Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« June 2010 |Main| August 2010 »

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ignatieff proposes wrong solution to economic problems

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff correctly identifies consumer debt as an ongoing problem in the Canadian economy. Sadly he seems to misunderstand why systemic debt is so dangerous. Consumer debt is not a problem because it will reduce consumption, which only matters if you buy into the nonsensical Keynesian idea of the paradox of thrift. The true danger is if consumers (also known as people) don’t reduce their personal debt.

The fact that debt levels are so high in Canada suggests that the current level of consumption is not sustainable. Borrowing to consume doesn’t increase spending power, it merely redistributes future spending power to the present. The value then of borrowing for consumption is nil. Actually it is worse than nil because interest will have to be paid on the loan.

This should be explained to Mr. Ignatieff as he touts further government spending as a way to increase consumption and avoid another economic downturn. Putting aside the fact that there is zero evidence to support his hunch that the recovery is not stable, Mr. Ignatieff is offering the worse possible solution. More government spending would increase government debt, and government debt is differed taxes from the perspective of the taxpayer/consumer/individual. Ultimately it would mean an increase to the tax burden, and, ironically, a resulting drop in consumption.

Mr. Ignatieff seems to be confused about how he would fund a future ‘stimulus package.’ He says that the government’s planned cuts in corporate taxes will reduce the capacity of the government to ‘respond’ to a recession. Yet at the same time he has already committed his hypothetical government to new spending predicated on those taxes not being cut. So wouldn’t that new spending also reduce the government’s ability to ‘stimulate?’ Where exactly would the Ignatieff government get the money?

All that new government spending will do is increase the amount of debt in Canada.

And as Michael Ignatieff himself says, it is the debt that we should be worried about.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Obviously you can't trust voluntary surveys

The Globe and Mail is reporting on a survey that shows that 76 per cent of polled economists think that the long-form census should remain mandatory. An interesting number to be sure, but unfortunately the survey is completely unreliable.

You see, no one threatened anyone with fines or confinement to fill out this survey. If no one was under physical threat then how can we possibly trust the results?

I call upon the government to institute a mandatory survey of economists and their opinion on the census. It is only then that we will get to the truth of the matter.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 30, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bullshit, and the Ironic Invalidity of the Census Debate

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” – Professor Harry G. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”, pp. 55-56.

The ironic truth is that a debate focusing largely upon the validity of census data is comprised of so much bullshit as to make the debate itself invalid. Witnesses and Parliamentary Members at committee hearings, columnists, and even those who write letters to the editors of our vestigial newspapers have decided that the this issue – more than most others – demands that all concern over truth and falsehood must be abandoned if the debate is to be resolved favourably.  The debate has turned even serially honest thinkers, writers and speakers into at least second-class bullshitters for the purposes of either backing or opposing the Conservative government’s decision to make completion of the long form census voluntary; to repeal laws that impose penalties of fine or imprisonment for failing or refusing to fill out the long form census and remit it to government.

In the hope that participants might choose to stop bullshitting, and instead state clearly what they want, why they want it, and who they think ought to be footing the bill for what they want, I provide, below, a short-list of seven of the most salient and high-profile bullshit submissions upon which decision makers are likely to rely due to pressure from their constituents (who are the intended victims of all of this bullshittery). I conclude with a succinct description of the real issues that the bullshit arguments are designed to bury or obfuscate.

Bullshit Submission #1: "The fact of the matter is that we [made the decision to make the long form census voluntary] on a principled basis, that we wanted to balance off the interests of those Canadians who are worried about this with the desire [of users of the data] for more and more data." - Conservative MP Tony Clement, Industry Minister, at the July 27, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (hereinafter referred to as the "SCIST Hearing").

This claim is bullshit for at least two reasons.  First, the Conservatives clearly are not acting on any "principled basis". A principle is a fundamental truth of general application. For example: "Government must use coercion only to prevent the violation of individuals' lives, liberty, and property" is a principle. At the SCIST Hearing, Clement represented that "...we should encourage people and use non-coercive methods if we want data from them and that's simply our position".  This is, in my view, was a wording (i.e., "non-coercive methods") deliberately chosen to lure the sympathies or loyalties of those who think that government ought never to use force other than to defend every person's own life, liberty, and property. It is a wording chosen to suggest, falsely, that Conservatives have a principled objection to government coercing the governed with respect to acts and omissions that harm nobody. But, as even the Liberal MPs on the SCIST panel were quick to point out, the Conservatives are not consistent on their allegedly "principled" stance against coercive methods. Most damaging to the Conservatives' claim to principle is the simple and painful fact that the Conservatives are proposing that fines and imprisonment continue to be imposed with respect to those who refuse to fill out the short form of the census (not to mention the fact that the Conservatives have no qualms about threatening Canadians will fines and imprisonment with respect to refusals to file income tax returns).

Second, it is now clear that I was called upon by the Liberals to be a witness at the SCIST hearings on July 27th.  It is equally obvious that I was chosen because of what I wrote on both the Western Standard's Shotgun blog and on my own blog on July 17, 2010 (the general thrust being that the decision to make the long form voluntary was little more than an attempt to bring "libertarians" and other objectors who oppose government coercion into, or back into, the Conservative fold). It is similarly obvious that the Liberals chose me as a representative of "libertarians" or others who are the targets of the Conservative pandering to which I referred in my July 17th post. Finally, it is obvious that, having presented me as a representative of that target group, they wanted the public to believe that, if such a representative says his group is being pandered to, his group is indeed being pandered to.

What is most interesting, however, is that, despite the fact that I wrote that I agree with the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary, not one of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel asked me any questions. None of them took the opportunity to bolster the Conservative claim to acting on "principle", by asking me a question to which I could respond that making the census voluntary is quite a principled thing to do. None of them took the opportunity to appear friendly to a freedom advocate well known among Objectivists, libertarians and other individualists in Canada; a to risk the appearance of being allied with, or of similar mind to, a reasonably well-known opponent of government coercion. All of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel avoided that opportunity like the plague. The message to all lovers of liberty: 'we want your support, but we do not actually share your commitment to individual freedom, and we certainly wouldn't want to be seen allying with you in public'. So, ask yourself: if Conservatives do not want to appear to be supported by, allied with, or of similar mind to principled opponents of government coercion, how can their claim to holding a principled opposition to government coercion be anything but utter bullshit?

Bullshit Submission #2: Only 50 or so people have called the privacy commissioner to complain about the census, so the actual number of people who object to filling out the long form census is being immensely over-stated.

This line of argument was offered up primarily by Liberal MP Dan McTeague, during the SCIST Hearing.

The argument is bullshit for numerous, somewhat obvious reasons.  Two biggies follow.

First, the violation of ones privacy is a concern for only a fraction of the estimated 19 per cent of Canadians who would not fill out the long form census were it voluntary (note: the 19 per cent figure is a result in a poll conducted by IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker, who testified to the SCIST Hearing. I, for example, do not regard it as a well kept secret that I am a middle aged Caucasian male: anyone with could easily find that out. I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy for people to look at me, so I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy to write down, in a census form, that I am a middle aged Caucasian male. And I have no fear that the census will tell the government something "private" about my money: it already gets that information from me yearly via my tax return. Because I have no concern about such alleged "privacy", I have absolutely no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner.

As any politician debating the voluntariness of the 2011 census should try to remember or discover, in the lead up to the 1996 census, the public was outraged that it was to be denied the opportunity to identify their "Ethnic Origin" as "Canadian". Political pressure led to the inclusion of "Canadian" as a response. They objected then -- as objectors do now -- to a government that doles out special barriers and disadvantages, and special privileges and advantages, to different Canadians based upon their "ethnic origin".  A large -- perhaps the largest -- proportion of Canadians upset with the mandatory long form these days similarly are upset not because of privacy issues, but because they want a government that is blind to issues of race, sex, religion et cetera. They have no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner when what is bothering them is collectivism.

Second, among those objectors whose concern is the violation of their privacy, we may rightly expect to find individuals who are distrustful of or who fear government.  Survivors of the Holocaust who were targeted because of their race, religion, profession, income, et cetera; those who - like former StatsCan head Ivan Fellegi -- have left countries because of governmental tyranny; or as the SCIST heard from a witness, Inuit living in the remote north: all have reasons for fearing that the government will use such information against them. Mr. McTeague would have us believe that people so terrified of government would actually contact the government's Privacy Commissioner to complain about the government's census. For people having such fear of government, that is like expecting them to stand outside of Parliament with a sign saying "Shoot me, loot me, I'm your enemy." A government body can say all it wants about how it will maintain the anonymity of complainants, but can anyone permanently terrorized by the abuse of governmental power and information rationally be expected to trust that a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner will not put them in the government's cross-hairs? 

The bottom line: the argument that the number of complaints made to the Privacy Commissioner demonstrates few people care about census penalties is bullshit.

Bullshit Submission #3: Nobody has ever gone to jail for refusing to complete the census. That people go to jail is an "urban myth".  Therefore, the government’s decision to eliminate penalties for non-completion of the long form census is a response to a crisis manufactured by government.

Bullshit arguments of this sort have been made most prominently by NDP MP Charlie Angus, and by Liberal MP Marc Garneau.

The essence of this bullshit argument is that that, because the imprisonment penalty is never actually imposed, nobody is harmed by it, so there is no reason to repeal the penalty. This line of thought has at least two possible interpretations.

One interpretation is that the penalties have no effect on anyone. If that is the case, there is no rational reason for opposing their repeal, so the argument is bullshit.

The other interpretation is that the effect of the penalties is nothing more than to create sufficient fear of imprisonment that non-consenting Canadians will be coerced into completing the long form census. If that is the case, then it is false that Canadians are not being harmed by the imprisonment penalty: fear and coercion is harm. It is because of that harm -- because of that violation of ones liberty -- that, if a stranger were to appear at your door and say, in a threatening manner, "Tell me your name, or I'll forcibly take all of the money from your wallet", he could be charged with a criminal offence. As with the first interpretation, the implication that the law harms nobody is bullshit, so the conclusion drawn from that bullshit - that the penalty should not be repealed -- is also bullshit.

Bullshit Submission #4: What we advocate is a mandatory long form census, not penalties.

Arguments to that effect have been made most prominently by Statistical Society of Canada President Don McLeish, and by former Toronto Dominion Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond (now Chair of an Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information), both of whom were witnesses at the SCIST Hearing.  See also a (typically) bizarre media release by the Green Party of Canada.

Sexual contexts aside, one cannot suck and blow at the same time.  In law -- and I say this as a lawyer -- "mandatory" means: if you do not comply, your liberty or property will be taken away to one extent or another. There is no other meaning for "mandatory", if we are speaking about a law. The argument is bullshit because -- if pressed to take a stand on whether or not all penalties for non-completion of the long form census should be repealed -- those making this bullshit argument ultimately state that at least some form of penalty (i.e., fine or imprisonment) must remain. In other words, the people spouting this bullshit argument want their audience either to remain ignorant of the existence of a penalty, or to hold a false belief that things mandated by law do not necessarily involve penalties or coercion of any sort.

Thanks to the cross-examination done by Conservative MP Mike Lake (who should have been a litigator, and probably deserves a promotion...perhaps to Tony Clement's position), the argument was exposed to be bullshit both when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don McLeish and when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don Drummond. Their testimony -- and their faces -- must really be watched to get the full feeling of their discomfort with giving an honest answer to Lake's questions, but here are the exchanges in question (without changing the meanings of the questions or answers, I edit out parts of the questions and answer that are not directly on-point).  First, the cross-examination of Don McLeish:

Lake: "Should your daughter...be threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?'"

McLeish: "...My Society has not taken a position on what the penalties associated with non-compliance with the Statistics Act should be, because that's not really our expertise.  That's a government decision."

Lake: "Your association does advocate for penalties though." (Note: McLeish was testifying as a witness opposed to the Conservative government's decision to repeal penalties associated with non-completion of the long-form census).

McLeish: "No. My association advocates that the voluntary long form of the census be mandatory as it has in the past... In my personal view, they should not be threatened with jail time, in part because it's never happened and it's a red herring in this debate; in part because [the magnitude of the penalty is] all out of proportion [to the nature of the offence]... The word 'mandatory' is important. I submit that the level of fine associated with it, which is under government jurisdiction, is much, much less important".

Next, Lake's cross-examination of Drummond, who was also testifying in opposition to the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary.  Lake gives Drummond essentially the same question he gave McLeish, namely, should a person threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?

Drummond: "If the problem is the threat of jail time, remove it, you don't need it.  It's not used."

Drummond having dodged the issue of fines with his answer, Lake moves in for the kill, asking Drummond whether a fine should be imposed were a person not to answer a long form question about the amount he has spent upon water.

Drummond: "The fine itself is not the issue.  There's a notion in Canada that filling out the census is mandatory. I don't think people look at the fine. The fines are not invoked very often. I don't think that's the notion. The right notion, which people have understood in Canada, is: it's mandatory.  And the vast majority of Canadians do it. And I don't think they do it because of the threat of a fine..."

Lake: "So, you're saying we could go without fines then?"

Drummond: "The fines probably have to be there on paper, but I think they're not really the central issue. If people understand that this is a benefit and it's part of being a Canadian citizen, then they would fill it out whether there's a fine or not. They won't pay attention to the existence of the fines."

Lake: "Isn't that a voluntary system, then?"

Drummond: "The fines are there, on paper, so it's not a [does not complete his sentence, for obvious reasons.  He instead switches to] It's more of an attitude, and it's a promotion of [public duty, personal benefit]."

Lake: "Okay, so that's basically the approach that the government has put forward, and that sounds like the same approach you are talking about".

Drummond: "No...I think that you need some measure of -- on paper, at least -- hopefully not used very much, but certainly not jail."

When subsequently questioned by NDP MP Claude Gravelle, Drummond states: "I think the most important thing is the question: 'Is there a sentiment that it's part of your civic duty to fill it out or not?'. I think the fines and the penalty are irrelevant, relative to that."

Again: one cannot suck and blow. When McLeish and Drummond say they want completion of the long form census to be "mandatory", even they are unwilling to deny that "mandatory" requires the continued existence of a penalty. Had they been so willing, they would actually be witnesses supporting the Conservatives' decision. In short: the above argument -- an argument made by numerous opponents of the Conservatives' decision -- is bullshit.

Bullshit Submission #5: "I would fill out the long form census if it were voluntary".

IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker testified to the SCIST that 19 per cent of people he polled would not voluntarily fill out the long form census, and that 80 per cent would do so. A good proportion of those saying they would fill out the long-form census in a voluntary system are clearly bullshitting. These poll respondents expect us to believe that although they are barely more than 50 per cent likely to find it worth their while to take 10 minutes to walk a block and place a single check mark, to answer a single question (i.e., the ballot) once every few years, they are somehow 80 per cent likely to answer 50 or 60 questions comprising a 40 page long-form questionnaire asking them about their religion, their "race", and -- for all intents and purposes -- whether they are regularly having sex in their home with someone who is not their spouse. They are the same people who promise themselves they will start dieting and working out tomorrow, and who buy year-long gym memberships to work off the Christmas goose, only to quit by the end of January. We all like to believe that we will take the time to do things like vote, and take voluntary government polls and, when asked, few of us want to admit -- to ourselves, and much less to others -- that we just do not think voting, or census-completing, or gym membership buying will ultimately end up giving us anything of value. In the immediate term - when we really do not care whether or not our answer will turn out to be true -- a significant percentage of us will answer to a pollster that, yes, we would answer a voluntary long-form census. We will take a "tomorrow's another day", wait-and-see attitude with respect to the issue of whether or not we are bullshitting ourselves and others (knowing full well that we will, by that time, have forgotten even being polled).   The claim by a good proportion of the 80% - that they would answer a voluntary long-form census - is bullshit.

Bullshit Submission #6: If we were to get rid of the jail term, and leave the fine in place, that would be a good compromise.

Noteworthy sources of this bullshit proposal are numerous, but clearly include Don Drummond, as indicated by his testimony, above.

This argument is the perhaps the oldest bullshit in the history of tyranny.  That it is bullshit is probably best demonstrated with an example. In 1986, it was illegal for most retail stores to open on Sundays. To challenge the constitutionality of the ban in court, then London bookstore owner Marc Emery opened his bookstore contrary to the ban. At trial, he was fined $500. He refused to pay the fine.  The government's response: imprisonment. He remained in jail for four days, until the general public contributed the money to pay the fine.  The lesson: there is no such thing as a fine that does not necessarily imply the availability of imprisonment as a penalty. In other words: the notion of a penalty that excludes the implication of imprisonment is bullshit.

Bullshit Submission #7: "What Canadians are witnessing in the census saga is the temporary triumph of ideology over reason...The Statistics Canada fight is not the usual clash of competing political visions, of left against right, of Conservatives against progressives. Rather, this is a fight about rational decision-making that requires the best fact-based evidence available against a reliance on ideological nostrums that scorn facts and reason when they stand in the way of those nostrums." - Direct quotation from Jeffrey Simpson's July 23, 2010 column in the Globe and Mail.

Noteworthy sources of this bullshit argument include not only Jeffrey Simpson, but also NDP MP Charlie Angus, and Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Nadeau (who, in the SCIST hearing of July 27th, 2010, kept insisting that the central issue is one of science and of the validity of census data, rather than one of whether or not it is morally right to penalize a person for refusing to complete and remit the long-form census).

This argument is not only bullshit, but hypocritical bullshit. The fact that evidence exists, and that it is accurate, does not mean that the evidence is relevant. A person's belief that one ought not to eat an apple each day does not necessarily imply the existence of an ideology that makes one willfully blind to the fact that apples are red. An alternative implication is that the colour of an apple has no bearing on whether or not one ought to eat an apple every day. Similarly, the (pretty much undeniable) fact that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the census does not necessarily imply that it is wrong to make the census voluntary. The effect of voluntariness upon the usefulness of the census is a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; a matter of what IS.  Given what IS, the question of what the government ought therefore to do is a question of ethics and politics, not of metaphysics and epistemology.

"Ideology" is a matter of ethics and politics, not a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; it is a matter of what ought to be, not of what is. Even if both sides of the debate were to agree that making the long-form census voluntary will cause sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the long form census, it is no more and no less "ideological" to argue that the government therefore ought not to make the census voluntary, then to argue that the government therefore ought to make the census voluntary. In other words, everyone who has an opinion about whether the government ought to make the census voluntary and of narrowed use has an "ideology". It is utter bullshit to say that "ideology" has trumped "reason" if one believes the government ought to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census, but that "ideology" has nothing to do with it if one believes that the government OUGHT NOT to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census.

In short: no matter which side of the debate argues that their opponent's stance is an example of ideology triumphing over reason, the argument is utter bullshit.


Lying beneath all of these bullshit arguments is a rather simple debate that nobody wants to have in public: Should the government distribute wealth and political influence to individuals in accordance with each individual's race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera, or should the government be blind to such individual differences and stick to the business of defending the lives, liberty, and property of all individuals, irrespective of their race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera? In other words, those complaining about being forced, under penalty of fine or imprisonment, to pigeon-hole themselves into man-made collectives see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism; as a matter of government as keeper of peace, order and good government among adult Canadians, versus government as daddy of a Canadian family that shares wealth equally, regardless of which individuals earn it.

Those collectivists opposing the lifting of penalties for non-completion of the long form census also see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism. However, they do not want anyone to know that that is the issue in question. They are happier obfuscating the ethical-political issue with yammerings-on about the metaphysical and epistemological issue of the effect of voluntariness upon the validity of census data (which is, in reality, a non-issue, because it is simply true that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias, thereby making the census a picture of the nature of people who choose to fill out the census, rather than a picture of the nature of the entire Canadian population).

This debate is not happening for one reason: the majority of both liberals and conservatives want to be treated as children of a collectivist daddy government. They are, in other words, on the same side of the real issue involved (i.e., individualism versus collectivism). However, there is nonetheless inter-party disagreement about making the long form census voluntary because, unlike the liberals, the conservatives want to have their cake and eat it too. To individualists -- many of who, for years, have misguidedly treated the Conservatives as allies in a war for individual freedom -- they want to be seen as defenders of rugged individualism. The conservatives want individualists to believe that, if the Conservatives only had a majority, there would be a big anti-collectivism, pro-individualism revolution. However, to the majority of conservatives -- who are not pro-individualist but who are pro-theocracy types; 'cops can do no wrong' types; 'bring back the good ole' days' types; 'gimme the common sense, dumbed-down Homer Simpson version' types; and so on -- the conservatives want to appear as the defender of the status quo; the "natural governing party"; a party that twiddles with the fine tuning knobs of government, but that never touches the big dial. Thus the bullshit Conservative use of the words "principle" and "principled" in the context of a decision so utterly unprincipled (e.g., long form census voluntary, short form census mandatory) that even Conservatives can hardly keep a straight face when they use such words.

So here is what is going to happen. If the Conservatives fold on this issue, it will prove a lose-lose for them electorally: they will have lost this tussle over the census, and will be seen by the pro-individualists to whom they implicitly are pandering, as cowardly turn-coats; as lacking the desire, will or courage to stand up for individual freedom; and as having lacked any viable plan for proposing and delivering their long form census decision to the public. The mooching egalitarians will continue to point to point to income disparities between those who produce more and those who produce less, blaming such disparities on racism, sexism, and any other collectivist ism they find to meet with general public disgust. The mooching researchers and central planners will continue to stick the taxpayer with a good part of the cost of their research, most of which will be research devised to support claims that there is a problem that government ought to fix, at taxpayer expense. Producers will see less and less wisdom in assuming the risk and burden of producing and, in increasing numbers, they will jump on the moocher-looter bandwagon instead of continuing to pull it.

If, instead, the Conservatives dig in their heels, the public will simply grow bored of reading about the issue, and lefty writers who continue to carp on about it will have their readership rolling their eyes (to the general public, this whole issue is totally fringe, so dwelling on it makes any writer look out of touch). When the voluntary 2011 census rolls out next year, the left will again start writing columns about the voluntary nature of the census: some will write that the Harper government has made it worthless; others will implicitly campaign that it is in every moocher's and looter's interest to fill out the census, and that it is every Canadian's "civic duty" to fill it out. Response rates will be much lower than 80 per cent. The general public will get its first true datum -- response rate -- concerning how many Canadians think the census is something they should be paying for and spending their time filling out. As a result of poor public interest in filling out the long form, the public will be much more willing to agree that it's time to get rid of the long form census altogether. An actual, non-bullshitty debate about individualism versus the collectivist purposes of the long form census might actually be held and debated on its merits. And, if opponents of a mandatory long form census (Conservative or other) remain in power until 2016, there might be no long form as soon as 2016. As I wrote a few days ago, the long form -- a weapon used by racist egalitarians and other collectivists to make the government take more money from those who earn it, and give it to those who do not -- will be destroyed. It will be somewhat harder for the collectivists to blame differences in wealth and income upon false claims of racism, sexism and the like.  The collectivists will have to fall back on being more truthful; on saying that they simply want what others have earned, and are willing to beg, steal, and vote to get it.  The mooching researchers, academics, businesses who use data of the kind collected in the long form census will start paying for the data they get, like everyone else does. And those of us who want our freedom - who honestly believe that they are members of only one race: the human race -- will have won a significant battle against collectivism, though certainly not the war.

Posted by Paul McKeever on July 29, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (11)

WS/LP joint poll: Conservatives want to scrap the mandatory long-form census -- what do you think?

Had about enough of the census debate? Yeah, us too, really. Brian Lee Crowley from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute suggests we call issues that matter a great deal only to those in government buildings (or the media and academics that care very much about what happens in those buildings) as "Inside K1A" issues.

We like that description. And the census seems like a K1A thing. But, who knows, maybe you care a great deal. So give us your opinion.

This is a joint poll of the Western Standard and Libertas Post.

Here's our page on WS on the census. And here's the Jedi Census website we (especially Robert Jago) threw together to poke fun at the whole issue.

[Note: Obviously unscientific. It's not like the census. It's just meant to be fun, etc.]

Posted by westernstandard on July 29, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Man arrested and jailed under fake G20 law finds there's no record of his arrest

If the whole G20 policing debacle wasn't sufficiently Kafka-esque, today a man arrested and charged under the law that the government and police later admitted did not exist, showed up in court at the scheduled time for his pre-trial hearing only to find the court did not have his case on the docket. In fact, they have no record he was ever charged.

From the Globe and Mail:

The only person charged under the controversial G20 five-metre rule appeared in court Wednesday, only to find the charges did not exist.

David Vasey, an environmental justice organizer, was arrested near the security fence in downtown Toronto on June 24 and brought to the Eastern Avenue detention centre. Hours later, he was released and told he had been charged under the Public Works Protection Act, a law quietly updated to include the summit site for the duration of the G20.

Mr. Vasey signed a promise to appear in court. But after showing up Wednesday, he and his lawyer discovered that the case was not on the docket and there was no information pertaining to the charges. His lawyer, Howard Morton, says it's unclear if Mr. Vasey was ever charged at all, despite what he was told at the detention centre.

Lawsuit? I sure hope so.

Of course, the defenders of the police will still stick to their guns on not having a judicial inquiry. This incident is just another one of those "few" and so totally "rare" and "minor" incidents on the part of the police for which we shouldn't be concerned.

Posted by Mike Brock on July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (25)

Conrad Black - Folk Hero?

Let me tell you a story, 'bout man named Conrad...

In the lead up to Conrad Black’s 2007 criminal trial, a Toronto designer created some t-shirts with the slogan “Conrad will win” printed under a cartoon of Black’s face. As a backer of Black’s from the beginning, I arranged to get myself one. The shirt symbolized what Conrad’s friends and supporters thought was destiny at the time.

But despite being cleared of the majority of criminal charges against him, its wasn’t to be — and Black has been in jail for more than two years. Like many of his “foul-weather friends,” to borrow George Jonas’ term, I held out hope for as long as I could, but I packed away my t-shirt when George W. Bush left the White House. When Bush declined to give Black a pardon, it appeared the war was lost and no plausible battlefields remained. Others I spoke to privately felt the same way.

It's not just National Post hacks who think like that. No, ordinary people, well ordinary readers of the Post, have also chimed in:

If his bail conditions permit him to leave the United States, we should all welcome Conrad Black home. Other exploits notwithstanding, his accomplishments as a newspaperman and writer are prodigious and unusual. And, if he sometimes got profligately confused about what he was entitled to, that is an understandable by-product of being a very prodigious, and ridiculously talented, individual.

As long as he doesn’t insist on being addressed as “Lord”, I’ll be happy to buy him a welcome-back beer at any time. Bring him home now.

Publius is fine with referring to Mr Black as His Lordship. But I'm a Whig Monarchist Reactionary, so my position may not be reflective of prevailing trends. The motto of my life. Still Conrad Black has had a kind of cult following for years, especially among conservatives. 

They are not quite fans, by their nature they are a reticent lot, but certainly admirers. Black is scarcely the Horatio Alger type of figure the free market minded tend to admire. A scion of a wealthy WASP Montreal family (originally from Winnipeg), Black was famously kicked out of Upper Canada College for selling test answers. His first major success was a corporate coup, seizing control of the legendary Argus holding company in the late 1970s, with a measure of personal charm and strategic acuity that would have impressed Talleyrand. 

A documentary on Black's takeover, based on Peter C Newman's book, transformed the thirty-something into a national celebrity. Brilliant, erudite and conservative, Black exuded a charm that was perfectly in step with the age of Reagan, Thatcher and Alex P Keaton, who might have been a younger American cousin. He was not, despite the haranguing of the Canadian Left, a hard-core free marketer. An admirer of Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon (both grand villains in libertarian cosmology), Black is really a sort of moderate British Tory, somewhere to the right of Harold Macmillan and the left of Geoffrey Howe. 

To the Canadian media of the era, he was a gift. Canadian businessmen, by instinct and training, are a grey lot who shun public attention. They seek to blend effortless into the soft leather cushions of their limos, being driven at moderate speeds down Bay and King. Black was nothing of the sort. He was flamboyant, albeit by conservative Canadian standards, and like Pierre Trudeau in politics he was accorded points for style. Being so, by the meek standards of the day, militant in his defense of capitalism, he was immediately branded a modern day robber baron. A slag that became more plausible when he became an actual baron in 2001, and was convicted in 2007. 

Despite the steady stream of sneers, Black spent the 1980s and 1990s acquiring a reputation as a formidable reorganizer of ailing corporate giants. His passion for newsprint lead him to revitalize Canadian journalism, an effort which met with the typical ingratitude of the hacking class. When he was offered a peerage, a traditional prerogative of owners of the Telegraph, he accepted. 

To the fur traders back in Toronto and Montreal, it was further proof that the boy-wonder had delusions of grander. For an anglophile history-nut, the temptation of sitting in the house of Beaconsfield and Liverpool was too much. Jean Chretien, annoyed by the Post's dogged tracking of his Prime Ministerial excesses, decided to block the peerage. He was on the shakiest of constitutional ground, citing the Nickel Resolution of 1919 which allegedly barred Canadians from accepting honours from the Crown. 

Yet it was simply a resolution passed by the House of Commons, it was never agreed to by the Senate and no formal request was ever made to the sovereign. The successor government of R.B. Bennett ignored the resolution, and Bennett himself accepted the title of Viscount after leaving office (a step above baron). Frederick Banting and William Stephenson were both made Knights after the passage of the Nickel Resolution. Chretien was playing the vindictive ward heeler. 

In his rapid ascent, wide learning and powerful style, Black accumulated a small but dedicated following. Few of these people had ever met Black. They were not friends or allies, but ordinary Canadians, professionals, small business people and conservative fellow travellers. He was a larger than life character, born in a country that in a deep and powerful way was still essentially provincial. The old Canadian joke about the lobsters applies to Lord Black. 

How can you tell a pot is full of Canadian lobsters? 

When one tries to escape the others hold him down. 

He was too bright, too interesting, too grand a figure for the people who believed in Little Canada, a smug colonial outpost that alternately hated and envied its mother and older brother. To those whose vision of Canada is wide and free, who imagine it capable of great things, if only its talents were unleashed, to many of those Lord Black was a prophet in pinstripes. For all his faults he remains prophet. From his ordeal at the hands of a vindictive American government, he has acquired a sort of strange martyrdom, endured with the stoicism of his class and generation. He is a powerful reproach to the worst of modern Canada, especially the cults of envy and greyness. For this alone he deserves to be welcomed back to the land of his birth.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mercantilistic Minutiae

When free trade isn't all that free:

Canada is currently negotiating two major international trade agreements whose success may ultimately depend on the level of protection provided to Parma ham. While it may seem hard to believe, the Canada – European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are both facing increasing opposition based on European demands to expand protection for “geographical indications.”

While not always officially calling themselves free trade deals, such agreements are invariably sold to the public as such. The sad fact is that free trade, the sort that Smith, Ricardo, Cobden and Bright advocated, is largely unfeasible with our modern mixed economies. 

The great stumbling block to freer trade in the Victorian world was money. Tariffs (taxes on imports and exports) were the principal source of revenue of the federal governments of Canada and the United States. The great political battles fought by Brown, Mackenzie and Laurier were not over free free trade (no tariffs) but over whether to have a revenue tariff (i.e. to levy only so much in taxes as needed to pay for government services) or a protective tariff (the sort introduced by the National Policy). 

Emergence of income and sales taxes did away with the reliance on tariff revenues, and allowed for the growth of modern big government. It also meant that reducing tariffs, even to zero, could be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations. But tariffs are only one tool in the modern protectionist's arsenal. Import quotas are another favourite. When such blunt instruments are found wanting, the broader policy tools of a mixed economy come into play. Health guidelines, environmental restrictions, certification requirements and the byzantine network of subsidies and rebates (back door subsidies). The French, for whom statism is a high art, once forced the import of all Japanese electronics to enter France through a single undermanned custom post in a provincial town. So long as government remains big and intrusive, genuine international free trade will be elusive. True free trade begins at home.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Watching the Watchers

Public officials, public places, public acts and some old fashioned bureaucratic ass covering:

But it wasn't his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later -- taken with his helmet camera -- of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.

In early April, state police officers raided Graber's parents' home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.

Another example of why the most dangerous phrase in the English language is: "There ought to be a law." A law intended to protect genuinely private conservations twisted, apparently with little effort, to allow the police to hide their conduct. What part of the term "public servant" do they not understand?

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Summer Miracles

An amazing thing has happened in Canada this summer. An astonishing thing. The Conservative Party of Canada has, much to the shock and wonder of its dismayed supporters, begun to act conservatively. First Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry, decided to make completion of the Census long-form voluntary. This one, literally, came from way out of right-field. Had Minister Clement ordered the sidewalks privatized around Parliament Hill, it would have rated only a few notches higher on the political shock scale. There has been for many years a low grumbling about the mandatory long-form, with its intrusive list of questions and jail-time penalties, but it was not a big hot button for the grass roots, like the long-gun registry or the Canadian Wheat Board. 

A vast army of interest groups has risen, denouncing the Census move as detrimental to their interests. Minister Clement, more wonders, has refused to budge. These miracles - for 'twas a miracle - were merely overtures to the announcement made by Stockwell Day late last week that, believe it or not, affirmative action was to be ended as hiring policy for the Public Service. Well not exactly, the Minister has ordered a "review." Which may or may not mean anything, but Stock is a good chap, so we'll give him benefit of the doubt.

This disturbing pro-freedom trend in Conservative Party policy and pronouncement is baffling. There are many theories circulating today. Perhaps the real Stephen Harper was kidnapped and replaced by an android, remotely controlled by a cabal of tech-savy libertarian activists. While plausible, it fails to explain why nothing was done to improve the Prime Minister's hockey-helmet hairstyle. Another rumour goes that the ghost of Murray Rothbard appeared to Stephen Harper, telling him to repent his sinful ways, and return again to the path of freedom. Fair enough, but you'd think Murray Rothbard's ghost would prefer to spend time trying to spook Barack Obama. 

The most plausible reason for the Tory about-face is this interesting item:

The federal Conservative Party continues to stay ahead of the Liberals, suggests a new EKOS poll, which found a gap of seven percentage points between the rivals.

The poll, released exclusively to CBC, suggests 32.4 per cent of Canadians would vote Conservative in a federal election, compared with 25.5 per cent who'd chose the Liberals.

The NDP has the support of 18.4 per cent, while 10.1 per cent back the Green Party and 10 per cent support the Bloc Québécois, the poll suggests.

Respondents were asked who they would vote for if a federal election "were held tomorrow."

Nor is this a one-off, polls have been tracking a substantial CP lead for weeks now. The political gods, who are of course fickle, have given the Tories not only a lead but the second most incompetent Liberal leader in history. These are the things that snap elections are made of. Having fallen short of the long-dreamed majority in 2008, largely due to the Quebecois having lost interest in Mr Harper, the so called Quebec Bridge is now dead. La belle province will not give the Conservatives a majority, they'll be lucky to hang onto what they've got in Quebec come the next trip to the hustings. 

While blocked from expanding up the St Lawrence, the Tory High Command has also noticed that the grassroots are not completely pleased. A low grumble has passed through the blogsphere, and not just from libertarian outfits. The coffee shops of the nation are buzzing that Stephen Harper, while the wonderful and amazing saviour of Canada from the Evil Liberals, might have drifted just a wee bit too much to the centre. Practical Politics 101 says that in the lead up to an election, especially a damn close run thing, first thing is to shore up your base. You want the True Believers believing all the more as we enter the autumn canvassing, and perhaps also campaigning, season. 

Before this impressive burst of pro-freedoming, the Tories had spent much of the first half of 2010 pushing a Law and Order platform, including a Truth in Sentencing Law and mandatory minimums for pot growers. They're basically running down their check list. Suburbanites fearful of crime CHECK! Curmudgeonly libertarians CHECK! It shouldn't, and likely won't, be that easy. Pre-election conversions are always the least sincere.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Her Majesty's Governments - One Wise, One Foolish

Between Barbados and Jamaica (HT):

Turning from growth rates to levels gives a tangible sense of the impact of these growth-rate differentials on long-run standards of living. In 1960 real GDP per capita was $3,395 in Barbados and $2,208 in Jamaica. In 2002 Barbados’s GDP per capita was $8,434 while Jamaica’s was $3,165. The $1,187 income gap that existed between Barbados and Jamaica around the time of independence now stands at $5,269 dollars. Put another way, the income gap between the two countries now exceeds Jamaica’s level of GDP per capita.

A strange divergence. Until you consider what happened in Jamaica:

In 1972 the People’s National Party (PNP) rose to power under the leadership of Prime Minister Michael Manley (son of Norman) and the promise of “democratic socialism.” The two cornerstones of democratic socialism and the PNP’s economic policies were “self-reliance” and “social justice.” Self-reliance translated as extensive state intervention in the economy. The PNP nationalized companies, erected import barriers, and imposed strict exchange controls.

How often does this story have to repeat itself? 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Putting tyranny in perspective

Lots of people are talking today about the comments made by Joyce Murray. So I thought I would post this link to put the whole tyranny thing in perspective.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ontario Independent Police Review Director announces investigation.

From the Globe & Mail:

After receiving close to 300 G20 complaints – and counting – Ontario’s newly minted police watchdog is stepping into the policing-inquiry fray.

The Ontario Independent Police Review Director, created last fall to provide civilian oversight into police conduct, announced Thursday afternoon it is launching a systemic review of police conduct during the G20 summit in Toronto.

More than 1,000 people were arrested over a three-day period as protesters clashed with police across the downtown area. More than 700 were charged with nothing more than breach of peace, then released; more than 100 were never charged.

Independent police review director Gerry McNeilly says he’s received more than 275 individual complaints about police conduct during that weekend, with more popping up every day.

And they’re startlingly similar.

(Emphasis mine)

While the police may be winning the public relations war over their conduct, they seem to simultaneously be falling under more and more institutional scrutiny. This adds a second investigation to the Toronto Police Services-led self-investigation.

This is a positive development.

Despite polls showing that 80% of Canadians agree with the police arresting people for no reason, beating up journalists who get lippy, and conducting unlimited warrantless searches on the streets, it would seem that the issue has legs where it matters.

Myself, I sent my complaint directly to the Toronto Police Services complaints division. I have received no formal reply at this time. I'm interested to see what response I get, and if and when I do get it, I will definitely post the response here.

Posted by Mike Brock on July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Affirmative Action is Racist

The government has announced a review of affirmative action in the Canadian government’s hiring practice. Minister Stockwell Day implies that hiring someone on the basis of their ethnic background is racist. This is one of the rare occasions when I can completely agree with Mr. Day. Affirmative action is fundamentally racist.

Unsurprisingly NDP MP Pat Martin disagrees. He seems to think that discriminatory practises are somehow not discriminatory:

“I don't think they can make a case that white, middle-class people are being denied access to public service jobs, or that there's any preference shown.”

I not only think that such a case can be made, I think that making it would be extremely simple. To do so I will use an example that has been recently provided by Blogging Tory Sara Landriault.

Ms. Landriault posted the requirements of a job for a position in the Federal government:

Applicants must meet at least the first requirement:

* Open to: Members of the following Employment Equity groups: Aboriginal persons, visible minorities

* Persons residing in Canada and Canadian citizens residing abroad.

It then went on to define what a ‘visible minority’ is:

A person in a visible minority group is someone (other than an Aboriginal person as defined above) who is non-white in colour/race, regardless of place of birth. The visible minority group includes: Black, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, South Asian-East Indian (including Indian from India; Bangladeshi; Pakistani; East Indian from Guyana, Trinidad, East Africa; etc.), Southeast Asian (including Burmese; Cambodian; Laotian; Thai; Vietnamese; etc.) non-white West Asian, North African or Arab (including Egyptian; Libyan; Lebanese; etc.), non-white Latin American (including indigenous persons from Central and South America, etc.), person of mixed origin (with one parent in one of the visible minority groups listed above), other visible minority group.

This is a government job that is open to anyone except for someone of a particular ethnic background. Just because it doesn’t explicitly say “no whites need apply” doesn’t mean that this isn’t what the government is saying.

So Mr. Martin please explain to me how exactly white people aren’t being denied access to public service jobs?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (18)

Harper the Tyrant

Liberal MP Joyce Murray had an interesting take on the census debate:

A Liberal MP from Vancouver has said the Conservative government’s move to scrap the mandatory long-form census and make it voluntary is “definitely part of a pattern that is very bad for democracy and bad for Canada”.

“This is also part of the pattern of trying to control the independent agencies and offices of Parliament that are the oversight to government and are a very important part of our democracy,” Joyce Murray, the MP for Vancouver Quadra, told the Straight by phone today (July 22). “Having those neutral agencies and voices to be able to speak to Canadians is a very important [part of] governance. And that is what separates a government from a tyranny.” 

Independent agencies are what fundamentally separate a good government from a tyrannical government, really? It isn’t civil liberties, free speech, or property rights. The most important feature of good government is independent agencies? Are you kidding me?

Oh don’t get me wrong, there is certainly merit to having certain functions of government out of reach of a politician’s control. Offices of Parliament are also most important when they are able to operate independently of any influence of a political party. Yet to say that these are features that distinguish Canada from a North Korea is an exaggeration that does nothing but make Ms. Murray look absurd.

Ms. Murray looks even more ridiculous when you consider that Stats Canada is not an independent agency of Parliament or any other government body. It is part of the portfolio of Minister Tony Clement and the Minister has responsibility for the actions and policy of Stats Canada. Mr. Clement made a policy decision that was completely within his rights to make. To argue that the census reform is undue interference with Stats Canada would be like arguing that ordering a deployment is undue interference with the military.

The very basis of Westminster democracy is Ministerial responsibility, but apparently for Joyce Murray this is tyranny.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 23, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (17)

Where the Bureaucrats Roam

Oh, dear, Stephen Harper isn't even a good statist:

The Harper government is prepared to bypass Toronto as the headquarters of its proposed national stock market watchdog even though the city is the country’s financial centre, sources say.

The latest public blueprint for the national securities regulator, to be made public Tuesday, dodges the question of where the headquarters will be located, according to government officials.

But business sources say the Ontario government, which has staked its support for the new regulatory system on the possibility of putting the head office in Toronto, is going to be disappointed when — and if — the new agency takes shape.


Asked about this in the Commons in May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was blunt. “As an Albertan, I have no interest in seeing this sector centralized in Toronto,” he told MPs.

Ahem, it already is centralized in Toronto. Has been since Montreal imploded in the mid-1970s. Not putting the headquarters of the new stock market "watchdog" in Toronto, or Ottawa, is like putting the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries in Saskatoon. The American Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has its HQ in Washington, but the planned Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority (CSRA) would have a decentralized structure, with offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. So it's a national regulator, without a national HQ, not even in the national capital. This certainly makes vote pandering sense, but its sheer absurdity should make it a perfect target for attacks from the Opposition. But this is too much to expect from Lord Iggy and the Gritettes. 

The proposed CSRA, essentially a super sized version of the already obnoxious Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), puts us rabid free marketers in a bit of quandary: Is it better to be ruled by one great busybody or by ten? To have one's rights trampled and privacy invaded by a great absurdity, or many smaller ones. 

Supporting the Great One approach to rights infringement is the argument from simplicity. One set of rules - however arbitrary - are better than many sets of rules. Contra is the argument from diversity, the more bureaucrats the greater the confusion for everyone, including the bureaucrats. It might also stir some regulatory competition, different jurisdictions vying for business by being less irrational in their demands. 

While I'm leaning toward diversity over unity on this one, it does have its pitfalls. Sometimes regulatory competition sinks to the level where the government doesn't even bothering doing what it is suppose to be doing. Case in point, the history of the old Vancouver Stock Exchange, whose listings included some of the highest flying gamblers since Icarus. A lot of the stock promotion in Lotusland went past the usual blue-skying and into genuine fraud. The guilty never seemed to get caught though. There was also the VSE's laughable "administration." Take this classic case:

In January 1982 the index was initialized at 1000 and subsequently updated and truncated to three decimal places on each trade. This was done about 3000 times a day. The accumulated truncations led to an erroneous loss of around 25 points per month. Over the weekend of November 25-28 1983, the error was corrected, raising the value of the index from its Friday closing figure of 524.811 to 1098.892 

Ouch. Imagine a mutual fund misstating its unit price for nearly two years. Big government is bad. No government can be worse.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Open thread: Tories to end affirmative action for federal jobs

From the Globe & Mail:

The Conservatives say race and ethnicity shouldn't enter into the hiring process for federal jobs and have ordered a review of affirmative action policies.

They want to look at government hiring practices, which currently give priority to qualified applicants from minority groups.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin called the move a “full-frontal attack on affirmative action.”

Read the rest.

Speak amongst yourselves.

Posted by Mike Brock on July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (16)

A World Class Mess

The Dirtier Way:

The TTC is marginally cleaner than it was two years ago. But an audit of 69 stations shows none of them meet the highest standard of cleanliness being applied to the system.

Was that before or after the vagrants had been removed? To those casual visitors to the Imperial Capital, the TTC's subway system is an unpleasant surprise. It is part open sewer, part world's largest moving homeless shelter. So long as you travel in daylight, and in the central business district, it's not too bad. But beyond the core, you take your chances. A few years back one of my blog's readers, and a few cohorts, tried to organize a campaign to ban the TTC from striking. I don't usually like the idea of banning people voluntarily withholding their services, but I like even less a government monopoly - and its pampered employees - holding the country's largest city hostage. As I recall, the idea went nowhere. Pity. 

I know people, who make very modest salaries, that refuse to travel on the TTC. These include women, of all ages, who are terrified of travelling at night in the less trafficked areas of the system (the periphery of the Bloor-Danforth). Instead they fork over a large share of their meagre cash flow for used cars and basic insurance. Having seen young women harassed by professional drunks on subway trains, with TTC employees doing their level best to ignore the proceedings, I cannot blame them.

Others have more aesthetic objections. They are less afraid than appalled. There is something about the smell of vomit, the bits of ceiling plaster on the track, and the incessant flapping of pigeons that puts one off. My particular peeve is the pigeons. They are flying rats and rather stupid creatures. I've yet to see one be disintegrated by an oncoming train, but statistical speaking it is a certainty to happen. It's funny, until it happens within splattershot.  

Birds sometimes fly into other public places, like shopping malls. The mall security then gets them out. It's a little thing, not to be defecated upon while trying to get to work, to in turn earn money to pay TTC workers' bloated salaries. Maybe if we paid TTC workers less, but had more of them, the place would be cleaner? People would be and feel safer? Just a thought. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Yesterday's Tomorrow

Courtesy of the government of Ontario:

Ontario Place, a fading Toronto icon, will soon be torn down and replaced by a newer version to restore the park to its former glory.

The provincial Crown corporation has put out a formal request for ideas to completely redevelop its 39-hectare (96-acre) space along Lake Ontario, which will probably result in the removal of features, such as the once groundbreaking Cinesphere, that have grown tired.

About twenty years too late. I have fond memories of Ontario Place. But those memories are old ones. Forty years after its opening, it's difficult to recall how original the idea was and how popular its attractions, including the groundbreaking Cinesphere. Ontario Place is proof that governments are like broken clocks, they are right about twice a day. 

Building and running amusement parks, however original in concept and implementation, is not the proper function of government. Its near hundred acres of developed landfill is a monument to a different age, when governments thought they could be all things to all people, and when people still believed that was possible. Big government is still big, bigger than it was in 1971, when the park opened. What's gone is the optimism of that era. 

Sure Queen's Park could take care of your health care - Ontario had opted into Medicare in 1969 - why couldn't it do something simple, and popular, like set up an amusement park? Certainly no grubby little businessman would take a risk on something as bold as Ontario Place? More than few laughed when a serious competitor, Canada's Wonderland, opened a decade later and miles to the north. But the success of the latter, and the decline of the former, showed just how misplaced was the optimism of the Robarts-Davis era. Sure government could do something spectacular, but it couldn't keep it up. Like plenty of other Crown corporations, Ontario Place sat on its laurels while the world moved on, and its customers made the drive up to Vaughan. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Head of Statistics Canada Resigns!

It's not often that a senior bureaucrats resigns willing. It's even less often that they do so as a matter of principle. This is exactly what Munir Sheikh, head of Statistics Canada, has done today. Albeit he resigned in deference to a bad principle, but hey, good enough for government work:

There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.

I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.

I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act.

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.

It can not.

Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.

Well, thanks for showing up. 

We are entering the summer doldrums and so any news, even the resignation of a statistician, can become big news. Since Industry Minister Tony Clement's decision to make the Census long form voluntary, some three weeks ago, this minor administrative change has evolved into a full scale affair. Google News gives 756 results for "canada census long form." A group of Census lovers has even created a You Tube video. The whole thing is somewhat bizarre. As Colby Cosh noted, scrapping the long form is "not literally among the first 200 policy changes that would be implemented by an intelligent libertarian given plenary power." 

Sure enough, but if you can tweak leviathan, why not tweak leviathan? It's a small battle, but the small battles are often the most revealing. Want to get an idea of how mixed our mixed economy really is? Just look at the long list of organizations that oppose scrapping the mandatory long form. Business, charities, government agencies, municipalities and a long line of ethnic pressure groups. Their dependence on government data is suggestive of their dependence on government itself. They need government data to demand government largesse.

What's fascinating is how the Census Centurions are seeking to defend what is, for many of them, their literal meal ticker. To them the debate over the long-form is not about freedom, but just a matter of statistical accuracy. What the defenders of the mandatory form exhibit is the casual presumption that they have a right to intrude into people's personal lives, and then with nary a pause, to use that data to plan people's lives. Earlier today the Western Standard's Associate Editor, Terrence Watson, participated in a live blog on the Census. I was impressed with this response (at 2:58) from Nik Nanos, a highly regarded pollster:

Not to upset the applecart but perhaps we should discussing the merits of fact-based policy-making versus ideologically based policy-making. After all, if you are driven by ideology, research is not as much of a priority. There's obviously room to mix both but how much is the question.

An individual's personal privacy is regarded not as a right, but as merely an "ideological" position. Libertarians, conservatives and classical liberals are often branded as "ideological," as if our positions were something akin to Catholic dogma, a set of arbitrary rules decreed by supernatural instinct. There is no conflict between a "fact-based" policy and an ideological policy, unless your ideology isn't based on facts. 

Those who accuse others of being ideological are, usually, throwing stones while living in very big glass houses. It is an ideological position to believe that the state has a right to monitor the private lives of its citizens, and to use that data as it sees fit for the "public interest." While such a position has many variants, they can all be subsumed into one word: statism. Statism is itself the product of moral collectivism. 

Practical men, such as pollsters, usually dismiss such terms as "collectivism" and "individualism" as floating abstractions, the sort of thing graduate students discuss, not adults in the real world. I'm not a fan of John Maynard Keynes, but he often made, within fairly narrow contexts, many astute observations. His best was this one: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." To which I would correct by replacing economist with philosopher. The defenders of the mandatory long-form presume that the individual's rights extend no farther than the needs of the collective, be that the whole of Canada or merely whatever socio-economic or ethnic group they belong to. This is an ideology with a pedigree at least as old as Plato.

We are not so terribly sorry that the end of the long-form, however disingenuous were the Minister's motives in ending it, has made made the life of government statisticians that much harder. That's the breaks. Demanding that police officers obtain warrants before entering private dwellings, without permission, is a hardship for police officers. Expecting the Prime Minister of Canada to answer, or at least evade with some skill, embarrassing questions in the House of Commons is a hardship, for the Prime Minister. Believing that politicians should seek election for public office is a hardship, for the politician. The fact that something is hard for a public servant is neither here nor there. It is their job.

The government works for us, not the other way around. It's sole legitimate function is to defend our rights. If in protecting those rights it must encounter some bother, well, tough. 'Tis a pity that a voluntary Census will make things harder for Statistics Canada - though the Scandinavian countries ditched their Census years ago without a noticeable collapse in law and order. Simply put, our rights are more important that their convenience.

The Shotgun Census Page

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (29)

CBC Live blog on the census

Associate editor, Terrence Watson, is participating in a CBC Inside Politics blog live townhall regarding the census. Also participating are CBC Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon.

You can check it out on the CBC website here, or follow along below:

Posted by westernstandard on July 21, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (15)

Childless and Clueless

From Slate:

Could these childless women be harbingers of a new world, one in which parenthood is considered an active choice and not simply the default state of adulthood? As the Pew research shows, childlessness was once the domain of the highly educated, but now every other segment of society is catching up. Perhaps future generations will look at phenomena like the Jennifer Aniston tabloid womb obsession and wonder how it was possible that anyone could have once cared so much if some women chose not to have babies.

What future generations? If enough women don't have children now, there wouldn't be much of a future generation to worry about their past, and our present. The above author is correct to point out that child rearing is now, rightly, seen as a choice, and that there are plenty of people who should never be parents. Western society as a whole is still sorting out, in a post-religious and post-Pill age, why people should assume the burdens of parenthood. But I doubt existential angst is the main reason for declining birthrates. Demographics, unfortunately, tends to get a short-shift from serious intellectuals. Witness the guffaws that greet Mark Steyn's population polemics. 

Why? Because population growth has always been taken for granted. Even if you and your spouse don't reproduce, or reproduce less than the demographically desirable 2.1 rug rats, others - i.e. the poor - always will. You don't have to worry about children taking care of you in your old age, they'll always be a large cheaply paid semi-skilled serving class. When that began to run out - about two generations back - they simply imported a serving class from the poorer parts of Europe, and then the rest of the world. It's not that I'm knocking unskilled immigration, just that the demographic myopia of our rulers stems from some long standing assumptions. But like they tell you in the mutual fund ads, past performance is no promise of future returns.

Why women are having less children is a well enough trodden ground. As infant survival rates shot up after the industrial revolution, the need to have so many children - knowing that at least some would survive to adulthood - declined. Pension schemes - both private and public - made children less a necessity than a choice. Modern contraceptives made the whole process simpler. The question is why people are choosing to have less children than the replacement rate. Surveys conducted over the years suggest that most people who do want to have children, believe that between 2-3 is the right number. That would seem to make evolutionary sense, that human beings would seek to reproduce themselves at a rate sufficient to keep the species going. I'm not speaking here of particular individuals, just as a matter of averages. Yet it's not happening. The main culprit, however, is a simple one, it's too damn expensive to have kids.

Let me start with a personal example. My father has four years of formal education, as do most Portuguese people of his class and generation. He left school at the age of eleven to go work in a pulp and paper mill, the mainstay of the village economy. He was sent off to work not because my grandparents were greedy and sadistic, but because they were poor. I don't mean poor as that word is understood in modern Canada, which generally means having fewer toys and gadgets than average, I mean not-knowing-where-your-next-dinner-is-coming-from-poor. 

Publius pere was the fourth of five children, about average in middle of nowhere Portugal in the mid-Salazar era. His father came from a family of eleven, which was tending toward the large by the standards of the time. One of the reasons you could have so many children, and not starve, was the expected cost of raising a child. Feed 'em for about a dozen years, and then they start to earn their keep. By twenty they're out of the house, either with their own children or out in the big-wide world making a go at it. No iPods, no cars, no graduate school, no living at home until thirty because a starter hovel is a quarter of a million anywhere near a large city. My grandfather actually built - with his brothers - the house my father grew up in. Not a practical option in modern Canada for most, though I do know people who've done it. As you can guess the permits are murder.

While children are more expensive, and certainly less remunerative than they once were, parents are also far richer. The richer you are, the more you can invest in long-term capital projects, which is one way - if you're a heartless economist - of viewing children. With two parents working, that should seem to provide ample enough funds to have larger families. It wasn't too long ago, about two generations back, that one income was more than enough to provide a middle class lifestyle for a family of four. That was before about 40% of the average Canadian family's income was taken in taxes. 

Defenders of big government like quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, the US Supreme Court justice who more than any other enabled the statist subversion of the American constitution. One of Holmes most famous quotes is: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Statists are like the salesman in the suit store saying: "Sir, you have to pay for quality." Up to a point, sure, but not everything pricey is worth the price. Some of that 40% or so we fork over in taxes does provide valuable services, schools, hospitals, roads etc.. Quite a lot of it pays for commissioners of human rights and official bilingualism. Even a lot of the useful stuff is, as the economists say, sub-optimal. 

There is no business that would long survive, except perhaps in niche luxury markets, by putting its clients on months-long waiting lists, but Medicare just past its forty-fifth anniversary. Private schools are booming, despite the fact that parents still have to pay education taxes for the public system, a fact that is as complimentary to the former as it is damning to the latter. Even if its "free" many parents still don't want it. 

Now add all that up. The French language-gender-equity commissars, the roads to nowhere, regional development programs that develop only dependency among a once proud people, the public school teachers who confuse propaganda with history, and what you get is dead weight. Let's be conservative (in the non-political sense) and say that just half of government spending is dead weight, stuff that could be better done by the private sector, or just not done at all. 

Now imagine if tomorrow morning someone gave that half back to you and your family. What could you do with that money? A bigger house? A nicer car? More toys? Sure. But maybe you'd spend that money on something of real value. A mother who can stay home when her children are young. Less time at work, more with the family. Maybe another child. When the welfare state was first being sold to the electorates of the western world, one of the main pitches was how it would help families. Instead it has hurt them, placing a burden that keeps families smaller than they might be, and less happy than they should be. For once I'll agree with that old so-con chant: Won't anyone please think of the children?

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (10)

In support of giving Louis Riel a pardon

RielThe National Post yesterday accused Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff of historical revisionism when it comes to Louis Riel. Mr. Ignatieff has recently announced that he is a supporter of the movement to give the 19th century western rebel a pardon for his conviction of treason. The Post thinks that this is mere pandering and that Mr. Ignatieff is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. The Post’s article, on the other hand, reads like a propaganda speech by Dalton McCarthy, the anti-Catholic politician and contemporary of Louis Riel. There is a complete lack of balance displayed in the historical perspective of the National Post.

The grossest mischaracterization of Louis Riel and his rebellions came in this sentence:

Riel had also attempted to unfairly distort the land-claims process in order that his own Métis people might receive the majority of land being offered by Ottawa to native people.

No one was trying to distort anything, except for the federal government. The Métis people had settled the land in what is modern day Saskatchewan. They had cleared it with their own hands and they relied on the food that it produced for their survival. Then the federal government came to ‘survey’ the land and assign block allotments to settlers.

That is to say, the government was stealing their land.

And this is not just an abstract idea of the value of property rights. The federal government was threatening the survival of the community and causing starvation. The North-West Rebellion was a desperate act of self defence.

No one can claim that the Métis and other natives didn’t try other means than violence to resist the government. Native leader Chief Big Bear and others spent a decade petitioning the government and peacefully protesting their treatment. They were completely ignored by the political establishment in Ottawa. What choice was left them?

As much as we all deplore violence, we must remember the context of that violence.

The National Post also brings up the murder of Thomas Scott. This murder took place during the Red River Rebellion, and all participants in that rebellion received an amnesty. This amnesty included killing Thomas Scott. So as much as the National Post would like to resurrect the ghost of the dubious Thomas Scott, it is unjust to offer amnesty one year and then execution the next. If he was executed for the murder of Thomas Scott, it was an unjust conviction.

The primary issue of Riel’s trial, however, was not Thomas Scott but the more recent history of the North-West Rebellion. It was certainly a crime for Reil and his followers to take up arms against the government, but it was a crime against tyranny. Usually Canadians, as a freedom loving people, celebrate such a crime.

I will conclude with the words of Wilfrid Laurier:

 His whole crime and the crime of his friends, was that they wanted to be treated like British subjects and not to be bartered away like common cattle. If that be an act of rebellion, where is the one amongst us who if he had happened to have been with them would not have been rebels as they were?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The United States and Canada: "peace, commerce and honest friendship"

One of the major themes of 19th century French liberal Frédéric Bastiat is that market exchange engenders harmony. Perhaps his most famous sayings is "if goods don't cross borders, armies will."

With the help of friends in Kyrgyztan, China and Windsor, Ontario the Atlas Foundation's Tom Palmer explains this simple truth:

(h/t reason.tv)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

“Stop, Question, Frisk"

Police harassment by any other name:

This small army of officers, night after night, spends much of its energy pursuing the controversial Police Department tactic known as “Stop, Question, Frisk,” and it does so at a rate unmatched anywhere else in the city [New York].

The officers stop people they think might be carrying guns; they stop and question people who merely enter the public housing project buildings without a key; they ask for identification from, and run warrant checks on, young people halted for riding bicycles on the sidewalk.

One night, 20 officers surrounded a man outside the Brownsville Houses after he would not let an officer smell the contents of his orange juice container.


The encounters — most urgently meant to get guns off the streets — yield few arrests. Across the city, 6 percent of stops result in arrests. In these roughly eight square blocks of Brownsville, the arrest rate is less than 1 percent. The 13,200 stops the police made in this neighborhood last year resulted in arrests of 109 people. In the more than 50,000 stops since 2006, the police recovered 25 guns.

This isn't even about trading freedom for security, 109 arrests out of 13,200 stops? Brownsville is definitely a high crime area, and the NYPD, of course, argue their tactics have reduced crime in targeted neighbourhoods. The searches are conducted on the filmiest of pretexts:

And so on a single Friday in January 2009, the police stopped 109 people in this area, 55 of them inside the project buildings, almost half for suspicion of trespassing. The show of force resulted in two arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of a weapon.

In other words, pretty much anyone the police find suspicious they can and do search. The residents have mixed feelings. They need the police but also fear them, knowing they can be stopped and searched essentially without cause. The tactic's one clear success is in alienating much of the youth in these neighbourhoods, dominated by large public housing projects. One of the tenets of modern policing - dating back to the time of Sir Robert Peel - is that the police are the community, and the community the police. For policing to be effective it must have the support of those whom they protect. If the police are seen as the enemy, not a surprising sentiment in Brownsville, by members of the community, they will find it difficult to protect the community. 

Oddly, years ago when crime was higher, relations with the police seemed better, several residents said. The officers seemed to show a greater sense of who was law abiding and who was not, they said. Now, many residents say, the newer crop of officers seem to be more interested in small offenses than engaging with residents.

"Stop, question, frisk" looks to be policing by the numbers. Rather than trying to build relationships with locals, they instead rack up stop numbers to "prove" their effectiveness. Since the municipal and public housing law are so extensive and vague, practically anyone can be stopped and searched. A hostile community will make it harder to obtain witnesses and leads when genuine crimes occur. In Brownsville, the NYPD risk becoming seen less as protectors and more as bureaucrats with guns. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jedi knights mobilize against libertarian cavalry

Yoda wants mandatory census

In response to our series on the census, the Jedi Knights have amassed a campaign to defend the mandatory long-form census against the libertarian cavalry. Jedi Knights demand to be demanded to be counted.

The force is strong with these ones.

And we reject the use of force, whether from the light or dark side.

Posted by westernstandard on July 19, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (1)

FT: Conrad Black set to be freed on bail, use of vague "honest services" law questioned

The Financial Times:

Lord Black, the Canadian-born peer and former publishing magnate who was convicted of fraud, could be released from a Florida prison on bail within days pending an appeal.

The decision to release Lord Black by a three-judge appeals court panel follows a sweeping ruling by the US Supreme Court in June that found prosecutors wrongly applied the the so-called “honest services” law in their case against the former media executive.Lord Black, the Canadian-born peer and former publishing magnate who was convicted of fraud, could be released from a Florida prison on bail within days pending an appeal.

The decision to release Lord Black by a three-judge appeals court panel follows a sweeping ruling by the US Supreme Court in June that found prosecutors wrongly applied the the so-called “honest services” law in their case against the former media executive. [...]

The ruling represents a blow to the US Department of Justice, which had argued against a request for bail while the case was re-examined by an appeals court in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The decision to release Lord Black, even temporarily, underlines the impact that the Supreme Court ruling will have, not only in the case against the British peer, but in other high-profile, white-collar cases in which prosecutors convicted individuals based on “honest services” fraud charges.

The ruling raises the stake for the DoJ in its handling of the Enron case. The court ruled that prosecutors wrongly used the honest service law against Jeffrey Skilling, the convicted former head of Enron. But the high court did not advocate or suggest the mistake should necessarily lead to a reversal of Mr Skilling’s conviction.

The justices agreed with critics that said the DoJ’s use of the honest services law was too vague, and should be limited to instance of bribery.

(h/t Lindy)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Maxime Bernier: Scrapping the compulsory long-form census questionnaire

I intervened in the media over the weekend to defend my government’s decision to scrap the compulsory long-form questionnaire of the census. There has been a lot of opposition to this decision over the past two weeks coming from all kinds of interest groups who use the data from the census.

Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don’t.

Most people don’t want to be called or be visited at home by a census bureaucrat pressuring them to answer the questions and threatening them with sanctions. They understandably do not want trouble with the government and when they get such threats, they simply comply. Few will officially complain to the government, although when I was Industry minister in 2006 during the previous census, several thousand email messages of complaint were sent to my MP office. (Some people have asked me to show proof of this. It was evidently part of an organized campaign, as my Parliament colleagues and I sometimes receive vast numbers of messages on controversial issues. They are one way among others to gauge the level of public support or opposition to a decision. These messages were obviously not filed for future use by my staff and were deleted.)

As I keep saying, government is already much too big and intrusive, and this decision will restore some balance. Private businesses and organizations who want such data should pay to get surveys done that answer their needs instead of relying on government coercion to get them.

For those who want to read more on this issue, here is an excellent column by Gordon Clark in the Vancouver Province, and this one by two economists from the Fraser Institute in the National Post. Also, the Western Standard has been publishing a series of commentaries supporting the decision, including one by one of my former advisors at Industry Canada, Martin Masse.

Those who have never seen the 40-page long-form questionnaire that is at the center of this debate can check the 2006 one here on the website of Statistics Canada. Among other intrusive questions, you are asked about your ethnic background, how many hours of unpaid housework, yard work or home maintenance you did the previous week, details about what kind of job you are doing, how you get to work, all your sources of income, who pays for what in your household, how many bedrooms there are in your home and if it needs minor or major repairs, etc.

Why in the world should peaceful and honest citizens be threatened with jail if they refuse to answer these questions?! Why do the Liberals support this?

Maxime Bernier is a Member of Parliament from Beauce, Quebec. This post is also available on his blog, here.

All WS on the census.

Posted by westernstandard on July 19, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (29)

Iggy's Antiques Roadshow

They dig through their closets. They come clutching ancient bric-a-brac, which they solemnly proclaim as treasured heirlooms handed down from much beloved aunts, whose names they struggle to recall. Never, never would they part with the 1950s Mickey Mouse figurine, the old Coke bottles, the walnut armoire or the Louis-the-what's-it chair with the faded ketchup satin. Unless the price is right. They are the about ready for rummage sale cast-offs that might yet be the key to fortune, happiness and thirty-seconds of bewildered national celebrity. That's the Antiques Roadshow, a British import that has had both Canadian and American retreads. Last week Michael Ignatieff tried his hand at the format, going on his own roadshow, and boy did he dig deep in Liberal Party's attic.

To some, mostly Grit hacks, he is akin to a fine vintage wine, recalling warm summer days of happy Liberal hegemony, for everyone else Jean Chretien went vinegary some time ago. The Catskill-meets-Gatineau schtick wore out back when Pierre Trudeau was still knee-capping the Alberta economy, but Iggy is getting desperate. Papa Jean was many things, most of which are unprintable on a work-friendly blog, but he was also a winner. He won three majority governments, back to back. The first Liberal leader to do that since Mackenzie King, though to his credit the little guy from Shawinigan never mulled strategy with his dog or dead mother. Wanting some of that Jean magic to rub off on him, now that enough people have forgotten about Adscam, Iggy has invited the former PM to join him on the roadshow. 

While bringing Papa Jean back might make sense, if you're Michael Ignatieff, bringing back Paul Martin doesn't, to anyone. There are no electoral triumphs in the History of the Reign of Paul I. Not even bad jokes about protestors, pepper spray and steaks. Does it really make sense for Iggy, who is seen as indecisive, to be on the same stage as the man dubbed "Mr Dithers" by The Economist? It's a self inflicted wound. One of many. The problem with self-inflicted wounds isn't just the bleeding, it's that no one will ever trust you with a weapon again. The weapon at hand is the leadership of the Liberal Party. It used to be the most coveted job in Canada. From 1887 (when one W. Laurier took over the job) to 2003 (when the aforementioned Mr Martin ascended) every leader of the Liberal Party became Prime Minister. Stephane Dion, the compromise candidate who taught us all the dangers of compromising, became the first leader of the party of King, St Laurent and Trudeau to never lead the country.

The Dion Years were a unique time in our nation's history. Well unique for Liberals, for the first time in living memory they knew what it felt like to be Tories. Incompetence is common enough in politics, but Dion and his C-Team elevated the act of screwing things up into an art form. The Green Shift, the dog named Kyoto, the train-wreck of interviews and the general inarticulateness. The latter isn't a fatal weakness in politics, it can even be a strength, see the career of Jean Chretien. The problem was that Papa Jean's mangling of both official languages was seen as a cunning stratagem, for poor Stephane it sounded like a call for help. Even the bitterest of Tory partisans, in their human moments, must have muttered softly to themselves: "Won't someone please take him back to the faculty lounge? It's just too painful."

The leather padded cells of academia were calling Iggy last week too. Janice Gross Stein, long-time head of the Munk School of Global Affairs, is stepping down and Iggy looks like a solid replacement. Returning to the old Alma Mater would be a nice place to relax after the rigours of politics. Sure the students are slightly more impertinent than political staffers, though they are about the same age, but the media generally ignores you when are quietly indoctrinating the young. University life is far less stressful too. No longer having to cram things down into five second spots for the nightly newscasts. Instead a whole New York minute's worth of platitudes can be leisurely stretched into an hour long seminar. In politics people call you a fool and liar all the time, but that's only because you can't tell some graduate student to flunk the uppity little brat. Nothing like being a professor, so long as you're tenured. Nothing like being the leader of the Liberal Party, so long as you've got a chance in hell of becoming Prime Minister. It's a chance Michael Ignatieff is slowly and surely losing. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Tories' Need for Speed

The federal government goes into the gaming business:

The online description of one of the games reads, “Compete at the highest level of street racing with Need for Speed ProStreet. It’s no longer good enough to simply rule your local neighborhood; you need to dominate on a global stage.”

The government placed ads in a number of video games during February and March of this year. The ads were part of an attempt to encourage young people to complete their apprenticeship training and alert them to grants of up to $4,000.

Because the little darlings can't be expected to, you know, find out this information themselves. A government big enough to give you apprenticeships, is big enough to invade your video games.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Opposition Seeks to Force Inquiry on G20 Mass Arrests

From The Hill Times:

The evidence includes eyewitness accounts from lawyers who acted as monitors during the protests where police arrested 1,105 people, including bystanders, lawful protesters and some of the legal monitors, but released more than 900 with no charges.

Up to six lawyers who volunteered as monitors with the Osgoode Hall Law Union were swept up by police and have provided affidavit-style evidence to organizers about the abuses they witnessed in the notorious temporary prison Toronto police set up in an abandoned film studio, says Adrienne Telford, one of the organizers. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union had up to 50 legal monitors at the protests and is compiling information.

But don't worry, it'll never happen to you. 

The police only ever arrest bad people, or least people who look suspicious. It's their own damn fault they dress the wrong way, or wanted to express an opinion too openly. Normal people have jobs and families, they don't waste their time protesting. Just a bunch of hippies. So they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, big deal. Maybe they should live somewhere else. They're all lying, or exaggerating. Just to get on TV. Just to discredit the police. Just to attack Stephen Harper.

I'm sure the police had the best of motives. 

You have to maintain law and order in a society. Police cars got destroyed. Windows got smashed. Huh? Why didn't the police prevent that? Well that's because they weren't handed enough special powers. You don't trust the police? Well then you support the criminals? Yes, I know what a criminal is, they're the bad people the police arrest. It's the usual complainers that are complaining. 

But don't worry, it will never happen to you. You live in the suburbs. You live in a small town. You live in a nice neighbourhood. Bad things only ever happen to bad people, elsewhere. They deserve it. You're not a bad person. You never do anything suspicious. Just don't blow any bubbles.

(More WS on G20 commentary).

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 19, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (82)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Filibuster: A note to Tea Party activists from the NAACP


J.J. McCullough writes:

The NAACP, one of America’s most eminent black civil rights groups, came out swinging at conservative Tea Party activists this week. In a resolution at their annual general meeting, the organization blasted the Tea Party for containing “racist elements,” and demanded the group fully repudiate the bigots within their midst.

“The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no space for racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” declared NAACP president Ben Jealous after the resolution passed. Much of the racism allegations swirling around the Tea Party center on the sorts of protest signs many of its members have chosen to bring to their rallies. The NAACP website presently contains a little gallery of some of the most offensive ones, under the heading “don’t let hate divide America.” Among other crimes against humanity, we can see depictions of President Obama as Mr. T, or that jolly black chef from the cream of wheat box.

As a visual satirist myself, I have to say I find all of this a bit dopey. Unflattering visual analogies do not presuppose racist intent. Depicting the President of the United States as a witch-doctor or monkey is hardly new; practically every president has faced similarly unflattering analogies. I can particularly recall a lot of witch-doctor related parodying directed towards George Bush Sr., a man who coined the term “voodoo economics” to describe his own party’s fiscal philosophy. And of course we all remember how frequently his son was depicted as some sort of slope-browed chimpanzee.

We’re only reading more into this kind of stuff today because the president is black, so every bit of teasing that used to be regarded as innocuous is now scrutinized under the racial microscope.

While genuinely racist caricatures are obviously hateful and ignorant, I reject the premise that Obama’s race is completely off grounds for mockery. A public figure’s appearance is always a healthy source of material for satire. Again, we can think of all the times Dubya was teased for his vacant facial expressions, or the many grotesque caricatures of John McCain’s hideous neck-flesh. When making parodies, you compare people to things they look like, and the fact remains that Obama does look a lot more like the cream of wheat guy than Bush or Clinton.

Seems to me that a truly a non-racist political culture would see parody as parody, and not get excessively flustered trying to constantly find “hidden agendas” motivating everything. Sometimes a poster is just a poster.

J.J. McCullough is a political cartoonist from Coquitlam, British Columbia.

Posted by westernstandard on July 18, 2010 in Filibuster, U.S. politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

WS on the census: Pierre Lemieux, "The statistization of the population"

The abolition of the long form of the census is one of the very rare pieces of good news to come from Ottawa in a long time.

The only reason for forcing individuals to answer intrusive questions in a census is that many wouldn’t volunteer answers. They have good reasons not to as the questions are intrusive. The state should do like private researchers, pollsters and marketers; that is, gather its information from voluntary respondents. If the information is not as good, then let it be. The only way to have perfect information on citizens would be to put them in jails or in convents.

This last comment points to a deeper reason to be suspicious of any request for information by authority -- especially the sort of detailed information contained in the census long form. Such information is used for surveillance and control of the population.

Is it also used to help people? Yes, of course, but this basically amounts to the same: making people dependent on the state is a way to control them. As French political scientist Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote, “The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.”

As is often the case, the idea that the total “statistization” of the population is a good thing found its most frank expression on a somewhat more extreme location of the political spectrum. “How can wages be adjusted to food requirements if there is no exact measurement of both?”, asks Jean-Guy Prévost paraphrasing fascist Italian statistican Paulo Fortunati (see Prévost’s interesting A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy ).

The timid measure announced by Minister Tony Clement is a small step against the statistization of Canadians. My prediction -- alas! -- is that his initiative will be blocked. Many powerful and favoured interest groups are subsidized by the state producing information for their free use, including academics in the social sciences. They will express their greed by protesting.

Pierre Lemieux is a columnist with the Western Standard, an economist in the Department of Management Sciences of the Université du Québec en Outaouais and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA.

More WS on the census (a.k.a. the "libertarian cavalry"): Mark D. Hughes, Karen Selick, Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.

Posted by westernstandard on July 18, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (0)

Illegal searches and intimidation at the G20

In this first video, videographer Melissa Hill, videotapes Toronto police randomly stopping and searching people in a relatively quiet intersection of downtown Toronto. Half-way into the video, a male police officer comes and starts shining his flashlight into her camera. He acknowledges her right to film, and asserts his right to shine a flashlight into her camera in kind.

Later on, another female police officer demands she stops filming immediately, blocks the lens and physically turns off the camera.

In this second video, Press For Truth, is asked to stop filming. In fact, the officer says it's her "right" not to be filmed. On the contrary, the Toronto Police actually clarified in a public statement -- amid a controversy of some police demanding that people delete footage of their cameras -- that it was perfectly legal to film police doing their duties on the street. Apparently, some of their officers didn't get the memo.

To be fair, most police did seem to be aware -- and many acknowledged -- that they had no right not to be filmed. But some police seemed to be making up their own rules.

It's interesting that some police officers believe they have a right not to be filmed doing their jobs, while many of the police officers during the G20 themselves were armed with camcorders on sticks, that they used for continuously video taping pedestrians.

In fact, the police do videotape him in this video.

In any case, these two videos demonstrate the law being inconsistently applied. And the draconian measures even being applied days before the summit, and nearly 4km away from the summit in an area where there's absolutely no protest activity except for a lone guy with a video camera.

Posted by Mike Brock on July 18, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Political ad watch: Minor Party Edition (Christian Heritage and Libertarian)

The Christian Heritage Party of Canada:

Libertarian Party of Canada: 

(h/t civitatensis)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Warm and Bubbly

A class act.

When contacted, Josephs hung up on a Star reporter.
And professional too. Any guesses on what the mandatory minimum would be for bubble blowing?

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 17, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Stagliano gets off on all charges


On Friday, a judge dismissed all charges in the case against John Stagliano, who was being prosecuted under federal obscenity laws in Washington, DC for producing and distributing pornography videos (I discussed this case earlier in the week).

While this is a big win for free speech, the obscenity laws he was charged with are still on the books and the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force is still operating within the Department of Justice. As we all know, government bureaucracies are constantly trying to find ways to prove their usefulness and American politicians have shown little interest in this issue, so I suspect we will see similar prosecutions in the future.

News of the decision came through via intrepid reporter Richard Abowitz's Twitter feed late Friday afternoon. The hard working Reason.tv crew quickly rushed out of the office to capture Stagliano's reaction to the verdict:

For more information about the trial, check out Reason magazine's extensive coverage. Also be sure to read my recent article on freedom of expression.

Cross-posted on jesse.kline.ca

Posted by Jesse Kline on July 17, 2010 in Freedom of expression | Permalink | Comments (1)

WS on the census: Karen Selick

The chief Tory spokesman against the mandatory long form census has been Industry Minister Tony Clement. Too bad Tony is so inconsistent in his views about defending freedom and privacy. When he was health minister, Tony spearheaded the drive to bring in Bill C-6, the so-called Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. That bill (which died on the order paper, but has recently been revived as Bill C-36) is chock-full of powers for bureaucrats to intrude upon Canadians’ privacy.

It will deploy a vast army of inspectors to poke their noses into every nook and cranny of Canadian businesses—including those operated in people’s homes—seeking phantom dangers. No-one has yet produced any evidence that the existing law (The Hazardous Products Act) has failed to ensure consumers’ safety. In fact, during hearings, the Health Canada bureaucrats promoting the bill admitted that the old law has done a good job. The new bill seems to be desired primarily by those same bureaucrats for the purpose of building their empires.

In addition to authorizing frequent intrusions into business premises (including homes), C-36 also authorizes the federal government to give confidential business information about Canadian businesses to foreign governments, without the consent of the business.

But back to the census. All the do-gooders who want to make it mandatory seem to cite reasons that are themselves illiberal. For instance, Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute, writing recently in the Globe & Mail, cited the need for information in the fields of education and health as a reason. But the provision of education and health are not services that properly fall within the mandate of the state. Both should be privatized, and then -- poof! -- there goes the reason for needing the statistics.

It’s funny that the suppliers of other necessities to the poor—for instance, inexpensive clothing of the kind sold in WalMart or Giant Tiger stores—they don’t seem to need the census to figure out where to put their stores, what quantities of goods to order, or what price to offer them for.

Notably silent on the census issue has been the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). One would think this would be an issue about which they would have clear, strong freedom-oriented views. Alas, much of the decision-making in that organization is in the hands of committed leftists who no doubt support the idea of the state supplying education, health and more.

The sectors of the economy that keep devouring greater and greater shares of our resources, and producing worse and worse results are -- guess what? -- education and health care! And this is after they’ve had the supposed benefit of the long-form census for all these years!

Karen Selick is the litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

Ed's note: More WS on the census: Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.

Posted by westernstandard on July 17, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (6)

WS on the census: Paul McKeever "Optional long form census a blow to racism"

Canada's Conservative government has announced that completion of Canada's "long form" census will cease to be mandatory in 2011.  Shrieks of condemnation can now be heard from a wide range of interests.  None of them are justified.  To the contrary, this is one step the Harper government has announced in recent history that is actually praiseworthy.

Pursuant to the instruction of Industry Minister Tony Clement, on June 28, 2010, Statistics Canada announced, in part, that:

The 2011 Census will consist of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire. It will be conducted in May 2011.

The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS). This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census, but will exclude the question asking for consent to release personal census information after 92 years as this is only required by the census. The NHS questions will be made available by the end of July.

The National Household Survey will be conducted within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and will include approximately 4.5 million households. (emphasis added)

The one somewhat unconvincing reason given by Clement for the government's decision to make the long form optional was explained in a July 13, 2010 media release by Clement which stated, in part:

The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution.  For this reason, we have introduced changes for the 2011 Census.

The rationale for objecting to lifting the mandatory completion of the long form are numerous. According to the CBC, the long-form of the census includes questions about religious affiliation every 10 years (2011 being the next such year) and religious groups complain that they need the data to deliver programs and services and to track changes the "religious landscape". The Star reports that Canadian Medical Association journal needs long-form information for health care planning. In short, a good number of private associations like getting free data, and are quite happy to have the federal government threaten Canadians with fines and jail time in order to get it.

Others, not focusing upon the use to which census data is put, complain instead that taking a gun from the heads of those asked to fill out the long form will undermine the quality of the data.  For example, the Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner, and a host of statisticians about whom he writes, express concern that:

...the switch from a mandatory to a voluntary form will bias the data in many ways and increasing the number of households that get the long form won't correct the biases. It will just produce more numbers. That are biased. And not comparable with past census data.

Toronto Dominion Bank senior economist Drummond has complained that if the long form is optional, white middle-class individuals will submit a greater percentage of the long-forms, leaving minorities, aboriginals and the very wealthy under-represented in the data.  He says that, eventually, the data would be useless.

Implied in such complaints is an underlying belief that the data collected with the long form should be used by government.  So, what exactly is the nature of the data that so many are clamouring for, and to what purposes can a government put such data?

In 2006 - the year in which the most recent long-form census was sent out to Canadians - talk radio host Robert Metz described in great and illuminating detail the questions set out in the 2006 long form, which he refused to file.  Metz is the founder of the pro-free-market Freedom Party of Ontario and a long-time opponent of the census.  In his account (which is a must-read for anyone weighing in on the issue of continuing to force people to fill out the long form), he explains that the long form of the census divides Canadians into discrete collectives distinguished by race and wealth:

None of the census questions relate to any proper function of government or of its proper relationship to the citizen: the administration of justice, maintenance of an objective court system, or the function of the military. They're all about genetic make-up and wealth redistribution.

Many opponents of the plan to make the long form optional take the position that the long form does not take too long to fill out.  Others, like Liberal Party industry critique Marc Garneau argue that:

"...no one has gone to jail over the census, at least as far back as 1981. Only about 50-60 people are charged over each census, with about six having to pay fines".

Metz's account anticipates that argument, and responds as follows:

But again, fines and jail sentences are a secondary issue, particularly when rarely enforced. The real significance of Canada's Census lies not in the seemingly senseless questions being asked, nor in the threats of penalties directed against us, but in what we are being told about our collective future. Sadly, if the racists and other collectivists who design and administer the Canadian Census have their way, Canadians can expect a continued reversion from a productive society --- which survives by consensual trade in which wealth is earned by productivity --- towards an uncivilized jungle inhabited by warring tribes forced to segregate and divide themselves according to a genetic code.

Now, before the reader rebuts that Metz, an unflinching advocate for individual freedom and free markets, might be misrepresenting the purpose of the collection of such data, consider the statement issued last Tuesday by Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the collectivist Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives:

The long form is a critical tool that helps business, communities and governments decide where you need your money...

Without this information, we are all punching in the dark. Without this information, we cannot properly allocate our resources. The people who will pay most dearly are those who are already most vulnerable: the poor, aboriginal communities, recent immigrants and racial minorities.

Yalnizyan essentially agrees with Metz about the intended use of the data is to redistribute wealth to collectives distinguished by race.  To conclude that those not getting "our" resources (i.e., government subsidies) thereby "pay", it is necessary first to assume that the money taxed out of the pockets of those who earn it is, in fact, money that is owned by, and owed to, Canadians collectively.  Characterizing collectives of individuals defined almost exclusively by race as those who "pay", Yalnizyan confirms Metz's summation that the collectives in question are racial collectives; that the census is a tool to impose and facilitate tribalism (a state of affairs in which government governs not individuals, but collectives distinguished by race, sex, nationality, et cetera). 

Whether or not they realize it as explicitly as does Yalnizyan, the opponents of making the long-form optional are condemning not merely privacy and the freedom not to provide information, but also the individualism and free markets that the long form data is ultimately intended to undermine.  Whether the opponents want unpaid-for data or consistent statistical history, their objections are in the service of the most vile form of collectivism - racism - and of that well-known toxin to any economy, central planning.

It would give me great comfort were I to believe, as Liberal Party industry critic Marc Garneau somehow does, that the Harper Conservatives are motivated by a desire to put an end to central planning:

"By attacking the census, this government is throwing us in the dark on immigration-related issues. They're doing the same for aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled, and for those arguing for the need for pay equity...That's what the Conservatives' endgame is here -to permanently hobble the government's ability to enforce legislation and deliver social programs aimed at our most vulnerable."

To be sure, the economic case against the practicality of central planning is as damning as the moral case against it (the immoral being the impractical, such will always be the case, in the long term, as knowledge grows).  But, alas, I do not share Garneau's belief that the Conservatives are using privacy concerns as a cover story for a secret agenda to end central planning.  The painful evidence is everywhere about us that the Harper Conservatives have no particular affinity for free markets, and no particular opposition to central planning.  Billions of dollars borrowed by the federal Conservatives to bail out or nationalize private companies (after having campaigned against such bail-outs and deficit spending); cuts to the rate of the inherently single-rate, less invasive GST instead of to the progressive rates of income taxes; soccer-mom hand-outs at taxpayer expense; quiet and countless transfers of billions across little community groups like Youth for Christ of Langley, BC: all stand as the best evidence that the Conservatives' only agenda is to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to stay in power. 

Moreover, such Conservative actions have been backed also by Stephen Harper's unequivocal condemnation of free markets; a condemnation not made in public to lefties and righties alike, but to a closed-door conservatives-only audience in 2009 at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. In that speech, he condemned liberals for thinking government to have a role in all economic decisions, and condemned "libertarians" for thinking government to have no role in economic decisions.  Like so many on the left, his argument was founded upon the falsehood that the west's economies are free markets, and that it was the alleged free market - rather than fraud, credit inflation and government mandated loans to the uncreditworthy - that led to the current economic crisis.  Playing second fiddle to no fellow Keynesian, Harper made it clear he thinks individuals are all irresponsible children that need governmental parenting from cradle to grave:

Now, I know the libertarian – and I am sure there are a few in this room that define themselves that way – the libertarian says, and it's a perspective that I have a lot of sympathy for, let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.

The problem with this notion is that conservatives know from experience that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions. I don't speak *just* of individuals who may have ruined their lives through drugs or crimes or whatever, but look at Wall Street, the great free-enterprise financial institutions who wanted so much freedom from government regulation. They were the first in line for government support when the recession hit. And now I read, I read yesterday, that now some of them are saying they don't like that this government money may limit their freedom.

These are not the words of a closet capitalist.  They are the anti-capitalistic (i.e., anti-free-market) words of a man who, first and foremost, likes the Prime Minister's chair. 

It is true, in my view, that the Conservatives do not at all care about the quality of the data collected in the long form of the Census.  And I would quite agree with any leftist who said that the Harper Conservatives, in fact, have no real need or desire for census data: I sincerely doubt they will use it to identify spending priorities, and I suspect that the only reason they did not announce scrapping it altogether was to ensure that the various people wanting free data (including Conservative-friendly religious organizations) could not argue that they have been deprived of it (they are left, instead, making sleep-inducing technical arguments about statistical accuracy, and other things that few voters care about).  

Though it pains me to say it, the decision to eliminate the mandatory completion of the long form is not founded upon a secret Conservative agenda to end central planning.  It is, in reality, nothing more than an effort to feed a bit of red meat to that slender, politically homeless demographic that nowadays finds itself so uncomfortable associating itself with a Conservative Party so bent upon managing the economy, pandering to the more radical religious elements, and setting itself up as a hand of god that will deliver us from such 'evils' as the decision to smoke a bit of cannabis.  For years, the Conservatives have dangled the carrot in front of that constituency, communicating by wink and smirk - but never by voice - a false promise to deliver a pro-free-market, pro-individualism revolution.  The mandatory long-form is a long-term gripe of that constituency and making it optional - without eliminating it - is only the latest half-hearted attempt to maintain whatever party loyalty there remains among those who seek individual freedom and capitalism.

I do not think the Conservatives will gain or maintain much loyalty from that constituency, but neither do I think they have much to lose by taking the step they have taken (unless they commit the cardinal sin of, again, reversing themselves only to fend off the Liberals and other collectivists).  Nonetheless, making the long form optional accomplishes something more important for Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike.  I anticipate relatively few people will volunteer to spend their time filling out an optional long-form census and, if that ends up being the case, the Conservatives will at least unintentionally have struck a blow against that most destructive and dehumanizing form of collectivism: racism.

Posted by Paul McKeever on July 17, 2010 in Canadian Politics, Census, Economic freedom, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, July 16, 2010

WS on the census: Fraser Institute's Niels Velduis with the libertarian objection

Niels Velduis, Senior Economist at the Fraser Institute had many interesting things to to say to The Globe & Mail, but I appreciate that he raised the quintessentially libertarian objection:

While every household must answer basic questions when the census-takers come calling, about one-fifth of Canadians have traditionally been required, under threat of fines or jail time, to respond to a lengthy list of 50-plus enquiries about their home, work lives and ethnicity.

“It's obviously much cheaper to get the data if you're forcing people to answer these questionnaires than it would be if you had to voluntarily get them to respond,” Mr. Veldhuis says.

“But that doesn't make the decision to force people to do it right.”

Read the rest.

(h/t @msccust)

More WS of the welcome demise of the long-form census: P.M. Jaworski, Walter Block, J.J. McCullough, Terrence Watson, Martin Masse on colbertisme, Hugh MacIntyre (after returning from the dark side of threatening innocents) and Publius.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 16, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (1)

WS on the census: Government Information Theft

Here's my two bits on the Census, along with P.M. Jaworski, Walter BlockJ.J. McCulloughTerrence Watson, Martin Masse and Hugh MacIntyre (so far!):

Those defending the Census' mandatory long form have clothed their arguments in the public interest. We need, they argue, a detailed, fair and statistically accurate count of the population to ensure that government services and programs are effectively delivered to Canadians. Without going into how useful many of these programs really are, let's agree that the Census provides an enormously valuable store of data. Data that is used not only by all three levels of government, but also market researchers, academics, corporations and charities.  

The data gathered by the Census is a vital resource for both the public and private sector. But it is not the only valuable product or service used by governments. Governments also large use large quantities cemment, asphalt, paper, sophisticated electronic equipment and the services of tens of thousands of Canadians. Yet it is expected that government pay for these products and services, from Canadians who voluntarily exchange their talents and energies.  

If employees of the federal government started randomly seizing cement trucks, or conscripting people off the streets to build roads, such conduct would be rightly denounced. It would be the sort of behaviour one expects of thugs like Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro, not the government of a free country like Canada. The Census, for the all the recent beating of breasts and furrowing of brows, is just another service the government needs to conduct its affairs. 

A mandatory cenus is less about some hazy notion of the public interest, and more about governments, corporations, academics and other consumers of Census data getting a free ride. Rather than having to conduct their own research, and make careful adjusts to compensate for possible distortions between samples and the overall popualtion, these data consumers get the government to force ordinary Canadians to save them the bother. 

So that governments and corporations can avoid some extra hassle, the freedom of all Canadians is infringed. It's a small infringement, but an infringement nontheless. The fact that the Census has been mandatory for decades, and is common practice in other countries, doesn't make it right. Arguing over the Census, to many Canadians, seems like a quibble. It doesn't take much time. True, but it's the principle of a mandatory Census that matters. 

Our private information belongs to us. We have a right not to be forced to surrender that information, and certainly not because it would make the lives of Statistics Canada bureaucrats easier. If the government needs our private information, they can ask nicely, and if that doesn't work they can pay for our information (as many market research firms do already), and if we say no, they should accept our no. In Canada the government works for us, not the other way around.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 16, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (1)

WS on the census: threatening the innocent

The Western Standard has been posting articles discussing the scrapping of the long-form census. Here is the original post by Peter Jaworski and other articles by: Martin Masse, Terrance Watson, J.J McCullough, and Walter Block.

This is my own personal take on the census reform:

I worked as an enumerator for the 2006 Census. Basically this meant that I was given a list by Statistics Canada of people in my assigned area who had not filled out the census form. I then went home to home demanding that they fill it out, and I was paid a commission for every form that was filled.

A key part of my training was how to get people to fill in the census. I was told to first ask politely, then insist strongly, and finally inform the resident that they could be facing legal action. That’s right, I was told by the government to threaten innocent people in their own home; their only crime was not filling out a government form. The true sin of the census is not the intrusiveness but the unwarranted threat of force against the citizenry.

Getting rid of the mandatory long form is at least a step towards removing this threat and leaving private individuals in peace.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 16, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (0)

WS on the census: Martin Masse "Census data feeds government intervention"

Martin Masse, publisher of the libertarian webzine Le Québécois Libre (whose banner ad we've been proudly hosting for going on two years now) and former advisor to Industry minister Maxime Bernier, responds to our request for opinions on the census with a longer and more thoughtful piece. (For shorter quip-like responses, check out Terrence Watson's, J.J. McCullough's, and Walter Block's responses).

Martin writes:

It’s interesting to note that the first general census in North America was conducted in New France in 1665 by the then-intendant of the colony, Jean Talon (who has a big street and a metro station named after him in Montreal). Talon had been sent to North America by Louis XIV’s finance minister, the famous Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

Colbert was the master bureaucrat of his time. He used his considerable powers to direct French economic development and to increase the prestige and revenue of the French state. His version of mercantilism, the interventionist doctrine popular in all European countries at the time, even bears his name: colbertisme.

Talon was of course a follower of colbertisme and he had all kinds of good ideas to “stimulate” the colony’s development, which then numbered about 3,000 inhabitants. But first, he had to know more precisely the state of the colony. How can you plan the economy and tell people what to do with their lives if you don’t first have a clear picture of the situation?

There is a page on Statistics Canada’s website devoted to the first statistician on the continent, which explains very well what censuses were for in Talon’s time, and are still for today, which is to help governments “manage” societies:

As Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance, Talon's tasks were to stimulate the economic expansion of New France, increase the colony's self-sufficiency and bring order to its financial administration. He was a man of enthusiasm and vision, and although he ranked below the Governor, he soon became the real manager of the colony.


After collecting his statistics, Talon put them to work. He was responsible for everything from taxes to health, from bridge building to chimney sweeping, and his influence touched every facet of government, and of the day-to-day lives of colonists. He used knowledge gained from the census to develop the colony in many directions.

Clear enough?

Fast-forward 350 years, and who do we hear denouncing the Conservative government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire of the census? All those whose job it is to plan and manage society’s development. There was only one such bureaucrat in the 1660s, but today there are hundreds of thousands of them in Canada, at all levels of government and even beyond, in all the parasitic “private” organizations and professional fields that depend on government to conduct their business.

You know who you’re dealing with when a unanimous chorus of protest emerges from organizations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Economics Association, the Canadian Council of Social Development, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, francophone minority groups, women’s groups -- and the list goes on and on.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve heard that it would become extremely difficult for governments, municipalities and community groups to make decisions regarding education, health care, income inequalities, immigration, urban planning, and countless other fields, if the government goes ahead with its decision. A Liberal MP, Marlene Jennings, said that visible and linguistic minorities could suffer (that is, might get less government money) because the demographic studies that help government organizations and others hone in on the problems in certain regions rely on the results of long-form census surveys.

Despite the modern jargon, Talon would find the arguments entirely familiar. As a professor of Urban and Regional Economics reminded us in The Gazette, “enlightened policy decisions can only be taken if the government and its advisers have a good idea of what is happening in Canada.” Or hear this unnamed statistician asking in the Globe and Mail: “Should those who collect and spend our tax dollars on matters determined to be in the public interest not do so with the most informed statistical information possible?”

A census can only gather accurate information with the use of widespread coercion and intrusion in people’s private lives. Whether or not masses of citizens find it worthwhile to protest officially is not the point; this in itself is enough to oppose it from a libertarian perspective and the government was right to justify its decision on this basis. But everyone should also be aware that statistics are not just any neutral information that is useful to have.

As the great libertarian economist, Murray Rothbard, explained half a century ago:

Certainly, only by statistics, can the federal government make even a fitful attempt to plan, regulate, control, or reform various industries - or impose central planning and socialization on the entire economic system. If the government received no railroad statistics, for example, how in the world could it even start to regulate railroad rates, finances, and other affairs? How could the government impose price controls if it didn't even know what goods have been sold on the market, and what prices were prevailing? Statistics, to repeat, are the eyes and ears of the interventionists: of the intellectual reformer, the politician, and the government bureaucrat.

Without their eyes and ears -- or at any rate, with poorer eyesight and hearing -- the interventionists will find it more difficult to defend their work and they might lose some legitimacy. Which is why we should enthusiastically support this decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire.

Now, if only the government had been a little bit more coherent and scrapped the thing entirely instead of replacing it with a voluntary questionnaire sent to more households that will cost more, produce less reliable data and be a source of unnecessary controversy for years to come. Perhaps industry minister Tony Clement really believes his lines about the new data being as reliable and useful as the data collected the old way? That would not be surprising, coming from a government that has shown almost no inclination to cut spending, stop managing the economy and get out of our lives.

Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (3)

WS on the census: Terrence Watson

"My opinions about the census aren't very strong," writes WS editorial team member Terrence Watson. "I did find it amusing that Warren Kinsella has come out defending the plan to scrap the mandatory long form."

Here is what I think: Getting rid of the long form will indeed hamper social science research.

Is that bad? Not necessarily.

That research is often used by our benevolent overlords to justify additional government intrusion. Weaken the census, and you weaken the ability of the government to plan. More than that, you limit the ability of special interests groups to rely on that data when engaged in rent-seeking attempts.

Thus, maybe it's better to keep them in the dark. Perhaps Harper even knows this -- the long game, again? This isn't the kind of thing that's going to do damage right away, but only over time. Some of the lefties have figured this out, and they're really mad about it. And Kinsella sounds like a libertarian talking about it.

Here's the original post, Walter Block's response, and J.J. McCullough's.

Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

WS on the census: J.J. McCullough

Continuing our series of posts on the census, here is Western Standard cartoonist (and Reader's Digest's top-five Canadian cartoonists to watch) J.J. McCullough's contribution:

A lot of people seem to be clinging to this misguided idea that census data only exists for the benefit of the government. On the contrary, I find thorough demographic statistics a vital tool that ordinary Canadians can use to hold their government to account.

When the government makes claims about jobs, or immigration, or bilingualism, or families, or multiculturalism, or any one of dozens of other topics, it's always nice to know that the Census website is only a click away to find out if the facts match the rhetoric.

In my more conspiratorial moments, I sometimes wonder if undermining the census is just a very convenient way for politicians to keep the citizenry in the dark about the realities of their own country.

See also the original post, and Walter Block's response.

Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The first sign of the U.S. Dollar apocalypse has come

Over a year ago, I was sitting around with a group of people talking about the long-term prospects for the USD. And, for more than a year, I've been hyper-bearish on the US economy.

In fact, in a spat of tweets on Twitter last Fall, I publicly pronounced that I was completely divesting of all US-denominated assets and moving almost entirely into Canadian and Asian stocks.

I talk markets with many colleagues, and many people poked fun at this position. In fact, a stock analyst friend of mine tried to convince me that I was going to "miss" the ride up the slope of the assuredly coming US recovery. Holding firm, I decided I was okay being the odd-man out in the terms of my investing strategy.

Further, much of my moves were aimed specifically at shorting the US as a whole. This move paid off huge at the beginning of the year, and since has been sort of a so-so strategy of late. But I held on, refusing to jump ship from my commodity-heavy, inflation-hedged strategy all the way up until today. Even when people were cheering on the strong US job growth a few months ago, I refused to budge.

Today, I'm increasingly convinced that I was right to do so.

I have long said that the first sign of the coming US economic apocalypse would be when China stopped buying US treasures. And China has done just that. In fact, China's Dagong Global Credit Rating two days ago, downgraded US Treasuries from an AAA to AA rating with a negative outlook. Ouch.

That comes on the heels of downgrade warnings by S&P and Moody's earlier in the year.

This action on part of China, for all the political posturing over China's currency peg, is not something the US can come out of unscathed. In fact, the likely outcome is a massive decline in the value of the USD in the near to medium-term.

Those of you non-Americans who believe the USD is safe, and have serious US-based holdings need to seriously consider your portfolio immediately. You are at extreme risk of losing it all. Make no mistake, the US is on a collision course with disaster; the entire country is over-leveraged to the hilt, and it's biggest creditor is no longer loaning it money.

As global investors and foreign central banks continue to perceive the increasing risk of US treasuries, yields will be forced up, and US debt will become more and more unsustainable.

Here's my personal outlook for the US economy, that's driving my investment choices, for what it's worth:

Legal Disclaimer: Any investment advice is the opinion of the author, and not that of the Western Standard. The author is not a registered investment advisor, and provides this commentary for educational purposes.

Investors should be aware that markets are subject to uncertainty and that performance of investments or investment strategies recommended by the author have no guarantee of success. The author and the Western Standard do not accept any responsibility for any losses incurred as a result of following any advice offered, and inexperienced investors are encouraged to seek the advice of a professional investment advisor before pursuing any investment strategy.

Author's Relevant Disclosure: Mike Brock owns TSE:HDD (Horizons Betapro US Dollar Bear Plus), TSE:XGD (iShares S&P Global Gold Index Fund), TSE:CGL (Claymore Gold Bullion ETF), TSE:CEF.A (Central Fund of Canada Limited), CMP.UN (CMP Gold Trust), TSE:G (Goldcorp Inc.)

Posted by Mike Brock on July 16, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

WS on the Census: Walter Block

We're putting up opinions about the census from around the Western-Standard-verse. Here's Professor Walter Block's contribution:

Statistics are the eyes and ears of government. Therefore, the less of them they have, the better off we will all be. Why? Because data, information of the sort collected by a compulsory census enables the government to engage in central planning, and the less of that the better.

Or, have we not learned any lesson from the failure of the 5 year plans of the late and non lamented USSR? Any step in the direction of reducing the impact of the census is a step in the right direction: it is a step in the direction of liberty. That government is best that governs least, and the census enables the state to govern more. So, that census which gives the government the least information is the best.

Dr. Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, and author of several books, including these:


Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

Nullification for Fun and Profit

If it was good enough for Jefferson and Madison, it's good enough for Publius (HT):

Nullification was formalized in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, and it essentially says that the states are not bound to enforce federal laws that step outside the bounds of the central government's Constitutional authority. That raises two obvious questions. First, what are "the bounds of the central government's Constitutional authority"? Second, what is the Constitutional relationship between the states and the central government? Woods discusses the three provisions that have been used to justify expansion of federal power--the "general welfare" clause, the commerce clause, and the "necessary and proper" clause--and argues convincingly that these were largely clauses of convenience that empowered the government to do the things necessary to fulfill their constitutional mandate. 

A useful reminder that the Americans have plenty of constitutional tools to defend themselves, if they have the understanding and will to defend themselves. The system of checks and balance wasn't meant simply to keep the various branches of the federal government in constitutional compliance, it was also meant to keep the federal government as a whole in line by the several states. 

It's been said that the American constitutional order is one of the most elegantly designed systems for sustaining paralysis. You certainly wouldn't want to run a private company, or even a PTA meeting, in such a manner. This has attracted criticism from modern scholars. Surely you want a government that can get things done? Well, sort of. The Founding Fathers were pretty skeptical about government. As George Washington put it: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." In other words, they would not have been keen on Obamacare and about three-quarters of what the federal and state governments spend their money on now. Slow government, the theory went, was likely to mean less government.

Therein lies the rub. The whole apparatus of the welfare state, the Departments of Education and Energy, the IRS, DEA and the whole alphabet soup of red tape spinning agencies could be gone, and gone within about two or three years. How? Very simply, by electing pro-freedom candidates in Congressional and Presidential elections. It's that easy and that hard. The constitution furnishes the means by which Americans can restore their freedom, they just have to exercise those means. They don't even have to go all the way to nullification, just mark a ballot come November. A Congress, with a working majority of pro-freedom members, could do wonders.

What stops Americans from voting in a pro-freedom political class is not special interests, big business or big government. I like ranting about big government as much as the next blogger, but that's not really who we are complaining about. The problem is the guy sitting to you on the bus commute, or in the next cubicle. They don't believe in freedom. Perhaps they think it is impractical, or immoral, or perhaps they don't know or care. The government keeps growing because voters keeping voting for a certain type of politician. 

No matter how how brilliantly you devise a constitutional system, no matter how eloquently the letters and speeches you leave behind, if the spirit of freedom wanes in a nation, none of it will matter. The judges will twist your constitutional safeguards into manacles - see the Commerce Clause - and your noble words against you - see Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. Nullification has its merits, but educating, and persuading, Americans about their history is by far the better bet. Without knowing their history, it's unlikely Americans will have much of a future.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

As the Senator Turns

Elect this:

Richard Neufeld stunned colleagues in the chamber of sober second thought Wednesday by announcing he's had, well, second thoughts about the prime minister's cherished dream of creating an elected Senate.

Neufeld said he did support Senate elections when Harper chose him to sit in the upper chamber 18 months ago, although he admitted he'd not given the matter much thought.

But since seeing the Senate in action, he's changed his mind.

"Before I came here, I only thought about it when it was brought up in newspaper articles, or someone was ranting and raving about the Senate when they talked about elections. But I thought we should have an elected Senate," Neufeld said.

Indeed, Neufeld has become a big booster of the current unelected Senate.

"It is time to quit kicking the Senate. It is time to start talking about the good things we do," he told fellow senators.


Now try explaining our Senate to some American visitors, assuming you've run out of weather related small-talk. Not easy. It is neither fish nor fowl. It is legislative body in a liberal democracy that isn't elected. It is suppose to be sort of like Britain's House of Lords, but landed aristocracy never took off in North America, so it became a resting home for - mostly - superannuated partisan hacks. Case in point, Richard Neufeld. One has to wonder about someone whose thinking on parliamentary reform, a body he intended on joining, extended no future than glancing through some op-ed pieces in the local Gazette. Most people pay closer attention to the sports scores. So deep political thinking clearly isn't a job requirement for becoming a Senator.

The Senate is really a constitutional appendix, an organ that was once, perhaps, necessary in our political evolution that has since become, well, an appendix. Note the actual qualifications to become a Canadian Senator:

A senator must possess land worth at least $4,000 in the province for which he or she is appointed. Moreover, a senator must own real and personal property worth at least $4,000 (adjusted for inflation this number could be estimated between $175,000 and $200,000 in current dollars), above his or her debts and liabilities.

Small change in modern terms, but in Victorian Canada it excluded all but the upper middle class and elite from entering the Red Chamber. Sir John A, George Brown et al were not keen on democracy. They'd read their classical history - they were both formidable autodidacts - and basically agreed with James Madison's warning in the Federalist Papers:

Democracy is the most vile form of government... democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Like I've said before, neither the founding fathers of America or Canada could get elected today. They were too honest. To modern ears democracy has a warm and fuzzy sound. Like mom and maple syrup. That's because democracy has come to be synonymous with freedom. It isn't. Ask the victims of the Athenian Assembly or the Weimar Republic. To Georgian and Victorian Britishers - which is what Macdonald and Madison basically were - democracy meant unrestricted majority rule. 

They understood that this was a threat to freedom, and devised a system of checks and balances accordingly. Being suspicious of American style "states rights," Macdonald pushed for having an appointed Senate, housing men of property and standing. It all sounds very elitist, but look at it from their perspective. The typical Canadian of 1867 had about three or four years of formal education, many living only a wee-bit above bare subsistence. What do poor and uneducated people do when they're given the vote? Usually they vote themselves the wealth. How does that turn out? When it turns well you get a right-wing authoritarian coup, and have someone like Salazar, Franco or Mussolini calling the shots for a few decades. When it turns out badly, you get modern Africa. 

Thus Macdonald was pretty keen on property qualifications for voting. Since a fair chunk of the tax burden fell on property owners, this was a natural disincentive for government to grow too big. When the people who vote are the people who pay most of the taxes, they don't have much of an incentive to steal from themselves. This is why it is very worrisome that nearly half of modern Americans don't pay income tax, they have all the incentive in the world to - democratically - steal from their richer countrymen. 

I'm not suggesting turning the Senate once again into a House of the Rich. The Victorian rich were, mostly, steeped in classical history and economics. The modern rich are a sorry bunch. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett apologizing profusely for having made so much money. It's enough to make Cornelius Vanderbilt turn in his grave. A starting point for reforming our Senate would be to look to Australia, where they have had an elected upper body since the 1930s.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Re: Kim Campbell's "bare shoulders"

CampbellPeter, I found some background on the suggestive and seemingly inexplicable photo of former Prime Minister, then Justice Minister Kim Campbell. It's from photographer Barbara Wooley's coffee table book Portraits: Canadian Women in Focus. Here's her explanation of how the photo came to be:

I wanted to photograph Kim Campbell with her cello," says Woodley. "She explained to me that several pictures of her with her cello had lready been taken. Nevertheless, to oblige me, she went downstairs to get ready to do the cello photo. She had wanted to wear her Minister of Justice robe, which at that time—in 1990—she had just received. She had brought the robe with her. It was on a hanger with the cellophane from the dry cleaners. I had explained to her that I couldn't take that photo because I'd already taken a picture of Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin wearing her robe. As I was setting up, I saw the robe on the hanger with the plastic around it. I thought perhaps she could hold the robe in font of her.

"The bare shoulders was entirely my idea. She agreed to it because she has some artistic sense. She knew having a blue blazer and pearls and a scarf behind a black robe wouldn't work. It would take away the simplicity and strength of the robe. We both wanted to create a strong simple portrait emphasizing the robe in front and the woman behind it. Getting the robe into the picture was what was most important to her all along. 

As to why it's hosted on the Library and National Archives of Canada website, well, it is pretty interesting and of historical note I suppose. Still very odd though. 

Posted by Kalim Kassam on July 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Police to match G20 pictures against banking database

A little known fact: every time you use an ATM machine, the bank takes your mug and stores your picture on your account. It's a security measure, to nail people who steal bankcards. So, if you report your card stolen, and the banks sees it's been used at an ATM, the security people at the bank can type a few keys and look at the last image captured.

The Canadian Banking Association shares these images between the banks, as different banks own different ATM machines. And since their cards can be used at competing banks, cooperation is necessary.

As it turns out, the Association also have sophisticated facial recognition software that they can employ for identifying your face and matching it to your account information. I assume they use this for heuristically detecting potential unauthorized use.

But, well, here's the thing: the Toronto Police apparently photographed about 14,000 people over the G20 weekend. And the Banking Association is going to happily match all those faces against their database for the police. The vast majority of which, are obviously not criminals, and will now have their likeness and identity happily squared away in a police database.

I don't know if I'm in any of those pictures. But I intend to find out by firing off a series of freedom of information requests. And if I am able to determine my bank, BMO, has handed over my information and likeness to the police, well, I am going to sue you. Just so there will be no misunderstanding.

That is all.

Update: Commenter Greg McMullen suggests I have misinterpreted what I've been told and read. Rather, the banks are only supplying the software, but not their internal image database. That's a big relief.

Posted by Mike Brock on July 15, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (20)