyright and patents to support those who are creative and who do succeed.

In today’s world (globalization and all that), creative opportunities have expanded as it becomes easier for artists to reach larger audiences. Challenges will remain to be rewarded financially from all those who benefit as audiences from artistic work, but this has always been the case. Today, the technology makes it easier to create and publish works, even though the competition for audiences has also increased. Music groups, for example, use the internet to distribute their productions for free with the aim of becoming known and then being paid. Apprentices in the trades face a similar situation.

Like the success of dairy farmers in retaining supply management, the cultural industry lobby in Canada has captured the politicians and bureaucracy to provide increased funding and protection without Canadians necessarily consuming it. Benefits accrue to certain cultural participants but not necessarily to Canadians as consumers.

There is a case for certain types of government support for creative endeavor by Canadians (I prefer to call it that rather than Canadian content). At the same time, there is a need to wean the lobbying groups off the existing so called cultural teats that have been used by all three levels of government. An alternative is to direct support to those at the outset of their creative careers. But at some point they need to be able to stand alone and not turn to the nanny state.


Having spent a lifetime in academia with tenure and as the recipient of grants, I realize a similar argument can apply. Here new technology may also bring about change, the subject for a future posting. With a colleague Keith Acheson, I did write Much Ado about Culture, North American Trade Disputes (University of Michigan Press, 1999) which dealt with these issues. We were unable to find a Canadian publisher interested in publishing this book.

Federal Voting in Canada

May 20, 2016

The argument made that the Bloc and the Green Party should have a vote in the Canadian House of Commons (HOC) Committee to propose a new electoral system is, in my view, without much merit. If it has any, it is more so in the case of the Bloc with ten seats and 4.5% of the popular vote, than the Green Party with one seat and 3.5%. The Green party member could be considered an independent MP who happens to be associated with a party. In the future, any elected independent MP could claim some party affiliation to gain membership. In the 2015 election there were candidates from 18 parties other than the 5 with seats in the HOC.

This is an illustration of what could happen with an electoral system using proportional representation. Debate to-date assumes that only the five parties who at present have elected members will run candidates. If that was the case, then these parties would get more members elected at the expense of especially the Liberals and the Conservatives. But that will not be the case, as other parties will spring up, and the HOC could look like a case of measles with an array of parties, and increased difficulty in getting a majority vote on anything like a budget, unless each of the parties is bought off with taxpayers funds. To see what might happen watch Borgen on TV, a Danish series based on what takes place in the Danish parliament where there are many parties.

If there is change to the existing system, then some form of preferential voting appears preferable, where elected members retain links to ridings. Proportional representation, in my view, invites disaster for the governing process, and has not been favoured in referenda in several provinces. No province appears to be making any changes, suggesting that the present system is probably the least worst of those being considered. Regrettably, no party elected on a platform of electoral change can be seen doing the sensible thing and not making a change.

A Rehearsal for WW2 – The Spanish Civil War

May 17, 2016


I use to think that the interwar years were those of peace between two world wars. My mistake, which a reading of Adam Hochschild, Spain In Our Hearts, Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) makes clear. It illustrates the state of the global political economy, especially in Europe, North America and the Soviet Union at that time.

Economically, these were the depression years in North America, illustrated in prose by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and later in a movie. In the Soviet Union there were ghastly experiments taking place especially in agriculture, which led to many deaths through starvation. And in Europe the political choice for the future was seen by many to be between Fascism and Communism, with the prospects for capitalism and liberal democracy considered by many to be non-existent.

And yet the last survived in North America and Europe, and to various degrees in countries such as Japan and India, although not in many parts of the former Soviet Union, where elements of liberal democracy are a rare find.

The opponents in the Spanish Civil War were right-wing Spanish Nationalists and left-wing Spanish Republicans. When the war started, Spain was ruled by the Republicans who, having disposed of the monarchy, were to be overthrown by  Francisco Franco. He ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. From 1978 to the present, the country has operated as a constitutional monarchy which was not something Franco had planned for.

At home, Franco was backed by parts of the military, the Catholic Church and the wealthier classes especially the landowners. Abroad, he was supported by Hitler and Mussolini, as well as by certain interests in North America and Europe. Germany provided aircraft and pilots, using the occasion to prepare for warfare that was to follow in Europe after 1939. Texaco supplied fuel for Franco’s planes and tanks.

Some of the Spanish armed forces remained loyal to the official Spanish government run by the Republicans, but they were supplemented with foreign fighters from an estimated 50 countries, including the Soviet Union, France, the UK, US and Canada. These international brigades, organized by the Communist International, contained about 60,000 people overall, principally male, of which about 20,000 were active at any one time. A memorial to over 1500 Canadians who served in the Mackenzie-Papineau brigade during the civil war was unveiled in Ottawa in 2001. It is situated on Green Island off Sussex Drive.

Hochschild’s account of the war is based on interviews, correspondence and writings of those present at the time such as George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia) and Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls). It is likely that there are no living veterans, but their descendants are still around. A book about the Canadian participants is Michael Petrou, Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, UBC Press, 2008; and there are numerous titles (book and magazine) about other aspects of the war.

A link between the world wars

The threads that bind 1918, the end of WW1, to 1939 and the start of WW2, include the global economic conditions, especially the burden of reparations imposed by the victors on Germany at the end of the war. Keynes accurately portrayed in Economic Consequences of the Peace the damage to future world order that these payments would create. They lead to the rise of Hitler and the demise of democratic institutions in that country.  At the same time, Mussolini, in cooperation with the Pope and Vatican, established a Fascist dictatorship in Italy. Both Hitler and Mussolini had supporters in the US, UK and other parts of Western Europe who were prepared to make a deal with the dictators.

Mussolini came to power in Italy in the 1920s about a decade before Hitler. God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner provides a good account of the Vatican’s cooperation with Hitler (reviewed in this blog March 28, 2016):

…Pope Pius XI signing the Reichskonkordat with ­Hitler, which, in return for winning a measure of freedom for German Catholics ­under the Nazis, assured silence from the Holy See over the forced sterilization of 400,000 people and then only the faintest of ­objections to the Holocaust. 

Another interwar thread was made up of the hyper-inflationary conditions in Germany, the economic depression in the US and elsewhere, and the pressure for political independence by a number of countries associated with European empires. Independence was to come in the postwar period. Today there are about 200 sovereign countries, although sovereignty often does not come with much political or economic independence, as Scotland may soon find out.

Adam Hochschild’s first rate treatment of the Spanish Civil War fits neatly into this inter world war period, describing a time of localised economic and military conflict, while the major combatants prepared for the main action which was to start in 1939 in Europe and the Far East.

The events described are based on the author’s personal interviews with survivors, and materials which participants recorded, often in letters, about their combat experiences. The war pit Spaniard against Spaniard, leaving tensions which remain, including issues of Basque and Catalan sovereignty. Today we can read about it but also view the war in a television documentary made a few years ago by Granada TV.