Thursday, July 29, 2004

Formerly known as Gooey

I had the good fortune of being at Crazy Go Nuts University at the same time as Joey deVilla, now more commonly known as The Accordion Guy.  (I was there for 5 years, he 8 I believe, so I suppose it would actually be more surprising if we weren't there at the same time).  He was Electrical Engineering - Geek Option followed by CISC, I was Electrical - Toaster Option.  I knew him through the EngSoc Lounge and Clark Hall Pub.  Before he was famous for his mad accordion skillz, his notoriety derived from his terrific cartooning (and sense of humour) for Golden Words, and his "job" as a DJ at Clark.

Anyway, he was (and apparently is) a genuinely funny and interesting guy.  One thing I always liked was that he was willing & able to be politically incorrect on occasion (at least relative to your modern campus environment).  His skin colour afforded him immunity to most of the shrieking accusations that one might expect in response to a few of his cartoons - I hope that doesn't sound bitter, far from it.  He's no right-winger by any means, but he was able to say & write a few things that made the logic circuits of the liberal-white-guilt types hang (he's questioning the orthodoxy - but he's a person of colour - but he's questAAAAAHH!!!).  Very gratifying at the time - regardless of whether he was doing it out of sincere conviction or just to cause a ruckus.

So I check out his site from time-to-time.  This post, in the context of all the hoohah about bloggers at the DNC this week, made me howl (and check out the link just for the picture):

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A Simpsons scene at a Boston blogger gathering:

Freddy Quimby: "Say it, Frenchie! Say 'browsahhh'!"

Waiter: "Brow-zaire!"
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Shameful liars, Part 3

Here is a question I think every Canadian premier ought to be required to answer, before the "Fix For A Generation" federal-provincial health care conference in September:

"If the Canada Health Act was removed from the books, and the government of Canada transferred their entire health budget directly to the provinces, no strings attached, what would you do differently?"

If the answer is NOTHING, which I suspect it is for most of them, then let's dispense with the fiction that the federal government bears any responsibility whatsoever for the condition of any province's health care system.  If the answer is X, Y, or Z, then YAY!  Let's discuss these items, and Canadians can determine whether the relevant clauses in the CHA are important and provide good value.

Trivia question - which current or former premier said the following:  "Sentence X of the Canada Health Act, requiring that we [...], is preventing my province's health care system from being as good as it can be."  Answer:  none.  So until I hear differently, I am absolving the federal government of any blame for health care problems.  The provinces have taxing power; they can provide they system they want and raise the funds to pay for it.  Whether the federal government is overtaxing us for services they do no provide is a distinct issue, for another day.

Of course, this is a legal and practical argument, not a rhetorical one.  A fair question for Paul Martin would be, "What specific perils are you hoping to prevent by attaching conditions to the transfer of so-called health care dollars?  Name three, please."  If he can answer that without sounding like a paternalistic A-hole towards the provincial governments, I'll buy him a cigar.

UPDATE (1 hour later):  Man, I hate that.  Write up and post a little rant, then take a spin around the web and find out that someone else said the same thing on the front page of the National Post.

Upon further reflection, I think where both Coyne and I err a bit is in allowing the possible impression that the federal government is owed some sympathy for this state of affairs.

Not in the slightest.  They could defuse this entire standoff unilaterally, but apparently they’d rather not.  All Paul Martin needs to do is speak this truth:

“The role of the federal government in the present health care system is to ensure certain base principles are abided by in all provinces.  These principles are codified in the Canada Health Act, and are enforced by our ability to withhold federal contributions.  If any premier has a problem with one or more of these principles, then let’s discuss it.  Otherwise, they are the provinces’ systems to manage, and there’s nothing much else to say.”

But no.  If he did say this, then he wouldn’t be able to pretend that his government is the guarantor and underwriter of public health care in Canada, and that nasty, horrible things would happen if they stepped back.  So we’re stuck with this asinine standoff that damages prospects for actual reform, because it allows our leaders to pretend that every problem is the other level of government’s fault.  It’s a lie, and it’s shameful – and it sucks that Canadians let them get away with it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

dot dot dot

A few of the finer sites around, and their latest incisive/blistering/hilarious items.

LET IT BLEED

Bob Tarantino's wheelhouse is demolishing the bleatings of the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail.  He does a lovely job, and I'm grateful; I find that I can't be bothered to undertake such dissections - it's too exhausting.

Today's comprehensive post takes aim at Clayton Ruby's ridiculous article in yesterday's Globe supporting the long gun registry, and is highly recommended.  The only thing I would add is a backhanded commendation of Mr. Ruby for at least being clear about what he believes.  He mentions that the Conservative Party would repeal the registration requirement for rifles and shotguns, "But that was not nearly as alarming as the party's pledge to 'respect the rights of law-abiding Canadians to own and use firearms.'" 

There you have it - the simple fact that Canadians have guns is the real problem, and if everything works out according to plan, the registry is more or less a step along the way to prohibition and confiscation.  Why can't the rest of the gun control crowd be this direct?

And one more thing nagging at me from Mr. Ruby's piece - why is the Alberta Court of Appeal referencing a UN Declaration on anything?

JAY JARDINE

Jardine has your basic solid libertarian stuff - what sets him apart for me is his interest in letting the markets loose (all the way) on the highway system.  If memory serves, he is a civil engineer by trade.  Naturally he had some comments on the Ontario government's plans to rehab public infrastructure.  The highlight:

From CBC Ottawa:  "The good news is the Ontario government has a $100-billion plan to build and improve hospitals, schools, sewers, water systems, and roads.The bad news is ordinary Ontario residents will be helping to pay for it with more tolls for roads and bridges, and higher user fees for water and other services."
 
Jardine's response:  "I wonder if the author of this regurgitated press release would care to explain who they think should pay for all this stuff? If not "ordinary" Ontarians, should it be bourgeois Quebecers? Why is the Ontario government spoken of in terms of an omniscent third party bearing gifts for *society*. From whence did it obtain the $100 billion to bequeath upon us?"
 
Bonus turn of phrase that gave me a chuckle:  "Thankfully, Terence Corcoran has decided to put aside defending corporate crooks for the time being to concentrate on what he does best. For infrastructure, he says, drive the 407 model..."

DAIMNATION!

Damian Penny is one of the more prolific amateurs out there, with lots of good stuff and a sensible worldview - plus he just seems likeable.  Similar to Jardine, his best stuff is about what he knows - lawyerin'.  This entry is about a lawsuit filed against Nissan by the State of New Jersey, predicated on the most twisted, patronizing, open-up-a-giant-can-of-worms logic imaginable.

SMALL DEAD ANIMALS

Kate is more a a reader-linker than a writer, but she catches a lot, and manages a good dig of her own once in awhile.  This post is intelligent, observant, funny, and brief, a combination which occurs about once a month on the entire web.

So that's two from Ontario, one from the West, and one from Atlantic Canada - I appear to be inadvertently building a Cabinet.  That means there should be one from Quebec, no?  I like a few of them, but instead I'll just pimp Inkless Wells.  He knows the politics there, and even uses French quite a bit.  He also wins my award for "Guy I'd Most Like to Have Writing a Pissed-Off Letter on My Behalf" - Exhibit A.

Overall, The Man is still this guy (I'm possibly influenced by provincial patriotism - meh).  His website invokes politics, sports, science, and the arcane - occasionally all in one post.  The likelihood that any other "web-based commenter" has the intellect & inclination to conceive, research, and create the Giambi graphic therein - what kind of brain does that! - is approximately equal to the likelihood that Bush and Kerry have actually had sex.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Monger and Medical Economics

I am extremely heartened to see that The Monger (M.D.) has weighed in with some analysis of Our Treasured National Identity, i.e. the health care system, at least in part spurred by my post regarding supplier-induced demand yesterday.  It is lengthy and rather awesome.

His biggest objection to my take was that it views our present system as an axiom, "a metaphysical reality to which we must all adjust, like gravity."  Hell, that's as well as I've ever seen the present political reality articulated.  Anyway, no:  I was intending to refer to publicly provided health care, regardless of whether it is the only, or even the biggest, game in town.  We seek to control or limit demand for most government benefits, welfare for instance.

But to be clear from my end:  the fact that our governments seek to disallow, discourage, and restrict private trade in medical services between willing consumers and providers is a bloody abomination, which not only weighs down the public system, but is an indefensible restriction of our rights and freedoms.  The fact that every last "mainstream" proposal to reform the system from within further reduces our freedoms underlines this cruelly.

You'd better believe I don't want Citizen Monger or health bureaucrat Bob determining which of my health care demands are reasonable.  I don't even want Public Physician Monger making that determination.  The only things that they should be permitted are a say in A) which demands should reasonably be paid for by a public system, and B) how soon I should receive my public treatment.  If I don't like their assessment of the situation, I should be able to go spend (or waste, as you like) my own money on the treatment I believe is appropriate. 

This would arguably mean that the rich get better health care.  Great, who cares, it happens already, whatever.  As long as the poor are getting good health care, it don't mat-tah.  As The Monger alludes to, if the rest of our society was managed like health care, we wouldn't be able to buy steak or Cadillacs.  Private security systems and personnel would be illegal, because they mean the rich might be safer than everyone else.  It is absolutely insane.

The other point The Monger makes is that I don't give enough credit to physicians under the present system for considering the costs of their decisions, and the point is taken.  There is an aspect of professional pride which, for example, dissuades Doctor X from sending every last patient with a headache for a CT.  Doctor X wants to be perceived as competent and able, and thus is reluctant to bombard his specialist colleagues with referrals which may be frivolous.  There is also the issue of concern for their (and all) patients as a group; Doctor X doesn't want one patient who really needs to see Specialist Y to be stuck in line behind another patient whose need is less obvious.  This reality of rationing should not be dismissed by me or anyone else; faced with such a reality, I should think medical doctors are as reliable a profession as any at apportioning limited resources.

The Monger's frustration with the system (and as such with his de facto only possible Canadian employer) just about jumps off the screen.  I feel for him, and it looks like we agree that the system is the problem, far moreso than any particular aspects of it.

On the whole, I still believe just about every problem with our public health care system leads back to this:  the government has got to give up the notion of equal health care for everyone, and focus on good health care for those who need it.  Once this jump is made, and the lies stop, a lot of the "problems" with our system will sort themselves out. 

Scoop?

So I heard a juicy rumour 10 days ago.  Only last night did it occur to me, "Hey - I have a weblog now!  I have some information that has not been reported in the print or any other media!  It concerns the only thing in Lethbridge that people outside the city have any knowledge or interest in!  Maybe these things could be connected in some way!"

Anyhoo, I'm sitting with family and friends around the campfire.  One of these friends occasionally works at Lethbridge City Hall.  And this friend was informed by a now-and-then colleague that Dave Heatherington had been in to City Hall to pick up an Alderman Kit (the forms that you need to fill in to get onto the ballot for October's municipal elections).  Dave is more commonly (only?) known as Mr. Dar Heatherington.

Caveats:  the understanding I got from the campfire chat was that the "now-and-then colleague" cited by my friend was in the room when Mr. H. got his kit, but she could be simply at the end of the City Hall gossip track (purple monkey dishwasher).  Also, you don't need to record or even say who the kit is for when you pick one up, so it could in theory be for anyone.  That said, it does raise the possibility that Dar Heatherington may run again for City Council if she is legally permitted to do so.

I suppose the proper reaction to this is Big Deal - That's Democracy.  Well....barely.  The problem is that Lethbridge elects its eight aldermen off a slate - no wards.  Everyone running for City Council goes on the same ballot that every voter receives.  Voters can make up to 8 choices, the 8 top vote-getters win.

This is why I detest alternatives to good old, first-past-the-post, representative democracy (covered ad nauseam in previous discussions on proportional representation).  The eighth-place finisher in the 2001 election (Dar, by the way) got named by 5701 voters - 23.8% of the ballots.  Hack on first-past-the-post all you want, but no one in my memory under FPTP has ever won an election with such tenuous "support".

If each alderman represented one-eighth of the city, then right now, one-eighth of the city would now be particularly motivated to punt Dar to the moon.  Certainly, her pleas that "she just wants to represent her constituents while she appeals an unjust ruling" would carry even less weight if there were a couple of community associations in her ward advising her to cram it with walnuts.  Instead, she's everyones problem, and thus no one's.  The visible campaign to force her to resign is led by the mayor and his lawyer!  So much for grassroots and citizenship.

In the 2001 election, 137,599 aldermanic votes were cast on 24,003 ballots - an average of 5.73 choices per ballot - interesting only because it demonstrates that there are many voters who select fewer than 8 candidates.  Any sensible voter who strongly supports one candidate under this system will vote for only that candidate, lest they cancel it out by voting for a competitor.

If she runs, I'm sure she'll finish 9th or worse.  But in a ward system, where a specific geographic constituency is invited to support her as their sole representative, or reject her by choosing someone else, she'd be as dead as fried chicken.  Under the slate system, give her some votes from:
- Anarchist and/or dipshit high-schoolers who think it's funny (God bless 'em)
- Family and friends
- People who have actually been helped or represented by Dar on some City issue
- Conspiracy types who think she's being harassed by the phallocracy
- Single male loners who like whackin' it to her hooker outfits at council meetings on cable access

If these people furthermore decide to vote for Dar and only Dar, we suddenly have a bit of a race, and it may not matter if 80% of the population declines to vote for her.  I'll say it again:  transparency and accountability are what makes first-past-the-post the best system going.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Shameful liars, Part 2

I had the pleasure this weekend of talking some health care policy with a real, live doctor.  Our families were camping in the incomparable Waterton Lakes National Park (nicer than Banff, one-tenth the crowd), and the campfire chat was very educational.

One of the biggest issues on the table when debating health care reform is how to reduce demand, or at least slow down the increases to a manageable rate.  Most of the discussion rightly tends to focus on patient demand - how do we reduce the public's demand for a free service?  Can we introduce deductibles or co-payments without compromising the access of the needy to medically necessary services?

Generally overlooked, however, is the demand placed on the system directly by doctors, in the form of referrals to specialists, MRIs and CTs, etcetera.  We tend to gloss over this because we are taught to assume that doctors are, to be overly general, always right.  If they order an MRI for a patient, it must be because they need it.  If they schedule someone for back surgery, it must be because it will improve that patient's quality of life.

Talking with my doctor friend, however, this is simply not the case.  He was not telling me that doctors are blatantly wasteful, or pander pointlessly to their patients; rather, that there is insufficient disincentive for doctors to forego patient treatment options which, in their best judgement, are likely a waste of time, or at least much more costly than the likely benefit.

Bear with me briefly while I draw a parallel with engineering.  Engineers, like doctors, are professionals in the legal sense of the word in Canada.  Along with lawyers and accountants, they have self-governing bodies, where standards are set and enforced by their peers.

A structural engineer must design buildings so that, first of all, they don't fall down.  They should also last quite a while, and accommodate whatever demands will be placed on the building (roof loads, etc.).  The engineer must take personal responsibility for the design of a building's structure - there are no laws per se governing structures, as each one serves a unique purpose, on varying soil conditions, in different climates, etc.  And if a building design does not bear the seal of a professional structural engineer, it cannot get built - period.

If the structural engineering world operated on these bases alone, there's not much doubt that all buildings would be earthquake and bomb-proof, and built to last 500 years.  Much fewer buildings would go up, as they would be so expensive.  High-rises might not even exist.

This is obviously not the case, and the reason is that there is economic pressure on structural engineers to design buildings which are suitably safe and sturdy, while also being affordable to construct.  A structural engineer in Alberta who is unwilling to sign off on designs unless they will withstand an 8.5 earthquake will soon find himself out of clients and out of work.  He is forced, by the nature of his business, to acknowledge economic reality, while still being vigilant in his concern for public safety.

The point I am very slowly getting at is this:  if doctors are not required, by the nature of the system, to consider the costs of their decisions on the system, then they won't, or at least not very well.  At the same time, it is not necessarily true that if they do have to consider costs as part of their business, that patient care will be unduly compromised.

There is this notion out there, which the Canadian Medical Association is happy to play along with, that if doctors are forced to be accountable for the costs of their patients' treatment, health care will suffer enormously.  To use one example, if doctors (or health "regions") were compensated per patient rather than per service, we're told that bean-counters would wield the final word on proper patient care, and we'd be overrun with heartless medical practitioners who make Dr. Nick Riviera look like Albert Schweitzer.

My response is this:  when is the last time you heard about a building falling over because a structural engineer whored his principles for a few bucks?  Engineers are, on the whole, highly educated and dedicated people who are capable of weighing  costs against benefits, and distinguishing between right and wrong.  To suggest that doctors are less so insults them.

And if Dr. Monger or any other MD thinks I'm full of crap, I would love to hear why.

UPDATE (JULY 27th):  The Monger rejoins as do I.

I lost on Jeopardy, baby...

I hope everyone had a chance to see Ken Jennings on Jeopardy! at some point over the past two months, rapidly becoming the most infamous computer geek in the world outside of Bill Gates.  He has won 38 straight games, won over $1.3 million, and completely dominated most of his 76 opponents during that stretch.

I hadn't watched much TV over the past couple of years, so I didn't even know that they had stopped automatically retiring 5-time champions.  The guy is a machine.  Even if you haven't seen him, but especially if you have, check out The Sports Guy's take.  Sample, regarding Jenning's likeability:

"Watching him pocket a million-plus during his astounding 35-game winning streak -- still going as I write this -- we alternately revered him and hoped Alex Trebek would punch him in the face."

Or about his dominance:

"Not since the pre-nanny Tiger has somebody laid the smack down like this. He doesn't beat people, he dismantles them."

The Sports Guy, as always, is highly recommended, but he's probably at his best like this, when he veers away from sports "analysis", and just uses sports for similes.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Why does health care turn politicians who are merely shifty into shameful liars?

Inkless has elaborated a bit on why appointing Ujjal Dosanjh as Health Minister qualifies as canny electoral politics.  It requires that you perceive Harper’s health care position as not pinned to a point on an ideological or policy spectrum, but rather on a political spectrum (i.e. the latest federal-provincial consensus).   It follows, then, that the Liberals can move the “centre” of the health debate leftward, because they’re an integral part of the equation.  Wells may be right, although it requires that you ignore Harper’s “why should I care how the provinces deliver health care…” comment during the debate – probably reasonable, since he was pretty muffled about the whole thing for most of the rest of the campaign.
 
I get it – but the situation, to me, just screams opportunity.  Here’s a theory for you:  Paul Martin, along with every last premier and opposition leader in Canada, are desperate for someone amongst them to rip the electrodes off their balls and yell, “This is insane!”  (I’m looking at you, Ralph, although it would be much more productive if someone without regional baggage did it, i.e. one of the other nine premiers.)
 
I have a lot to rant about on health care, but my key request to the politicians comes down to this:  STOP EFFING LYING!!!  Stop lying about what the Canada Health Act says, and stop lying that we have a single-tier health care system right now.

I’m not naïve – I understand spin, misdirection, non-denial denials, and the various obfuscations all politicians use to cover their asses and pretend they’re never wrong.  But the health care debate is littered with dozens of tiny lies and several big whoppers that make reform impossible.  Politicians of every stripe promote bald-faced lies, that they know are lies, every time they open their mouths about health care.  The only way to start the process is to tell the truth about what we have now, why it is so, and what are the real restrictions on reform.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What I like about the new Cabinet

And there's certainly enough to dislike about it. I still haven't gotten over the vile cynicism of Scott Brison's victory speech, delivered before the polls closed from Quebec west ("the voters have chosen a party which supports family values, and not just as a code word for bigotry and intolerance" - who knew that Elinor Caplan was a role model of his?).

However, there is good news, and from my point of view it comes from the B.C. assignments. Three positives:

1) David Anderson is gone - excellent news for anyone who believes that actual science should be the basis of environmental policy. His replacement is Stephane Dion, who seems pretty competent, at least relative to his 134 colleagues.

2) Hedy Fry is still gone. This will no doubt embolden our friends in Prince George, who can (snicker) now go back (guffaw) to burning their (heheheheh) crosses ahahahahahaha.

3) Ujjal Dosanjh is the health minister. Inkless has an interesting, but I believe incorrect, take on this. He rightly points out that this represents a jump to the left ("Dosanjh, like the PM, believes health-care reform and health-care spending are the same thing"), but then claims that Martin has "moved the centre", and that "...Harper must chase it, at the risk of looking a bit silly, or come clean on his differences of opinion with Martin-Dosanjh health policy."

I guess if you say that the centre is, by definition, whatever the Liberal position is (not a overly outrageous statement), then this argument follows. The actual definition of the centre, though, is the median of public opinion, and the evidence is that this is moving to the right, if anywhere.

Put another way, compared to five years ago, are you hearing more or less discussion about the need for (or desirability of) private sector involvement? Is there more people, or fewer, that believe that the present health-care model is unsustainable? Keith Martin (Liberal MP) and Frank Klees (Ontario Conservative leadership candidate) are unapologetically in favour of private options. Can you name anyone remotely near the political mainstream who advocated this 10 years ago?

The appointment of Ujjal Dosanjh as Health Minister represents a tremendous opportunity for the Conservative Party, but more importantly, for the honesty and clarity of the health care debate. Stephen Harper simply needs to choose the latter of the two options that Wells has identified, he will be firmly in the centre, and it will be the Liberals who are scrambling to defend their policy. Would the sky really fall (or CPC support evaporate) if Harper came out with the following?

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"For too many years now, Canadians have been misdirected and misled by politicians regarding health care in this country, and I accept some blame in this regard. Well, it ends today."

"The majority of Canadians care about exactly three things in regard to health care: will I get good care, will I get it in a timely manner, and will I get it regardless of my ability to pay. As such, a Conservative federal government would address these three principles, to the exclusion of all others. We would achieve this by filling two, and only two, roles: setting standards for the quality and accessibility of health care, and transferring federal tax revenue to provinces which meet these standards."

"Provinces will be left alone to their constitutional responsibility of the provision of health care. If a province wishes to have private companies, or charitable agencies, provide health care facilities and services for their residents, and these entities meet the federal standards, they will not be punished. A patient going in for knee surgery simply does not care who owns the operating room."

"If a province wishes to permit the existence of health clinics entirely outside the public system, where the patient pays the entire cost of their treatment, they will not be punished. It is simply wrong to prohibit Canadians the freedom of choice to spend their own money on their own health. A Manitoban paying for his own hernia surgery in a private clinic does not violate the health care rights of other Manitobans any more than you driving a Cadillac violates my right to drive a Neon."

"If a province wishes to institute user fees or co-payments on some health services, and they can demonstrate that the fees are not preventing people in need from accessing these services, they will not be punished. We understand that the provinces need to be able to attempt to control demand for health care. A $10 fee to visit the doctor would not bring on the end of civilization as we know it."

"If a province wishes to have their own employees administer and operate every last aspect of the health care system, from doctors on down to cafeteria workers, they are welcome to do that too. If they meet the federal standards of quality and accessibility, they will receive full federal transfers."

"The health care system in this country needs to be reformed or it will bankrupt us, and a Conservative federal government would do its part this way: first, by defining what constitutes quality and timely health care, and then, by getting the hell out of the way."

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I don't expect Harper to make this speech tomorrow. But someone who has the power to do something about it will, within the next few years. The centre of the health care debate is most certainly not moving to the left.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The lowest known form of humour?

The Monger weighs in briefly on bumper stickers.  He cites his all-time favourite as, "Earth First - We'll Log the Other Planets Later".  This is indeed a rare beauty (in the Bob-and-Doug sense).
 
You really have to wonder, though, about people who actually put these things on their bumpers, given the essential permanence of the act.  Even funny TV ads get stale after the first 10 viewings; they get rotated out within weeks or months.  What kind of person effectively tells the same joke over and over, day after day, even to people who have heard it many times before?  I Love Alberta Beef is one thing; it's a cause you support, and you are likely to support it well into the future.  Good humour simply does not lend itself to bumper form.
 
That said, there a still a few that make me chuckle, so long as it's been awhile since the last sighting:  the rudely-spliced "Honk If You're Horny For Jesus", the nonsensical "My Karma Ran Over My Dogma", and the defiant "Don't Like My Driving?  Call 1-800-EAT-SH*T".
 
My present favourite however, given my home city and its most famous resident, is a gloriously insensitive boast, distributed by a local radio station last autumn:
 
"I TOOK DAR TO VEGAS"
 

Penticton, Alberta

Can someone tell me when Drumheller turned into Summertime-Oasis-Family-Fun-Land?  I hadn't visited there in years, and mostly for minor hockey, when the place seemed bleak, to say the least.  The permanent population is only 7833, and there are no lakes or beaches.
 
Camping there this past weekend, however, the place was overrun with people.  Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, Asian tour groups, and kids kids kids kids kids.  I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised.  The climate is great, and the Tyrrell Museum is spectacular (and only $10 which I think is a great deal, kids 6 & under Free).  Plus, the local Rotary Club built a splash park which, if I was between ages 4 and 11, I would think was the absolute greatest place on earth, and you can keep Disney.
 
One last thing - kids' language skills are mysterious.  Aldini Jr., age 4, can pronounce "palaeontology" flawlessly, yet can't manage to say "museum" without putting an N at the front.
 

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Canadian Curling Association wrecks

Terrible news for anyone who thinks Curling Rocks! - wall-to-wall coverage of the Scott and the Brier by TSN appears to be over.
 
As one of hundreds of thousands of Canadian curling fans who has, during a period of unemployment or boredom, watched curling for 9 hours a day during the Brier, this is mighty sad news.  Add to that the fact that CBC's broadcast team, while they're getting better, just can't compare to Vic Rauter and friends on TSN.
 
I don't think there's any question that the general hugeness of the Brier in the past number of years owes a lot to TSN's comprehensive coverage.  Now the Brier is losing that, and they're still without a title sponsor (Nokia is done).  Is the Brier supposed to now be a more attractive property to sponsors with less TV coverage (on CBC, no less)?
 
I'm sure the business wizards at the CCA have it all figured out.  After all, they did finally manage to get Canada's top curlers (apologies to Ferbey) back competing in the national championship, and that all went real smoothly.
 
[Cue exasperated broom-drop]

A Week's Worth

Air Travel

Found this story via Let It Bleed. The Monger calls it terrifying; I think that’s as good a description as any. The Ann Coulter column that the author, Ms. Jacobsen, references can be found here.

Even the most colour-blind of us would have been afraid in Ms. Jacobsen’s shoes; even the staunchest civil libertarian must concede that more can be done to keep us safe in the air. The old saying, “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged” comes to mind.

CRTC

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Why is there not a revolt? It is, however, interesting to note that the first step in the Liberals’ campaign to “win back Quebec” is for one of their organs to shut down the most popular radio station in the capital. So far so good, guys!

Looking for silver linings, the upside of an increased CRTC profile is that more Canadians might learn who they are and what they’re doing. A hitherto uninformed citizen might wonder what is the difference between shutting down a radio station based on content and banning a book based on content. The answer of course is that the airwaves are public property, something Colby Cosh describes as a “cretinous interbellum fiction”, a fine turn of phrase if I’ve ever read one.

The next logical question said citizen might ask is, “Hmmm…the airwaves are public property, presumably because there is a finite number of positions on the radio dial, and a mere 12 broadcast channels (2 thru 13). Why, then, is the CRTC regulating digital cable and satellite broadcasters, which are under no such technological limitation?”

Bell and Rogers could offer subscriptions to every last channel on earth without displacing any other content. I made an analogy to Chapters in the run-up to the election, which really begs the question, why does the government think they can get away with controlling what we watch, when if they did the equivalent with what we read, it would rightly be decried as an unconscionable restriction of our freedoms? Because they have so far. It shows to go you that the commitment to “free speech” of our Canadian artists goes exactly as far as their self-interest.

Anyway, Colby Cosh apparently writes about this on A1 of the National Post today; count on it that his discussion will be more interesting than this one.

The British Open

I see Jerry Kelly is +3 thru 2 rounds, in position to probably make the cut on the number. I think we’ve found the next Scott Hoch – a talented and competitive guy, but no desire to make history, and no enthusiasm for difficult courses or course setups.

I have a little bit of action on Vijay Singh (10-to-1, presently –4) and Mike Weir (35-1, -3), so I’m glad to see they’re both in good position going into the weekend.

Drumheller

Going camping in Drumheller this weekend (Just Across the Bridge from the World’s Largest Dinosaur!). As I recall, the mosquitoes there are only slightly smaller than the infamous dinosaur.
We will also be making a visit to, paraphrasing Joey Tribbiani, the “Tyrell Museum of Pole-entology”. Perhaps I can shift the 4-year-old Aldini Junior’s obsession from Spider-Man to dinosaurs. Although that has its own perils as well.

Friday, July 09, 2004

P.R. - my final word

I'm firmly entrenched in my opposition to PR, but Andrew Coyne's discussion has been excellent and intelligent. To wrap up, I think I'd like to set out my final objections, for evisceration by smarter folk than me.

For the sake of argument, and because it seems to be most favoured by supporters, let's say that the PR model being considered is 50/50 MMPR. 308 MPs would be elected, as now, via first-past-the-post in 308 ridings. An additional 308 MPs would be elected via affiliation with their party's percentage of the national popular vote (note - debate over the proper size of the House of Commons is for another day).

My overall objections to PR in all its forms are outlined in previous posts, as well as here and here. Let us consider the possible sub-models of 50/50 MMPR, i.e. how exactly the other 308 MPs should be chosen.

1) Ghost MPs
Skip the actual people; if Liberals win 115 PR MPs, the Liberal leader simply has 115 additional votes on every issue as well as his own. This is my favorite sub-model, because it's the most honest. If the Liberals gain the 115 MPs because of Liberal Party support, it should be the Liberal Party who makes the decisions. The sole objection here is that the optics are awful (and as such, is a pretty good argument against PR as a whole).

1A) Robo-MPs
U.S. Electoral College! Same as 1), but have human beings raising their hands to vote, representing their party's views exactly. The identity of the Robo-MPs is unimportant, as they exist solely to vote the party line. Objection here is that it's dishonest; using figureheads to obscure the undemocratic stench of 1).

2) MPs appointed by the party off their own list. We already have a place where party hacks can while away their days with little fear of losing their jobs - the Senate. We also now approach the point where individual MPs may vote against the party line, undermining PR's stated purpose of party representation.

3) MPs appointed by the party based on internal elections. As I have noted, this poses a real conundrum when it comes to the stated purpose of PR. Voters are electing the party; yet there is a real likelihood that the people who "win" the internal party elections did so by differentiating themselves from party boilerplate. Single issue sub-groups within a party could no doubt elevate favoured candidates into very high positions on the party list. Rural western NDPers could absolutely get pro-lifers to near the top of their party list; is this what Toronto's NDP voters are supporting when they vote NDP?

4) MPs voted in directly off a list by their party's voters. All the problems of 3), with the added bonus of more difficult balloting. Intra-party campaigning would be going on at the same time as the general election, which would be chaos. Voters would need to weigh the merits of the party, as well as the merits of the individuals running, which should be noted is the exact same situation as we have now.

5) MPs to be "riding losers" with the biggest % of popular support. I hate this option, which would allow candidates rejected by voters in their own hometowns to slip in Parliament's backdoor. These people are probably least likely to toe the party line, because they're going to have to run again next time, and need to appeal to their home riding. Defeats the purpose, or at least diminishes the effectiveness, of PR.

There you have it. If I'm not right, at least I hope I'm clear.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

R.I.P.

Please do not miss Neil Waugh's obituary of Percy Wickman in today's Edmonton Sun. It's an example of the best kind - the kind that displays affection, while acknowledging that the departed was a human being with strengths and weaknesses, who did great things and also made mistakes. In short, it's the kind of obituary that makes us care more about its subject.

78 RPM

Not a news flash at this point, but Craig Conroy has signed with the L.A. Kings, and will make much more than the Flames were willing or able to offer. His terrific playoff performance priced him out of Calgary.

I can't say enough good things about Craig Conroy - he's what you want from a professional athlete in your town. Friendly to the fans, works his ass off, makes a difference. The man is also a great interview, despite (or more likely because of) the fact that he sounds like he's way, way, hepped up on goofballs. And unlike many American players traded to Canadian teams, he never gave the impression that he was unhappy to be here.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Conroy. You will be missed.

Update: More on P.R.

It turns out I'm even less in favour of PR than I realized. My comments at Coyne's blog are here, here, here, here, and here.

Colby Cosh defends himself and the anti-PR side effectively here. And if you only want to read one thing about the whole issue, I would recommend the post by SD he links. Clear, sensible, and comprehensive.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

How do you like your democracy?

Proportional, three creams, three sugars, whatever. Anyway, there's a good discussion going on at Andrew Coyne's blog regarding the merits of Proportional Representation, spurred by his column today in the National Post.

He's a supporter; I'm not convinced. His arguments are logical enough, but the one that's not made is exactly why having the overall composition of Parliament reflect the popular vote is an intrinsically valuable thing. I agree wholeheartedly with his opening paragraph, that MPs need to have more individual freedom, and it's hard to find anyone who disagrees. What I fail to see why PR is the best, or even a plausible, way to promote this. Frankly, if enough MPs across all parties got some guts and just started doing it, the issue would be settled. Gilles Duceppe might expel one or two BQ members from caucus if they declined to toe the party line, but if 20 did, "free voting" would instantly become BQ party policy. Same goes for the other parties.

Any advancement of PR would necessarily weaken Direct Representation, where each riding has one MP that they can re-elect or, crucially, not. The common argument that most people vote for the party, not the candidate, is more or less true, but again, that is not a function of the First-Past-The-Post system. It is a function of traditional party discipline - Canadian voters are well-trained to rightfully assume that their MP will robotically vote with their party.

I like the riding system. I like the fact that, if I am sufficiently motivated and organized, I may be able to defeat my local MP, without concern that he may end up in Parliament anyway thanks to his party leader or voters in the rest of the country. My MP had better listen to the concerns of the people in my riding. As Coyne notes, this is already progressing. Many rural Liberal candidates ran opposing the gun registry. Many Atlantic Conservatives ran opposing the EI reforms proposed by the party.

I also do not accept that "small parties" are permanently shut out of Parliament. N/A, 0, 52 - this is the seat count for the Reform Party in the '84, '88, and '93 elections. They spoke to voters and were thusly rewarded. To argue that the Green Party will never be fairly represented in Parliament without PR is to excuse their failure to appeal to enough voters, and imply that they will never be capable of doing so. Patronizing hogwash.

I can only conclude that proportional representation would be less democratic than the riding system. If MPs are too restricted by party discpline right now, when they run in their hometowns under their own names, isn't it ridiculous to imagine that MPs elected off of a party list would improve the situation?

We are truly in dire need of some democratic reforms in Parliament. Proportional representation should not be one of them.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What a radical!

Alert reader Jass in Edmonton pointed me to this fine op-ed piece in the Globe & Mail.

Those who were and are insisting that Canada is moving to the left, politically, should note: the substance of what the author has to say in this piece, in his role as a distinguished visitor, senior fellow, and regular G&M contributor is IDENTICAL to his position 15 years ago, when he was a scary, right-wing, evangelical Christian.

I can't confirm this first hand, but I think he even still goes to church.

T.O. voters are the cray-ziest..B.C. voters are the..craziest

A quick spin around the web yesterday seems to reveal that pundits of the "right" persuasion are breathing deeply and generally looking on the bright side of life. A week of decompression allows some perspective to creep in. Now can come the question: when we look back at the 2004 federal election in say, 2010, what will be the significance we assign to it, retrospectively?

There are numerous reasonable answers to this question. If the CPC builds on its momentum to win power in the next election, we will obviously say that 2004 was a breakthrough. Maybe we will be saddled with an expensive (but naturally underfunded) national daycare system, and look back on 2004 as the time when the Liberals were forced to keep their promise to win Bloc and NDP support.

But enough with the maybes! What are venues like this for, if not to make wild predictions and be stuck with them in perpetuity thanks to Google? One must be bold!

For a short-odds pick, the answer has to be the beginning of the end of Ralph Klein. He's been a CINO (Conservative In Name Only) since probably 1997, and the indefensible budget two years ago that raised virtually every tax except income cemented it for me. But, people like him personally, and since the opposition has always been Liberal, fractured, small, invisible, terrible (pick any or all), his job has been safe. His perceived sabotaging of the federal CPC campaign, though, has given usurpers courage. And frankly, I expect the de-throning to be swift.

The long-shot pick from this corner is the Liberals governing with the consent of the Conservatives, bill-by-bill, rather than the Bloc and/or NDP. Why? Liberal electoral math (could there be any other reason?).

The evidence from the campaign polls shows that there was a late Liberal swing in popular vote; this has been attributed, quite sensibly I think, to fear of the unknown, and also to fear of the known (Randy White et al). There is no chance that this fear will be increased by the next election, i.e. voters will be more familiar with the CPC. (Put another way, are there many people who voted CPC this time, but might be scared to vote for them next time?). Conversely, I have no problem saying that the NDP has effectively peaked. They may grab a few more seats in a future election, but really, they are the most known quantity in Canadian politics. They want more government involvement and spending in everything. Those who support this vision are already pretty loyal NDP supporters. Those who do not, are not. Is there a large constituency out there who might vote NDP, but haven't because of various non-policy considerations? That's a negative, good buddy. It's a small constituency. So:
- Since '93 at least, the Liberals govern to the right of where they campaigned
- They need to prevent the CPC from stealing more of their centre-right vote, best accomplished by co-opting some of their policies
- The NDP will not cooperate with this
- Core Liberal support will follow them, regardless of where the government veers on the political spectrum
- My guess is that the CPC will be willing to cooperate with Liberal bills if they are worthy on their merits (no non-negotiable "conditions of support" such as P.R.)
- There will be no need for a formal alliance or "union government", the two parties can still pick at each other on the peripheral issues (gun registry, Charter rights, etc.)

I've almost convinced myself that this will happen, but it's still a long-shot. The bonus is that it would be what is best for the country under the present minority scenario. This is of course a secondary consideration for the Natural Governing Party, but maybe they'll just fall into it.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Those who can, write...

...and those who can't, link.

George Jonas in his National Post column today doesn't cover all the ground I wanted to, but after 4 days of reading about Western Alienation, his calm, sensible, and correct assessment is a relief.

Girl Fight!!!

Am I the only one, reading about how Air Canada and WestJet are engaging in the corporate equivalent of biting, hair-pulling, and crying for mommy, who's thinking, "This..is..AWESOME!"

With trips to both Ontario and Newfoundland planned for 2005, it is extremely gratifying to see that the competition for my airfare dollars is fierce and unapologetic. If the government and the corporate governance types can stay clear of this "un-Canadian" spectacle, I may be able to make these trips and still afford to eat when I get home.

Friday, July 02, 2004

CBC Radio One: For what it's worth

Like most, I missed pegging the federal election results by a fairly wide margin. I was actually pretty good on the Bloc and NDP results, but had the Liberals and CPC backwards.

I figured right away that one reason may be that I've been spending a little too much time drinking the bathwater; I've underexposed myself to comment from the left and "centre", and so likely got a bit carried away with some wishful thinking.

So when I found myself driving to and from Calgary on Wednesday, I decided to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the state broadcaster's AM radio station. Apart from having to switch back to sports talk every time the topic moved to gardening, I found it, on the whole, more interesting than infuriating. Here's the broadstrokes.

From Lethbridge to Calgary:
I caught two interviews with brand-new MPs in the 9AM hour. First was with Steven Fletcher, the CPC guy who beat Glen Murray in Charleswood-St. James. He's a quadriplegic - I had no idea. This is mainly what the interviewer wanted to talk about, despite Mr. Fletcher's near-total disinterest in the subject ("yes, there's some accessibility issues in the Parliament building, it's just logistics and we'll work them out"). When she tired of attempting to persuade him to state that his prime mission would be to advocate for the rights of the disabled, she moved onto the question of the week: "Why do you think the Conservative election result was so disappointing?"

Fletcher responded that he thought they did great, especially relative to predictions 6 months ago of a Liberal tidal wave, and that they planned on continuing to improve. CBC rejoinder: "Well I see that even for a rookie MP, you've been working on your spin." Hmmmm....impressive showing is spin, disappointing showing is CBC orthodoxy. Okaaayyy...BUDDY! Anyway, I found her to be pretty patronizing on the whole, but it's hard to say whether that was because of his disability, or because he's Conservative. Whatever - you just know that next time she talks about the need for Parliamentary diversity, the accusatory tones won't be directed at the Liberals.

The second interview was with Ruby Dhalla; chiropractor, beauty queen, Bollywood actress, and now MP for Brampton-Springdale. Dhalla is a long-time campaigner for Paul Martin and the Liberals (hence her appointment as candidate in the riding), and she has Liberal boilerplate absolutely mastered. As such, there wasn't much to learn from her. However, I was struck by a missed opportunity for the interviewer.

Dhalla describes herself as a health-care professional, with an in-depth understanding of some of the system's challenges. Wouldn't some of these questions been appropriate, without prejudice?
1) Your area of health-care, chiropractic care, is paid for by the provinces in some instances and directly by patients in others. Does this compromise the quality of care you are able to deliver?
2) What are chiropractic waiting lists like? Why are they different from waiting lists for other health care services?
3) Is it unfair for people with the means to be able to purchase chiropractic care as often as they wish, while the less fortunate can purchase it less frequently, or not at all?
4) Do you think that if all chiropractic care was free, i.e. paid for by the government, that there would be more demand for it, less, or the same?
5) What criteria determine how many chiropractors the CMCC, your school, trains and graduates?

If Ruby Dhalla is able to address some or all of these health care issues in caucus and Parliament, without resorting to stale "best-system-in-the-world" rhetoric, I agree that her background will prove valuable. If not, what a waste.

From Calgary back to Lethbridge:
In the 5PM hour, we had a bit of analysis of the day's Alberta health care announcements from Jeff Collins and a reporter whose name eludes me. The best part about this segment was, they actually played some lengthy quotes from both government and opposition. Thankfully, this undermined the ambivalence with which they were presenting the information, at least in my view.

One area of the announcements was regarding the potential for private, for-profit, joint-replacement clinics, operating entirely outside the public health system. Under this scenario, Albertans who have the means and the inclination would be able to pay the clinic to perform knee and hip replacements. The clinic could charge whatever they want (or whatever people are willing to pay). The most direct and obvious effect on the public health care system would be that these people would no longer be "in line" for a publicly-paid operation. The downside, as I understand it, is that Alberta orthopedic surgeons would only want to work for the private clinics, and abandon the public system en masse. I quote from memory, as accurately as I can recall:
Health Minister Gary Mar: "Baby boomers are coming into considerable wealth, inheriting money from their parents, on top of what they earn on their own. It is going to be increasingly difficult to tell them, 'You want to buy a recreational property, fine, you want to buy a new car, fine, but you can't spend any money on your own health care.' They will anyway, and already are, they're just traveling to the U.S. and England to do it."
Opposition Leader Kevin Taft: "These clinics are being considered for two reasons. First is blind ideology; they believe the market works for everything. Second is greed; the people behind these clinics are extremely well-connected to the Tories. Allowing these new private clinics would undermine the public health system."

I don't care how anyone wants to spin it: one of those quotes sounds like someone acknowledging Albertans' freedoms, and the other sounds like someone looking for excuses to deny them. It is incredible that an Albertan citizen can spend $50k on 2500 cases of beer, but not on an operation that will considerably and promptly improve his quality of life, possibly even more than the beer would.

As for the argument that private clinics threaten to undermine the public system, I'm willing to concede that, if only someone will attempt to explain to me why the level of threat warrants the near-total restriction of Albertans exchanging their hard-earned cash for an important service. I suppose private schools may undermine the public system by attracting qualified teachers (not an argument you'll hear from Kevin Taft, by the way), but nonetheless, they are permitted to exist. Car dealerships undermine public transit; if all the money people spend on cars were taxed for public transit, the system could be massively expanded. And yet I can still walk out the door and buy a Focus, or a Grand Cherokee, or a Porsche.

Our health system needs to be rescued from social policy. If we could all just agree that the end goal is good health care for everyone, not equal health care for everyone, we'll be a lot better off. And if CBC Radio could help, bless 'em. Because frankly, we're pretty much achieving the "equal" thing right now, and we see how happy it makes everyone.

Crisitunity in the West

Lisa Simpson: “You know Dad, the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity.”
Homer: “Yes…crisi-tunity!”


There are several things that went very, very right for the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in the recent federal election campaign. Notwithstanding the angst and mouth-foaming around here at the result, there is ample reason to be optimistic for the CPC’s prospects. My only pessimism is derived from the myriad of citizens and pundits who are attributing the result to the exact wrong reasons.

For starters, there is this notion that the party’s chances are permanently limited by the fact that many candidates are, well, conservative, and unafraid to say so. This is not supported by the evidence. Just using the abortion issue as an example, there are several Liberal MPs who are unapologetically pro-life. If you had to identify one single candidate who was rigidly and unreservedly pro-life, it would have to be Newfoundland NDP candidate Father Des McGrath, a Catholic priest.

The other repeated misinterpretation of the election result is that “Ontario”, or Ontario voters, are ganging up to deny “the West” a voice in the federal government. This is pure eyewash, and it demagogues and infantilizes Ontarians.

Single-issue voters are few and far between. In Hamilton, just like in Lethbridge, they walk to the polling station, evaluate what they know about their choices, weigh that against their vision of Canada, and what they perceive as their own interests, and mark an X. If a Hamilton voter chooses a Liberal candidate over a CPC one simply because Myron Thompson in Alberta thinks same-sex marriage is an abomination, it’s probably because she doesn’t otherwise see too much difference between the parties.

The CPC, for the unknown duration of this minority government, has a tremendous opportunity to lead by example and get their message out. Jack Layton accused Stephen Harper in the debates of “hiding behind free votes in Parliament”. This statement is an obnoxious oxymoron, but no wonder it strikes a chord with many Canadians – we’re totally unfamiliar with the concept! We are so used to MPs unflinchingly voting the party line that the alternative seems radical. Stephen Harper should move to normalize it, unilaterally, and declare that CPC MPs are free to vote as they wish on every bill, without fear of expulsion. The first few times selected MPs vote against Harper (i.e. with the Liberals), the media will cite it as evidence of internal divisions in the party. But eventually, it will be known as the way the CPC does business, and Canadians should expect the same when they are in government. It may even shame the other parties into imitation. If this happens, the result is a more democratic federal government, with the added bonus of dispelling any perception that individual MPs’ views are something beyond what they are – 1/308th of Parliament’s decision-making apparatus.

The other example Stephen Harper and his shadow cabinet need to set, right now, is the termination of pitting regions against one another. We are all, from coast-to-coast, individuals with exactly one vote. The West does not own any one political culture. We are presented different visions of government at election time, and many of us choose the same one. Ontarians, thus far, have not made the same choice in similar numbers. Harper was right to blast Paul Martin for demonizing Alberta over health care, so shame on him for his pre-election comments trumpeting that a CPC victory would be the West’s victory. It would be a victory for everyone who supports the principles of his party more than the alternatives; it is bald pandering to his base to suggest otherwise.

Stephen Harper emerged from the federal election campaign with improved recognition and respect. He never contradicted his stated vow to democratize Parliament, nor his belief that CPC principles would benefit all 13 provinces and territories. He also managed to make the Liberals take three sides on every issue in a mere 36 days. These are considerable strengths to build on – he ought to seize the opportunity.