Ottawa Public Library's new hits: "The Going Down Guide" and the "Anal Sex Position Guide"

My favourite bit in this morning's Ottawa Citizen:

Ottawa is buying explicit sex instruction books for its public library because they have good information written by respected authors and some people want to read them, says Ottawa's chief librarian.

Barbara Clubb was responding Wednesday to a complaint about three new books on order at the Ottawa Public Library.

“We have a very broad collection,” said Clubb, noting that generating controversy is “part of operating a public library and has been for centuries.”

The three books spurring the complaint are all published this year: The Anal Sex Position Guide, which features a picture of a couple apparently in the act on the cover; The Going Down Guide; and The Sex Instruction Manual.

The city's chief librarian noted that books on sex are “very popular” with borrowers in Ottawa.

Click through for the full story —

Ok, @stratosphear, you are so unblocked … Or Bloggers Vs MSM, Part 82

[UPDATE: Note that, at the time this post first appeared, I was the National Affairs Correspondent for Canwest News Service, which has since become Postmedia News]

First things first: @stratosphear, you are free to follow me!

And, cuz I’m on holiday with not much else to do but sit in my basement in my pajamas and blog, can I go over your latest post? It reads well but either I phrased some things poorly last time out or you’re trying to pick a fight with a guy who’s mostly nodding his head:

Lacking the research capability of, say, Canwest or a political party – despite the impression you might have gotten from @phil_mccracken1 and others of the lunatic fringe, I do not receive my orders from Michael Ignatieff – I only have my faulty intellect on which to base my assertions. So please 1) ignore any factual claim I may have made and 2) replace with the following factual claims (which are presumably better since they’re not “tainted” by my partisanship):

Partisanship does not taint any opinion, argument, etc. on its own. Partisanship, though, speaks to motive. Your motive or general theme, it seems to me is to show that the Conservatives are unfit to govern and that a Liberal government would be a superior one. Nothing wrong with that view — it’s one held by and applauded by millions of Canadians. Indeed, it may shortly be the majority view in this country.

I have opinions as well about what party might be a better governing party but — and you might laugh at this and think it old-fashioned — as a reporter, I think it’s important to be as independent or non-partisan as possible and so I try to keep those opinions to myself.

My mission, as they say at the top-secret organization of MSM reporters, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To speak truth to power, and all that. When/if the Liberals are the government, I’ll be doing the same thing. But you’ll then be The Man.

Now, you’re quite right to point out that the papers I work for contain lots of columnists who believe a Conservative government is the superior one but obviously that does not mean all employees believe the same thing. I have worked at lots of papers and no editor ever gave me the ideological litmus test before hiring me. To me this is a key ground rule of our ‘debate’: I’m not seeking to show that one party or another is a better governing party. You are. Doesn’t make either of us right or wrong. But I don’t want anyone thinking that just because I’m arguing with an avowed Liberal means that I’m arguing on behalf of the Conservative (or NDP or BQ) cause. I’m just arguing cuz, like I said, I’m on holiday with not much else to do! Oh — and as for research capability: We use something called the Internet for that. Believe me: There’s no army of Canwest researchers feeding me this stuff!

   * And that article would be referenced in this piece, which notes that “since assuming power in 2006, the Conservatives have, within the broad cultural sector, very purposefully targeted arts programs for cuts, and shifted the funds to sports and multiculturalism.”

Happy now?

Well, yeah, I am. Cuz that’s different than what you first wrote. You first wrote: “the Cons count funding for Sport Canada as cultural, and the Libs did not.” That’s not what James showed and it’s just not true. Both governments count it the same way, it’s just that, as both James and I showed, the Conservatives and Liberals spent money differently. But they still account for it under the same broad terms. And when you count it up using the same methodology for both, the current government is spending nominally more than the last one.

The important point here — and I’d curious to hear your view on this — i: We spend a lot of money on stuff that some people in this country call “culture”. Many people complain that “real culture” is not getting enough while others complain that “real culture” is getting too much! Why don’t we have a debate about what it means to be a cultured Canadian?

But that’s not really the point, is it? Akin’s criticism isn’t that I’m pro- or anti-government: his beef is that, as a blogger, I’m not “independent”, I lack the oversight of an editor, hence I’m inferior to the good ol’ MSM (mainstream media). For despite his blogging and Twitter acumen – he’s the second top federal tweeter for the month of July 2009 – Akin is nothing if not a staunch defender of the MSM, threatened as it is by the the likes of little ol’ me.

No, no, no no, no, no. Please, no. If you’ve got that impression, then we have definitely got off on the wrong foot. I have been arguing long, loudly, and often that the MSM is not and should not be automatically privileged in any info-hierarchy. There is no ‘royal jelly’ that makes something published in The Globe and Mail or National Post more special than something published on a blog read by 20 people. If you make a good point, you’ve made it. Period. Where you make that point is irrelevant.

Now, it’s true that I’m a professional journalist which means I pay the bills by going out and finding something interesting going on in the world and writing about it in a way that as many people as possible find it interesting. And, because I’ve been doing this for a long time now, I’m pretty sure that I’ll continue to find interesting things and write about them in a compelling way. But this is not a zero-sum game. You, other journalists, other bloggers, etc. will also find interesting things to say and will write about them in a compelling way. There’s plenty of interesting stuff going on in the world every day. How can any of us be threatened by that? The more the merrier — and, again, that’s something I’ve been saying for a long time.

My first response is that our inferiority is debatable.

I don’t think it’s debatable at all. I’m no smarter than you are and you’re no smarter than me. We’re neither our inferiors just as we’re neither our superiors.

Where would liberals (not to mention Liberals) possibly find news coverage reflecting their values?

Oh not this canard again. Of course Liberals think the MSM is dead-set against them. The Conservatives think the same thing. If anyone’s got reason to complain it’s the NDP! They just get plain ignored by the MSM. And, are you suggesting that my reporting reflects one party’s values to the exclusion of others?

In any event, we go back to the idea that this is not a zero-sum game between MSM and non-MSM information sources. The more the merrier. Democracy is well served by having all of it. And, in fact, as others smarter than me have argued, weakening either the MSM or the ability of anyone to blog, tweet, or what have you, would weaken democracy. We need both, not one or the other. So how about this? Isn’t it kind of pointless to keep arguing if the MSM or bloggers are better/less biased/more fun/valuable? Who cares? We’re all here and we’re all staying. Move along, already!

My second response is, well, tough bananas. Akin seems to think that he and I ought to be treated as equals, and insofar as my having no training or experience, that’s rather complimentary. However, I have no paid subscribers, receive no funding; I’m not an agent of the Liberal Party of Canada so my posts and tweets don’t carry the weight of partisan officialdom. I don’t even try to compete with the likes of David Akin in terms of facts and figures.

I ain’t got any training, either. I never went to journalism school. I wanted to be a history professor or a theatre critic but got slightly sidelined. But your last line strikes me as kinda weird: Why wouldn’t you want “to compete” with me or anyone for that matter by finding new facts and figures?

In short – as the MSM is quick to point out – I’m not a journalist, and I never claimed otherwise. You can’t contend that blogs don’t count as journalism then hold us bloggers up to journalists’ standards. That’s ridiculous.

Absolutely. And, in any event, who the hell knows what these standards are these days anyhow? People don’t read this blog because it’s written by A Journalist. They read it cuz it’s interesting. People don’t read your posts cuz they’re written by A Liberal Blogger. They read them cuz they like them.

Here’s the thing: folks like English and Akin have to heed “professional journalistic standards” (though going out of one’s way to censor a columnist or argue with a Liberal blogger might not count). Bloggers don’t. We make our own standards, and I’d say mine aren’t bad, really: I try to avoid personal attacks, I post all comments that aren’t spam or highly offensive (yes, even David Akin’s), and I heed constructive criticism even if I don’t always agree. But I’m not subject to “professional journalistic standards” ’cause, well, I ain’t a professional journalist. (See, I just used “ain’t” – that proves it.)

Well, your standards sound a lot like the “professional” standards over here.

The MSM made the choice to start blogging and tweeting because the alternative – ignoring social media’s impact – might mean further dwindling sales and increasing irrelevance in the digital age. But the MSM doesn’t set the rules for anyone but itself. The blogosphere is our turf, and one reason why we bother is that we don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s a little notion I like to call freedom of speech.

I wouldn’t equate slowing revenues for media organizations with increasing irrelevance. In fact, it seems to me that there is no dimunition in the hunger for information. In fact, more people than ever want information about more things than ever. Traffic to MSM Web sites is increasing every week. But traffic goes to people who are saying interesting things. So traffic to any number of popular non-MSM sites is also increasing. Again: No zero-sum game. It’s all good. You can claim the blogosphere as “your turf” but you know perfectly well that, the whole value of the place, is that it’s no one’s turf. And you’re right: You don’t have to answer to anyone but it sure seems to have got yer goat that an MSM reporter decided to answer back to something you said on “your turf”!

So, in closing, get off our backs, oh, and incidentally I’m still right about the Conservatives and cultural spending. And don’t block me, dude. That is so not cool.

Ok, you’re unblocked. Happy travels! Dude.

Conservatives and Culture: Let's review the file, shall we?

On Wednesday August 6, 2008, I received a tip from a Conservative government official about a soon-to-be axed program, run out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, that helped Canadian artists export their work abroad. I was working for Canwest at the time and, the next day, in several papers in the Canwest chain, I broke the story of the so-called “Conservative arts cuts”:

OTTAWA AUG 7 2008– The federal government will cancel a program today that sent artists abroad to promote Canadian culture because the program’s grant recipients included “a general radical,” “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank” and a rock band that uses an expletive as part of its name.

Canwest News Service has learned that the Conservatives are cancelling the $4.7-million PromArt program administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade because most of the money “went to groups that would raise the eyebrows of any typical Canadian,” said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move is sure to provoke a backlash in the Canadian cultural community, already angry at the federal Conservatives for tinkering with the funding criteria for other arts programs, most famously for pending legislation which would prohibit federal funding of films and television shows the government might find offensive.

The cut is part of an ongoing government-wide review to cut spending but the department’s PromArt program became an easy target when senior Conservatives discovered that some recipients of taxpayer-funded foreign travel were “not exactly the foot that most Canadians would want to see put forward.”

The recipients singled out by the Conservatives include:

* $3,000 to Toronto-based experimental rock band Holy F— Music for a week- long tour of the United Kingdom.

* $5,000 was given to former CBCbroadcaster Avi Lewis, who now works for al Jazeera and who is described in a Conservative memo as “a general radical” to help pay for his travel to film festivals in Australia and Argentina;

* $16,500 to send Tal Bachman, a best-selling recording artist and the son of The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman, to South Africa and Zimbabwe for music festivals.

“I think there’s a reasonable expectation by taxpayers that they won’t fund the world travel of wealthy rock stars, ideological activists or fringe and alternative groups,” the source said.

… But the program also funded travel to promote what many Canadians might consider “mainstream” Canadian art. For example, the Canadian Museum of Civilization received $50,000 to help defray the costs of taking an exhibition of Inuit Art to Brazil; the Royal Winnipeg Ballet received assistance of $40, 000 for a U.S. tour; and former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache received a $3,000 grant so he could travel to Cuba to give a lecture about the Canadian Charter of Rights.

.. More than 300 grants were awarded in 2006-07.

Among those who received a grant was author Gwynne Dyer, who received $3,000 to help him travel to Cuba for a series of lectures. The grant program’s annual report said Dyer’s funding application was approved “with the expected results of creating greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy . . . within key audiences of Cuban decision makers and opinion leaders.”

But the Conservative talking points say Dyer is “a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.”

The Conservatives also dismiss a grant given to The North South Institute, a non-profit foreign policy think-tank, that received $18,000 in federal travel assistance so its representatives could attend a conference in Cuba.

The North-South Institute is “a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank, ” the Conservative memo said. “Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-western conferences in Cuba?” it asked.

Within a week, our organization and many others had scoured the federal government’s arts spending profile and, after all was said and done, it seemed the Conservatives were ready to cut or shelve programs which had provided as much as $50 million in support to Canadian artists.

Now it’s important to note that the federal government spends about $4 billion a year on what it calls cultural programs so $50 million worth of cuts was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty tiny, about 1 per cent. But “culture” to a government bureaucrat is a very broad umbrella – it includes, for example, spending on Olympic programs as well as funding purchases by the National Gallery of Canada.  A member of the Liberal Party of Canada whose name is Bryan and tweets under the moniker “Stratosphear” takes me to task for “a myopic assertion” on these culture numbers. Bryan says: “There’s one massive difference in accounting for cultural spending by the Chrétien/Martin governments and the Harper regime: the Cons count funding for Sport Canada as cultural, and the Libs did not.” Bryan does not provide a source that assertion but I am very pleased to provide my source: The Federal Government Estimates published by The Treasury Board from 2004 onwards. The Treasury Board, so far as I can tell from reading the estimates, did not change the defintion of “culture” from year-to-year or government to government.

In February, 2007 — well before breaking the culture cuts story in August 2008 — I looked at spending on whatever it is the government defines as culture. Comparing spending for the same categories, it seems unjustified to me to say that the Conservatives have cut spending on culture although they certainly have changed how money is spent on culture:

Spending on federal government cultural programs is often seen as the litmus test between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives often view such spending with a sceptical eye; liberals, particularly in Canada, tend to place a higher priority on such spending. Or at least that’s the theory.

In the Main Estimates for fiscal 2008, which ends on March 31, 2008, tabled this morning by the Conservative government, spending on all cultural programs will total about $3.87-billion, or about $1.84 for every $100 of government spending. So how does that compare to previous years? Well, overall spending in fiscal 2008 on cultural programs like Parks Canada or the CBC or federal museums, will be $14.5-million or 0.4 per cent less than Fiscal 2007. But spending on cultural programs in the second year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government will be $509-million or 15.2 per cent more than it was in in fiscal 2006, the last year of Paul Martin’s Liberal government.

After the 2008 “cuts”story broke, I went back to the Estimates (the Estimates are the government’s official line-by-line spending plan and not a federal penny can be spent unless the Estimates are passed by the House) and looked at the Conservative record on spending on what bureaucrats have defined as cultural spending. The definition has not changed. The resulting analysis shows the following: In nominal terms (and even if you adjust for inflation) the Conservatives were spending more on the baseket of cultural programs than the Liberals but as an overall percentage of all government spending, the Conservatives were spending less. Here’s the report I filed August 15, 2008, I reported (I have emphasized the two ways to look at the data):

The federal government, after three years with the Conservatives in charge, is spending more on cultural programs each year than it did during the last year of the Liberal government, according to a Canwest News Service analysis of government financial documents.

For the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2009, Parliament has voted to spend more than $4 billion on cultural programs, including the CBC, the Canada Arts Council, the National Gallery of Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage. That amount is $660 million or 19.7 per cent more than was spent in fiscal 2006, the last year when the Liberals controlled the purse strings.

Overall program spending during that same period is up 18.6 per cent. In other words, Conservatives have boosted spending on arts programs faster than they have boosted overall government spending.

The analysis was prompted by a flurry of criticism prompted by the cancellation, first reported last week by Canwest News Service, of a program that gave Canadian artists and cultural workers small grants to travel abroad. News about the cancellation of the PromArt program, run out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for about $4.7 million a year, was quickly followed by news of cancellations of some other programs for artists.

.. The Canwest analysis of federal spending on cultural programs shows that Telefilm Canada has fared worst under the Conservatives. It will receive $107 million this year, most of which is used to help Canadian film and video artists, but that is a decrease of $16.7 million or 13.5 per cent compared to 2006, the last year of the last Liberal government.

The Conservatives have also reduced funding for the Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission to $5.7 million a year, a drop of $230,000 or four per cent compared to fiscal 2006.

But some agencies that have been viewed, at times, with suspicion by Conservative grassroots supporters, have actually done well financially under the Conservative government. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for example, will receive $1.1 billion from the Tories this year, an increase of $133 million or 13.5 per cent compared to the last year under the Liberals.

Other agencies include:

* The Department of Canadian Heritage will spend $1.4 billion this year, up $273 million or 24.4 per cent compared to 2006.

* The Canada Council for the Arts will spend $181 million this year, up $30. 3 million or 20.2 per cent.

* The National Arts Centre Corporation will spend nearly $50 million this year, up $18.3 million or nearly 60 per cent compared to the Liberals.

* The National Gallery of Canada will spend $53.3 million, up $8.8 million or nearly 20 per cent.

But the Conservative record on cultural spending when measured as a portion of all government spending shows that Conservatives, three years later, support the arts at about the same level that the Liberals did in their last year.

During the final budgetary year of former prime minister Paul Martin’s government, $18.06 of every $1,000 spent by the government was spent on cultural programs. That jumped in Harper’s first year in government to $19.54 but by this year it has fallen back to about where the Liberals were at $18.23 of every $1,000 spent by the government.

Using that measure – spending in one area compared to overall spending in any other area – cultural spending has fared worse than any other program in the three-year Conservative term.

The Tories have seen the portion of all spending they need to make on public debt drop by more than 22 per cent. But they have used the spending room created by smaller debt charges to boost spending, as a portion of all government spending, on security and public safety (up 15 per cent); environment and resource-based programs (up 14.4 percent) and general government services (13.7 per cent.)

Yesterday, on Twitter, there was an active discussion about this issue, with one individual, a Conservative supporter evidently, wondering why we didn’t just cut the all spending on Canadian Heritage. If you did that, you’d shut down the CBC, the National Gallery, our national museums, and our national parks system and all that to only take out about 1 per cent of the government’s overall annual spending of $220 billion.

During that Twitter discussion, even Heritage Minister James Moore chipped in:

@davidakin: Spending on cultural programs in the 2nd quarter of S.Harper’s govt is 15.2% more than in the last year of Liberal govt.

I replied that if you really want to get serious about cutting government spending, you have to look at the biggest ticket items: Transfers to Persons (i.e. cutting old age benefits or employment insurance benefits) or transfer to provinces for health care and the like. Jean Chretien took the latter route in the 1990s to balance the federal budget the Liberals are still criticized for that.

But back to culture:

The argument, it seems to me, should not be about whether any government of the day is spending more or less on “culture”. Anyone who spends the time reading through government financial information for the last five years, as I did, will see that the government is spending more.

The argument is really about what we define as culture. I suspect you will find a great many people who believe their tax dollars ought to fund culture that revolves around hockey, curling, and, for the really artsy in that crowd, a Stephen Leacock novel. My favourite literary critic (and, last I heard, Ottawa resident) John Metcalf complained about this in his 1986 essay collection Kicking Against the Pricks:

The arts in canada have never exactly flourished. Not long ago, one of our federal cabinet ministers, welcoming home a team from international competition, delcared with patriotic fervour that hockey was Canada’s national art form. This outrageous statement provoked only Irving Layton to public protest. The unremarked acceptance of this good minister’s paean suggests why Canada remains so very much the land of Anne Murray, Anne of Green Gables and Toller Cranston. …

Where is our Bregman?

Our Fellini?

That is to ask Inappropriate questions.

With the blessings, and indeed guidance, of the State, the Canadian film industry has been turned into a tax haven for dentists. (p. 53 of my edition of Metcalf’s book)

Of course, there are many voters who would sympathize with Metcalf and believe the current government of the day (or any government) be a bunch of Philistines that just don’t get “culture.”
How much we as a country choose to spend on culture and what we define as culture gets almost no serious discussion at election time. In 2008, of course, the Conservatives took a major hit in Quebec because of the perception that whatever was being spent, the Conservatives were determined to spend less. But there was no real discussion, particularly between the two major parties, about the arts in Canada, why they’re important, and what the priorities were for each party when it came to cultural spending. True enough: In 2008, with a recession just getting underway, the economy was the unavoidably dominant theme. But for next time, perhaps we can have a national discussion about the arts, armed with some clear facts about the numbers involved and some clear answers about what $4 billion on “culture” means and how that culture is to be fostered by each party.

At Guantanamo, Navy man accuses female reporter of sexual harrassment

The one and only time I (left) was assigned to cover a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg had been on the base for 32 days straight. I was coming in for two nights on the U.S. Naval Base to cover an Omar Khadr hearing. Though Khadr, a Canadian, has been imprisoned there for several years, there are no Canadian reporters permanently stationed there. Canadian news organizations generally send a reporter there whenever Khadr is in front of a judge.

A reporter assigned to Guantanamo for any amount of time is not exactly in for a lot of fun. Because of security concerns, reporters can travel from the media room to their tents without a military escort and can use a beach near their tents without an escort. Your tents, incidentally, are military issue: i.e. there is canvas overhead and one thin pillow under your head. The tents are air conditioned by air conditioners that are about as quiet as a jet engine. There is no television and your shower and bathroom facilities are community facilities, community in the army sense of the word. If a reporter wants to eat, shop, or go anywhere else on the island, that reporter is required to have a military escort accompany him or her. And even if you have a military escort at your side, there's not exactly a lot to do at Guantanamo.

To get to Guantanamo, reporters must travel from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. on a U.S. military plane. On my trip down, we travelled on a cargo jet but it was military-style transport which mean we sat on canvas webs on benches in the dark on the side of the plane. The Associated Press reporter who covers Gitmo is based in Puerto Rico but when he has to get to Gitmo, he must fly all the way up to Washington to come back down on a military jet from Andrews. The Miami Herald's Rosenberg has to do the same thing: Fly to Washington so she can come back down to Gitmo. When they leave, reporters can go straight back to Miami or other destinations.

Reporters go through all of this so that they can basically be court reporters. There's not much else the military will let you do at Gitmo. The military lets reporters into the courtrooms where, often behind soundproof walls or only via closed-circuit television, a reporter can watch the military trials of those accused of various terrorism-related crimes against the United States. After the court sessions, a U.S. colonel, representing the prosecution might make himself available for questions and the defence is always available for questions. At the end of the day, you end up filing a courtroom story with a lot of legal beagles going back and forth. It makes the front page every now and again but mostly, you're writing for the back pages. And unlike court reporters back in the real world, you are not ending your day in a bar with lawyers for the defence and prosecution trading war stories and enjoying yourself. Nope. You are sober and going to your noisy air-conditioned tent all by yourself with no family or friends around so you can get up and do it all over again.

Simply put: If you're a reporter and Gitmo is your beat, life is not going to be a bowl of peaches. I'm glad I went there for a three-day assignment but, as I told Rosenberg at the time, I could not imagine spending 32 days in a row there.

I say all of that as a preface to this story, by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, about a complaint that U.S. Navy commander, Jeff Gordon, has filed with the Miami Herald against Rosenberg:

In a letter to the paper's editor, Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon accused Carol Rosenberg of “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.” Gordon, who deals primarily with the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, said in the letter that this was a “formal sexual harassment complaint” and asked the Herald for a “thorough investigation.”

“Her behavior has been so atrocious over the years,” Gordon said in an interview. “I've been abused worse than the detainees have been abused.”  

Gordon was the naval officer who was my press liason during my trip to Gitmo and it was evident to me that he had a good professional relationship with other Canadian reporters who regularly attended there, like the Star's Michelle Shephard. In my weekend at Gitmo, I perceived no tension between Gordon and Rosenberg. And I don't feel I'm breaking any confidences when I say that when it was just us reporters gossiping in the media room, I didn't a hear a word from Rosenberg or anyone else for that matter about Gordon, bad or good. We just pretty much kept our heads down trying to file on deadline. I can also say that there are reporters at Canwest News Service who know Rosenberg and who have worked with her before and these reporters, whom I trust, say Rosenberg is a good egg.

So I, for one, will be interested to see how this complaint plays out.

Kurtz, in his column, waits until the last paragraph, to throw this bomb out there:

“Gordon, a career officer who joined the secretary's office under Donald Rumsfeld in 2005, is retiring early next year, an exit date that may help explain the unusually harsh nature of his complaint against a journalist.”

It's not a recovery until we start getting jobs back

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney pronounced the end of the recession this week and said we are now in recovery. That's great. But, as CIBC World Markets chief economist Avery Shenfeld wisely notes: [pdf]

… for many Canadians, it’s not a recovery until they start getting their jobs back. And on that score, we could still be in for a long wait. Even if the GDP bounce in the next couple of quarters is larger than we project, there are many impediments to getting trend growth back to the sturdy pace that will lower the unemployment rate. US house prices and credit markets remain challenged, consumers here and stateside are still cautious given their earlier wealth losses, and businesses are hoarding cash rather than buying equipment.

Shenfeld goes on to say that from a political standpoint, a jobs recovery is the most important kind of recovery. After all, those who are jobless tend to be upset at whatever government was in power when they lost their jobs. Reducing the number of joblessness, therefore, means reducing the number of potentially angry voters. There are more than 450,000 Canadians who had a full-time job on Hallowe'en that do not have one today. How significant is that number? I wish I could point to a source for this (anyone help me out here?) but I'm sure political scientists figured that had 60,000 votes in the 2006 federal election been distributed slightly differently, Paul Martin would have been 2-0 against Stephen Harper.
Shenfeld's shop may also give some comfort to some MPs and others who are worried that the forecasting reputation of independent Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page was working against official government/Department of Finance forecasts.

In early April, the PBO was on the mark in warning of higher deficits ahead. But he was off course in basing that on his in-house, non-consensus forecast for a Q1 GDP drop of 8.5% annualized. Only weeks later StatsCan reported a much less severe decline of 5.4%. So who can say with any confidence what the Canadian economy will look like five years from now?
…Take the PBO’s current projections, which warn of a $16 bn deficit come 2013/14 barring corrective action. Underestimate the compound annual growth for revenues by just 0.7%-pts, and overestimate the spending growth rate by the same amount, and the budget officer’s projected $16 bn deficit vanishes. Could projections be off that much? It would hardly be the first time. Barely a year-and-a-half ago, Ottawa was handed a private sector consensus forecast for underlying surpluses of $15-$25 billion over the medium term, sufficient enough to pay for significant tax relief

And Jack Layton and the NDP won't like this conclusion from CIBC:

Government revenues are particularly sensitive to corporate profits, with a rising profit share in national income having been an important driver of the earlier surplus-boosting bounty. As noted, pre-recession heights in commodity prices generated huge revenue flows associated with resource royalties, and taxes on soaring corporate profits and capital gains incomes. If, as we expect, commodity prices rebound over the medium term, that could produce another material improvement in federal fortunes, even if real GDP growth is anaemic and tax losses are carried forward in the early years of the expansion.

Jim Stanford? The ball is in your court vis-a-vis appropriate levels of corporate taxation …
And there are implications for both Liberals and Conservatives in this paragraph:

… the majority of the year-over-year budgetary swing represents mounting expenditures. That’s mostly tied to one-time stimulus efforts, including infrastructure programs with a fixed termination date, as well as an $8 billion federal tab for the bailout of the struggling auto sector. As these one-off items expire, expenditures are set to drop off sharply, provided that any changes to Employment Insurance eligibility are contained and temporary. We await a Fall update on that front.

Reading between the lines of the CIBC report, it appears there may yet be room for more stimulus that could, among other things, take the form of an enriched employment insurance program. That, obviously has implications for the current EI Working Group.

Even if the coming deficits are indeed “structural”, that term should not be equated with “permanent”. Back in the early 1990s, it took hard-nosed fiscal restraint—which Ottawa shared with lower levels of government—to get back on track. The policy tools for a fiscal tightening are today more readily available than in earlier periods, when existing tax rates were much higher and the debt servicing burden ate up a larger share of Ottawa’s revenue dollar. Recall that, over a 15-year period from 1982 to 1997, debt service was equivalent to fully one-third of federal revenue. Today that interest burden has fallen to just 13% vs total revenue.
Even if fates prove unkind and fiscal progress is slow to arrive, Ottawa will have plenty of time to prevent a return of the massive debt and interest cost burdens that plagued the country two decades ago. Tax hikes, hopefully temporary ones, won’t be unthinkable when the economy is stronger three or four years from now.
The federal government boosted its tax take as it tackled a relatively larger deficit in the 1990s [during the tenure of both a Progressive Conservative and subsequent Liberal governments – Akin], with the tax share topping 16% of GDP before hefty tax cuts were unveiled in 2000 [the 'hefty tax cuts' came from a Liberal government – Akin]. Last year, despite huge corporate profits, the federal tax burden was barely 12%. Other countries, most notably the US, face large tax increases to address more serious debt and deficit burdens than Canada’s, again opening up competitive room for Canada to raise a bit more revenue if that proves unavoidable.

Finally, the CIBC's economists conclude that Canada's reputation as a fiscally prudent nation, built up by the governments of Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and Stephen Harper, is likely to survive the recession, the recovery, and the PBO:

whether the PBO or private sector forecasts calling for medium-term deficits are right or not, Canada’s fiscal standing is hardly at risk. While Ottawa has appeared to have dropped its formal target for a debt-to-GDP ratio of 25%, that figure was arbitrary in the first place, and miles below levels that other countries could possibly reach. Even if five years out, Canada is still running a deficit in the $15 bn range, that would leave the debt-to-GDP ratio in decline. Assuming only middling GDP growth, anything less than a $30 billion deficit would manage to keep the debt-to-GDP ratio heading back in the right direction over the longer term . . .

Wow. Microsoft's revenues fall for the first time — ever

Say what you want about its products, but as an investment, there's been few better than Microsoft Corp. And since it went public in 1986, it has seen its revenue grow every year — until now:

For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, Microsoft reported revenue of $58.44 billion, a 3% decline from the prior year. Operating income, net income and diluted earnings per share for the year were $20.36 billion, $14.57 billion and $1.62, which represented declines of 9%, 18% and 13% respectively.  

Meanwhile, Apple Computer this week reported that, for the nine months which ended on June 27, its revenue was $27-billion, up 8.5 per cent over the same period last year. Its gross margin was $9.5 billion, up 13.3 per cent. Net income (profit) for Apple for the fiscal year so far was $4 billion, up about 9 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Apple is a much smaller company than Microsoft but still … wow.

If there's any doubt Ablonczy's in the dog house …

Then this press release would be it.

Here's the government of Canada giving $270,000 to the Calgary Folk Festival, funding that came out of the Marquee Tourism Events Program and the Calgary MP who happens to be Minister of State for Tourism, Diane Ablonczy, is nowhere to be found. Instead, it's Ontario MP and Industry Minister (and heavy metal fan, I might add) who is handing out the cash.

Meanwhile, on the same day a few hours earlier, Conservative MP Randy Kamp gets to have his name on the press release and earn a little local political credit when he hands out $16,000 for a local heritage initiative in Mission, B.C. That's the way it usually works: If the money is going to benefit voters in a region or a riding, then the MP from that region or riding puts their name on it.

But after giving money to Toronto's gay community, Ablonczy is in the dog house and on the sideline for her own tourism program, freeing up Clement to make sure gay communities do not get money but that chamber music festivals do, in fact, get marketing money three days before their event gets underway.

Congressional researcher assesses Canada as a model for financial regulation

James J. Jackson, a specialist in international trade and finance with the U.S. Congressional Research Service, takes a close look at Canada's system of financial regulation with an eye towards adopting some new policy recommendations for the United States. “Canada’s financial system, in particular is garnering attention, because it seems to be more resistant to the failures and bailouts that have marked banks in the United States and Europe. In particular, some observers are assessing the merits of the way Canada supervises and regulates its banks, as one possible model for the United States,” Jackson writes.

Canada, of course, is the only G7 country whose banks have not required any equity investment or bailout from any government.

Some random excerpts from Jackson's report:

the IMF concluded that Canada’s system is highly mature, sophisticated, and well-managed. In addition, the system is characterized by strong prudential regulation and supervision and a well-designed system of deposit insurance and arrangements for crisis management and resolution of failed banks.

Unlike the United States and some European countries, subprime mortgages account for fewer than 5% of Canadian mortgages, which sharply limited Canada’s direct exposure to the meltdown that occurred in the subprime mortgage market. Although Canada’s mortgage markets are somewhat less innovative than in the United States, Canadian consumers seem to be well served and home ownership rates are comparable with those in the United States.20 In addition, Canadian law requires that all bank-held mortgages above a loan-to-value ratio of 80% be insured, which has curtailed the securitization of mortgages by banks in Canada. About one-third of mortgages are securitized in Canada, about half as much in percentage terms as in the United States.21 In addition, prepayment penalties and the lack of interest deductibility reduces the demand for longterm mortgages, so the maturity of most mortgages generally does not exceed 5 to 10 years.

However, the smaller scope of Canada’s financial system and its economy likely lessen the transferability of systems or procedures used in Canada to the vastly more complex U.S. financial system. In addition, it can be argued that Canada’s supervisors and regulators can take a more conservative approach than their U.S. counterparts as a result of Canada’s proximity to the U.S. capital markets. Nevertheless, Canada’s financial supervisory system and regulatory structure have proven to be less susceptible to the bank failures that have loomed in the United States and Europe and may offer some insight for U.S. policymakers. Canada’s reliance at the federal level on a unified supervisor and regulator appears to have some merits as compared to a more decentralized approach.

Canada’s approach does have some drawbacks. Specifically, Canada’s system of regulating securities markets at the provincial level means that regulations regarding market participants and investor protection differ by province, creating inefficiencies in the system and raising costs to providers and consumers. Differences between provinces also mean that coordinating policy approaches across the 13 provinces can be slow and cumbersome.


AREVA Canada has a Canadian CEO and a new way of looking at its business

AREVA Canada, which could very well end up owning the CANDU business of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. once the federal government finishes its privatization program for that Crown corporation, has a new CEO and he is a Canadian. Outgoing CEO Armand Laferrère, who, like Areva, was from France, is off to head up Areva's business in Russia.

He will be replaced by Canadian Roger Alexander. The press release from Areva is below, with information about Alexander. Also of note: I'm interested to see how Areva now describes itself. It is not a “nuclear power company” or a “nuclear” anything — the term “nuclear” can be one that makes certain environmental types nervous. Instead, Areva is now “a world leader in CO2-free power generation”. Now it's certainly correct to say that electricity produced from nuclear power does not produce the CO2 emissions that cause climate change. But you could also say that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is also “a world leader in Co2-free power generation.” Indeed, if N&LH could ever run a power line through Quebec, the power that could be generated from its Lower Churchill Dam would be enough to replace Ontario's Nanticoke power plant. Coal-fired Nanticoke is responsible for one-fifth –that's right one-fifth — of all the greenhouse gas emissions produced by Ontario businesses and consumers. In other words, Ontario takes a big leap towards its Kyoto target simply by replacing Nanticoke – with “Co2-free power generation” from N&LH Hydro (or any hydro, for that matter). For now, N&LH is busy running undersea power lines to Nova Scotia to take that province's coal-fired plants offline.

All of which is something to think about as Ontario reconsiders whether or not it should spend mega-billions on nuclear power …

I'm just sayin', here, by the way, not advocating …

As I mentioned, here's Areva's press release:

Toronto, July 22, 2009 – AREVA, a world leader in CO2-free power generation, today announced the appointment of Roger Alexander as President of AREVA Canada Inc. Alexander succeeds Armand Laferrère who served as CEO since 2006.

Prior to his appointment, Alexander served as Vice President of AREVA NP Canada Ltd. and was responsible for leading AREVA’s growing Canadian

nuclear energy business.

“I am excited to assume the role of President of AREVA Canada at such an important time in the Canadian and global nuclear energy markets,” said Alexander. “Armand has made tremendous progress in building AREVA’s businesses in Canada. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues to build on his success.”

A Canadian, Alexander brings more than 25 years of varied experience to the position. Prior to joining AREVA, Alexander held senior leadership positions at Siemens Canada where he was responsible for various business units and all manufacturing and engineering related matters. He is a graduate of Ryerson Polytechnic University with a diploma in Electrical Technology and is a Certified Engineering Technologist (Industrial Control). Alexander holds a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

In his new role, Alexander is responsible for strategic leadership of AREVA Canada’s nuclear plants and services, uranium mining, and transmission and distribution businesses.

Jacques Besnainou, President and CEO of AREVA Inc., welcomed Alexander’s appointment as the next logical step for AREVA in Canada saying, “I’m confident this move will accelerate our leadership in nuclear energy globally and contribute to the nuclear revival under way in North America.”

Blast from the Past: "The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool"

As I'm on a holiday break, thought I'd dig into the archives for some posts worthy of a re-broadcast. There's lots to choose from here as this blog will be, after all, a decade old later this year! Here's a post from December, 2003 about the Internet, politics, and journalism.

Lots of neat discussion in the United States in the wake of last Sunday's column by Frank Rich in the New York Times. The piece was titled “Napster runs for president in 04”. In it Rich says that Big Media — the NY Times, the Washington Post, American network television — just don't understand how Democratic hopeful Howard Dean's use of the Internet and an “interactive” campaign are changing the way politics works in the U.S. Rich writes: “It was not until F.D.R.'s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force. J.F.K. did the same for television . . .” Dean, Rich suggests, is, like FDR and JFK, the first to really understand and use a new medium. But the beltway media are missing this point: “The condescending reaction to the Dean insurgency by television's political correspondents can be reminiscent of that hilarious party scene in the movie “Singin' in the Rain,” where Hollywood's silent-era elite greets the advent of talkies with dismissive bafflement. “The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool,” intoned Carl Cameron of Fox News last summer as he reported that the runner-up group to Dean supporters on the site was witches . .” Jay Rosen, chair of the journalism program at New York University, reconstructs Rich's essay and provides some commentary of his own: “If it's true the press plays a vetting role in the campaign, then it must be true that the press is a player. Or to put it another way, political journalists have come to understand themselves as supplier of a service–vetting the field–that the body politic cannot handle itself, because of high information costs and low motivation to bear them. “Too many choices, too much information to present.” But what happens when these costs shift, and new motivations spring up? Suddenly the supplier may be supplying something that people can make for themselves, or no longer want from that source– like, say, political proctology via the pens of Washington journalists. . .” The San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor sounds a bit pessimistic that things will get better before they get worse. “What worries me most right now is that political journalists are even failing even in their gatekeeper/megaphone role. It beggars the imagination — hell, it terrifies me — that a majority of the American public still believes that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi and that Saddam somehow had a key role in this.”

[First blogged here on Dec. 24, 2003]