Fri, Feb
9
2007

Optics and Reality

Fri, Feb 9, 2007

The fact that the Canadian public turned against the Liberals, and reduced them to the lowest level of popular support since 1984, shows that Canadians want something better than what the Liberals provided — they want something better than a party that governed cynically, using public money to try and purchase support.

Harper’s Conservatives were the main beneficiaries of this desire for change, but the fact that they took power after gaining the lowest level of popular support ever accorded the most popular party in the election shows that Canadians didn’t entirely trust Harper to do a better job, and wanted to wait and see. The Canadian electorate is volatile. If an election is held tomorrow, we’ll likely get another minority parliament, but if either the Liberals or the Conservatives perform consistently well for the next six months, they might find themselves in 40% territory.

So, it must be frustrating to the supporters of various parties that their parties seem intent on sabotaging themselves.

Take the Harper Conservatives. While Harper has done a number of good things in power (c.f. the Accountability Act and keeping four of his five priorities, et cetera), his government has stumbled a roughly equal number of times. Case in point: just after Harper righted a wrong by calling MIchael Fortier onto the carpet and thwarting any bid to do a repeat of Mulroney’s CF-18 debacle, now comes news that Immigration Minister Diane Finley may have tried to buy herself some security for her seat:

Tobacco tax break aimed at minister’s riding

OTTAWA — The Conservative government has unveiled a new tax break targeted at a select few tobacco processors in a politically vulnerable region of Southern Ontario.

Sources said the break — worth about $500,000 — is aimed at the constituency of Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who is thought to be in some danger of losing the next election.

One tobacco processor that should benefit from the tax change — Simcoe Leaf Tobacco Co. Ltd. — is in Ms. Finley’s riding of Haldimand-Norfolk. It was unclear whether any firms outside her riding would benefit.

One industry expert said Simcoe Leaf appears to be the only company that would be eligible for the tax break.

(link)

To sum up: the Conservative Party is granting tax reductions for the production of tobacco, targeting those reductions to one particular area of the country, to one particular company, over the (presumed) needs of other areas of the country or other companies, and the particular target is in a riding where a Conservative Party MP is thought to be vulnerable.

Now, it’s important to note that there are some ameliorating circumstances. From the article:

She (Finlay) is also facing pressure from local tobacco farmers who want a package of financial compensation and retraining in return for quitting the industry. But farmers have only until early March before they must begin preparations for the next growing season. Farmers will need all the help they can get, sources said, if the deadline passes without a deal and they are compelled to stay in the business another year.

Who knew farmers could be as addicted to growing tobacco as smokers could be addicted to smoking it. But it’s a good point; the government should have a strong role in job and farm retraining. Still, it’s not clear how this tax break helps these farmers. Mark Dowling of From Cork to Toronto is not amused:

Apparently a tax break has been introduced by the Tories and outside of one company in Immigration Minister Diane Finlay’s riding nobody can find an eligible recipient. But irrespective of the sneaking in of a tax break for a single Tory MP - WHAT THE HELL IS THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA DOING GIVING TAX REDUCTIONS FOR PRODUCTION OF TOBACCO?!

Worse still - it appears this tax break is in part to assist the MP in avoiding the fallout from the Caledonia debacle - so now federal as well as provincial taxpayers are shelling out for that particular fiasco.

$500,000 is small potatoes, yeah, but that wouldn’t have stopped the Canadian Alliance from attacking the Liberal government from similar activities in the distribution of regional pork. It seems a cynical move, conforming to the lingering suspicion that the Harper Conservatives won’t govern much differently than the administrations before it.

And then there is the curious case of the cabinet and the million dollar coin:

Mint planning million-dollar coin

(snip!)

Canada’s official money-maker wants to stamp out a $1-million coin.

Coin experts say it would likely be made of gold, be the size of a pizza and be extremely heavy. Some numismatists wonder if it would be a good idea.

The federal cabinet passed an order earlier this month at the recommendation of the transport minister allowing the mint to stamp out the non-circulation coins.

(link) (hat tip to Right of Center)

Now, this might end up being a positive. There are some nutty coin collectors out there with deep pockets (or, in this case, very deep pockets), and if the Mint nets a profit on this venture, then it’s not a cost to taxpayers, even if the coin weighs as much as a hockey player. Still, the blog Right of Center Ice is not amused, and is perplexed on a number of levels:

Hold on - the transport minister recommended this coin be stamped? As in the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities - Lawrence Cannon?

In studying Cannon, there is no wonder why he would want these non-circulation coins to be stamped: In Cannon’s former life he was vice-president for AT&T Canada, chair of the World Commerce Institute and President and General Manager of AmeriContact for the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.

Cha-ching!

But wait, it gets better! The person who would oversee such a ridiculous initiative in the government is none other than the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, AKA, the unelected Senator from Montreal - Michael Fortier!

Ouch!

So let me get this straight: big-business friendly cabinet ministers are pushing for this one-million dollar coin to be stamped, which will only serve as an extremely elaborate paper-weight, while taxpayers foot the bill?

Is this the CPC’s idea of good, responsible, or necessary monetary policy?

Yup, it does make one wonder. Is this the inexperience of a new government showing? Or is this a call to keep the Conservatives on a short leash. This is, after all, the big probation period, and the Conservatives should theoretically know this. If this is what the Conservative Party gets up to just a year into power with a minority government, some Canadians might shudder to imagine what things might be like at the end of a four year majority term…


Canadian Government to Limit Net Neutrality?

On the other hand this is pretty big: the government is sending worrying signals that it may be going back on promises to maintain a “consumer first” approach in terms of its dealings with industry — especially with regards to telecommunications and the Internet.

This comes down to Net Neutrality — a feature of the Internet where all packets of information, from your lowly e-mail to your average blog, to the shopping carts on Amazon.ca, are treated equally as they are routed from the web servers to your computers. Certain companies don’t like the fact that my website, or Political Staples or Bound by Gravity load up as quickly as their own, or how else could they claim to offer premium services and connectivity over us blogging peons. And telecommunications companies like Rogers and Telus are certainly tempted by offers for these companies to give their websites higher priority on the information superhighway than the websites you and I set up.

This is a debate that has raged south of the border, with big business interests going far in convincing Congress to limit equal access to Internet bandwidth available to American consumers (a bill limiting Net Neutrality was passed in the old Congress, but stalled at the Senate after protests, and “died on the vine” after the Democrats took over the House. Various initiatives continue at the state level, however), and as a result there has been a fear in some circles that the Canadian government, who knows that the Canadian Internet is highly linked to the American Internet, might follow a similar path.

Saskboy is worried, and the tech site 1337hax0r.com notes the features of the Internet that we take for granted now that might not have had a chance to materialize without Net Neutrality:

If it was done a bit more than 5 years ago… bittorrent would have never gotten significantly off the ground. iTunes would have required a massive investment of funds by Apple, and likely would have been quickly wiped out by a variant made by Time-Warner or some other larger conglomerate who also happens to own a good number of internet lines. Google would have done well, but never have reached any significant stature as Yahoo and other search engines would have paid tons and tons of money to ensure Google stayed in the slow lane… For incoming and outgoing traffic. Microsoft would probably have paid a ton of money to companies to ensure that if firefox/mozilla or any non-IE browser was trying to access sites they would be forced to use the slow lane as well. Thus the browser wars would have been won by pure financial money. Open Source sites would be constantly fighting Microsoft to pay for the much needed bandwidth to download their software. The masses would have been silenced.

If net neutrality had been about 1+ year ago, Youtube would have never been successful, the netroots success in the midterms would have never come, Google’s stock would have plummeted in exchange for minor gains in AT&T’s stock. All of the great stories that have been published by right-wing and left-wing blogs which were ignored by the media until they were forced to talk about them… gone. The few major media companies (who the left complains is run by the right, and the right complains is run by the left) would be the only real voices on the internet as all of the other voices would be easily silenced by their holding companies. Time magazine would not have made “You” the person of the year, because the media companies would never have allowed “You” to be so prominent. The masses would be silenced.

(link)

From the website Save the Internet:

Consumers (and Internet companies, for that matter) have paid, should pay and will pay for faster speeds if they need them. Some will want Ferraris, and some will choose Fords. The point is that the consumer decides for themselves how fast and where they want to go. Without Net Neutrality, the phone and companies will set the speed limit and decide which roads their customers can take, while collecting exorbitant tolls. While they’re at it, they’ll inspect each vehicle to see who should be sent to the back of the line.

A lot of people compare ending Net Neutrality to adding tolls to the information superhighway. If toll roads suddenly materialized on your morning commute in the 401, 427 and the Gardiner Expressway, you might have a thing or two to say to the agencies which let this happen. But a better metaphor would be this: what if we sold Highways 401, 427 and the Gardiner to private interests, and what if these private interests set up shipping companies? And what if these private interests restricted access to their highways, either preventing competing shipping companies from using the 401, or forcing us drivers to stay under an 80 km/h speed limit while their trucks and buses get exclusive lanes and the right to travel at 200 km/h?

I think both socialist and libertarian-minded governments would balk at this vertical monopoly. Threatening Net Neutrality threatens the usefulness of the Internet, and makes us all a little less free. So pay attention.

The Conservatives have not said one way or another how they stand on Net Neutrality, so they need to be spoken to. And as big business has been known to play both sides of the aisle (witness the backing Liberal candidate Sam Builte and Conservative MP Bev Oda both received from interests promoting restrictive “digital rights management”), we need to speak to the Liberals too. Sharpen those pencils, and get the envelopes ready to write our MPs. We may need to work hard to get politicians on both sides of the aisle working for all Canadians.


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