Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Liberals to Delegates: Suckers

The Liberal party has gone out of its way to insure there will be polite Q and A discussions about “priority” policies. These discussions will, of course, lead nowhere and the only newsworthy thing to come out of convention is that it was indeed as boring and pointless as everyone says it was going to be. At least in the past the party did not control what motions were tabled and there were motions about hot button issues that drew the media's attention.

So the question I want to ask delegates is something Johnny Rotten once mused about.

"Do you ever feel like you've been cheated?"

Jason Kenney Playing the Conservative base for Suckers

Jason Kenney
"There continue to be acute labour market shortages in certain businesses, certain industries and certain regions. And our government believes that the worst thing we could do during this time of economic difficulty is to starve those employers, who are growing, of the labour that they need fuel their prosperity in these difficult times."

Let there be no mistake about what the Conservatives are doing.

The number of guest workers allowed in has exploded since the Conservatives came to power and whereas the typical guest worker was once an American transferred to a branch office in Canada, the fastest growing category of guest worker is now the unskilled type with poor language skills. The Conservatives have not done this directly. They have turned over a greater percentage of the immigration file to the provinces and Western provinces in particular have used the program to undercut labour. The Canadian tax payer has paid through the noise to have cheap labour sent in from other countries for the sole purpose of cutting wages of the Canadian tax payer. Forget Conservative talk about such provincial programs bringing in much needed skilled workers, this was the kind of positions Alberta was hoping to fill through its guest worker programs this summer: Front desk clerk, short order cook, baker, maid, assembly line worker, server, buser, bellhop, valet, and cafeteria worker, laundry attendant, pet groomer, general labourer, and hair dresser. All that is required of such would be immigrants is that they score 4 or 24 on the language assessment. In other words, they can still be functionally illiterate and still get it in.

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to Kenney to talk about wanting to avoid “the kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries” and then go about encouraging the very thing that led to the creation of these communities in Europe, viz., importing gobs of unskilled guest labour.

Jason Kenney
"That would indicate to me that the vast majority — something like 90 per cent of these claimants — are actually trying to immigrate to Canada through the back door of the refugee system and I think that's unacceptable. That's basically queue jumping."

This is just a lot of hot air designed to play to a Conservative base that does not read a lot and so does not know when it is being pandered too. The National Post Chris Selley nailed it.

I can't say I'm totally sure what he's talking about. As designed, the system is pretty much incapable of being abused or violated. Its guiding principle is: get your feet on Canadian soil and you can claim refugee status-period, no exceptions. Forget not-so-badly-off Mexicans and Colombians. If George Galloway had been allowed into Canada, he could have claimed asylum. Britney Spears could have thrown herself on our mercy after her show in Montreal last week. President Barack Obama, during his visit to Ottawa. Alexander Ovechkin, when he played in Toronto on Tuesday. Anyone, no matter their means, where they came from or how they got here, can claim refugee status in Canada, and they can pretty safely count on being here long enough to make the threat of eventual deportation worthwhile. If nothing else, any children born while they're here would automatically be Canadian citizens. That's a lot of reward for not much risk.

Selley also alluded to the elephant in Kenney living room. Namely, the biggest hurdle to reforming the refugee system is insuring that refugees are processed quickly, that they cannot delay deportation with endless appeals and that there is mechanisms in place to insure they leave the country when they are ordered out. Regardless of the merits of their case, the longer refugees remain in country the greater the likelihood that they will stay. Under the Conservatives things have gotten worse much worse. It now takes a refugee claimant a year and half to 2 years to get a hearing. Under the Liberals that number was one year. The problem is that the Conservatives have failed to fill vacancies on the immigration and refugee board at a time when more claims were pouring in than ever. If Kenney was truly serious about reforming the system he would see to it that such hearings happen in a manner of months, limit or eliminate appeals and ensure that there is a system set up to sure that failed claimants have left the country. However I would not hold my breath. The Conservatives flatly refuse to do the one thing that is not the least bit politically controversial and that would arguably help speed up the process the most. That is, they have ruled out increasing the size of the board to insure that refugees are processed faster.

The Politics of Pot: it is time to question orthodox opinion

It is often said that legalizing marijuana is not politically possible. It is high time this orthodoxy be challenged.

Legalization is not supported by the public.

This is simply not true. The last 5 polls that I have seen on the subject show that a majority of Canada’s support legalization and by a fairly large margin. Moreover, it is something that is particularly popular with the Liberal base. According a 2007 poll, for which the complete breakdown is available, support is 55-41 nationally and is favoured by Liberal supporters 68-29 and by NDP supporters 71 -27.

Legalization would have no political payoff

Not only is legalization popular with the public, it is easy to see how it would indeed be a winner. Lining up behind the Liberals would be legions of academics, pundits, and celebrities. Canada would again be cool. Lining up behind Conservatives would be legions of social conservatives. Such a move would fracture the Conservative ranks like no other issue can. Red Tories and libertarians will balk at Charles McVety and James Dobson and the government so closely aligned.

Legalization is also one of those rare issues that the public likes to talk about and has the wherewithal to talk about. What is left of the reefer madness arguments will be quickly tore asunder. The process of debate will lead to an up surge in support while at the same time leaving the Conservatives badly mauled.

The Americans would Never Let it happen

If Canada were legalize marijuana the US would be engulfed in debate. Not only would Canadian boldness flame US domestic debate, most notably on the west coast, but should Canada have the guts to go through with such a move various European countries (e.g., Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands) Australia and most important of all Mexico would soon follow Canada's led. There is no question Mexico is seriously considering legalizing marijuana as it is. They have moved beyond outright denials to non denials coupled with comments about it being a "debate that needs to be taken seriously" Watch this interview with the Mexican Ambassador to the US. The international dominos would start falling one by one. This in turn would further embolden domestic proponents, especially those in California.

Politically, Obama's ability to push back would be limited. His hands are tied in ways another leader hands would not be. He freely admits to having marijuana in the past ("I inhaled frequently. That was the point") and his marijuana use is not a part of some redemption narrative, a la George Bush. It was a path he choice not to continue going down. Drug use was never presented as a demon he had to overcome yet alone one he still struggles with the way an alcoholic does with drink. This would leave him open to the charge of hypocrisy. Far more importantly though, the war and drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, has had a profound impact on the African American community in the States. If Obama was to toe the standard line in the face of Canada promising to end the war on drugs, he would be in a world of hurt politically. The African American community would not, of course, abandon him, but they would be unhappy and their unhappiness would have the potential to throw his whole presidency out of whack politically. His whole message of being the candidate of change would be called into question. Finally, the war on drugs is expensive and already there are plenty of calls in the US to end prohibition on the grounds of saving money. Take what is happening now with regard to the fiscal cost of the drug war and magnify that by a thousand.

Obama’s recent comments notwithstanding there are indications that Obama is sympathetic to the cause. Obama promised to stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries during the lead up to the election and he made good on it. This is big. In the month and bit since Obama took announcement 10 states are debating medical marijuana provisions. Once the number of States with medical marijuana provisions (currently there are 13) reaches a critical mass, marijuana will have to be reclassified. It is currently classified as a schedule one drug, i.e., an illegal drug with no medical benefit. A federal show down as to what place marijuana has in US society is, in other words, already in the works.

It is also big for another reason. Unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, the Bush administration was right to see California's medical marijuana program as a Trojan horse and that is why they cracked down so heavily. The system is ripe for abuse and with medical marijuana users and dispensaries no longer being targeted the medical marijuana industry in California will eventually grow so large as to leave no alternative but legalization.

Mexico and the Legalization of Marijuana

There is no question Mexico is seriously considering legalizing marijuana. They have moved beyond outright denials to non denials coupled with comments about it being a "debate that needs to be taken seriously" Watch this interview with the Mexican Ambassador to the US.

The US, of course, stands in the way.

But even in the US things are improving. California’s has by far the most liberal marijuana laws on the continent and with the feds all but out of the picture an industry is all but taken root there. Only in Canada are things moving backwards and fast. The Conservatives are revamping the drug war and Canada’s so called Liberal party is going right along for the ride. Only Keith Martin rails against the tide and even he is afraid to say the L word.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Down Turn: Europe and the US

Yes Yanks do not have the pension liabilities that the Europeans do and generous social programs leave Europe vulnerable if tax revenues go down.

However, far from being hindrance to recovery generous unemployment benefits in Europe help protect European real estate and credit markets, serves as an economic stimulus and generally prevents things from snowballing out of control. Specifically such payments insure that those most unlikely to default on their loans, mortgages for example, do not and serves as an economic stimulus by putting money into hands of those most likely to spend. Europe’s social safety net also means that Europeans are better positioned to weather the storm in other ways. Indeed, not only has such a safety net resulted in European families having more savings, fewer debts and fewer expenses than American families, because the state provides many services that employers provide in the US, Europeans that lose their job do not face rising costs -- health care being the most notable -- associated with unemployment in States.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coom Baa ya Liberalism will be Alive and well in Vancouver

Coronations are not interesting. So I had hoped that at least the policies debated at the upcoming convention would be. Alas, that was just not to be. The list is out and it is hard to imagine it being more timid, conventional and boring. This is odd. You would think that a party starved for money and coming off its worst electoral showing ever would want to change things up. Instead we get a rehashing of the same tired rhetoric and policies that the party ran with and lost with during the last two elections. There is plenty of talk about global warming, childcare and poverty, but not a single policy that stands out as new yet alone bold.

Resolution 69, Making Poverty History at Home and Abroad, encapsulates the Liberals unwillingness to move beyond were they are now in terms of policy. Yes you got that right. The party feels that debating the whether the Liberals should aim to make poverty history at home and abroad is a “priority”.

The Liberals have proved again to be the party that fun forgot.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Jason Kenney, Multiculturalism and Integration

Canada has been able to avoid some of the problems other countries have had into integrating immigrant ethnic minorities into the fabric of their societies. One reason for Canada’s success in this regard was the Official Multiculturalism. By stating that the State did not favour a founding narrative about what it means to be Canadian, Official Multiculturalism helped reduce what it means to be Canadian to its bare essence. In English Canada, with the notable exception of the Aboriginal Canadians who are legally and stupidly defined as other, being a Canadian means having Canadian citizenship and no more than that. Without such a founding narrative or definitive sense of who we are, any attempt to distinguish between true Canadians from fake ones falls still born from its author’s mouth. The lack of rigid identity or founding narrative, so often lamented, is actually a strength. It has helped paved the way for integration.

That said, having helped establish Canadian identity as a becoming and only definable in retrospect, Official Multiculturalism can now be retired with a pat on the back for a job well done. We should feel free to drop the pretence that encouraging immigrants to try to embalm their respective cultures --- that will invariably diverge greatly from their parent cultures ---, is anything other than perverse. Jason Kenney is right. "We don't need the state to promote diversity”. The government was right to cease funding heritage language classes for example and I think most Canadians would agree with sentiments he said with regard to this manner. "I think it's really neat that a fifth-generation Ukrainian Canadian can speak Ukrainian -- but pay for it yourself.”

As I said countless times before, Kenney is also right about language. "Someone who has been here for 15 years and can't speak English or French is basically locking themselves out of the vast majority of jobs and is isolating themselves socially, and that is a tragedy."

However, Kenney has gone off the rails in talking about how "Canada isn't a hotel” and need for immigrants to integrate. Pace Jason Kenney, integration is not something that is accomplished by mere force of will. It is not a choice ---- or if you read the Conservative subtext, a compulsion that immigrants will feel once the multicultural “option” is off the table. Having the government foster a narrative about how immigrants need to become just like “us” not only demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the legacy of Official Multiculturalism is largely positive, such actions are enormously counterproductive. Forced integration is an oxymoron and the damage it does is directly proportional to just how strongly it is felt.

Now, I believe it was Brian Mulroney who once said that integration is a job. He was not far off. Integration is a social economic by-product. So long as the economy is not racially segmented, national identity too rigidly defined and social mobility blocked, integration is inevitable for those that speak English. Race, ethnicity and even religion are not formidable barriers to friendship and hormones certainly do not care about such things. Put a group of kids from similar social economic backgrounds together in the same place and whether one is jock or nerd will be far more relevant to them then whether they were born in Cairo or Toronto or whether they wear a turban as opposed to ball cap.

So the kicker is this. When it comes to providing social services to immigrants, and encouraging social mobility generally, the Conservatives fail miserably. In other words, they fail to promote integration.