Monday, November 26, 2012

Rob Ford Found Guilty of Conflict of Interest.

Today Rob Ford was found guilty of conflict of interest violation and will be removed from office in fourteen days barring a stay and appeal. Earlier I had written i could live with a verdict that found Ford incredible ignorant of the rules but not guilty. I felt that it seemed excessive to in effect overturn an election result; (Ford won 47.114% of the 50.55% of the electorate that bothered to cast votes. His electoral victory was provided by 23.82% of all eligible voters. Not much a mandate but a win is a win.) I'd rather he just be a lame duck mayor and head into the next election with an official ruling of "stupid" to campaign against. So I'm feeling a little bit good and a little bit sad.

But Ford lost, and if I can live with a not guilty verdict; I can adjust to a guilty one. I'm not one of those people that see this as a blow to our electoral system. It's not as if he suppressed voter turn =out through Robo Calls. I see no harm to our democracy in the short or long term resulting from Justice Hackland's decision. In a brief summary; Rob Ford was accused of breaching conflict of interest guild-lines; that were the result of a violation of a code of conduct guide-line that stemmed from a donation to his football charity. Rob Ford case seemed to depend on him being ignorant of the rules or the municipal conflict of interest act's lack of  applicability. In  a simpler form he wasn't responsible for anything he did.

So why is democracy not shredded? We had a holder of a High Political office, hauled before the courts by a citizen and found guilty. The court case was open to all; transparent to all and presided over by an impartial and qualified professional. Whether the outcome was guilty or not it represented a high standard in the rule of law. There are many  places where the courts are abusive to the common citizen; a network that acts to oppress rather than hold accountable the powerful.

I'm not elevating this case to that level; Rob Ford didn't really do something bad, just kind of stupid; that's were the aforementioned sad comes in. If Ford ultimately loses his job it will be unfortunate that it was over so very little; that a remedy could not be found before it went to court. That's another funny thing, the punishment for conflict of interest is non-negotiable; you do it, you're gone. Let mandatory minimums cheerleaders take note.

A quick response to the Talk Show caller I heard; he felt the Ford verdict justified revisited the idea of electing judges. I can only surmise he felt that the proceedings may not have been as impartial as desired. Electing judges is an awful idea. In favour, there is covering the bench with same electoral accountability now enjoyed other elected office holders. The ability to remove incompetent Judges.The negatives, the likely hood that popularity, ideology and money will win out over experience and quality. The last thing you want on the bench is a judge with his electoral prospects weighing into a judicial decision. Not saying it would, just saying we don't need to add that to the mix.

So Ford is maybe gone, everyone is either happy or upset, the system works or it doesn't. Just another day in Canada's largest city.

Update: (30/11/2012) Justice Hackland has clarified his decision on Rob Ford's ability to run in a by-election. In a statement issues this morning the Justice said Rob Ford is not barred from running if Toronto City Council calls a by-election to fill the vacated mayoral seat. That predicated on Rob Ford losing his appeal.

Update: (6/12/2012) Rob Ford has been given a stay as he pursues an appeal.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Woman, A Barber Shop and A Human Rights Commission

A story about a Barber Shop refusing service to a patron based on religious reasons is winding its way through the news cycle. This is the first I have heard of the incident, though it appeared to have happened almost two weeks ago. A woman wanted a man's style haircut; the Barber shop she choose is operated by observant Muslims; they refused her service because they are restricted in the manner that they may interact with women. No one in the shop could touch her, no touching no haircut. The women has filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Human rights commission. The relevant section can be found in The Human Rights Code Part 1, Freedom from Discrimination; services 1;

Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7, s. 1 

The barber shop, by refusing service to this women has violated this section. I could find no section where religious obligation exempted adherence to  provisions of the Human Rights Code.

So what do we do when rights conflict? The Human Rights Commission is going to be asked to rule on primacy of Rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees religious freedom; belief and practice. I am not sure if Section 15; equal protection and equal benefit of the law, extends to private citizens offering services to the public. We have seen a slow erosion of discrimination based on race; accommodations or jobs. We expect public and private facilities to be accessible to the physically impaired. The right to discriminate on religious grounds is the present conflict zone. 

What of accommodation? There are many barbers who would happily cut her hair. She was denied the services in one shop, not all shops. Is it in our interest to allow some discrimination an religious grounds? Especially in cases where their is ample alternatives available to the offended party. We already make some  exceptions regrading race, gender and religious discrimination. I would not force an all female only health club to except men. I support affirmative action; on racial and gender grounds,that is discrimination; though towards a positive end.  I certainly would never force a Church, Mosque or Temple to marry a Gay couple. 

The right to refuse a service because of religious reasons versus the right to equal treatment. This conflict has found expression in the case of a marriage commissioner refusing to provide services to gay couples, the Courts ruled that you do your job or your lose your job. The Courts did not recognize religious belief as valid excuse for discrimination. A government has an obligation to uphold fair treatment in the providing of services to its citizens. How well this translate to private persons providing a public service is not always clear. In British Columbia the Human Rights Tribunal ruled against a taxi cab operator who refused, on religious grounds, service to a blind man and his work dog. Again in BC a gay couple, by way of the HRT successfully sued a B&B for refusing them service. 

If you take these cases as indication of a trend it would appear that the Religious defense, an expression of conscience is not sufficient to exempt a business from charges of discrimination. That discrimination if allowed must provide a tangible benefit to the wider community.The HRC has its hands full with this case. in attempting to find a balance between the right of belief with right of access. 

 In Addition: With respect to discrimination rulings, religious or otherwise; the standard applied seems to be that any discrimination that is negative in practice and places an unreasonable burden on an individual, group or class of citizen should not be tolerated. In the absence of such a burden accommodation of some type should be sought.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Marital Infidelity and Public Office or Influence

In the news, former General David Patraeus resigns as head of the CIA. His resignation is tied to the uncovering of emails during an FBI investigation; indicting an extramarital affair with journalist Paula Broadwell. Patraeus and Broadwell will over the coming weeks be, the subjects of opinion pieces. The affair will be dissected to satisfy the prurient needs of a bored public. If the handling of past affairs holds true for this one we can expect a lot of moral hand ringing apologies and snide commentary and a healthy does of partisanship.

Some will call the affair a "none event" and wax lyrically about the needs of powerful men; that power is attractive and women unable to resist its lure. The flip side of that coin has the CIA Director cast as a Good Man undone by bad judgement. Others bemoaning the Moral state of America will condemn Broadwell, ( more so than Patraeus) as a scheming seducer, home wrecker, morally deficient.

Neither narrative is especially kind to women; depicted as rewards for powerful men, little more than furniture to be used; or the temptress leading men to their doom, a modern Eve. The man does better. Sure he is weak or stupid, but what man can withstand the wiles of woman kind. He can safely be forgiven. It is a ridiculous them but it gets page clicks.

I am more interested in the question over private and public life; whether something like a sexual affair requires the resignation that often accompanies such a revelation. I hold that a Public Persons private life is their own; the only exceptions I make are for Hypocrisy and Performance. If you are an ardent promoter of Family Values, if your public life is centered around morality, then any sexual transgression removes your authority and with it any right to influence or offices obtained through such moral exertions.

How does a sexual affair impact performance? I address this as a function of credibility. If you are married you have entered into a contractual agreement with your spouse; by way of religious or civil ceremony. A sacred moment where you commit to certain actions, among them monogamy. When you have an affair you are breaking a your sworn oath. That is a performance issue. If your word is no good, you don't deserve to hold the public trust.

So to be clear it's not the sex; it's the notion that you as an Holder of the Public Trust will break your word; if you think you won't get caught; because you can't control yourself; any potential Office Holder willing to do the former or be subject to the latter would not get my vote. A person willing to cheat on their spouse shows disregard for that person; a disregard that might transition to the public. It suggest such a person that wishes to maintain the benefits that accrue from married life while satisfying themselves outside of it; the best of both worlds. All the cake, none of the crumbs. 

It is a question or Morals( if religious) and Ethics. A person worthy of Public Office or Public Influence must possess a certain type of Character. People who cheat are not bad people, they just aren't quite what I'm looking for in a representative.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bill C-377 An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations)

Another day another Private Member's bill. I'm getting the feeling the Harper Government is using it's back bench to shoulder some of the legislative burden. I don't think they are acting independently of Harper. Which begs the question; why isn't his government introducing this legislation instead of passing it through a backbencher. The MP in question is Russel Hiebert. A quick look at his political position places Hiebert firmly to the far right. It is then not unreasonable that he would present the Anti-Union bill, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations). It's not a long bill and thankfully doesn't come with the usual Orwellian Alternative title. 

A piece of  legislation is presented to meet a need; the need may be defined as either practical or ideological.   The test of any legislation is whether it harms or benefits Canadian citizens. While this should be objective; more often than not it is an argument beset by partisanship. I take a simple approach; any legislative action should be neutral or beneficial to the majority of Canadians whenever possible; in cases where there is obvious harm, a pressing necessity must be demonstrated and that such legislation have an expiration date.

So what is the Bill C-377? It amends the tax code to require labour organizations to disclose all financial information, expenditures, investments salaries and other activity dealing with the disbursement of money. The information will be made available for public viewing. 

The reason given for given for the new reporting requirement is that it is a public tax benefit. While public money does not go directly to unions; union members receive tax benefits related to their membership. Public money however indirect means citizen have an interest. The best way to promote and protect that interests is the implementation of a rigorous and transparent reporting requirement. 

There are two fallacious notions being promulgated here "transparency" and "public tax benefit" in justifying an increased reporting requirement. They are closely entwined ideas, public money and knowing how that money is being spent. On their face it is hard to argue against the idea of supervision over public money. That is the slight of hand in this Three-Card-Monty, legislation. Their is no public money, it's a tax deduction; you get your own money back. If there is no public money then the need for transparency no longer applies. 

I will note that unions are require to make financial disclosures already. In fact union members have access to all the financial dealing of their unions. The idea inferred by C-377 is that union members are not in fact kept informed about union goings on. The notion that C-377 will actually help guard the interests of union members is laughable. You don't get this level of Orwellian logic till you encounter "Right To Work' legislation. 

The fact that other groups and associations charitable or otherwise will not face such strenuous reporting requirements indicates a subtler intent. Doctors and other fee paying entities who receive similar tax benefits do not face a heightened scrutiny. It can be argued that charities should receive greater public scrutiny because of the work they do and the level of trust given to them. The legislation imposes a burden on a particular type of association, labour, leaving similar groups alone. 

It is clear that Unions and labour is being singled out for an increased reporting burden. It won't be cheap to comply. It will cost money to hire personal to deal with the new level of disclosure. Government types sniff and say stuff like "Internet filing" and "digital"; as if the information is magically compiled and filed by accountant elves. Money spent on this regime, can't be spent furthering Labour interests; how convenient. A novel way to reduce opposition to conservative government.

The finally requirement of posting for public view the very detailed working and financial interest of a Labour organization, is ridiculous. Why does the public need to know what a Union leader is paid; union members already do. I imagine much like the purpose of "sunshine" laws; fill a days worth of conservative media; generate faux outrage and division. 

In any measure it can be said that C-377 doesn't meet the legislative test. It serves no practical purpose. It discriminates  against one type of association. It imposes a burden without a discernible benefit. There is no pressing level of necessity. It is partisan. It is a bill meant to challenge Labour, impose burdens and weaken the union movement. It should not pass.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This is The Canada-China FIPA Document

Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People's Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments

RECOGNIZING the need to promote investment based on the principles of sustainable development;
DESIRING to intensify the economic cooperation of both States, based on equality and mutual benefit;

Edit: I am going to Add two columns on the China-Canada FIPA. One by Andrew Coyne and another by Gus Van Harten . These gentleman give their opinion of what the trade deal means.

My original idea was to post the deal as written and withhold comment. I had read the FIPA but found little overt harm. That may be attributed more to a lack of understanding and education in the field of International trade than a benign nature of the deal. So I waited for comment from the better informed to give perspective.

My only discomfort was that we were entering into a trade deal with a Dictatorship; a capitalist/communist hybrid, but still a Dictatorship. These types of regimes are unpalatable and we should think long and hard before dealing with them. I fear that while all the time suggesting that greater association and integration with democratic nations will bring change, Canada is looking at the "money". Pragmatism is the opposite of idealism, I think the best work is done somewhere between the two. This deal is more a work between equals; Canada and China are not equals.

Read both pieces. It will give you something to think about. I'm still unsure. I think that the deal has problems, concerning arbitration guidelines. Nothing unusual, I just don't like these types of mechanisms. Interpreting a contractual obligation is not always easy. Sometimes victory goes to the best lawyers rather that then the right position.

Monday, November 5, 2012

No Smoking in Doorways

Toronto Smokers are looking at a reduction in available spaces to light one up. The Toronto Board of Health is looking increase smoke free zones to include uncovered restaurant patios, public sports fields, bus stops; pretty much any public space where people gather. Public consultations will be held, and from that a new bylaw expanding areas where smoking won't be tolerated. I can't wait.

Smoking is a terrible habit or rather addiction. I know, i used to be a smoker. I'm celebrating 16 years smoke free next month, and I'll do it with a leisurely 12 or 15 km run. I am quite sure that if I was still smoking I wouldn't be running that or any other distance. 

I won't get into how I started smoking, it's a sordid affair, but I'll tell you how I quit. Five years before my final success, I has managed to stop smoking  for about a  year. I did not take. Almost a year quit, I did the unthinkable, I bummed a smoke. I figured it wouldn't matter, I was quit. Big mistake. Within two months I was back to a pack a day. I'd have to wait five more years, for my last cigarette. 
It was my, a very large number, attempt and it was the one that took. One Christmas I decided enough was enough, I threw a half smoked pack into the trash. I had done that a few times before but this time I hoped it would be different. 

Picking Christmas was important; it gave me an important date to hang my story on. Never underestimate the power of a good "quit smoking story" to help keep you clean. I quit cold turkey; the same as when I lasted a year. I have nothing against smoke cessation products but I rally hate to chew gum and I though cold turkey sounded better. Quitting is all mental. Moving past the withdrawal requires the right state of mind. So I built one.

The first thing I did, was admit that I was addicted to nicotine. Your first cigarette is a choice; all the rest are not. At the least it is a choice very much impaired by your bodies need for nicotine. When the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night is have a smoke, your body, in some small measure isn't your own. I remember taking painful puffs, during what was a really bad cold and thinking I had to be nuts. 

What I did next was to tabulate the relative cost of a pack-a-day habit. I tried to look at smoking in terms of what it cost me, monetarily and contrast it to other things. I translated cigarettes into car payments, rent, trips, clothes or savings and investments. Buying smokes meant giving up other things. I might as well have been smoking my cash and cut out the middle man. 

I considered what smoking was costing me physically in the present and what future I could look forward to. Physically, my performance was degraded; I liked to hike and bike; I still could but it always took more out of me than it should have. It would only get worse. I could look forward to lung damage, heart disease, cancer; on a pure point of vanity, early onset of the signs of aging, stained teeth and fingers, reeking of tobacco smoke. All of which I purchased on a daily basis.

My last act in building a frame of mind was to personify my cigarettes. I created an opponent; a well to do man, taking his ease at the beach. He was a Tobacco company CEO, perhaps an Investor. He was someone who profited from my addiction. He was a Non-Smoker. I pictured him lecturing his children about the dangers of smoking; making them promise never to smoke. I seems a bit silly but it did help.

So sixteen years smoke free, without ever a bummed smoke or a look back. I feel for smokers because I know what it's like to be addicted to nicotine. Just the same I support higher taxes in cigarettes and laws restricting tobacco use. It's good for non-smokers and in the end good for smokers too.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Two Private Member Bills C-217, C-309

Two Private members bills have made it through third reading, Bill C-217 and Bill C-309. They are now off to the Senate for a repeat of the procedure. Bill C-217 amends the Criminal code regarding mischief; War Memorials are recognized specifically and given the same protection and punishments accorded for acts against religious institutions, though for War memorials a regimen of fines and short confinement has been added. Bill C-309 amends the Criminal Code regarding riots and unlawful assembly, with the addition of new penalties unlawful acts occur while wearing a mask.

Of the two Private Members bills if  I find the Bill C-309 the most disturbing. But I will comment first on the changes regarding War Memorials. War Memorials have been elevated to the same stature as Religious institutions, with comparable punishments. That alone gives me pause. Memorials are not and should not be lumped in with Churches and the like. You may, if having caused damage to a War memorial be punished by Fine and limited incarceration; or with up to Ten years in prison. Having served in our Armed forces,RCN, I hold War Memorials as important centers for remembrance and contemplation of the sacrifice of our service persons. They should be well maintained and hold a pride of place in our communities; and be treated with respect by all citizen's regardless individual feelings on war or the military. Any mischief caused to them should be punished, but memorials are not objects of Religious veneration or at least should not be. I can accept, barely, ten years maximum sentence applied to damage to religious institutions; there may be an element of hatred or bigotry involved that left unpunished might encourage greater violence against these sacred places. The simple act of tipping over a statue; spray painting a cenotaph; all disgusting acts, but not so much that the proper punishment is ten years in prison. I whole heartily support fines or limited incarceration, 30 days, but find it egregious, a sentence of up to ten years.  I see this Bill as a continuing effort of the Conservatives to elevate War and the Military. Respect yes, Worship no.

The inclusion of mask wearing as a separate offence in the CCoC is something altogether different. I do not hold that Mask wearing is essential to protest nor do I agree that it should be encouraged. A citizen ought to feel comfortable and able assemble and protest in their own person, face uncovered. I hold that if a citizen feels that they must keep their identity secret, for whatever reason, when protesting an action by government or business; our Democracy is in far worse shape than than I suspected.

 I agree that there are those that go to assemblies in order to cause trouble either for political reasons or the shear mischief of it. That wearing a mask makes it less likely to find and prosecute those committing assault or property damage. These people do not have my sympathy. But i can not support ten year prison sentences for breaking a window. It is harsh and unreasonable. That is the amendment to section 65 of the CCoC. The section 66 amendment is even worse, in that if an assembly is declared unlawful, any mask wearing individual also faces up to ten years in prison.

The Harper Government must be seen, by allowing this Private Member's Bill to proceed, as acting against a citizens right to free assembly. A mask in and of it self should not be seen as criminal. The use of masks to parody or satire the powerful is a form of protest in and of itself and has a long tradition. Wearing a Stephen Harper Mask at a protest opposed to the Tar Sands should not earn you ten years in prison. The harshness of the penalty is aimed at discouraging protest. Yes, if you don't wear a mask you want be subject to this harsh penalty, but it must weigh in the minds of anyone who protests. Mistakes are made people charged with crimes they didn't, later to have the charges dropped. This legislation may have more of a chill effect on honest citizens, than dishonest. Our existing laws are fine, and work to provide a balance between allowing citizens to express themselves and  keeping the peace. The Mask law, like most that infringed to some degree on the Rights of Citizens to protest their government, are intended to make it easier for police and government to handle citizen protesters. Masks do not pose a threat to the state as would be inferred from the length of the sentence.

What is common to both pieces of legislation is the harshness imposed, the increased severity of punishments meted out. All laws are an attempt to modify behaviour. Punishment and reward used to shift the public in a desired direction. Where dissent is discourage a citizen becomes less free.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Casino for Toronto

Toronto is contemplating a Casino. A recent report says there is a lot of money to be made and the city should not pass on the chance to play host to Ontario's newest gaming house. The economic benefits are clear, construction jobs and then permanent ones; one time payments to the City and then ongoing tax revenue. The report also contained the figure of .2%, this is the number of expected problem gamblers. It was also noted that if the casino goes to somewhere else in the GTA Toronto will get fewer of the benefits but still deal with most of the problems associated with a Casino, addiction, entertainment competition. The conclusion is couched in the form of , "a casino is coming, it's better to be part of it."

I'm not a fan of Casino development. Gambling as entertainment is just a little more rational than burning money for heat. I understand that the development will include Rooms; shows; perhaps more convention space and restaurants. People go to Casinos for the Gambling. They take in a show; use a room or eat at a restaurant, but gaming is the central attraction.

Casino development brings increased incidences of gambling addiction, and perhaps a minor spike in crime. These are small and can be dealt with by diverting a portion of casino revenue to bulk up programs dealing with addiction and crime prevention. I'm not attempting to minimize the devastating effect of gambling addiction but it's effect is personal and with treatment addressable.

My interest is in the economic side of Casino development. Casino's are service providing industries. They don't make anything. They don't, like a clothing manufacturer turning cloth into suits, adding value. Like the retail outlet providing a space to sell the new suits; once again adding value; creating wealth. A casino is like Spa or Salon a service is provided that transfers wealth from the customer but does not create any.

Casinos are wealth redistribution devices, they take your money on the promise of a chance to win more than you spend. It's not an even circumstance, the Casino always comes out ahead because the gaming odds are in the theirs favour. People do gamble for fun; for the chance to be the exception to the rule and hit the 1/350000 chance and walk out of the Casino a winner. Most people go, lose a couple of hundred and walk out wishing they had won but also feeling they had a good time.

That  is the larger problem. Casinos are large gravity wells only they attract money instead of matter and lots of it, concentrating it in one place. Ideally money spent in a Casino is disposable income, as opposed to your rent money. This is income you might have placed in a savings account; spent at a retail outlet; Salon; given to charity; a homeless person you walk by on your way to work. The are many and diverse ways to use disposable income. We generally spread it around and in doing so support many wealth creating businesses as well as smaller wealth redistribution enterprises; and of course the employment of many of our fellow citizens. The impact on local business depends on how much wealth redistribution comes from local sources. If the majority of Casino revenue comes from outside Toronto locals business the harm is reduced and if the tourists spend money outside the casino, may in fact benefit. Though if you widen then scope, money spent by a tourist couple in a Toronto Casino, isn't spent locally on goods and services in there home town, the effect is the same, just removed from Toronto. One report I have read suggests the majority of Casino patrons are local, within 50 miles, exceptions are Border Casinos. The fact that there are 6 million people within 50 miles of Toronto may appear to lesson the impact. For a city like Kenora, for whom the report was authored, local participation in gambling is a major concern.

Whether you are diverting spending from local businesses or the hometowns of tourists the problem remains. Wealth is concentrated at Casinos at the expense of other outlets. The outcome will be reduced revenues at these businesses possible reduction in employment or closings. If such is the case, employment after the construction phase would be eventually out, with little net gains. This effect would also carry into the revenue side, not the property tax or hosting revenue but income tax or expected rise in taxes from businesses. These would no doubt reach an equilibrium if not on a local level then at least on a GTA or Provincial one.

Casinos bring benefits and headaches. Plenty of deliberation and debate should go into the decision to host such an enterprise. Our elected representatives must look past the revenues, hard in these cash strapped, anti tax times; and truly investigate the whether a Casino is the cure to what ills. They are a mixed blessing at best, at worst, they create more problems than they are meant to relieve.