If we told you, we'd have to kill you …

I don't think we have anything like this in Canada but, of course, I'm in the The Media so no one would be allowed to tell me anyway. We're talking about the Council for National Policy, which is meeting this weekend in Utah. Our very own Stephen Harper was a speaker at a 1997 meeting of this “ultra-secret conservative” group. You remember that speech, don't you? The one where our Harper would describe the country he would one day lead as “a northern welfare state in the worst sense of the term”. I wonder what the Harper of 1997 would think of Harper the Prime Minister whose government has let program expenditures jump 7.5 per cent in fiscal 2007 compared to fiscal 2006, the last year the Liberals spent any money out of the public purse. Conservatives have let government spending rise another 7.6 per cent between April and June compared with the same period last year. But I digress…
Anyhow, it looks like U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney is the featured guest this weekend. Do tell if you know of any Canadians heading down to this event. Come to think of it, has anyone seen Stockwell Day this weekend?

An ultra-secret conservative group — so secret that members don't even use the group's name in communications — will feature Vice President Dick Cheney as a speaker at a meeting in Utah today.
“Cheney will address the fall meeting of the Council for National Policy, a group whose self-described mission is to promote 'a free-enterprise system, a strong national defense and support for traditional Western values,” according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the popular post-apocalyptic Christian-themed Left Behind books, the group holds confidential meetings three times a year attended by a small but powerful cadre of top conservatives.
“The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before of after a meeting,” one of the group's rules reads, according to a New York Times profile of the organization in 2004… [Read the rest of the story]

The goalie is Dennis Kemp

Artist Ken Danby, as you may have heard, died this past week of an apparent heart attack while canoeing in Algonquin Park. As soon as I learned of his death, I thought of his son, Sean.
The Danbys, at the time, lived just outside of Guelph, Ont., where I grew up, on a rural property near Rockwood. Sean and I — I think he's a year, maybe two, younger than me — went to the same high school in Guelph, John F. Ross CVI. He was, if I remember, an enthusiastic musician and a pretty good football player. It's been years since I've seen him but I hope he finds some strength knowing that the thoughts of long-ago friends are with him.

My parents — and me, too — liked Sean's dad's work a lot and they've purchased some of his prints over the years.
One of the reasons that I like Danby's art is simple enough: He saw and painted the same landscapes in Puslinch Township and Eramosa Township, near the tiny hamlets of Rockwood, Eden Mills, Arkell, and Hillsburgh that I loved exploring as a teenager who hiked and biked from our home on Guelph's eastern edge south towards Milton and east towards Georgetown. Whatever it was I felt as I biked over those rolling hills or came upon as I hiked the Arkell Trail, he seemed to capture it in his work.
One of the prints my parents bought was his classic At The Crease (left). They gave it to me a few years ago and it now hangs in my basement.
Like those paintings set in Eramosa Township, I, like millions of Canadians I suppose, felt a deep personal connection with At The Crease because, again, like millions of others, I grew up playing hockey and dreaming of an NHL career and that painting smelled of the rink, a smell I might add — a cold odd mixture of Zamboni diesel fumes, tobacco smoke, popcorn and sweat — that was a good and comforting smell. Now, as it turns out, I've learned there's another reason I feel connected to that particular work: It's a painting of a goalie I used to watch play and he's guarding a net whose hemp I've actually bulged, to paraphrase some of the broadcaster poets who used to work Hockey Night in Canada.
Ottawa Citizen writer Randy Boswell writes today that, according to Wayne Gretzky, the model for that painting is Dennis Kemp, who plied his trade for, among others, the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, the junior B team that my dad used to take me to watch on Friday nights every now and again at the old Guelph Memorial Gardens. Kemp also played hockey for Wayne's dad in Brantford, near Guelph.
In Guelph, I remember watching future NHLers like Doug Riseborough, John Van Boxmeer, Brian McLellan, and George McPhee play for the Junior B Mad Hatters and others in Guelph. The Biltmore Mad Hatters, named that way for their sponsor, hat manufacturer Biltmore, would become the Guelph CMCs and then later the Holody Platers. A local hockey fan named Joe Holody owned an electro-plating business in Guelph and, thus, the “Platers”, whose franchise subsequently moved to Owen Sound, was born.
The jersey colours for the Biltmores, the CMCs or the Platers, as I remember them, were kind of reminiscent of the Chicago Black Hawks at the time — mostly black and white with some red accents. I would see, them, of course, at the Gardens in their home whites and, it is that jersey, if you look at At The Crease closely, that the goalie is was wearing for Danby's painting.
Now, though I wished hard for it, I never played in front of a sell-out crowd at Guelph Memorial Gardens, but the rep teams I played for — double-A and triple-A — played at the Gardens from time to time, skating and shooting through the same crease Danby immortalized in 1972. In fact, now that I know I'm looking at one of the creases at the Gardens, I'll bet I can tell which end Kemp was painted in. If you look over the goalie's glove hand, behind the glass, you'll see what is actually a greyish-brown divider moving diagonally up towards the top of the painting. That divider part of the “Zamboni tunnel” at the Garden's west end and would have been the end of the rink that the home team Biltmore's would have defended in the first and third periods. There were no such dividers at the other end, just rows of brightly painted yellow seats behind that net.

Tories slash debt; Liberals would have slashed taxes …

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that his government is using the giant-sized fiscal surplus to pay down the national debt. In turn, Canada will not need as much money from taxpayers to pay the interest on the debt that's being retired. And, as his Finance Minister promised last fall, the Prime Minister says he will lower taxes by the amount that is now not needed to pay that interest.

But, for those who say taxes are too high — there's no gettin' around the fact that taxes would have been much lower – much, much, much lower — under the previous Liberal government.
The Martin government, in its last days, promised that if there was a giant-sized surplus at the end of each fiscal year, it would divvy it up into three pieces and apportion it this way:

  • Set aside $3-billion in a 'contingency fund' reserve.
  • Use one-third of the remainder to pay down the national debt.
  • Use one-third to lower personal income taxes
  • Use one-third for new program spending.

Update: Now mind you, Dan Miles, who is Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's Director of Communications, called to say I'm being unfair when I say the Liberal tax plan would have been “much, much, much lower” than the Conservative plan. He says the “tax back guarantee” — the government's guarantee that interest saved from debt reduction will go to income tax cuts — is just one part of his government's plan to cut taxes and that, if one looks at the “global” picture since the Tories took office 19 months ago, their package of $41-billion worth of tax cuts of all kinds compares more than favourably to what the Liberals have done or were planning to do.

OK, fair enough but, on the issue of surpluses, I still think that policy differences between Liberals and Conservatives are significant enough. Here, again, is what the Tories are doing:

The federal surplus at March 31, 2007 stood at $14.7-billion.

The resulting tax cut from the Conservatives will be about $725-million.

The resulting tax cut from a $14.7-billion surplus with the Liberals in power would have been nearly $4-billion or more than six times as much as the Conservatives are offering.

There would have been another $4-billion for increased program spending — things like more equipment for the military or more daycare spaces.

And the public debt would still have been sliced by $4-billion.

I'm not yet sure what's motivated the Conservatives to be so aggressive on the debt. On the campaign trail and at the 2005 Conservative policy convention, I heard a great deal about the need to lower taxes but I heard next to nothing about the urgent need to lower the debt. When I speak to Conservative MPs about what their constituents are telling them about national priorities, I hear that lowering taxes is a constant refrain but no MP has ever said they're worried about being voted out because they didn't lower the debt enough.

Moreover, you could make a good case that the debt is not a problem but taxation is.

Our national debt, as a ratio of our gross national product, is already among the lowest in the world. We are the only G8 country without a budget deficit, which means we are the only one of our international peers not adding to the debt every year. So we are already in a good position vis-a-vis the debt.

And yet, there is no shortage of groups in Canada who say that, compared to our international peers, our taxation levels are too high.
Today, the government is doing something about the debt — which doesn't appear to be much of a problem — and in doing so, will use up all the money it could have spent cutting taxes — which, to some, does appear to be a problem.

There are 33 million of us!

Statscan this morning published the latest population estimates for the country. The agency believes that, at July 1 of this year, Canada could count 32,967,000 citizens, which is about one per cent more than the same point last year.
Alberta's population is growing fastest at 3.1 per cent year-over-year while the annual growth in Ontario's population was the slowest since 1980-81.
The populations of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Yukon were smaller this year than last.
Fewer immigrants arrived in the Great White North for the year ending July 1, 2007. Statscan says Canada received 238,100 immigrants, a decrease of 16,300 compared to the previous year.

$10B for Facebook?

News item: Microsoft take a stake in Facebook. Microsoft's rumoured investment — the companies aren't talking — would value the social networking site at $10-billion US. (Or, come to think of it, $10-billion Canadian … hey, I'm takin' the loonie out for a walk while I can! But I digress…)
Reaction: From David Bradshaw, principal analyst at UK-based consultancy Ovum:

We don't normally take rumours seriously, but there's so much smoke here that there has to be some fire. And at up to $10bn, that could be a very large fire! Indeed, it is such a large amount that it makes me suspect that we're in the run-up to another bubble in internet company values.
There are some problems with Facebook, for instance the current legal action between the founder and his former room-mates over the alleged theft of intellectual property, the increasing concerns over protecting children against 'grooming' by paedophiles (though Myspace with its younger audience seems more at risk here), and the increasing hostility in corporations to employees using social networking in work time – to the extent that some are now blocking access. Longer term, we believe that social networking sites have to evolve further. Users need much better privacy controls, for example to protect against identity theft and stalking.
However, it seems that social networking via the web is here to stay. Web 2.0 is a widely hyped term, but if it means anything it is greater collaboration between users mediated by the web. Social networking is one element of this but only one – but other sites are more centred on collaboration. Indeed, two of the largest successes of Web 1.0 – Amazon and EBay – were successful because they mediated collaboration between buyers and sellers.
It's therefore my view that Facebook is no more than a step along the way and that there's something further to come. Maybe we need bubble 2.0 to burst before we can get to that – but let's hope not.”

BC towns say they'll be 'carbon neutral' in five years

Gosh, don't these yokels in B.C. know they're liable to bankrupt themselves???!!

VANCOUVER – Local governments from across B.C. signed a Climate Action Charter with the Province and the Union of BC Municipalities today, committing to a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2012.
“Our government is committed to taking action on climate change and, by working in partnership with local governments, we will be more effective in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Premier Gordon Campbell said today, as he joined with UBCM president Brenda Binnie to sign a memorandum of understanding with the goal of local governments becoming carbon neutral over the next five years. “By signing the BC Climate Action Charter today, we are taking a key step toward improving the quality of life for our residents and communities tomorrow.”
Sixty-two communities signed the Charter during Wednesday’s UBCM session in Vancouver. In addition to a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2012, local governments pledged to measure and report on their community’s greenhouse gas emissions profile and work to create compact, more energy efficient communities . . .
…Carbon neutrality involves measuring the greenhouse gas emissions that come from government operations such as buildings and fleet vehicles and then reducing those emissions to net zero. Governments achieve carbon neutrality by reducing emissions where possible, by purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for its greenhouse gas emissions or by developing projects to offset emissions. Such projects may include converting to energy efficient buildings and replacing old fleet vehicles and buses with hybrids.

"And don’t even get me started on Facebook, the last circle of hell…"

Andrew O'Hagan — whose books I keep meaning to read … has a delightful (and short!) essay in the London Review of Books:

My name’s Andrew, and I’m a reachaholic . . .
Nowadays, being unavailable is understood to be an act of aggression equal to driving tanks through the walls of the Danzig Post Office. To fail to answer your mobile phone, or to turn it off completely, is merely to announce that you are deep in the throes of a secret life. You don’t care, you’re not reliable, you’ve got something to hide, you’re screening. There are few modern crimes so remarked on as the crime of unavailability. Answer or you’re evil. Answer or you’re dead.
Everybody who really understands the Blackberry calls it a Crackberry, which underestimates its addictive properties. At least with crack you get to tilt your head back between puffs, or so my mother tells me. In any event, it’s the night-time that is really difficult: to turn it off is to accept that sleep is a sort of death, and to leave it on is to wonder all night what that crucial stuff must be (Australian gossip? American film rights? Adverts for Xanax?) that keeps the thing buzzing in the next room like there’s no tomorrow….
[Read the whole thing…]

Media Cherry Picking

Substitute “PMO” for “White House” and “Prime Minister Harper” for “President Bush” and you have, in Dan Froomkin's Washington Post column, a pretty interesting column for Canadian readers:

How much control should the White House have over who gets to interview President Bush? Specifically, should Bush be able to dictate which journalists at which outlets he talks to? [Read the rest]

More data on the dollar and jobs

Just because I'm one of those geeks that likes to fool around with a spreadsheet, here's some more data on job creation in Canada during the last five years, a period in which the loonie's value has soared compared to the currency of our biggest trading partner, the U.S.

  • The average value of the loonie in January 2003 was 64.88 cents. Now, of course, we're at par, a rise of more than 54 per cent. In August of this year — the most recent month for which Statistics Canada has provided employment data — the average value of loonie was 94.5 cents, a rise of 45.7 per cent. In January of 2003, there were 15.2 million full- and part-time jobs in the country. In August of this year, there were 17.2 million jobs, a net gain of 1.97 million new jobs.
  • For the year 2003, the loonie appreciated in value by about 17.42 per cent. The Canadian economy created 554,000 new jobs.
  • For 2004, the loonie rose just over six per cent. The economy continued to create new jobs — 501,700 for 2004.
  • In 2005, the loonie was up 5.4 per cent and another 550,000 jobs were created.
  • In 2006, the loonie started and ended the year at about the same — just 0.38 per cent increase (I'm comparing average monthly value to average monthly value rather than opening trade to closing trade). Economy created a whopping 625,000 jobs.
  • By August of 2007, the loonie was on a tear, up more than 11 per cent and, lo and behold, we're on a pace for the best year yet of job creation — with more than 808,000 new jobs in the first eight months of the year.

Flanagan: Would PM get fair treatment from G-G?

Hot on the heels of his new book, Harper's Team, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that not only are the courts and the bureaucracy stacked with Liberals who would work against an aggressive Conservative agenda, but the Queen's representative in Canada is also not to be trusted! Here's Tom Flanagan (right), the University of Calgary political scientist, writing in the online journal C2C:

The Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, is a politically inexperienced CBC broadcaster chosen by Mr. Harper’s predecessor, Paul Martin; her French-born husband is, or at least used to be, sympathetic to Quebec separatism. Could Mr. Harper count on fair treatment from this Governor-General in a constitutional crisis? Suppose he was defeated in the House and asked for a dissolution of Parliament and a new election? Would she comply with his request, or would she accept his resignation and then invite the Liberal leader to form a government? It’s probably more prudent not to put that question to the test.
With thirteen years of appointments by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, the courts are heavily stacked with Liberal appointments. For example, one review of the Saskatchewan situation found that 16 out of 20 judges appointed to the bench by Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin had made personal contributions to the Liberal Party (not counting donations by spouses or law firms). With that kind of roster sitting on the bench, constitutionally adventurous Conservative legislation is likely to get a rough ride.