Friday, May 23, 2008

Taking the fly out of the water

On Thursday the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a case where a man was suing a water company after finding flies in his water. The man had been buying the same brand of bottled water for 18 years. He was obssessed with cleanliness and the health of his family. He wanted them to have pure water. One day he found a fly in the water in the cooler and a second fly in another sealed bottle. The reaction to the event caused a severe phsycological phobia rendering extensive harm including being unable to work. A lower court awarded him more than $300,000 in damages.

The Court ruled that just because an event was possible (justified by the fact it happened) does not mean it was probable. They determined that the water company could only be held responsible for an outcome that could have been forseen by a reasonable person. The company was liable for breach of contract for supplying a contaminated product. The water company did not contest this part of the original ruling to the SCC. The Court noted that the man had not pursued the breach of contract aspect of the case with rigour. The man will also have to pay the water companies court costs.

This ruling effectivly cuts off attempts to bring to Canada the type of frivilous lawsuits that have been seen in the US. Businesses are responsible for the safety of their product. They are not responsible for damages caused by using the product in a way that would not be reasonable to anticipate. Canadians are not entitle to compensation caused by acting stupidly. Only good things can come from this ruling.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tory calls to help tourism too late

On Wednesday, John Tory called on the provincial government to eliminate taxes on hotels and tourist attractions for the summer. The idea is in response to the drop in tourism. It is similar to the gas tax vacation proposal in the US that has been endorsed by John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

The plan does have some appeal. Locals would be able to partake in more of the many activities Toronto and the rest of the province has to offer. These activities get expensive very quickly. It would also help to offset the pricing advantage that has been lost due to the strong dollar.

The timing of the announcement is based purely on politicking and nothing to do with helping the economy. A strong dollar, tanking US economy and soaring oil prices are a recipe for a decline in tourism. If Tory was concerned he should have brought his idea to the table when the budget was tabled.

If McGuinty woke up this morning and decided he liked the idea, there would not be sufficient time to implement it. The legislation would need to be drawn up reviewed and passed. Businesses would need time to adjust their prices and bookkeeping. Various theme parks offer a reduced rate for early season pass purchases. These tourist attractions have started or are about to raise their pricing to the standard summer rate. The season for them to benefit from a tax cut has already been mostly lost.

Proposing solutions to problems without proper time for implementation is irresponsible politics.
Practical solutions from government need to be practical or they will not work.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Carbon tax without taxing gas

The Liberals have been a proponent on the need to lower corporate taxes even further. The current budget they allowed to pass combined with a slowing economy leaves no room for further tax cuts or new major government spending programs. Reversing Conservative tax cuts or creating new revenue streams would be necessary for the Liberals to enact their vision for the future. The Liberals have been harshly criticized in recent days on plans to add a carbon tax in the form increasing the gas tax.

The Liberals announced on Thursday that it is their intention to either implement a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. They promised they will not be increasing the gas tax as part of the solution. The tax would be revenue neutral with the proceeds designed to help implement Liberal goals of tax cuts, fighting poverty and improving the environment.

Are the Liberals really going to put a cost on the price carbon without increasing the price at the gas pump? Are they simply going to create a new environment tax on fuel? In his Dion's speech today he gave great praise to Dalton McGuinty for his ability to manage the economy. Perhaps they will take a page from the Ontario Liberal playbook and simply call the tax a premium.

The merits of a carbon tax can be addressed at another time. The Liberal promise not to increase the gas tax is popular but seems to undermine the core of what they want to accomplish. It will be interesting to see how things get sorted out in the details.

Canada need to decide to run for UN Security Council

I absolutely hate when politicians use vague, misleading statements to justify their positions. Media reports have begun to circulate that the government will not seek a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2010. Technically Canada would be competing with Germany and Portugal for two seats. Germany is considered to have already locked up the first seat. Stephen Harper responded that the cabinet has not made a decision yet.

Stephan Dion contends that the government has been doing such a bad job on the international scene that they simply fear the embarrassment of losing. He has stated Canada's proud history at the United Nations, in it's founding, inventing peace keeping, never missing a chance to take a seat at the Security Council etc....

In praising Canada's proud history he also stated “At the Security Council, Canada has had a seat more often than any other country except for the permanent members,”. The top countries to serve are 9 - Japan, Brazil; 8 - Argentina; 6 - Canada, Columbia, India, Italy, Pakistan. From this list only Italy is in the same region as Canada. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are the only countries from the same region that have served on the Council 5 times. Canada's ability to contribute to the current Security Council should be the only justification for getting elected. This is especially true considering Libya is a current member.

The contention that Canada would not get a seat because they are viewed negatively in international community is unfounded. The UNSC has failed to adopt declarations condemning individual terrorist attacks because they could not get UNSC unanimous agreement. Countries have gotten in with a much more extreme view of the world then Canada's, even under the Conservative government.

Canada wants to play a role on the world stage. Holding a seat on the UNSC is the best way to get a diplomatic voice heard. The Conservative cabinet should make a decision quickly to at least try to gain the seat they are eligible for. If they lose it will be more likely due to political pandering then their reputation on the world stage.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's only fair

In January, the Canadian Transport Agency announced the One-Person-One-Fare policy for all domestic flights. People with severe disabilities and require an attendant in order to travel would not have to pay for a second seat. In accordance with previous court rulings, obesity would be considered a disability if a person cannot fit into an airline seat. On Tuesday, the courts upheld the new policy and airlines will have one year to comply.

As can be expected the public reaction was mixed. Some have objected on the basis that flying is a luxury. If someone can't afford to fly for any reason it is their own tough luck. Another group of objectors feel that people with a genuine disability and cannot travel alone should not have to pay. This group also claims that in the majority of cases obesity is the individual's fault. The solution to the two seat problem is that they should simply not be overweight.

Childhood obesity is a growing concern. Video games, cuts to physical education in school, fast food and unhealthy diet choices at a young age have all been blamed for contributing to the problems. In recent years steps have been taken to increase physical activity and teach healthy eating habits to children.

Another growing problem is the rate of eating disorders in teenage girls. Often the blame is directed at societies expectation of beauty and unrealistically thin role models. While there is a willingness to tackle this issue head on, the response by many to this ruling demonstrates a lack of ability to see the flip side. As a society overweight people are treated like second class citizens. Such treatment can lead to low self esteem and depression making it more difficult to adopt healthy life style choices. Is it not reasonable that some eating disorders are caused by young impressionable minds fears of being labelled 'fat' and all the stigma that goes with it? This new policy accepts people as they are no matter what challenges they face. It prevents them from being forced to fit the cookie cutter definition of 'normal'.

It is time that airlines start treating passengers like people instead of cargo. Forcing the airlines to consider different body types when designing planes will lead to more thoughtful and comfortable seating arrangements for all. The US has taken the opposite approach. It is only a matter of time before tickets are sold by weight. Fortunately, Canada has cemented into law that they will not go down that path.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Liberals show signs of life

Stephane Dion must be breathing a sigh of relief. The vote on the last possible confidence motion that opposition parties can bring forth this spring took place on Monday. It was a NDP motion criticizing the government's ability to manage the economy. It was worded in such a way that the Liberals had no choice but to once again show their support without accidentally toppling the government. The motion was defeated 109 - 89 (40 BQ, 27 NDP, Liberals 20, Independent 2).

The Liberals demonstrated a different strategy from other confidence votes this session. Enough MPs showed up to make the vote at least respectable. On previous occasions they sent the front bench to vote with some relevant critics and the occasional backbencher. On this vote the top brass of the party including the whips did not vote. Instead they had 12 critics and 8 backbenchers to represent the party.

Now that the Liberals are past the stage of constantly being embarrassed by in-action they can begin working on their attempts to regain power. There are plenty of scandals both relevant and completely in left field to attack the government. Over the summer they will unroll planks of their election platform in order to begin building public support. The vote demonstrates that the Liberals are filling their roll as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Democracy works best when the government has a strong opposition to hold it accountable. By definition the Bloc cannot do the job. The NDP has done an admirable job bringing up important issues and avoiding scandals that only help to score political points. Hopefully the Liberals will continue to return to fill their roll as the official opposition.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Should the government control who MPs date?

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has fallen victim to another scandal. This time it has nothing to do with his job performance. Bernier ex-girlfriend had been involved with men who were involved in biker gangs during the 1990s. She seems to have left that life behind her 10 years ago.

The Bloc and Liberals are concerned that this is a threat to national security. The Conservatives responded that relationships are a personal matter and not the business of government. Attempts to rule the questioning non-government business were denied by the Speaker. The NDP have chosen to stay clear of this scandal. They continued to attack the government on policy issues. Thursday was the last opposition day for the spring session. The NDP proposed a non-confidence motion on economic policy which is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

The two major issues are at what point does is a person allowed to leave their baggage behind and should government be involved in regulating personal relationships of elected officials.

People make mistakes in their life. We have the Youth Justice Act so that mistakes made by teenagers are not carried through their entire life. Government offers a number of alcohol and rehab services to help people get over addiction and start life again. Even our prison system offers parole to murders serving life sentences in order for them to have incentive to turn their life around. She ended her relationship with those involved in organized crime more than 10 years ago. She has never been charged for being involved in organized crime. Unless their is evidence she has gone back to her crime connections she deserves to be left alone.

Politicians are elected to do a job. Just like most other jobs the individual abilities is used to make the 'hiring' decision as opposed to who they choose date or keep in their circle of friends. There are many professions where confidentiality is an issue. They include doctors, lawyers, accountants, police, financial planners etc.... In all of these cases individuals are deemed to be trustworthy not to share classified information. These professionals are able to keep the most interesting secrets of their jobs from their spouses. Politicians can be expected to do the same thing without more scrutiny then other professions where people place their trust.

Once again the NDP can be admired for staying clear of a mudslinging issue. Bernier has many blunders that he needs to answer for. An unfounded attack on his character takes the public discourse away from his ability to do his job into the realm of rumour and gossip. This is not an accurate way to judge politicians and will end up hurting the critics in the long wrong. The average Canadian job performance is based on the ability to do their jobs. Politicians should be held to the same standard.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

All he really wants is a cup of coffee

The Ontario government has been getting more attention for their attempt to overhaul the inner-workings of parliament rather then governing the province. They have over 5000 submissions on requests for input on changing the Lord's prayer. McGuinty seems intent on making sure the status quo changes no matter how many people object, including his mother. They have also overhauled the schedule in the legislature starting at 9:00am. Question period has moved from the afternoon to 10:45 and night sittings of the legislature have been eliminated. Not everyone is happy with the changes.

On Monday the new schedule went into effect. Conservative MPP Norm Sterling requested to be allowed to drink his morning coffee inside the legislature. Liberal MPP Michael Bryant expressed his support for the request. Rather then making a decision the Speaker referred the matter to an all party committee.

The Speaker is concerned that allowing coffee opens the door to a whole bunch of other questions. What about tea, orange juice, donuts, muffins, disposable cups, mugs, advertising on cups etc.... ? Offices across the country consider the morning coffee to be an important part of the morning routine. A decision about the surrounding issues should be made quickly and easily with adjustments made as unanticipated scenarios arise. Is it really necessary to spend days, possibly weeks making such a simple decision? There are more important things for the government to deal with. If they need their coffee let them have it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Raising the bar

The new law on sexual consent is now in effect. The old law established in 1892 set the age minimum at 14. The new law sets the minimum age at 16 with an exception for those aged 14-16 as long as their partner is within 5 years of age and the older partner is not in a position of authority in the relationship.

There are two main groups that are objecting to the change. Gay rights groups are upset that the age for anal intercourse remains 18. There seems to be no practical reason for ignoring this concern. The law probably would not stand up to a charter challenge. While this grievance is legitimate it does not address implications of changing the law. It just acknowledges that the current government has no interest in addressing this issue.

The other group is concerned that teenagers will find the law to difficult to understand. They fear teenage sex will be pushed underground. Teenagers in legal relationships will not seek out counseling when needed for fear of prosecution under the law.

The law simply adds another two years to teenagers life where they will not be subject to sexual relationships outside of their relative peer group. Older men who like to date really young girls will have to wait until their prospective partners are a little bit more socially developed before getting involved in a relationship. The early teens is a time of tremendous growth into adulthood. The extra time will allow teenagers to be more comfortable with themselves in order to make proper decisions about entering into a relationship with somebody older.

There are many issues that need to be dealt with when engaging in sexual activity, ranging from safe sex practises, pregnancy, to rape and disease. If 14 year olds can deal with these issues, understanding the law is not beyond their grasp. It is up to parents and educators to include the law in discussions regarding sexuality. If they are equipped with the right information they will be able to make the right decisions about relationships throughout their lives.