Liberals Casting the Conservative Voters as “the Uneducated”

The Niagara Independent, July 12, 2019 — Perhaps this news item did not register beyond Ottawa’s political corridors and the national press corps, but to those in the epicenter of national politics Professor Amir Attaran caused quite a stir this week.

On Saturday, Liberal-friendly polling firm Abacus Data released a new poll stating the “tight race between Conservatives and Liberals continues as voter fluidity remains high.” Abacus numbers report that if an election were held tomorrow, 33% would vote Conservative, 32% Liberal, 16% NDP, and 11% Green. Abacus declares “it’s a toss-up.”

Abacus followed the report on its national numbers with an analysis of the parties’ support based on a person’s level of education. It highlighted that high school educated voters prefer the Conservatives. Abacus commentary read: “Conservatives have a strong lead among those who have not attended college or university, while the Liberals have a lead among those with university education, and a wide lead among those with more than one degree.”

Almost as if it was choreographed, a University of Ottawa law professor immediately took to Twitter to broadcast the data. In a series of tweets, Professor Amir Attaran contended that Conservatives are “the party of the uneducated.” Attaran furthered this argument through the weekend, tweeting statements such as “Like I’ve said, the data on Conservatives being less educated are abundant. Their courage about those data, however, is another story. (Now cue the trolls.)”; and, “I am willing to put my finger on a fact most are scared to admit: That statistically the least educated vote Conservative.”

On Monday, Attaran was on Ottawa talk radio defying his critics. He refused to apologize for any of his remarks and repeated comments about the “poorly educated” people voting Conservative. Attaran concluded by stating “I think that’s dangerous for the country.”

Attaran’s statements prompted the expected backlash by partisans (and also media) who questioned the Ottawa academic’s motives. Many ridiculed Attaran as a mouthpiece of the elitist Liberals. Though the professor claims he is not “an elite” it was uncovered that he is part of Canada’s “one-percent” when Post Millennial columnist Cosmin Dzsurdzsa dug up the professor’s “cushy publicly-funded salary” of more than $184,000 annually. Though Attaran claims he is not a Liberal partisan, Dzsurdzsa again researched Election Canada records to expose Attaran as a repeat Liberal donor, contributing multiple times on an annual basis to the Liberal Party of Canada. (So, it is not a stretch that Attaran is a mouthpiece for liberal-minded elites – and/or for the Liberal Party.)

Some media reporters challenged Attaran’s analysis of the data. The most pointed criticism of the professor was by Sun reporter Brian Lilley who called on him to climb down from his ivory tower and debate the numbers. Lilley stated: “…when it comes to people with college diplomas or undergraduate degrees, the Conservatives and Liberals are pretty close. The Liberals have the support of 35% of those with an undergrad degree, the Conservatives 31%. Among those with a college diploma, 31% back the Liberals and 33% the Conservatives. I’d say those people are educated and they are just as likely to vote Conservative as Liberal making Attaran’s analysis deeply flawed.”

Frank Graves, another pollster (president and founder of EKOS Research Associates) had a further look at the data in dispute. Remarkably, in a few poignant tweets Graves revealed a story within a story as he reviewed current 2019 numbers over the 2015 election numbers. Graves observed: “In the last election, there were NO major differences across educational attainment. Both Liberal and Conservative supporters were drawn across U, and non-U educated. This has morphed to a massive gap today.”

Graves’ data review reveals that, today, voters with high school and college education prefer Conservatives over Liberals by a wide margin of 2 to 1; and, the Liberals hold a slight lead in support from university educated voters (34 – 32 per cent). But, most telling, when 2019 numbers are compared to the numbers from the 2015 election, in every education category the Conservatives have gained 5 – 6 percentage points total. Conversely, in every education category the Liberals support has fallen. Liberal support among high school educated voters has dropped 11 percentage points from 2015; college educated by 16 per cent; and, university educated by 5 per cent.

(Another interesting fact from this review: the NDP support has dropped across all education categories – the greatest is with university educated voters; and, the Green Party support has climbed from 5 -7 per cent support in 2015 to 14 per cent support in all categories. It seems that the Liberals’ and NDPs’ losses are the Greens’ and Conservatives’ gains.)

For many Canadians this is all insider’s baseball. But for those politicos and media caught within the Ottawa echo chamber, the Attaran provocation this week is a sign that the gloves are already off and Parties are looking at every angle to move public opinion and voters’ intention – of both those educated and uneducated.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/liberals-casting-the-conservative-voters-as-the-uneducated/

Closing Down Canada’s Oil and Gas Industries (Part 2 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 28, 2019 — The Liberal Government has passed Bill C-69, which revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects, and Bill C-48, which places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast. Western Canadians and industry leaders have forewarned that these Bills will bury the oil and gas industry in a regulatory quagmire and kill investment in resource development projects. Even more worrisome than this is the thought that these new laws have spurred raw, regional tensions that could result in the busting apart of Canada itself.

The universal reaction from the Canadian oil and gas industry is that these two Bills combined will damage investor confidence in future resource development, which in turn will weaken the broader Canadian economy. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) proclaimed the new regulations “make an already complex system more complicated while ultimately raising uncertainty and the potential for litigation.” Tim McMillan, CAPP president and CEO observed: “The impacts of a flawed Bill C-69 go well beyond hurting Canada’s oil and natural gas industry. Every Canadian will be hurt by driving investment out of the country and preventing important nation-building projects from being developed.”

Zuzana Janos den Boer, a piping engineer at CNRL summed it up this way: “Seems to me that our comrades in federal government decided to destroy our oil and gas industry completely. Are we sure, we are not the next after Venezuela?”

The fact the new laws disproportionately impact the western provincial economies has not been lost on Canadians living west of the Ontario border. There are three striking ironies that have been widely editorialized in western media:

  • Canadian resource development projects are subjected to the rigor of the new regulations but the same carbon emission and environmental standards are not applied to oil and gas imported from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
  • BC can object to Alberta oil while Vancouver port is the #1 exporter of coal in North America; and Quebec can obstruct pipeline development while its provincial ports handle significant increases of imported Saudi oil.
  • Oil tankers are banned off the coast of BC, but coal tankers and mega cruise ships remain free to traverse BC waters.

In a letter made public by six Premiers, Prime Minister Trudeau is warned that national unity would be threatened with Bills C-48 and C-69. The Premiers wrote: “Our governments are deeply concerned with the federal government’s disregard… As it stands, the federal government appears indifferent to the economic hardships faced by provinces.” With the passage of the legislation, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stated: “The passage of these two bills not only undermines Canada’s economy but also the Canadian federation… If Albertans cannot develop our resources within the federation, then we should not be expected to pay the bills in the federation.”

In an interview on BNN Bloomberg, billionaire Canadian investor Seymour Schulich warned, “If this government doesn’t start to realize where its bread is buttered … This government has been biting the hand that feeds it in an inexorable fashion.” Schulich directly questioned the Liberal logic of reducing carbon emissions at the expense of the country’s economy: “We are 1.5 per cent of the emissions in the world, and the oil sands, which has become the whipping boy for everything, is about one-tenth of that. What are we doing? We’re basically taking an industry that employs 558,000 – it did employ it – and we’ve put up a giant sign [that says] ‘we’re not open for business.’”

Outspoken political pundit Spencer Fernando pinpoints the source of Western angst on this matter when he writes in the Post Millennial: “He’s [PM Trudeau] ignored the righteous anger of Albertans…. Trudeau has sent a message of his own to Alberta: “shut up, keep giving your money to the federal government, keep producing wealth that gets taken from you, and keep competing with both hands tied behind your back.”

With the public debate on Bills C-69 and C-48 playing out in western media through the past year, frustration levels with the federal government are at an all-time high. An Environics poll has found that 53 per cent of Saskatchewans agreed with the statement, “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” An Angus Reid poll earlier in February found that 50 per cent of Albertans considered separatism in the province “a real possibility.”

(A side note to the passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 involves two other pieces of legislation that will place further restrictions on Canada’s oil and gas developments. Parliament just passed Bill C-88, which places a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and effectively shuts down any would-be resource extraction in the north. Also the Senate may still pass an Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Bill C-262, which grants Indigenous communities an uncontested veto over any proposed resource projects. This legislation is at the final Third Reading stage in the Upper Chambre and could be passed at the next sitting of the Senate, should it reconvene this summer.)

For western Canadians, passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 sounded like two nails being driven into the coffin of future resource development. Should the Trudeau Liberals prove victorious in the Fall federal election, their resource development policies may very well serve not only as a requiem for an embattled oil and gas industry, but perhaps a dirge for our country.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/closing-down-canadas-oil-and-gas-industries-part-2-of-2/

 

Closing Down Canada’s Oil and Gas Industries (Part 1 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 25, 2019 — In the dying days of this 42nd Parliament of Canada, the Trudeau Government has passed two major pieces of legislation that could possibly sound the death knell for Canadian resource development. Liberals hail their new measures as a major step towards a greener country. Critics view these measures as the final step to closing down Canada’s oil and gas industries.

In the legislative whirlwind of the final days of this spring Session, Parliament passed two controversial initiatives that the Government identified as priority: 1) Bill C-69 revamps the federal environmental assessment process for major resource projects; and 2) Bill C-48 places a moratorium on oil tanker activity along the BC coast.

RE Bill C-69… Championed by Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Bill C-69 has been heralded as proof positive by this Government that “A clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.” This Bill establishes new rules for reviewing and approving all resource development projects. The new assessment process puts into place high environmental standards that the Government maintains are essential to protecting Canada’s environment and communities. The process will vet hundreds of new resource development projects (worth an estimated $500 billion in investment) currently being planned in the next 10 years. The Liberals wanted to ensure their new process would become law before the election.

RE Bill C-48… This legislation prohibits oil tankers carrying crude and persistent oils as cargo from stopping, loading or unloading at ports or marine installations in northern British Columbia. The proposed moratorium coastline extends from the BC-Alaska border in the north to the point on BC’s mainland adjacent to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. This new law delivers on PM Trudeau’s campaign promise to formalize a crude oil tanker moratorium on BC’s north coast.

These two priority Bills were pushed forward with all the political muscle a majority Government could muster. They were passed even though the Bills came under intense, direct fire from the Canadian business community and from an unprecedented, eleventh hour plea from six Premiers. In a public “urgent letter” to Prime Minister Trudeau, the Premiers stated “Bill C-69, as originally drafted, would make it virtually impossible to develop critical infrastructure, depriving Canada of much-needed investment.” Concerning the other legislation, the Premiers wrote: “Bill C-48 threatens investor confidence, and the tanker moratorium discriminates against western Canadian crude products.”

The Senate Chambre saw the final showdown between the Independent Senators cheerleading the Government’s legislation and a cadre of western Senators calling for necessary amendments to the Bills. To improve the legislation, Senators made literally hundreds of amendments, which the Government largely ignored. Independent Senator Doug Black from Alberta decried that the “Closed for Business sign remains in the window of Canada.” He stated, “It’s odd to reflect that at this particular time in Canadian history, where our opportunities for trade are limited, whether it’s in agriculture or other areas, that we seem to be taking proactive steps to restrict the export of our most significant export project.”

Other Senators were more pointed in their criticisms of the legislation. Senator Richard Neufeld from BC called C-69 “one of the most toxic, polarizing and divisive bills” he’s ever encountered. NS Senator Michael MacDonald said C-69 “will be devastating for the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies.” And Conservative Senator David Tkachuk from Saskatchewan said the government has done resource-dependent communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan “a disservice” and he forewarned, “Mark my words, these people will let them know exactly how they feel this October.”

The Canadian business community also lamented Parliament’s passage of Bills C-69 and C-48 and warned that it will cause many investors to rethink their project plans. Canadian Chamber CEO Perrin Beatty was alarmed that the Government rejected essential amendments that would “avoid driving investment away from major Canadian infrastructure projects.” In the last few weeks, Imperial Oil responded to the new laws by stating they will “unfortunately cause us to step back and deeply consider any and all future major growth opportunities.” Also, President of Japan Canada Oil Sands Satoshi Abe, who has invested billions of dollars in this country, indicated: “Increasing regulatory hurdles and uncertainty simply adds to the challenges making Canada unattractive when compared to other jurisdictions.”

Next column: the on-going debate on the potential impact of Bills C-69 and C-48

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/closing-down-canadas-oil-and-gas-industries-part-1-of-2/

Parting Comments from MP Rob Nicholson (Part 2)

The Niagara Independent, June 21, 2019 — Having recently announced he will not seek re-election this October, Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson sat down with me in his Ottawa office to discuss his views of the Canadian Parliament. This is the second of two columns from that interview. 

 

As you leave this place, do you think Parliament is functioning well?

“Parliament and our system is functioning very well. It is as good as any in the world. As Winston Churchill said about the flaws, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” There is a lot of give and take in our Parliament. There are arguments and there is shouting. But these things are all a part of what this place is.”

 

What are your thoughts about the claim that Parliament’s decision-making power is being eroded and decision-making is being centralized in the PMO?

“Parliament’s decision-making cannot just be in the PMO. Over the years when I worked for Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney – and the short time for Kim Campbell and now for Andrew Scheer – these Leaders valued the advice of the people in their caucus. It was a smart move on their part and it makes sense to listen to your caucus. So, every Wednesday in this town there is a National Caucus, which is a time to get the input from MPs who have been out on the streets talking to Canadians. Caucus and our parliamentary system is a good system to have to keep the pulse of the country.”

 

However, we have seen a centralization in the last four years where there is a strong PMO staff that is moving the policy and framing the parliamentary debate.

“Well it is. Yes, but when you see that kind of thing it will come back to bite you. When you see what they [PM Trudeau and his PMO staff] did; had they talked to their caucus members about how to handle some of these issues like the SNC Lavalin matter, it may have been different. Some in the caucus would have said, “Look, you can’t be bullying the Attorney General. That’s a mistake.” But if decisions are being made within the confines of the four walls of the Prime Minister’s Office, well that’s a mistake. Now, they [PM Trudeau and PMO staff] must be thinking that themselves now.

“As a MP from Niagara coming to Ottawa, getting a different perspective from MPs from other parts of the country was a big deal for me. I grew up in a community with issues that I understand. Then I would hear an issue explained from someone else, from another part of the county, and I would say to myself, “Yes, I never looked at it that way.” You have to have this sharing of ideas. So, I think a Prime Minister who isn’t engaging his caucus or listening to them is making a huge mistake. You’re destined to failure quite frankly.”

 

You have spanned over three decades as a Parliamentarian in our Canadian system and you are still very optimistic and positive on this place. Why is that?

“It doesn’t get any better than what we have. Canadians should appreciate this system of government that has worked very well for this country. The system has been around for hundreds of years and we need to ask how many institutions have lasted 700 or 800 years. The Westminster Parliamentary system is the best in the world. Unlike many democracies in the world, even the ones closest to us, ours is something special.

“Back in 1988 I got together with an American Congressman from the American side of Niagara. He asked me about the Fall 1988 election and was shocked to hear we could run a campaign for $50,000. I told we put up lawn signs, create a brochure, and take a few ads out in the local paper. I asked him how much he had for his next campaign and he told me a couple million dollars. He said he had to raise some more. I thought to myself, “That is a huge difference between our countries.” If someone had said to me back in 1984 that I would have to come up with a couple of million bucks to be able to run, I wouldn’t have. That’s the beautiful thing about the Canadian system. I came up with $300 in 1984, I made a little brochure and we had 12 balloons, and I was lucky enough to get elected. The fact that it is not necessary to have a lot of money to run in a Canadian election is something I don’t think we appreciate nearly enough in this country.

 

On June 20th when you walk out of the Chamber for the last time, what do you think you’ll be feeling?

“I imagine it is going to be fairly emotional. It has been emotional for me to publicly make this decision to retire. I have been quite moved by the number of people who have written, called me or have come up to me to talk. Yet, one of the things that you must do in life is to continuously look forward to what’s next. I have been looking forward to this election campaign, to helping the local candidate in Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. We are now into an election and that’s my next step. But after that, at some point in time, you have to take some satisfaction and say, “I have done what I can do here.” Since I was out of office for about ten years, I know I can get satisfaction from doing other community service, as part of a club, a group, a council or something else. I am looking forward to that.”

 

To the retiring, exemplary MP (the Jimmy Stewart of Canadian politics!), here’s wishing Rob and his wife Arlene a lifetime of enjoyment. 

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/parting-comments-from-mp-rob-nicholson-part-2/

Parting Comments from MP Rob Nicholson

The Niagara Independent, June 14, 2019 — Having recently announced he will not seek re-election this October, Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson sat down with me in his Ottawa office to discuss his views of the Canadian Parliament.

Rob Nicholson is the longest serving MP in the Conservative caucus, having first been elected 35 years ago in the 1984 federal election – and serving a total of 24 years in the Parliament of Canada. Mr. Nicholson has served under three Prime Ministers and the veteran parliamentarian has held cabinet positions of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, Minister of Justice and the Attorney General and the Government House Leader.

Fellow Niagara parliamentarian MP Dean Allison describes his longtime friend: “Rob is someone everyone respects in caucus – everybody respects in the House. He is always approachable and gives such great advice. What I admire most is he always takes the high road and is always calm and reasonable in the House. I had someone new in politics say to me that they wanted to be like Rob as a MP because of his approach to his job, his work ethic and how he treated people. The endearing respect for the man is a testament to Rob’s character. This guy is going to be missed.”

Maureen Murphy, Rob Nicholson’s ministerial chief of staff from 2005-2015 echoes MP Allison’s sentiments: “I had the distinct privilege of witnessing first-hand the deep appreciation this principled parliamentarian had for our great country.” She explained Rob always felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a Member of Parliament. “He carried out his parliamentary and cabinet responsibilities with diligence, decency, humility and by treating colleagues on both sides of the aisle with respect. Rob demonstrated that you can achieve great success in politics while maintaining a sense of humour, showing kindness to others and never losing sight of what is really important.”

Personally, having crossed paths with the MP a few times through the years, I am instantly reminded of that 1939 Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that movie, Senator Jefferson Smith is a modest, unselfish man whose character shines through as a decent soul in the often callous world of politics. So, dare I draw the comparison to say Rob Nicholson may very well be considered “the Jimmy Stewart of Canadian politics.” And it is with this image in mind that we must enjoy the reflections of the retiring MP from Niagara Falls.

 

How has parliament changed in the 35 years since you were first elected until now?

“There has been changes, but for the most part the system is in place that we have had for the last 150 years-plus. It is very similar. But I will warn people that this is not a church, this is not a cathedral you are going to be sitting in. Part of the reason our system works is that there is this very vigorous exchange between Members of Parliament… I remember one time when I was in my office here in Confederation Building and we got a warning that there could be a commotion on Parliament Hill because there was a big demonstration by tobacco farmers. The farmers wanted the government to assist them because laws were being passed against tobacco. I remember the guards were out. I went into the House of Commons and I could see there were farmers in the gallery. The opposition parties got up during Question Period and were yelling at the Government benches, “Why aren’t you doing more for the farmers?” The Government Ministers had to defend themselves and said we are looking at things to help. I was a backbencher watching these farmers and I thought at the end of that Question Period they were satisfied. What they saw was not some polite debating chamber where everybody was pleasant with each other. No, the farmers left saying the government got the message here today. If the Chamber had been some quiet, pleasant place they would have left saying nothing gets done here. So, that is one of the successful things about our parliamentary system and why the Westminster Model has been so successful. And it has and it continues to be so successful.”

 

What advice would you give to new MPs?

“You have to be very focused, not just on national issues but those issues of importance to your constituency. I remember in my first term we had a number of issues in the tender fruit industry. Someone asked me, “Nicholson, are you obsessed with peaches?” I said, “If I don’t worry about peaches nobody else is going to because most of Canada’s peach industry is in my riding.” You have to take a special attention to those that are particular to your constituency. So, whether it is the grape or wine industry or tender fruit, or if it is the borders, you have to hold the issue up as a priority. Another example is the border. I have told people over the years that we need good border infrastructure, not because I have four border crossings in Niagara, but because it helps the country. It is a national issue, but locally I have to worry about whether the Lewiston, Queenston, Peace and Rainbow bridges have the proper infrastructure. As a MP, you have to worry about local issues and at the same time you see how they factor into the national issues.

“I am always concerned about national issues. But I often made the joke when I was Foreign Affairs Minister that I don’t mind being in Iraq on Wednesday but I want to be in Niagara on Saturday. That’s because Niagara constituents are the people who sent me to Parliament. They placed their confidence in me, so I have to be focused on the local issues. Take seniors issues — Dean Allison once told me that I have more seniors in my constituency than anyone else does in Canada. Well, if I don’t worry about seniors issues who will?”

 

Parliament is awe-inspiring. What would you say to a new person just elected walking in here next October?

“I would say first of all, don’t let it go to your head. I remember when I was defeated in 1993. A woman stopped me on the street and said, “Rob, you lost, are you taking losing the election personally?” I said, “No, because I didn’t take it personally in 1984.” She said, “What do you mean; you won in 1984?” I said, “Yes, but it wasn’t personal then.” In 1993 I know that election wasn’t about me when every Conservative MP lost just as it wasn’t about me in 1984 when we all won. It isn’t personal. You are part of a team. You have you make that team work. It’s about your Party. It’s about the Leadership. There is a small wedge in every riding where you can make a real difference. I call it the incumbent advantage. But it is not that large. So, I would say to people, don’t think it is just all about you. It is not just about you. It is about a much bigger picture.”

 

Next week Rob Nicholson discusses the Westminster model, the significance of caucus, and how he is likely to feel walking out of the House of Commons for the last time.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/parting-comments-from-mp-rob-nicholson/

Whither the Canadian Middle Class?

The Niagara Independent, April 26, 2019 — It is a group that politicians like to promote as the focus of their attention, the targeted benefactors of their support initiatives. Yet, Canada’s middle class is not only decreasing in numbers, it is managing worse than past generations. This reality may cause trouble for any political Party posturing as “champions of the middle class” in the coming election campaign.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published an analysis that reveals the middle class is shrinking – squeezed primarily by high housing and education costs, and displaced by automation. The report defines middle class as 75-to-200 per cent of the median income in each nation. For Canada, that means a person living alone would have an income of about $29,432 to $78,485. In the 36 OECD countries, the portion of citizens considered middle class fell in the last 30 years to 61 per cent from 64 per cent. In Canada, middle-class shrinkage was sharper than the OECD average.

A key OECD finding about our country was that just 59 per cent of Canadian millennials were found to have attained middle class status by their 20s, compared to 67 per cent of their parents.

The report cites one of the greatest factors in this decline is housing costs, which have risen at twice the rate of inflation. Realizing the dream of middle-class home ownership is getting much tougher — “Housing costs are squeezing the middle class the hardest and these costs now consumes a third of disposable income for middle-class households, up from a quarter in the 1990s.”

The report also attributes Canadians’ middle class slippage to the rise of automation, estimating that one in five middle-class workers is at risk of losing their job to a machine. The report states that “while having high-level skills is not as much of a guarantee of financial success as it once was, being in a high-skill job still greatly increases the chances of making more money.”

The OECD’s underlying conclusion is worrisome for Canadians. It states: “The middle class used to be an aspiration. For many generations it meant the assurance of living in a comfortable house and affording a rewarding lifestyle. However, there are now signs that this bedrock of our democracies and economic growth is not as stable as in the past.”

Gabriela Ramos, the international organization’s chief of staff, commented in the preface of the report, “A strong and prosperous middle class is crucial for any successful economy and cohesive society. Societies with a strong middle class have lower crime rates, they enjoy higher levels of trust and life satisfaction, as well as greater political stability and good performance.”

Canadians attitudes about themselves seem to reflect this OECD report. A 2018 Ekos Research poll for The Canadian Press suggests fewer than half of all Canadians now identify as members of the middle class. This is a steep drop from nearly 70 per cent in 2002.  The poll results show the main contributing factors to this shift in Canadians’ attitude is perceived higher income inequality and slower economic growth in the country.

Ekos president Frank Graves states, “The whole notion of a middle-class dream — ‘I work hard, build a better mousetrap, do better than my parents, my kids do better than me, I get a house, a car, retire in comfort’ — that has all been shattered. A lot of people are stagnating or falling behind and they’re not happy.”

A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of insolvency firm MNP Ltd. reports a quarter of Canadians say they struggle to pay bills by month-end. More Canadians are a thin line away from bankruptcy with 48 per cent admitting they are $200 or less each month away from financial insolvency. One in four (26 per cent) state they have no wiggle room at month-end — they are not making enough to cover their bills and debt payments.

Those surveyed also say they have been squeezed tighter with the rise in interest rates that began last year. Nearly half (47 per cent) think they may get into financial trouble if interest rates go up further, and 35 per cent believe rate increases will push them towards bankruptcy.

These are stark realities for Canada’s middle class – realities that cannot be addressed with political posturing and electioneering rhetoric.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/whither-the-canadian-middle-class/

The Tale of Two Regions – Our Canadian Paradox

The Niagara Independent, March 29, 2019 — Last week, the Government of Quebec heralded a budget with a $2.5 billion surplus and featuring increased spending in health care and education. On the other end of our country, Albertans entered into an election campaign feeling agitated about the treatment they are experiencing from the federal government and central Canada. This is the latest in the tale of two regions – and one needs not look too hard to discover the disturbing set of facts that underpin our Canadian paradox.

The 2019-20 Quebec budget highlighted an increased surplus of $2.5 billion from $1.65 billion over last year. On the strength of their books, the Quebec Government is planning for total increased spending of $16.1 billion through 2023-24. In this next year, there is a five per cent increase in spending in health care. There is also a five per cent increase in education budgets, delivered with a 17 per cent reduction overall in school property taxes.

What was not communicated in this good-news budget is that the Province of Quebec is expecting a $1.4 Billion increase in equalization payments this fiscal year – from last year’s payout of $11.7 Billion to $13.1 Billion in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the inequality of Canada’s equalization payments has become a focal point, and given the slumping oil prices and the country’s on-going pipeline debate, it is now an election issue. United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has tapped into Albertans’ sense of grievance on this issue saying that “Albertans are being forced to write cheques to Quebec.”

Kenny has stated publicly: “If the federal government continues its attacks through the National Energy Board (NEB) and the federal carbon tax, then Alberta should take a common-sense approach and hold a referendum demanding the removal of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula.”

Alberta’s payments have become the subject of a grassroots appeal. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently sent out a message encouraging all Albertans to write/email all the leaders of the political parties to call for a referendum question. The CTF wrote: “…most Albertans are concerned regarding the present mechanism on how federal equalization payments are calculated and adversely affects Alberta… “Should the Government of Alberta challenge the federal equalization payment program under the Canadian Constitution?” Yes or No.

At the core of this dissention are the federal government’s equalization payments, a complex redistribution of federal tax dollars to “have-not” provinces to maintain their public services. In June 2018, it was revealed that Finance Minister Morneau committed to keeping the current formula for another five years – until 2024. Under the federal government’s renewed plan, it will be increasing payments to the “have not” provinces from $18.3 billion in 2017-2018 to $22.1 billion by 2022-2023. Remarkably, Quebec is scheduled to receive the lion’s share of these payments. For example, in this 2019-20 fiscal year, Quebec is receiving 67 per cent of the equalization payments. (Alberta, as a “have province,” will receive no payments this year, or for the next five years.)

Again, the inequity of the federal equalization formula is underscored when considering the total amounts of federal payments to provinces since 1957, the year these annual payments were introduced. The figures reveal that in the last 61 years Quebec has received $221 billion or more than half of all equalization dollars.

The billions of dollars of payments will assist Quebec with its education, health care – and with its surplus budgets. At the same time the Quebec Government opposes Canadian pipelines in favour of Saudi oil. The Quebec Government has also been silent on the implementation of the federal carbon tax or the new federal environmental review process that critics warn will shut down resource development in Alberta and the western provinces.

Last week, the Alberta Independence Party was given official party status and is fielding candidates in 46 election contests. Party Leader Dave Bjorkman states:  “It’s always been the right time for Alberta to separate. It absolutely has to be done now. We’ve taken too much abuse from Ottawa.”

Recent national polling reveals that three of four Canadians who live west of Ontario do not feel the federal government treats their province fairly. There is the Western Party in Manitoba, billboards in Saskatoon asking “Should Saskatchewan leave Canada?”, and now in Alberta a provincial separation party movement and as much as 50 percent of the population supporting secession from Canada.

Here is the paradoxical question: As the Province of Quebec continues to receive increased government services and programs, all Canadians should join with Westerners to ask “What will be the ultimate cost of the equalization payments to the future of our country?”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-tale-of-two-regions-our-canadian-paradox/

This Federal Government Has a Spending Problem

The Niagara Independent, March 15, 2019 — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be delivering his fourth federal government budget next Wednesday, March 19. Given the news that the government ran a budgetary surplus of $300 million through the first nine months of the fiscal year, many financial analysts and political pundits are expecting the Finance Minister to increase federal spending – yet again.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for CIBC, forecasts in a Canadian Press interview: “I’m expecting cheques to go out somewhere. Remember that in the last election the party that won was the one party not promising to balance the budget… The recent sluggishness of the economy is just one more reason to expect a budget that sends out some goodies.”

With the looming election this Fall, Canadians are likely to see Minister Morneau make new (costly) promises relating to a national first-time homeownership initiative and a new national pharmacare program to provide “free” basic drugs for all. Canadians will be told the government can afford these promises based on our strong economic performance and an attractive debt-to-GDP ratio.

Interestingly, the federal finance minister no longer speaks of “deficits” and of “balancing the budget.” His favourite economic metric now is Canada’s “debt-to-GDP ratio” – the federal debt figure divided by Canada’s total economic production.

Pundits believe Bill Morneau will also use this budget address to explain to Canadians that he and the Trudeau Government have a firm hold on federal government finances. His speech is sure to pre-empt the Opposition’s attack of the Liberals fiscal record through the past four years.

As the oft-heard criticism goes, Justin Trudeau ran in 2015 on a promise to stimulate and grow Canada’s economy by spending small, annual deficits of $10 million. Somewhere in the last few years this Liberal plan was abandoned and, today, the Finance Department projects the government is on track to run deficits until the year 2040, which will add approximately $300 billion to the country’s federal debt. (ed. – This is not as bad as it sounds given our debt-to-GDP ratio.)

The Liberals’ continuous deficits are fueled by their unbridled government spending. Federal spending has grown from just under $300 billion annually in the last year of the Harper Conservative government to almost $340 billion for this past fiscal year. In reviewing the post-WWII period in Canada, PM Justin Trudeau has presided over the fourth-largest average annual increase (3.1 per cent) in per person program spending. This unflattering record ranks behind only his father, Pierre Trudeau (4.5 per cent), Lester Pearson (5.3 per cent) and Louis St. Laurent (7.0 per cent). In fact, this Trudeau Government has now recorded two of the three highest-spending years in Canadian history – 2017 and 2018.

To place the current Liberal Government’s fiscal record into context with those of recent Prime Ministers’, both PMs Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien recorded average annual per-person spending declines of 0.3 per cent. Over the Stephen Harper Government’s 10 budgets, that government recorded an average annual per-person spending increase of 1.5 per cent.

The difficulty with the Trudeau Government’s continuous overspending is brought into sharp focus in a recent analysis released by the Fraser Institute.  Jason Clemens, co-author of the Institute’s report entitled Prime Ministers and Government Spending, observes, “Wars and recessions clearly affect government spending, but to see this high level of peacetime spending when the economy is also growing could spell trouble for Canadian taxpayers in the future.”

Clemens explains, “The past few years have seen rapid and historic increases in deficit-financed government spending in Ottawa, at a time when the economy is growing. Higher spending often leads to higher deficits and more debt that ultimately must be paid by taxpayers, which is why current spending levels represent a burden to current and future taxpayers.”

But on Wednesday Canadians will not hear about these facts – about the challenges presented by continuous deficit spending. Instead, Finance Minister Morneau will tell us about the Liberals’ attractive election promises. He will reassure us with an accounting of the country’s favourable debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet, as the Fraser Institute’s report suggests, it may be best to remember that all this government overspending does not add up for Canadians’ fiscal future.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/this-federal-government-has-a-spending-problem/

On Working Canadians and Their Taxes

The Niagara Independent, February 8, 2019 — Here is an excerpt from Ottawa’s Hansard, an official verbatim record of what was said in the House of Commons on Tuesday, February 5th. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was in a heated exchange with the Prime Minister about taxes imposed on Canadians. Poilievre questions:

“The Prime Minister says that people who take the bus are too rich and therefore should lose their transit tax credit. Soccer moms and hockey dads, the Prime Minister says are too rich, so he takes away their children’s fitness tax credit. At the same time, he forces these same working-class families to pay for his taxpayer-funded nannies. Will the Prime Minister put aside the hypocritical class warfare and tell us the true cost of his tax increases that he would bring in if he got re-elected?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds:

“Yet again, Mr. Speaker, we see proof that the Conservatives simply do not understand that low-income families do not benefit from tax breaks because they do not pay taxes. We will move forward on investing directly in low and middle-income families with the Canada child benefit that will actually directly benefit them. We have lifted hundreds of thousands…”

The Prime Minister lost his train of thought and sat down to a chorus of jeers – recorded by the Hansard as “Some hon. members: Oh, oh!”

This exchange in the House is fodder for the upcoming election campaign. Later on Tuesday Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted: “A man who inherited everything he has took time today to tell low income Canadians they don’t benefit from tax breaks. It’s out of touch. It’s condescending. It’s insulting. And it’s wrong. If you earn just $11,809 per year, then you pay federal tax.”

But, of course, working Canadians – middle class and lower class – pay taxes. In fact, in 2018 the Fraser Institute factored exactly what an average household pays in taxes. In the report, “Taxes versus the Necessities of Life,” the Institute states:

The average Canadian family now spends more of its income on taxes (43.1%) than it does on basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing combined (35.6%). By comparison, 33.5% of the average family’s income went to pay taxes in 1961 while 56.5% went to basic necessities.

For Canadians, taxes have grown much more rapidly than any other single expenditure for the average family and that includes our costs for shelter, clothing and food. It is also a fact that the increase in Canadians’ tax bill has greatly outpaced (by a factor of 3!) the increase in our cost of living.

Here is another fact. In the past three-and-a-half years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Liberal Government has raised taxes on Canadians. In a 2017 report, again from the Fraser Institute, it is revealed that 81% of middle-class families are ultimately paying higher taxes. The average income tax increase for middle income families is $840. Report author Charles Lammam states: “The federal government has repeatedly claimed they’ve lowered income taxes for the middle class while in reality, taking their major income tax changes into account, they’ve actually raised taxes on the vast majority of middle-class families.”

There is also a new tax dawning on the country’s horizon, introduced by this Prime Minister and Finance Minister. Canadians will hear a lot during the federal election this fall on the purpose and impact of the carbon tax. The Liberals will want to portray their carbon policy as a necessary “price on pollution.” The Conservatives will state that not only is it a direct tax on Canadian businesses and on items like gas prices, but that the carbon tax will raise prices indirectly on everything, including life’s essentials like home heating, driving to and from work, and food. Point of fact: all Canadians, including middle- and low-income Canadians, will pay this new tax.

So, not only do working Canadians pay taxes, but depending on the outcome of the federal election we may be paying more of them.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/on-working-canadians-and-their-taxes/

Canadians are Adrift on a Sea of Debt (Part 2 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, November 9, 2018 – Recent government announcements and news reports have provided Canadians with an accounting of how much our Canadian governments are in debt. The current federal government, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, seemingly pays no heed to the size of their annual deficits. Add the sum of all provincial governments’ deficit budgets and one soon realizes that our governments are burying us in a deep, dank financial hole; from which no Canadian alive today will likely climb out. The reported numbers are startling.

In Ottawa, the federal government recorded a shortfall of $19 billion for the last fiscal year, repeating the deficit amount of the previous year. The government reports its federal spending continues to rise and is now $332 billion – $332,000,000,000 – the highest amount of government spending ever recorded.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and finance officials will be quick to point out that the $332 billion figure is higher than in the past because of a change in accounting practices. But, this explanation does not address the fact that the federal government spending continues to increase.

The trend of overspending in Ottawa has resulted in the government adding almost $20 billion to the national debt in the 2017-18 fiscal year. As of March 31, 2018, Canada’s net debt is $758 billion. PM Justin Trudeau recently indicated his government will not balance the books before the election. Neither he, nor the finance minister, will offer a target date for when the Liberals can commit to a balanced budget.

In late October, an independent report on the state of federal finances assessed that the government will require deeper-than-expected deficits in each of the next few years. Canada’s federal parliamentary budget officer concludes that there is only a 10 per cent chance the federal books will return to balance in 2021-22, and a 30 per cent chance of seeing black ink in 2023-24. Are Canadians left to assume annual deficit budgets are here to stay?

In a recent Financial Post editorial, Fraser Institute economists provided no reassurances about the federal finance minister’s ability to manage budgets. They opine: “Morneau seems unaware of the risks of running deficits during periods of economic growth. Specifically, running deficits outside of recessions (or pronounced slowdowns) risks a permanent imbalance between spending and revenues, like what happened in Canada throughout the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. Simply put, it didn’t matter if the economy was growing, slowing or in recession. Ottawa could not balance its budget.”

At the provincial level, assessments based on past and current performances appear just as bleak. Last week, the Fraser Institute issued a report on provincial government debt which underlines “a serious problem.” Deficit budgeting appears to be systemic throughout the country – and especially burdensome in the province of Ontario. The report reveals: “Over the 10-year period from 2007-08 to 2017-18, total net provincial debt grew from $317.3 billion to $645.7 billion for an increase of 104 per cent. In addition, 50 per cent of the net debt belongs to Ontario – a proportion much larger than its population share of 39 per cent.”

Factoring in all of the latest news on our government’s finances, the combined federal and provincial debt currently stands at an astounding $1.4 trillion – a figure that has increased by more than 60 per cent in the past decade.

Canadians often hear Finance Minister Morneau crow that Canada has a very low federal debt-to-GDP ratio of just over 30 per cent. But, again, when factoring in all levels of government collectively, the Canadian governments’ debt-to-GDP in the last 10 years has risen from 69 per cent to 87 per cent.

Lots of figures. Lots of debt. Why should Canadians pay attention? Simply put, our current government spending and the national debt load directly impacts future governments’ abilities to respond to changing circumstances and global pressures. Our governments’ deficit budgeting curtails Canadians’ choices and opportunities – today, and for generations to come.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/canadians-are-adrift-on-a-sea-of-debt-part-2-of-2/