CANADA

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CANADIAN DEMOCRACY

Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.” –  Michael Moore

When I retired in 2005 I spent a couple of years taking care of all the things that get pushed down the To Do List when working – finances, wills, overseas trips supporting the New Zealand “All Blacks” rugby team , and the like. I then turned to my favourite “hobby”,  bird-dogging issues that interested me in the political realm.

Canada is a very large country spread over six time zones and its Federal political system reflects that. The Federal Government is responsible for defense, immigration and citizenship, the currency, foreign relations, and such. Provincial Legislatures oversee things like education, healthcare, and energy. The Cities and Municipalities keep the roads in good order, the drinking water safe, monitor the public health, and provide welfare and low income housing among other things.

Like the United States, Canadian Provinces share a single currency and therefore currency devaluations are not available to them to help boost poor economic performance and tax revenue. So in order to maintain some balance of social services for all citizens the Federal Government facilitates substantial money transfers from “have” to “have not” Provinces. These intergovernmental monetary transfers do of course come with conditions to ensure social goals are achieved and the Federal Government has a great deal of influence in Provincial jurisdictions – especially in the costly healthcare field.

I agree with the old adage, “The effectiveness of any democracy is directly proportional to the involvement of its citizens,” and have spent much of my retirement pursuing issues at all three levels of government – Canada, Ontario, and Toronto. In some ways I think retirees owe it to the younger folk who spend much of their time raising young families and earning a living, to keep a close eye on their elected officials. But I also encourage young folk to participate in the electoral process since Seniors tend to vote in greater numbers and in their own interests.

OTTAWA

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Until 2014 most of my political activity was confined to Toronto Municipal matters but in 2014 I and a great number of Canadians had grown very tired of our Federal Conservative Government lead by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper was a brilliant strategist who defeated the scandal-plagued Liberal centre-left party in 2006 by combining the two right-of-centre parties and sidelining their more progressive members. Our first-past-the-post electoral system handed him an outright majority with 38% of the vote in the 2011 election.

Harper was a manipulative, petty, and vindictive politician who controlled all Government activities from the Prime Minister’s Office. Cabinet Ministers and all Government Departments had to pre-clear all announcements through the PMO and he played religious, ethnic, and economic groups against one another to his electoral advantage.

In late 2014 I decided to join the Liberal Party of Canada which had by that time been reduced to the “Third Party” with about ten percent of the seats in the House of Commons. Electoral routs over the previous three elections had purged all the bad players and the Party was now lead by Justin Trudeau, the forty-three-year-old son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau a former Prime Minister of the 1970’s. Young Trudeau was a former school drama teacher newly elected in 2011. Harper and Tom Mulcair the leader of the left-leaning and poll-leading New Democratic Party figured they would sideline Trudeau with some, “Great hair, but just not ready” personal attack advertising and make the 2015 election a contest between their left-and-right-leaning parties. They were confident there was no longer any room for the centrist Liberal Party which they expected to be all but wiped out.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way!

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The 2015 Federal Election was the first time I had ever been involved in a formal campaign and I was motivated and anxious to get started. I contacted my local Liberal Candidate’s representative and was told his local campaign would not start until well into 2015. So I checked the Event page on the Party’s website and found Dr. Jane Philpott the Party’s Markham-Stouffville Candidate was to hold a formal fundraising dinner at the local golf club.  Paul Martin a former Liberal Prime Minister was to be the Guest and attendees would be able to discuss politics over a well-laid table and a fine vintage. It was quite an expensive outing but not only did I thoroughly enjoy the occasion, I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Philpott speak and to discuss her candidacy with her.


I was not disappointed. Jane was Head of Family Medicine at Markham-Stouffville Hospital north of Toronto, taught at the University of Toronto, and was active in the Mennonite Church. She had spent her early professional years in Niger where her oldest daughter succumbed to meningitis at the age of two. But she stayed there for twelve years practicing general medicine and developing a training programme for village doctors. She returned to Niger in 2005 with Médecins sans Frontières during a food crisis.  Jane came across as knowledgeable, experienced, able, and organized. Her quiet and measured approach belied her high energy and determined staying power.

My brother in New York was very sceptical that Jane could be of more use as a member of Parliament rather than practising family medicine. But she apparently made it very clear to Paul Martin when he recruited her into the Party she would only become involved in politics if she had the opportunity of making a difference in how healthcare was undertaken in Canada. She believed much more attention should be paid to arresting healthcare problems “at the top of the cliff” where they could be prevented rather than trying to clean up the mess at the bottom when they were fully developed and very expensive to treat. Martin apparently provided her with enough assurance.

Dr. Philpott says research shows poor social conditions play a major role in many serious and chronic illnesses that are very expensive to treat under Canada’s single-payer healthcare system. She says her experience bears this out and if Canada invests in adequate housing, nutrition, timely mental services, and the like, the return from reduced healthcare costs will be considerable – for example poor nutrition leads to diabetes, and homelessness increases avoidable emergency room visits. This also made a lot of sense to me on both the fiscal and humane levels and I felt I had a Candidate I could fully support.

We exchanged the following emails after the function:

06/11/2014

Dear Allan,

Thank you!                                                                               

Hope you are well. Thank you so much for coming out on Tuesday night to the Paul Martin event. I hope you had fun. Please let me know any feedback on the event. Of course we were delighted with the fundraising results. But I also want to make sure that our events are enjoyable and worthwhile for everyone who gives up their time and money to be there!

We’re working hard to get as much of the fundraising done as soon as we can so that we are well prepared for the 2015 campaign. I hope to run a very strong campaign. Your financial support is an important contribution that will help us to be successful. I am really grateful for your generosity and support. Many thanks.

Have a wonderful day!

Jane

12/11/2014

Dear Jane,

Thank you for your email. I can tell you I enjoyed the evening with Mr Martin immensely and found it to be a creative and value-driven fundraising event. And I say this as a Don Valley West constituent!

I respect greatly Mr Martin’s thoughtful and principled approach to the Liberal cause, and I know he believes you will bring a similar approach. I share his high expectations for your candidacy and political career.

As a new member of the Liberal Party I am greatly concerned a Federal Liberal Government does not fall into the wayward ways of former Liberal Governments and our Ontario Liberal cousins. I’m particularly concerned about the seemingly inevitable abandonment of Liberal Values the longer the tenure of our Governments. In this regard I’ve attached an article published by a US conservative institution critical of liberal government in the US. It is, among other things, critical of liberals’ apparent indifference to government waste and failure – something we readily recognize here in Ontario! In any event, I always think it pays to see what the other guys are saying about the Liberal Cause – and make darned sure we don’t govern down to their low expectations.

With kind regards,

Allan Portis.

The Laurier Club

One of the few good things Stephen Harper did for Canadian democracy was to limit annual campaign contributions to $3,000 per individual – $1,500 to a Federal Party and $1,500 to a local candidate.  Contributions from corporations, unions, not-for-profits, and other special interest groups are prohibited. The Conservatives felt this would give themselves an advantage having many more individual contributors, but the Liberals “got busy” and set up two campaign funds – the Laurier Club and the Victory Fund for Party Members contributing $1,500 at the federal and local level, respectively.

Sir Wilfred Laurier was a Liberal and Canada’s seventh Prime Minister.

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Money is required at the federal level to fund researchers, fundraisers, data gathering and pollsters, political advertising, a campaign aircraft, and the like, and for expenses like election signage, and meals for campaign workers at the local level. A successful campaign requires a lot of money so I joined both funds with monthly  automatic deductions from my bank account. At least half of these contributions are recoverable via credits on my annual tax return but these don’t play a significant role in my decision to contribute.

The Laurier Club provides an important and predictable funding base for the Party, and its Administrator and the Party Leader pay special attention to the Members – mainly invitations to provide feedback on proposed policy issues.  But my favourite aspect is the National and local Laurier Club Receptions. I’m told the National Receptions were quite impressive affairs held at Stornaway the Leader of the Opposition’s Official Residence in Ottawa before the Liberals slipped to “Third Party” status.

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I attended my first National Laurier Club Reception in 2014 at a reasonably modest event facility by the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I got into the spirit of the occasion and travelled to Ottawa on Porter Airlines and stayed at the historical Chateau Laurier Hotel. I had a grand old time. Most of the Party’s thirty three Members of Parliament were there and we got to chat policy over canapés and wine. I had my photograph taken with Justin and had a brief chat with his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau. They are both very engaging and connect easily with the folks. Sophie was a Quebec media personality and an accomplished professional in her own right. I told her that though I thought it very important I come to Ottawa to meet our future Prime Minister I felt it even more important I meet his inspiration! Justin was good enough to pose with me in Ottawa and with Santa sometime later in the campaign when he visited one of our neighbourhood Supermarkets as a backdrop for a policy announcement. As an aside, I was amused to hear Justin introduce Sophie as, “My Inspiration” at a gathering of women in New York following the election!

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Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau

During the 77 day campaign Jane ran quite a high-profile campaign against Paul Calandra the Conservative incumbent who had taken the seat by around twelve thousand votes in the last election. She participated in the local riding debates and also appeared on a few short election-related television segments. A high profile campaign office was set up in a rented store front on Stouffvill’s Main Street, but to come from behind and overcome Calandra’s lead Jane would also need a very good ground game.

Jane’s Campaign Team was both friendly and well-organized. I was assigned to put Jane Philpott signs on lawns and knock on doors in the Markham-Stouffville constituency to find out who the likely Liberal voters were. We were guided by a mobile voter data collection and analysis app developed by the US Democratic Party. Liberal Party Headquarters in Ottawa downloaded Elections Canada data onto our mobile devices showing how many registered voters there were in each household. Canvassers could therefore save themselves the effort for example of calling on households that contained no registered voters. On a couple of mornings we were out on the Stouffville GO Train station at 6am in the dark and cold before the birds awoke handing out free coffee and campaign literature.

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Stouffville GO Station

Prime Minister Harper ended up calling the longest official election campaign period yet – 77 days. He planned to take advantage of larger government campaign funding subsidies the Conservatives were entitled to and “bury” the inexperienced Trudeau ounce and for all. But young Trudeau did well in the first leaders’ debate assisted by the very low expectations prompted by the Conservatives’ negative campaign advertising. In fact, it was the extended election period that allowed Trudeau and the Liberals to develop and fine tune their campaign to the point they presented as a credible alternative to both the Conservatives and New Democratic Parties.

I feel the turning point came about ten days out from election day when the Liberals held a major rally in the Greater Toronto Area city of Brampton. I headed on out to the hockey arena where it was held and roughly seven thousand others turned up as well. Trudeau’s wife Sophie introduced Trudeau and their young family and Trudeau gave a rousing speech on the Liberal campaign theme of, “Hope and Hard Work for Real Change.” Reporting after the rally the Press was of the view the Liberals were now showing ‘momentum’, and many NDP supporters began to see the Liberals as the most likely progressive alternative to the Conservatives.

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The Brampton Rally

Jane made a final appeal to the electorate the day before the vote:

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Here we are.

An election about the soul of our nation

After 77 busy days of the official campaign, we are on the eve of Canada’s 2015 federal election. It has been a great honour to be a candidate with the Liberal Party of Canada. I’m proud to be part of a campaign that is positive, audacious and inspiring.

Tomorrow, please cast your ballot for a team that believes better is always possible.

You have a big decision to make on October 19th, as does every Canadian. You have to decide about the future of our country: and, as a friend of mine said to me recently, this election is about the soul of our nation. This is about the kind of Canada that you want to be. One of the reasons I am so pleased to be a Liberal candidate is because I love the Liberal vision for the future of this country. It’s bold. It’s ambitious. It’s optimistic. It’s hopeful. And we have a plan to create jobs, to boost the economy and to look out for the interests of everyone.

I’ve talked to Canadians in the last few months a lot and I’ve listened to Canadians as well. I’ve asked them specifically what they are looking for in a Member of Parliament. One of the first things they say is that they want someone who listens.

So – I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life listening to literally thousands of people. In my day job, I have a person come into my office every 15 minutes and they close the door of my clinic and they tell me the most serious concerns of their lives. They tell me the happiest moments of their lives. They tell me where they’re hurting, where their families are hurting, where policies and social issues are affecting them.

I am so excited about the possibility that I’m going to be able to take potentially all of those stories of thousands of people in our community to Ottawa and to be able to represent this community and share with other policy makers what a difference the decisions that are made in Ottawa have on the lives of people here in Markham-Stouffville. I hope that you’re looking for a Member of Parliament who will listen.

I hope you’re looking for a Member of Parliament who will think; who will be thoughtful; who will entertain the perspectives of people across the board; who will realize that we don’t all think the same, that we come from all kinds of different backgrounds and perspectives, that we’re not all going to agree but that we need to find a way to work together.

And then I hope that you’re looking for a Member of Parliament who will act on the basis of those decisions, and who will make sure that policies and decisions are made and actions are taken so that life will be better here in Markham-Stouffville, across Canada, and, indeed, around the world.

Please vote tomorrow.

Jane.

Election Day on October 19th was a very busy affair. My duties as a Party Scrutineer began at 9:30am as soon as the polling station I was assigned to in Markham-Stoullville opened. I checked to see the polling station was opened on time and properly set up by Elections Canada. There were a series of polling stations across the electorate and each accommodated ten or so polls – individual desks staffed by two Elections Canada Officers responsible for checking the identity and residence of each voter on their Electoral Roll of registered voters living in a neighbourhood in the electorate.

During the day we “pulled the vote” – knocking on doors of identified Liberal supporters to remind them to vote and offering a ride to the polling station if necessary. When the Polls closed we observed the Elections Canada Officers open the vote boxes, and sort, count, and record the votes. All used and unused voting forms were accounted for. We called our individual poll results into Liberal Party headquarters who were keeping tabs on individual poll results. By 10:30pm Elections Canada had tabulated the total Canada-wide vote and declared the Liberals the winners with a solid majority of elected Members of the House of Commons.

All things considered, a Canadian federal election is a remarkably efficient exercise considering it crosses six time zones and tabulates votes from 337 constituencies and thousands of separate polling stations, all within 2-3 hours of the polls closing.

I attended Jane’s victory party later that night in Stouffville and we chatted briefly. I simply asked her to, “Please keep them honest.” Fiscal mismanagement, malpractice, and scandal have been the downfall of previous Liberal governments. Hopefully this government will be different with women making up half of the Cabinet positions, along with disabled, indigenous, and visible minority appointees.

Ottawa turned on a great fall day for the induction of the new Liberal government and I was pleased to see Jane had been appointed Minister of Health. Justin provided each Cabinet Minister with a Mandate Letter outlining which of the Party’s election promises he/she is responsible for implementing. This distribution of responsibility outside of the Prime Minister’s Office is a remarkably different approach to the previous government. And I’ve heard it said the Deputy Ministers and their Department officials are quite giddy from being asked to provide advice to the new and relatively inexperienced Ministers.

The new government got off to quite a quick legislative start and Justin sent me the following email in the New Year.

Thank you, Allan

It’s 2016 — and I couldn’t be happier.

Don’t get me wrong, 2015 was an amazing year and you have my deepest thanks for your generosity and support. Together we made history — bringing renewed optimism to Canadians in every corner of our country, and to all those we’ve welcomed to Canada over the last six weeks.

But we are in a new year now. And this year, more than any other, the hope of new beginnings is on my mind. I am inspired by the compassion and generosity of spirit that lives in communities all across this country. As prime minister, I see it everywhere I go. Over the holidays I saw it in in the hard-working people who worked and volunteered at homeless shelters and food banks. In the overflowing bins collecting toys for children, who deserve nothing in life but happiness and hope. And in the thousands of Canadians who have offered to sponsor families fleeing war in Syria and in other parts of the world. I am happy to share the news Canada welcomed its 10,000th refugee late Tuesday evening.

For our government’s part, that means doing more to support the middle class and all those working hard to join it. When I meet with Cabinet in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick next week, we will review all that has been accomplished since November 2015 and discuss further plans to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and grow an economy that works for all.

Soon after, I travel to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum annual meeting. There we’ll signal the return of a more positive, open, and innovative Canada to the international business community. In an increasingly interconnected global economy, Canada’s diversity and connections to the world are among our greatest economic assets, and will prove vital as we work to grow the middle class.

These are important, necessary first steps toward building a strong middle class. Because when our middle class is strong, growing, and successful, so is Canada. The coming year will be challenging, rewarding and full of hard work. Together we can achieve real and lasting change for years to come.

Thank you.

Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

In July 2016, Paul Wells a Toronto Columnist gave a very positive update on Jane’s short political career:

Jane Philpott making her mark in Trudeau cabinet: Paul Wells

Jane Philpott’s confidence is getting noticed in the government. Early on, she chaired a cabinet committee discussing Syrian refugees, and led her new colleagues with the assurance of a political veteran.

Jane Philpott  is older than some of her colleagues. She counsels them informally on work-life balance, on management techniques, and on policy. When a colleague needs help or simple encouragement, Philpott helps make it happen, writes Paul Wells.
Jane Philpott is older than some of her colleagues. She counsels them informally on work-life balance, on management techniques, and on policy. When a colleague needs help or simple encouragement, Philpott helps make it happen, writes Paul Wells.  (ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)  

Nine months after Justin Trudeau’s government was sworn in, it’s becoming clearer which cabinet ministers have begun to distinguish themselves from the rest. I’d recommend keeping an eye on Jane Philpott, the health minister.

I’ll admit that’s a bit of a challenge. She moves around a lot. Here is how Philpott stayed busy during only the second half of July.

In five days at the World AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, she delivered eight speeches, on topics ranging from mother-to-child HIV transmission to the “undeniable and unacceptable gaps” in health outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous populations in Canada.

Canadian health ministers usually attend the annual World AIDS Conference. But Philpott brought a rare level of sustained intensity to her visit — as befits a woman who has been fighting AIDS in Africa for 30 years, as a family doctor, a health-care administrator and a private fundraiser.

On her way home from Durban she stopped at Addis Ababa University, in Ethiopia, to check up on the family-health program she helped establish nearly a decade ago.

Philpott was back in Ottawa for all of a day before she headed to the northern Quebec Inuit village of Kuujjuaq to announce a suicide prevention program for Inuit communities. The national Inuit association, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, designed the program; Philpott was on hand to announce $9 million in federal funding. These programs are more effective if the affected populations take the lead in designing them, she said.

Just before her burst of travel — two long weeks ago now — Philpott deftly defused a nasty dispute between Canadian health scientists and the federal body that provides most of their funding, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Funding for the CIHR has stagnated in recent years, even as the number of applications for funding skyrocketed. The CIHR responded by streamlining peer review, the mechanism by which researchers themselves decide which projects will be funded. The goal was to save on workload and travel costs by having peer-review panels discuss proposals online instead of meeting face-to-face.

 

Jim Woodgett, director of research of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, wrote a letter protesting that the quality of funding decisions was deteriorating under the new system. He posted the letter online. In a week 1,300 researchers had signed it.

Philpott could have ignored the little rebellion as an intramural turf fight among eggheads. A government-appointed panel is already wandering around the country reviewing science policy. It was safe to assume they’d recommend the sort of changes Woodgett and his colleagues wanted, say six or eight months from now.

Philpott refused to wait. She ordered CIHR brass to meet the disgruntled researchers immediately. She sent her deputy minister and a senior staffer to attend. By the end of the meeting, the CIHR had suspended the controversial peer-review process. Woodgett told me Philpott’s emissaries played a key role in ensuring the changes would be immediate.

Why meddle in the lab-coat uprising, I asked Philpott. “I think when a health minister gets a letter from 1,300 researchers, there’s obviously a breakdown,” she told me. “What they were asking for was not unreasonable.”

Woodgett, who is not shy about complaining about politicians, came away deeply impressed. “She acts quickly before things get out of hand or fester,” he said. “I think she has deep respect from the medical community — in large part due to her irreproachable background and genuine care for people, whether in isolated African villages or Canada. It’s that breadth of experience that must give her confidence.”

Philpott’s confidence is getting noticed within the Trudeau government. Early on, she chaired a cabinet committee designed to meet Trudeau’s target of 25,000 Syrian refugees, and led her new colleagues with the assurance of a political veteran.

At 55, she is older than some of her colleagues in this young government. She counsels them informally on work-life balance, on management techniques, and on policy across a range of topics extending outside her own portfolio. She is said to work well with Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff, whom she has known for less than two years. When a colleague needs help or simple encouragement, Philpott helps make it happen.

Like everyone else in this hyperkinetic government, Philpott has a tough year ahead, including potentially bruising negotiations with the provinces on health funding and reform. It will be a sustained test for someone who is still new to the federal arena. But I suspect she’ll continue to impress.

But in politics it doesn’t take long for the wheel to turn!

It’s August 2016, now nine months into the mandate and we have a learning experience – or two – for Jane, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet.

A month or two ago, there was an incident in Parliament when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lost his cool. Frustrated at the Opposition Parties’ delaying tactics at the beginning of a session of The House, the Prime Minister stepped out of his seat, strode across the floor of the debating chamber and grabbed a Conservative Party MP by the arm. As he swung around to “guide” the MP to his seat, the Prime Minister accidentally elbowed a female NDP Party MP in the chest.  And so, the Prime Minister was left to contemplate two minor incidents of assault and  a serious breach of Parliamentary protocol – all accomplished in less than thirty seconds!

It was a very awkward moment, and the Opposition Parties expressed their “outrage”, as one would expect. Justin offered an immediate unreserved apology to The House, and again a day later. He escaped with a stern warning from the Speaker Of The House.

And there’s more. The Press recently headlined stories featuring the “extravagant” expense claims of Jane, and Catherine McKenna, the Minister of the Environment. Jane had used the limousine service owned by one of her supporters on an official visit to South Western Ontario, and for twenty or so trips to Toronto Airport from her constituency office. The main problem was she paid over $1,700 for the day trip, which was deemed by critics to be an inflated payment to a supporter, and unwarranted compared to the $300 alternative cost of a rental car driven by a staffer. Jane immediately apologized and undertook to repay the excess spending out of her own pocket.

Minister McKenna thought it was a good idea to spend $6,000 of taxpayer money on a dedicated photographer to record her visit to a European environmental conference. She doesn’t quite get the politics of the situation and so far has only undertaken to “keep a watch on spending in the future.”

While quite minor, I think these are very teachable moments for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. It is generally received wisdom that most Liberal administrations eventually succumb to fiscal malfeasance, corruption, arrogance, or a combination of all three. In the above incidents, critics see the first sprouting of Liberal arrogance and sense of entitlement. Hopefully, the Government will smarten up and make sure procedures are in place to vet ministerial expenses, and I’m nonplussed that this was not covered in Ministerial boot camp after the election. The Government will need ironclad contract procedures to head off the inevitable attempts at corruption accompanying the expenditure of billions of dollars on new infrastructure.  Hopefully as well, the Prime Minister now understands the primacy of Parliament which is controlled by the Speaker of the House, not the Prime Minister.

I thought the whole expense matter was appropriately commented on by Mark Sutcliffe of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

Yes, we should sweat the small stuff on MP expense

By Mark Sutcliffe

Like most dads, I’m annoyed when I discover an empty room with the light on. Of course, when a forgetful child fails to flip a switch, it costs only a fraction of a penny.

So why do I let it get to me? It’s the principle of the matter. To me, it’s careless and inconsiderate to waste someone else’s money, no matter how small the amount. And I don’t want my kids to grow up to be wasteful.

Likewise, I don’t think the numbers matter when we see examples of members of Parliament being frivolous with taxpayers’ money. There are some who argue that we should devote our attention to major expenditures like infrastructure rather than sweat the small stuff, like the recent controversies over limousines, airport lounges and photographers. But why can’t we do both?

It’s not like the two matters aren’t related. An elected official who doesn’t show respect for taxpayers with a small expense isn’t likely to be more parsimonious when billions of dollars are at stake. We should demand value for money from major spending. But we should also expect a little respect from our elected officials when they are spending our money on their travel and personal branding.

True, it doesn’t cost taxpayers as much when a cabinet minister rents a car at double or triple the normal daily rate as when the government overspends on a bridge or a highway. But symbolism is important, as the current government would no doubt agree.

To her credit, Health Minister Jane Philpott has offered to repay in full any questionable expenses. But Environment Minister Catherine McKenna took a different tone. She did promise to find ways to save money on photography. However, she said the hiring of a photographer for a climate change conference in Paris followed a long-standing practice that “was also used by the previous government.”

That may be true, but it’s never an acceptable defence to say the other guys did the same thing. It’s particularly insufficient when your party criticized it at the time and promised to do things differently when it took over. The issue should not be who’s the bigger hypocrite, but who can do a better job of protecting the public interest.

And the threshold for responsible spending should never be whether it’s within the rules. A better test is whether an elected official would criticize the expenditure if it had been made by one of their opponents. Another is whether the people they represent would sign off on the expense if they had the option.

Unfortunately, while there are many Parliamentarians who respect public money, there are a few too many who think of federal finances as a bottomless well. It’s almost like they forget it’s real money. Wasting government funds isn’t a victimless crime; it hurts taxpayers and it discredits the entire system. If integrity and good judgment won’t stop them, then the only solution is the fear of embarrassment that comes from transparency. As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation suggests, MPs’ and senators’ expenditures should be posted online for everyone to see.

But where is simple common sense? By now, no politician should need to be told how overpaying for a limo or a photographer will play. You wonder why they don’t ask themselves: do you really want to appear as the kind of person who thinks nothing of paying $16 of someone else’s money for a glass of orange juice?

One or two incidents aren’t enough to crack the veneer of the new administration, but any government that doesn’t understand that small expenditures often matter as much as big ones will eventually receive the same message from taxpayers that I give to my kids: please turn off the lights on your way out.

The May, 2016 Liberal Party of Canada Biennial Convention in Winnipeg. 

Santa and I rarely visit Winnipeg, but Santa has relatives there so we stayed with them while I attended the Convention.

While there were many smaller policy sessions, the main event was the Liberal Party of Canada plenary session held near the end of the Convention in order to approve the new Party Constitution. The proposed new Constitution was designed to bring much needed order to the many regional and local constitutions that had sprung up over the years. But at the question and answer session the evening before the vote it was clear there was wide dissatisfaction with the lack of consultation, the hurried process, and the centralization of powers within the Party Leadership. I read the draft Constitution in its entirety.

My principal concern was the imbalance of power between the Party, the Caucus of the Party’s MPs in Parliament, and the Party Leader. There had been much discussion on this matter in Parliament before the election and all Parties agreed individual MPs should have a much greater influence on Parliamentary business – particularly since the previous Conservative Prime Minister concentrated all political power in the largely unelected Prime Minister’s Office. There was nothing in the new Constitution to address the imbalance.

The Party Leader is to be elected by the Party Members and he/she will lead the Party’s elected in Parliament. Which is all to the good since it’s somewhat dysfunctional to allow the Party’s elected MPs to “roll” the leader at any time as in the Australian system. There does though need to be a mechanism in place that will encourage the Prime Minister to listen to his elected MP’s, and I addressed the matter in a letter to the Party President.

Ms. Anna Gainey,                                                                                                                                                                  President, Liberal Party of Canada.
Dear Ms. Gainey,
re: LIBERAL PARTY CONSTITUTION

        Thank you for your email. I’ve reviewed the proposed new Liberal Party Constitution and find it to be generally acceptable. There is one matter though that appears to have been overlooked – and that is to do with the provisions of Section 47 which sets out the circumstances and procedures under which a Leadership Endorsement Ballot is to be voted on by Party members.

        Section 47 stipulates a Leadership Endorsement Ballot vote is to be undertaken, “At or prior to the first National Convention of the Party held after each general election in which the Leader does not become or continue to be the Prime Minister.” It is a Leadership Trigger Event and a leadership vote is called in the event a Leader is not endorsed. There is no provision for a Leadership Endorsement Ballot vote while a Party Leader is Prime Minister. 

Recommendation

        It is my view Section 47a should be amended to stipulate the Party is also to undertake a Leadership Endorsement Ballot vote immediately following a vote by the Party’s Parliamentary Caucus in which at least 66% of the Caucus votes for a Leadership Endorsement Ballot vote to be undertaken.

        At the present time there is a significant and unhealthy imbalance of power as between the the Prime Minister, the Parliamentary Caucus, and the Party.  Deputy Leader Ralph Goodale tells us, “The Parliament of Canada must earn the public’s respect every day.  It must be restored as a meaningful institution where the debates and votes really matter, where genuine responsibility is shouldered and accounted for, and where MPs are effective voices for their constituencies in Ottawa, not merely mouthpieces for Ottawa back home in their constituencies.” 

         Though the Prime Minister is elected by the Party, he is also the leader of the Parliamentary Caucus and should retain its confidence at all times. The Party’s Parliamentary Caucus represents the voice of Liberal voters and the added requirement for a Party Leadership Endorsement Ballot vote upon the vote of 66% of the Caucus Members will encourage the Prime Minister to ensure both he and the Cabinet fulfill Mr. Goodale’s (and my) vision for Canada’s Parliament.

        Mr. Dion’s staff has advised me, “The Liberal caucus has agreed the Reform Act prompted thoughtful questions about balancing the rights of parliamentarians with the rights of the members of the Liberal Party of Canada – as a result, we will debate how to organize our caucus, in line with the Reform Act, at future Party conventions.”  

        I think the future is now and such a debate should be undertaken at the Winnipeg Convention.

        With kind regards,

Allan Portis,                                                                                                                                                        Toronto.

Btitain’s ECONOMIST magazine published the following lead article in its pre-US election issue in early November 2016:

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    WHO will uphold the torch of openness in the West? Not America’s next president. Donald Trump, the grievance-mongering Republican nominee, would build a wall on Mexico’s border and rip up trade agreements. Hillary Clinton, the probable winner on November 8th, would be much better on immigration, but she has renounced her former support for ambitious trade deals. Britain, worried about immigrants and globalisation, has voted to march out of the European Union. Angela Merkel flung open Germany’s doors to refugees, then suffered a series of political setbacks. Marine Le Pen, a right-wing populist, is the favourite to win the first round of France’s presidential election next year.

    In this depressing company of wall-builders, door-slammers and drawbridge-raisers, Canada stands out as a heartening exception. It happily admits more than 300,000 immigrants a year, nearly 1% of its population—a higher proportion than any other big, rich country—and has done so for two decades. Its charismatic prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who has been in office a year, has welcomed some 33,000 Syrian refugees, far more than America has. Bucking the protectionist mood, Canada remains an eager free-trader. It was dismayed by the EU’s struggle to overcome a veto by Walloons on signing a “comprehensive” trade agreement that took seven years to negotiate (see Charlemagne). Under Mr Trudeau, Canada is trying to make amends for its shameful treatment of indigenous peoples, and is likely to become the first Western country to legalise recreational cannabis on a national level.

    Go, Canada!  Irredeemably dull by reputation, less brash and bellicose than America, Canada has long seemed to outsiders to be a citadel of decency, tolerance and good sense. Charles Dickens, bewildered by a visit to America in 1842, found relief in Canada, where he saw “public feeling and private enterprise in a sound and wholesome state; nothing of flush or fever in its system.” Modern Canada’s social safety net is stronger than America’s; its gun-control laws saner. Today, in its lonely defence of liberal values, Canada seems downright heroic. In an age of seductive extremes, it remains reassuringly level-headed.

    Many of Canada’s virtues spring from its history and geography and are not readily exportable (see Briefing). It is easier to be relaxed about immigration when your only land border is protected by a wall the size of the United States. Appreciation for the benefits of trade comes more easily to countries next door to big markets. British Brexiteers might justifiably claim that they voted for exactly what Canada already has: control of immigration and the freedom to negotiate trade deals with any country willing to reciprocate.

    Despite such luck, Canada suffers from some of the stresses that feed populism in other rich countries. It has experienced a decline of manufacturing jobs, stagnant incomes for most of its citizens and rising inequality. It, too, frets about a shrinking middle class. Canadians worry about Islamist terrorism, though the country has so far been spared a big attack. Some right-of-centre politicians, playing on fears that one will happen, indulge in Trumpian rhetoric. Yet Canada does not seem tempted to shut itself off from the world. What can other Western countries learn from its example?

    First, Canada not only welcomes newcomers but works hard to integrate them. Its charter of rights and freedoms proclaims the country’s “multicultural heritage”. Not every country will fuse diversity and national identity in the same way that Canada does. Indeed, French-speaking Quebec has its own way of interpreting multiculturalism, which gives priority to the province’s distinct culture. But other countries can learn from the spirit of experimentation that Canada brings to helping immigrants find employment and housing. Its system of private sponsorship, in which groups of citizens take responsibility for supporting refugees during their first year, not only helps them adapt but encourages society at large to make them welcome. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called on other countries to copy it.

    Follow the moose. The second lesson is the value of knowing when fiscal austerity does more harm than good. Canada has been managing its public finances conservatively for the past 20 years or so. Now in charge of a sluggish economy, Mr Trudeau can afford to give growth a modest lift by spending extra money on infrastructure. His government has given a tax cut to the middle class and raised rates for the highest earners to help pay for it. These economic policies deserve to “go viral”, the head of the IMF has said. Canada has a further economic lesson to impart in how it protects people hurt by globalisation. Compared with America, its publicly financed health system lessens the terror of losing a job; it also provides more financial support and training to people who do. And its policy of “equalisation” gives provincial and local governments the means to maintain public services at a uniform level across the country.

    Perhaps most important, this mixture of policies—liberal on trade and immigration, activist in shoring up growth and protecting globalisation’s losers—is a reminder that the centrist formula still works, if politicians are willing to champion it. Instead of folding in the face of opposition to liberal policies, Mr Trudeau and his ministers have instead made the case for them. Although free trade is not the hot-button issue in Canada that it is in America, they have been tireless in listening to critics and trying to take their concerns into account.

    Canada is far from perfect. It remains a poorer, less productive and less innovative economy than America’s. While championing freer international trade, Canada has yet to eliminate obstacles to trade among its provinces. For many liberals, Canada’s emphasis on “peace, order and good government”, enshrined in its constitution, is inadequate without an infusion of American individualism. But for now the world owes Canada gratitude for reminding it of what many people are in danger of forgetting: that tolerance and openness are wellsprings of security and prosperity, not threats to them.

By early 2017, as I had feared, Justin was straying away from the high standards he campaigned on and which he instructed each of his new Cabinet Ministers to adhere to in the lead-in to their Ministerial Mandate Letters – particularly transparency and the absence of the appearance of any conflict of interest.

In early February Margaret Wente the Globe and Mail Commentator wrote a column entitled JUSTIN TRUDEAU’S OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE 99 PERCENT. I wrote her the following letter.

Ms Margaret Wente,
The Globe and Mail.

Dear Ms Wente,

You are right on the mark.

I’m a paid up Laurier Club member and a Trudeau supporter. Justin “singlehandedly” revived the comatose Liberal Party and gave us hope for a future that would include all my fellow citizens.

The big problem is Justin seemingly lacks INTEGRITY. Warren Buffett tells us when hiring a leader always look for three things – Integrity, Intelligence, and Energy. But always start with Integtity, since a leader who is intelligent and energetic but who lacks integrity will get you into trouble in a hurry! And Buffett also advises to never overlook any indication of a lack of integrity, no matter how insignificant, on the basis you either have integrity or you don’t.

The first red flag was immediately after the election when Justin put his two nannies on the Government payroll after campaigning on the notion, “Well-to-do families like mine should not receive the child allowance, but rather it should go to poorer families to allow them to participate in the economy.” I do think he and Sophie should have two nannies and in the ordinary course of events we should fund them but, given his campaign promise, it was sheer hypocrisy to do so.

The second was the reported “prostituting” of our Prime Minister by members of our Chinese community – pocketing $3,500 for every $1,500 donation passed onto the Party. I do not blame them for taking advantage of an obvious arbitraging opportunity since we invite them to Canada for their entrepreneurial skills! And there was the substantial donation to the Pierre Elliott Foundation, along with funding for a statue of Pierre Trudeau, by a gentleman with an application for a Schedule A Bank Charter under consideration, and subsequently approved, by our Government. An old Chinese friend advised me many years ago that in matters of the heart and business, “Always look after the father to ensure sentiment flows with you.” Justin has apparently overlooked entirely his election pledge and his directive to his Cabinet to avoid all perception of conflicts of interest.

The third is taking an extremely high-end vacation with the Aga Khan. I have the utmost respect for the Aga Khan and his work, but his Organization is a significant benefactor of Canadian Government funding. The conflict should be obvious.

There are other examples. Unfortunately, Justin appears to be receiving very bad advice or is ignoring any sensible advice he is getting. My Conservative friends are beginning to feel quite chipper. They firmly believe the Liberal Party’s apparent Integrity deficit will eventually lead it back to its “default behaviour of fiscal malfeasance, corruption, and arrogance.” – particularly with respect to the massive dollars involved in the Infrastructure Programme, and the recent conviction of a participant in the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal.

And there are troubling policy issues. Sidelining election reform without a referendum, shelving the taxing of option gains as income, and setting the groundwork for the gutting of the defined benefit pensions provided by federally regulated employers. Mr. Morneau’s Banker friends appear to have carried the day on the latter two items. The attack on the federally regulated pensions appears to ignore a pledge to support good middle class lifestyles. To coin a Trumpism, “Sad, very sad!” Our Party appears to be unaware it was granted a majority as a result of strategic voting, and seems to be burning its political capital quite cheaply.

And on the matter of Trump (and Brexit) it is instructive the Precariat Class in the U.S. and U.K. is in such despair it lashed out at the self-absorbed, entitled, and oblivious Elite/Expert Class by electing Trump and voting for Brexit. Canada and my native New Zealand have only been spared similar fates by the absence of dysfunctional immigration. But with significant covert poverty, an increasing Precariat Class, and income and wealth disparity increasing as a result of “rigged” economic systems the clock is running for both countries.

In Canada, Bill Morneau’s Council of Elite Economic Advisors recommends we step up immigration to 450,000 a year to promote “growth.” This is absurd. Mindless immigration has grown national income, but depressed individual real incomes – made worse by rising rents and house prices, and inadequate public transportation and other infrastructure. Cashed-up foreigners are driving up house prices and our “Elite’s vanity refugee programme” puts further pressure on the Poor and Precariat Classes by taking up scarce social housing and lower-cost rental accommodation. Food Banks, Emergency Rooms, physicians, public schooling, and the like are adversely affected. The Elites, being much less affected, are happy to bask in our “refugee halo.” Experts in New Zealand are recommending New Zealand pattern its refugee programme on the “highly successful” Canadian experience – and will no doubt also ignore the adverse affect on its significant Poor and Precariat Classes.

What we need are measures to increase the real incomes of our existing citizens. This will be exceedingly difficult in the face of accelerating Artificial Intelligence and the Automation of both manufacturing, transportation, services, and the professions. And in that regard Trump appears to be fighting the last (free trade and immigration) war. Credible folk are predicting massive job losses from AI/Automation.

Margaret, this is all quite depressing in that to avoid a “mindless” populist backlash in Canada (and New Zealand) we will need to undertake a comprehensive rethink of our economic and social arrangements. All citizens will need to have an investment in the economic future of our country. To this end, I think Guy Standing’s book A PRECARIAT CHARTER is well worth studying – particularly his ideas regarding Sovereign Wealth Funds, similar to the ALASKA FUND. Perhaps grist for a future column?

With kind regards,

Allan Portis
Toronto

Margaret sent me a short note saying this was a “good analysis.”

ONTARIO

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I wrote to her on December 14, 2005

ALLAN PORTIS

Ms.KathleenWynne,                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Premier of Ontario.

Dear Ms. Wynne,

Campaign Donations and Restoring our Democracy

        I appreciated the opportunity I had to speak with you briefly at the Noor Centre last January regarding the issue of large campaign donations and what I believe is their corrosive effect on democracy in our Province. Unfortunately your Constituency Office Staff has advised me my original follow-up letter to you on the matter was never received. So I will hand deliver this one to your office at Queen’s Park.

        As we discussed, the Ontario Provincial electoral laws allow an individual to donate $33,000 in an election year, which is readily scaled up to $100,000 when including spousal and private company contributions. Public corporations and unions can of course donate much more in the aggregate. And this is the essence of the problem since it is the perception if not the reality that all of those folk expect a “return on investment” by having their interests treated favourably by Legislators. At the very least large campaign donations complicate the decision making process and lower voters’ regard for our Government.

        The Beer Store issue is a case in point. Last January The Globe and Mail Newspaper devoted a full-page editorial to the matter. In addition to having fun satirizing the Beer Store it pointed the finger at our generous campaign contribution laws as the main culprit responsible for our Soviet-era beer distribution arrangements. Mr. Sousa was reported as saying, “We’re going to maximize the benefits to consumers and protect the industry at the same time.” Really? What is it that requires us to “protect” a mostly foreign-owned beer industry as opposed to, say, any local convenience store owner? It’s little wonder the citizens perceive big money at work. And as we know in the business of politics perception is everything.

        The Power Industry is another area where tough decisions have been made more difficult by the influence of major campaign donors. It appears the largely inexplicable sale of Hydro One was conceived by the financial industry for the benefit of the financial industry and will cost us all dearly.

        There are also the troubling payments to Education Unions to reimburse contract negotiation costs and to cover pension contributions while on illegal strike. Some suggest these only make sense in the context of Union election support.

        And all this only leads to grave concerns regarding the administration of the Ontario Government’s proposed arrangements to combat carbon emissions. The comparatively straightforward, revenue-neutral, and proven carbon tax model employed by British Columbia has been passed over in favour of the much more subjective Cap and Trade system under which some selected polluters will receive free carbon allowances.

        Kathleen, I am a natural Liberal Party supporter and joined the Liberal Party of Canada and the Laurier Club early last year. I’m pleased to have been part of the effort to elect a new Liberal Government in Ottawa which hopefully will show much more regard for my fellow citizens and the environment, and restore Canada’s standing in the world.

        I would also like to see the Liberal Party of Ontario’s reputation restored by eliminating our serious budget, infrastructure, environmental, and social support deficits. This major effort will only be successful with principled government and the active support of the people. And the support of the people will not be possible unless we also eliminate our Province’s democratic deficit.

         I believe a good place to start the journey back would be to bring our campaign funding rules into line with Federal rules – nothing from corporates, unions, or not-for-profits, and personal contributions limited to $1,500 each for the Party and for Ridings. Such a change could be initially disruptive to Party finances but it would strengthen the democratic process with parties having to work hard to attract members and donors. A Party member told me at your Levee last January the problem with moving to a member-based funding model is “Liberal voters won’t pay for membership fees or donate.” This is instructive in that supporters apparently don’t think Party membership is worth $10! As things presently stand I would also not donate to our Provincial Liberal Party.

        In my view this value proposition can only be changed when the people perceive their interests are being put before Party and special interests. And that starts with reining in campaign donations and strengthening stand-down provisions following Parliamentary service. Our democracy would be restored in a meaningful fashion – and I would have a plausible response to young folk when they tell me they don’t vote because the candidates are already “bought and paid for!”

        Kathleen, it gives me no great pleasure to have to write you on this matter but I’m frequently told, “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” and more recently, “In Canada Better is always possible.” I believe both these to be true and with your help we can restore democracy to our Province and at the same time prepare the Provincial Liberal Party for success in the next election in the event a credible opposition should present itself.

        With kind regards, and thank you for your service to Ontario and Canada.

 

 60 Glenvale Boulevard, Toronto, Canada, M4G 2V6        allanportis@gmail.com 

TORONTO

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‘The most fascinating boring city’

The following is an excerpt from an article on Toronto in the Guardian by Stephen Marche:

Toronto’s growth has been extravagant. If you approach from the water, almost every building you see will have been constructed in the past two decades. The city has been booming for so long and so consistently that few can remember what Toronto was like when it wasn’t booming. The Greater Toronto Area is expected to swell by 2.8 million to reach almost 9.5 million by 2041. . .

Toronto’s dullness is what makes it exciting — a tricky point to grasp. Toronto’s lack of ambition is why the financial collapse of 2008 never happened here. The strong regulations of its banks preventing their over-leverage meant they were insulated from the worst of global shocks. In London and New York, the worst stereotype of a banker is somebody who enjoys cocaine, claret and vast megalomaniac schemes. In Toronto, a banker handles teachers’ pension portfolios and spends weekends at the cottage.

The worship of safety and security applies across all fields and industries. A reliable person is infinitely more valued than a brilliant one. The “steady hand” is the Toronto ideal, and Toronto’s steadiness is why people flock here — and all the people flocking here are making it exciting. That’s why Toronto is the most fascinating totally boring city in the world.

The fundamental contradiction of the new Toronto, however, is that it has come into its own by becoming a city of others. In the Canadian context, Toronto is no longer first among equals in a series of cities strung along the railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific. It has become the national metropolis, the city plugged into the global matrix.

At the same time, Toronto is 51 per cent foreign-born, with people from over 230 countries, making it by many assessments the most diverse city in the world. But diversity is not what sets Toronto apart; the near-unanimous celebration of diversity does. Toronto may be the last city in the world that unabashedly desires difference.

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