Thursday, March 22, 2007

Democracy is Dead... Murder Weapon - The Whip

I think Garth Turner put it best:

"Far more important, and far less sexy than an MP being publicly hung, is the steady, continual erosion of the influence, respect and responsibilities of individual members of Parliament. As I have written here many times, the people we send to Ottawa are turning into so many sheets of wallpaper, as committees are weakened, party controls strengthened and unelected officials in places like the PMO assume the role of decision-makers that MPs once held. Too many of our politicians are now voting machines, expected to turn up and do what the piece of paper on their desk tells them to do."
It should be illegal for MPs to not listen to their electorate. Dion should be ousted for this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Green Taxes

Cap & Trade - Opens up new markets, loved by economists, not really understood or directly felt by the average joe.
Carbon Tax - Easy to administrate, loved by bureaucrats, hated by the average joe... more money at the pump.
Luxury Tax - Loved by the average joe... attach a price to guilty pleasures. Hated by bureaucrats.

This budget did one thing right... it put in place the tax program that was most palatable by the Canadian public. Its a marketers budget... thats for sure.

The Film Industry and The NFB

The vision of Canada as a cultural and social entity is typically a long-forgotten debate in the mainstream media and blogosphere.

As opposed to letting Canada develop its own grassroots sense of culture - much like the USA with jazz, hip-hop, and the dense, local cultures in Mississipi, Texas, Chicago, etc the government has tried to systematically define its own vision of Canadian culture through the use of institutions and grants.

And this cultural institutionalism has plagued our cultural industries and left Canada with a rag-tag forum of a cultural and arts community - un- and under-employed. And not only are the workers un- and under-employed, the Canadian people are un- and under-served/represented/entertained/cultured and so on. By chronically trying to top-down, spoon-feed Canadians their culture we have ended up with a pitiful characterization of Canadians as a breed of happy-go-lucky, beer-swelling, white males - depicted best in Canadian iconic films such as Phil the Alien, Men With Brooms, Corner Gas, Trailer Park Boys, etc. Recently I watched a spat of Canadian shorts screened at a Canadian short film festival and found myself chronically cringing in shame at the forced Canadian 'quirkiness' found in the scripts... from lumberjacks losing arms to skinheads with dandruff... quirkiness reigned.

The National Film Board is one of the prime examples of a cultural vestibule that muddies our cultural water. As early as the 1950s the NFB was provided with an institutional mandate to create Canadian culture:

“to produce and distribute and to promote the production and distribution of films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations.”

which has slightly softened 60 years later (in 2002) into:
“The NFB's mandate is to produce and distribute distinctive, culturally diverse, challenging and relevant audiovisual works that provide Canada and the world with a unique Canadian perspective.”

This top-down approach has led the film industry to overlook major cultural trends, to supress local cultural push, to deny multi-cultural new voices, and to continue to ride the coattails of movements from 20 years prior. Defining a national identity was a movement of the 80s that is still depicted in more recent films like the many I mentioned above. And instead of seeing a multitude of complex multi-cultural/integrated films that should be inherit in Canada - think bon-cop/bad-cop in every Canadian culture pairing possible - we are still watching our institutions and government prop up styles of yore.

And now our film industry is in deep trouble... er our non-French-speaking film industries that is. Instead of looking towards successful Canadian cultural industry examples, such as music where de-institutionalization and regulated distribution have created a healthy and vibrant industry, the NFB continues along a neo-barbaric economic and cultural view that institutions should drive our culture instead of visa-versa:

"...the Committee recommended in its report that the NFB be transformed into a research and training centre and give up producing and distributing films. The NFB rejected this recommendation..."

We have missed boatloads of opportunities to be the dominant force in multi-cultural films dripping with tension and delicate relationships. Few places in the world offer the cultural possibilities available in Toronto.

And ignorance of these cultural needs of Canadians has created an ill industry. From 1999-2005 the net results in the film industry have been this - under a Liberal government in case anybody was curious and thought the Liberals a lover of the motion arts:
-Box-office revenues fell to 1.1% of market share in english-language films
-Public sources accounting for 51% of funding
-Gross film production down to $253M, a drop of 31%
-A loss of 4700 jobs in the sector
-Foreign investment is down 13%

Given a few facts...
-The average budget for a Canadian feature film is $3M
-The production budget for NFB films was $40M which returned $181k in box-office revenue, i.e. every $1 invested results in a payback of half a cent.
-Total production in Canada is $253M which returns approximately $12M in box-office revenue, i.e. every $1 invested results in a payback of 5 cents.

...wouldn't it make sense to transfer the NFB budget into the hands of our under-employed film workers and let them produce grass-roots culture, which also conveniently improves return on investment. The average feature film requires a budget of $3 and a bit million. $40M would increase production by 13 feature films a year!

Also, letting the government funds channel through private capitalists and investment funds would create a pseudo-capital market for films in Canada, hopefully spurring on a healthier and more vibrant industry with niche indie investment, production and distribution vertical channels.

Or we could take the NFB route:

"The NFB is a unique organization — it provides an environment for filmmaking that is free of the financial pressures that mark independent filmmaking, and allows adequate time to research, develop and complete a film."

It also creates an unrealistic organization that doesn't prepare filmmakers for the real world where aligning the right investors and handling financial pressures is part of the artistic process.

I for one am tired of the NFB and Telefilm forcefeeding me their view of Canadian culture. The political parties of Canada need to take our cultural institutions into a modern area of de-centralization and let culture come from the people, instead of giving us more of this:

1. NFB - Strategic Plan 2002 - 2006,

2. NFB - Annual Report - 2005-2006,

3. Canadian Film & TV Producers Association, An Economic Report on the Canadian Film & TV Production Industry,

4. Telefilm Canada, Annual Report - 2005-2006,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

John Baird - The Veggie

According to this story on John Baird, Baird has been a vegetarian for the past 10 years.

Having been an "on again/off again" vegetarian since I was 16, this appeals greatly to me. It puts Baird into a whole new light as a reflective, well-purposed man. I no longer see him as Harper's pitbull. In fact I see him more like a border-collie - intelligent but with a lot of energy.

Memetics and Military Strategy

A professor friend of mine has been invited to a conference sponsored by DARPA on the usage of memetics in military information strategy.

I'm fairly surprised that the military is only starting to use memes this late in the game. With the success of the Bush campaigns and memetics ("Flip-floppers" and "Al Gore invented the internet") I would have thought Rumsfeld would have applied this technique ages ago.

Mostly though, the ability to manipulate information and history frightens me. Currently, the level of manipulation in our information sources - mainstream, political, etc - is ridiculous. The extra addition of military information twisting frustrates and concerns me with respect to our societal ability to function with all information spun to the umpteenth degree.

Freedom of speech and freedom to manipulate speech are two very different beasts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Liberal Track Record Part III - The Economy

When I went about tackling the Liberal track record on the economy I thought it would be fairly difficult. After all, if there were glaring discrepancies I'm sure the public media would have picked it up...

My thought process was very simple:
1. Is the average person better off today?
2. Will the average person be better off tomorrow?

Wealth Distribution
So, we all know that since the economy is better and GDP has increased, the Average Joe is better off... correct? After all, the expected result of an improved economy is a better standard of living for all. Well, according to Stats Canada research on wealth distribution this is not the case:

"In 1984, young families with children - that is, those in which the major income recipient was aged between 25 and 34, had a median net worth of $44,000, according to the Assets and Debts Survey. In 1999, the SFS showed that this net worth had declined 30% to $30,800."

Furthermore, Stats Canada goes on to make the following clear conclusions from their research:

"only the 10th (and for some samples, the 9th) decile has increased its share of total net worth".

Other research shows similar patterns. Saezz and Vaell show conclusive growth in inequality in Canada upto the year 2000, with peak gains in the Liberals stalwart years:

From 1999 to 2005 the economic boom continues. According to the 2005 Survey of Financial Security published here by Stats Canada family net worth has increased by a further 23%!

But of course the trend is more of the same - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. From 1999 to 2005 the stats are:

"Family units in the top 20% of the
wealth distribution had a median net worth of about $862,900 in 2005, up 28.5% from 1999. The 20% at the low end
of the net worth scale had a median value of $1,000, a 9.1% decline from 1999."

What about the middle class from 1999 to 2005?
Increase in wealth - 8.4%
Inflation - 15.2%

Sure is hard to afford a Molson Blueport round here

Debt Reduction
In the end though maybe one could accept poor wealth distribution if money was being kicked back into paying down the debt, which would help reduce tax and increase net worth across the board for future generations. After all, the Liberals were the great budget managers of our era. They brought the deficit in-line and wrangled Canadian books into an unprecedented era of surplus.


Gross Debt March 31, 2001 - $613B
Gross Debt March 31, 2002 - $632B
Gross Debt March 31, 2003 - $695B
Gross Debt March 31, 2004 - $701B
Gross Debt March 31, 2005 - $701B
Gross Debt March 31, 2006 - $705B

Wait, something isn't adding up?

These numbers come from the Annual Debt Management Strategy Reports prepared by Finance Ministers. They are all signed by Paul Martin or Ralph Goodale.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I know I'm lying... but its ok... we have a majority and Izzy Asper owns the media!

Read all of Paul Martin's speeches, the debt never fell, the debt to GDP ratio fell... obviously since the GDP was rising! Or he talked about how debt services fell as a percentage of taxes... well of course, interest rates plumetted in the same period! Liberal debt management is one of the biggest marketing scams in the history of governance.

New Markets
Well then at least if the Liberals were unable to extend the red hot economy into the pockets of the common man... and if at least they weren't able to pay down the debt and look after future generations... I'm sure they were at least able to properly invest in research and development to ensure Canada could readily position itself in new markets and economic opportunities. In the 19990s new markets for economic activity were opened by the 'knowledge-based economy' and the internet. Canada, quite frankly, "missed the boat" as stated by Icelandic economist Manuel Trajtenberg in a comparison of G7 countries.
Stats Canada's own research shows this, in the G7 Canada has the second lowest share of patents:

In addition to patent output, the Liberals also repeatedly underinvested in research & development, compared to the G7, thereby ensuring our knowledge-based economy and r&d output stayed relatively 'behind the pack' for the near future:

Trajtenberg perhaps sums up the Liberal r&d and technology policies best:
"The technological composition of Canadian innovations is rather out of step with the rest of the world, with the share of traditional fields still very high in Canada, whereas the upcoming field of Computers and Communications has grown less in Canada than elsewhere."


After all of this research a few facts have become fairly obvious:
1. The Liberals made the rich richer, the poor and the middle class poorer.
2. The Liberals lied about debt reduction, at least implicitly.
3. The Liberals were poor at investing in r&d and ensuring Canada remained an innovator that cracked new markets, opening up new opportunities for tomorrow.

The real question then is why are the Liberals so renown for their economic policies? This graph mapping Alberta's economic growth versus the rest of Canada sure paints a different picture of Canada's growth:

With oil being found in the oilsands, Newfoundland oil, the emergence of natural gas, and the artificial USA high-tech boom it seems as if the Liberals may have ultimately just gotten lucky.

Sources and Further Reading
Kerstetter, Wealth Inequality in Canada
Stats Canada, The Wealth of Canadians: An Overview of the Results of the Survey of Financial Security,
Inflation -
Cross & Bowlby, The Alberta Juggernaut,
Intellectual Property and Innovation in the Knowledge-Based Economy, Intellectual Property Policy,
Trajtenberg, Is Canada Missing the Boat?,

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Collaborative Democracy

I have a problem with the current Canadian electoral system - it connects what we should do as a country with who will lead and represent us.

While I prefer Stephen Harpers ability to lead, I sometimes find myself at arms length from his policies. Contrarily I find myself in favour of many Green policies, but Elizabeth May turns me away from a leadership and political experience perspective.

Great policies, but would you really give her the keys to the country???

This has led me to ask - "why must there be a coupling of policy and person?" Why can't we give the government a mandate and vote for the best person to deliver on said mandate.

In most modern organizations there has been a clear separation of power. For instance in the corporate and NGO world - 'What we should do' typically falls under marketing, product management and the executive ranks. Who should lead us falls under human resources and the executive team.

My Proposal

The Liberals of the 90s started a new phase in electoral concepts by introducing the now infamous Red Book. It gave the people a view of the party's vision. Online collaboration and e-government have potentially given us new and exciting tools for collaborative creation. Before any upcoming elections why not have a nation-wide 'brainstorming' and 'prioritizing' session to let the people define a vision for Canada... instead of having the party and prime minister define a vision.

For instance, any citizen could simply add an idea to the list - online, wiki-style or via their current MP. After all ideas had been listed, managed and collated, citizens would have the ability to 'vote' on the list. The parties in this stage would ultimately try to educate us on issues in order to have the people skew their opinion towards that party; thereby educating us more and more on the particular issues. And hopefully the result would be a grassroots vision of what Canada will do for the next 4 years.

Party elections would follow. The elections would undergo a change of focus into who could deliver best and who most embodies the vision of Canada as defined by the people. The elected government would then be given an outline of a mandate for their tenure.

We also have to allow for vision and ideas from the parliaments and executive branch, who are presumably political 'experts'. At the point of establishing government we could allow the House of Commons and the Senate to weigh in on the vision. The ideas of the people would have some sort of priority or weight vs the priorities of the legislature vs the priorities of the executive vs the priorities of the senate, ultimately giving us a top 20 goals or 'to do' list.

I'd vote for him... but not so much his so-con agenda

Given that there will be unpredictable reactionary elements to governance (CN strikes, wars in Afghanistan, recessions, etc), the government clearly needs flexibility in delivery. Mandating delivery of the given vision would clearly be a mistake.

Instead clear reporting should be in place, via mass media, to indicate what had been done by each parliament and why. Mass media and government communication channels would be required to be delivered. Expectations would be for MPs to deliver a statement of progress periodically, as well as in a reactionary fashion to any government changes in priority. At the end of each parliament a more detailed report outlining what has been delivered and what has not been delivered would be provided with various explanations and recommendations for a path forward.

Effectively my proposal is an in between of participatory/grassroots and representative democratic systems. Ultimately the politics and consensus building in a grassroots democracy could lead to NIMBYism and a severe lack of productivity. The idea is to let the public provide a participatory mandate & vision but let the government deliver, or not deliver, in an efficient and lean/productive manner.

Advantages of this Proposal
The system allows a clear decoupling of what and who. This system would allow the people to define the vision of Canada, instead of the party. This system would allow us to find the best prime minister to deliver on our vision or who best embodies this vision of Canada.

Disadvantages of this Proposal
Clearly it would make the electoral system more expensive and slower.
Demographics could also heavily drive the vision with Ontario voting power and declining participatory rates between older and younger generations.
Wedge issues, such as in the US, could be more prominent with the new emphasis on the issue versus the party.
Finally there would be huge education cost. Clearly the more participatory the democracy the more education is required on governance and issues. New innovative, continuous, adult education programs would be required at a real cost.