Archive for Canadian politics

Canadian Tax Returns

The Canadian tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December, but tax-payers have until 30th April to make their return.  I completed ours yesterday.  It is a complicated process, because separate calculations have to be made for the Federal and the Provincial taxes, and both give taxpayers allowances for all sorts of things that no Brit would expect to be tax deductible: union dues, a Canada employment allowance (that’s just for having a job), donations to political parties, owning oil wells — that one is called ‘royalties’ which gave me false hope that it had relevance for us, being married, being a priest, having children, doing house renovation, and so on and so on. There can be very few facets of life in Canada that haven’t had a Canadian politician wondering if he can buy votes by creating a tax allowance for it.  There are probably allowances for installing hot-tubs and wearing stetson hats, but I just haven’t identified them.

Completing the return involves filling in a main form — the T1, which then tells you to fill in another form, which at various points tells you to fill in various subsidiary forms.  Then you are told to copy or refer to figures from various of these forms and cross reference with the forms you may or may not have already filled in for your spouse.  Before long, I’m surrounded by bits of paper filled in in pencil  and feeling that beating myself over the head several times with a cricket bat would be more fun than I’m having.

Each of the previous seven years that I’ve been filling the forms in for both of us has followed a similar pattern.  I spend a day doing the return, followed by a stiff drink or several.  I post the forms off and then a few weeks later I get a nicely worded letter detailing the errors I have made telling me that we are liable for less tax than I thought and explaining why.

I wish my dealings with HMRC were so pleasant.  I won’t miss filling in Canadian tax returns, but I will have fond memories of the Canadian Revenue Agency.

 

 

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Ten weeks to go

This year was probably my last White Good Friday, and I won’t be sorry if I never experience another White Christmas either.  My heart’s desire is never to see another snowflake for as long as I live.

Swapping continents involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and between now and the end of June I will have constant anxiety about dropping one of them.

Planning our relocation, I’ve found the British Ex-Pat forums invaluable. With the help of the forum I’ve managed to keep the cost to under £10,000, which is remarkable given that we spend nearly £13,000 in ’06, though then we were spending a generous relocation allowance from Ian’s employer.

The biggest expense is for a 20′ container, which will transport our books and household goods. The cost of transporting our two cats is the next most expensive item, more than our own airfares; they travel on the same aircraft as us, but as cargo. The remainder of the expense is made up of car and van hire and a hotel for our last few days in Canada after our house has been emptied.

The whole of my time in Alberta has been overshadowed by the fact that our life here is subsidized by an industry, the tar sands, that I think should be closed down. There isn’t any way the industry can be made sustainable.  Being here has meant living a contradiction and it has made me unhappy.  It was a huge relief to me last year when the sale of our house meant that I no longer had a significant financial investment in the economy. But I’ve also made friends here, and how genuine can my friendship be when I wish their economy, and with it their careers and financial security, to blazes?

I think the outlook for Alberta is grim whatever the future holds. If the world is going to deal with climate change then Alberta is going to become known as the province of stranded assets.  If the world doesn’t deal with climate change then the outlook is grim for all of us including Alberta. While I’ve been here, I’ve been very disappointed by the British government’s backing for Canada on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. A true friend to Canada would not give it a helping hand on the path to perdition.

 

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I hope Neil Young will remember….

Edmonton Alberta. -11°C with windchill.

The journalist Michael Den Tandt has the following article in today’s Edmonton Journal attacking musician Neil Young’s opposition to the Tarsands.  I reproduce the first few paragraphs, but with some substitutions, imagining what a journalist with the same mindset as Den Tandt — that immediate profit trumps ethics — might have written a hundred and fifty years ago:

Neil Young is probably no more, and no less, a moral coward than the next person.  But he is a moral coward.

That’s because — like most of the rest of us — he declines to face the logical consequences of his beliefs. He fails to extend. The failure to extend is endemic in the broadening debate about the sources of labour, its cost and follow-on effects. It reduces this debate, for the most part to hyperbolic babble, in which combatants trade volleys like medieval theologians arguing over whether angels have mass.

Does Young have the right to use his celebrity to stick it to the Slave Owners? Clearly he does. As Stephen Maher of PostMedia News  has pointed out, this is a poet’s classic role — to act as goad, inciter and rabble-rouser. Artists are like Shakespearean court jesters. They get away with saying things no one else will or can, and they should.

But let us, for a moment, talk turkey, about the politics of slavery, and labour, and the related moral choices that we each make. 

As many have noted previously, slavery is not going away in our lifetime…..

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One year to go

In exactly a year’s time I’ll be crossing the Atlantic for the last time.  My original intention for this blog was that it should be about Canada, but since my own interest in this country was exhausted after about six months, my blogging on my temporary domicile has mostly been limited to railing against its appalling environmental record.  I’ll try to do better for my last year here.

Tomorrow is Canada Day, so I’ll start with Canadian nationalism. I was in my local supermarket this morning, the local radio was playing in the background and I heard an advert start with the words “You know Canada is a great place to live eh?”.  About a week ago I was watching the CBC coverage of the Calgary floods.  Almost comically, the interviewer of a man whose house had been flooded started his question “Now we all know Calgary is a great city …”

The city of Edmonton,where I live, had a publicly funded campaign during the winter to celebrate Edmonton as a “great winter city”.  It isn’t.  Seriously and objectively, no town that gets down to -42°C in winter can be rationally described as a “great winter” anything. Winters in Edmo are primarily about survival.

Tomorrow the “greatness” of Canada syndrome reaches its annual zenith.  There will be crowds on the streets dressed in red and white waving maple leaf flags with dawn to dusk coverage of the concerts and parades on TV. My husband, who is a Canadian, hates it.  He doesn’t remember Canada Day being celebrated with such fervent nationalism in his youth, before he spent three decades in the UK, and regards it as part of the Americanisation of Canadian culture, with Canada Day having become a tawdry imitation of July 4th.

I think he is probably right, and there is irony in Canada becoming more like the USA by becoming more nationalist, since Canadians define themselves by their difference from their southern neighbour. But, unlike my husband, I don’t dislike the hoopla on Canada Day. I only experience it through watching CBC, and on TV at least there is a lot of emphasis on Canada being a country of migrants.  Citizenship ceremonies are held on Canada Day, and CBC tells the stories of some of the new Canadians, political refugees, economic migrants or entrepreneurs. It’s propaganda which depicts Canada as providing a level playing field for all its citizens, which isn’t really the case, but it is also inclusive and non-racist in intent.  It contrasts positively with nationalist and patriotic sentiment in the UK which is almost always hijacked by the anti-immigrant right.

For the rest of the year, however, the “Canada is a great country” rhetoric grates on my  sensibilities.  Like any European with a knowledge of history, I’m wary of nationalism, and governments that whip up nationalist sentiment.  I wince and turn away or turn off. I also think Canadians protest too much:   If you have to keep saying that the place where you live is great, you begin to sound as if you are having difficulty convincing yourself.

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Harper addressing Parliament

Can someone explain why Stephen Harper has been invited to address Parliament?  The last time a Canadian prime-minister did this was in 1944.  Canada had, of course, contributed enormously to the Allies’ war effort, keeping Britain supplied with food and materials via the Atlantic convoys (my late father-in-law took part in The Battle of the Atlantic), and supplied a million troops.

A comparison with WW2 is apt, because the struggle to combat climate change is also a fight for survival, and this time Canada is on the wrong side.  Harper has muzzled his own scientists, obstructs international negotiations on emissions reduction and lies, prevaricates and obfuscates in order to protect Canada’s dirty oil industry.

Inviting him to Parliament makes as much sense, in terms of British interests ,and ethically, as inviting Henrik Verwoerd to invite Parliament in 1962.  Except that we didn’t do that, of course.

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The European Fuel Quality Directive

The following is the substantive part of an email I sent to Norman Baker a couple of days ago:

Dear Norman,

………….

I should have written to you about the Fuel Quality Directive before now.  After all, I am in a unique position as both a member of the Lewes Liberal Democrats, whose MP is responsible for Britain’s vote in the EU on the FQD’s implementation, and a resident of Alberta, home of the tar-sands industry lobbying against implementation.

In 2011, when The Guardian newspaper started reporting that you were going to vote against implementation, I simply did not believe what I was reading. Damian Carrington, who was taking the lead on the issue, is not a journalist whose accuracy I trust (I note in today’s Guardian that, despite reporting on the tar-sands issue for several years, Carrington still thinks that Canada has a president). At first, I treated the reports as so much anti-coalition propaganda, because I could not imagine that you would consider voting against implementation.

I was wrong, but by the time I realized there was substance to the reports, I also knew you were listening to environmental lobbyists, and when you abstained on the vote on implementation I thought you had listened, but were probably constrained from voting for implementation by a promise made to Stephen Harper by David Cameron.  Since it is reported that you may be intending to vote against implementation now, clearly I was wrong again.

These are weak excuses for not having lobbied you on the issue myself, and even though I know that you have spoken with Dr James Hanson, who is a million times more qualified than I am to put the argument for FQD implementation, I want you to know that I think you are mistaken, and are overly influenced by the Canadian and oil industry lobbyists.

If I understand your position correctly (and I’m not sure that I do), you do not want the FQD implemented until it includes all unconventional crudes, not just tar-sands.  Your critics say this will simply push the FQD into the long grass, which is exactly what the oil industry lobbyists want. You deny that this will happen.

I do not know enough about the way the EU works to know whether a no vote by Britain will result in implementation delayed or indefinitely postponed, but two things are obvious to me:

Firstly, the FQD already includes provision for review in 2015, allowing the other unconventional crudes to be added. This undermines your argument, but your only reply is that you have ‘no faith’ in the review.  Why?

Secondly, it is very clear to me, from here in Alberta, that a no vote hands the Canadian Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers a propaganda coup.  This may seem unimportant compared with the substantive task of reducing the carbon content of European fuel, but it is not. Canada has no realistic plan for reducing its carbon emissions, and no intention of putting one in place.  It would have to close down the tar-sands industry, and nobody in Canada wants to talk about that – and I mean nobody.  There is an air of unreality about most climate change discussion in Canada that is probably best described as ‘the view from Planet Exxon Mobil’, which infects even environmental organisations. So, for example, we have the environmental group Pembina Institute which does good work on some issues, but on the tar-sands talks about ‘responsible development’.  Dr Hansen will have explained to you that there is no responsible development of the tar-sands; the only responsible course of action is no development at all. 350 org has no local groups in Canada.

There are good reasons for the silence about the elephant in the room.  No Canadian, however concerned about climate change, wants his or her house and pension fund to devalue, or to lose his or her job. In the federal election of 2007 the Liberal Party presented Canadians with a ‘green shift’ manifesto which would have used carbon taxes to shift development away from the tar-sands and into green industries. Even then, the Liberal leader Stéphane Dion denied it would prevent tar-sands development, although it certainly would have done. The ‘green shift’ was attacked, not just by the Conservatives, but by the New Democrat Party, who objected to the cost to middle-class families; not mentioning that their preferred option, of a carbon trading scheme, would only have been cost free if it was also as ineffective as Europe’s has been.

The ‘green shift’ was rejected by the electorate. The Liberal party has been very careful since then never to say anything sensible about climate change, and it was at that point Canada adopted the perspective of Planet Exxon Mobil.

To give one example: Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official federal opposition (NDP), visited Washington in March this year, where he compared unsustainable development to slavery, but found himself unable to say whether or not he opposed the Keystone XL pipe-line, even though it is as good an example of unsustainable development as can be found anywhere on Earth.

To give another: Justin Trudeau, newly elected leader of the Liberals, has supported tar-sands development, saying it should be defended when foreign critics call for a halt.  The Liberal website, nonetheless, states that Canada’s energy policy should be sustainable.

The governing politicians of Canada and the Canadian journalists who support them, use rhetoric that makes it clear that they see the emissions issue as purely one of greenwash. They tend to assume that foreign governments are as cynical as themselves – only paying lip service to the issue as a sop to a tiresome green lobby. I have no doubt that is how Stephen Harper sees David Cameron (perhaps rightly), and possibly you Norman.  A no vote will confirm him in that view.

Moreover, it is possible the vote will take place before President Obama has made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, sending the wrong message at the wrong time to the USA about the importance Europe places on the issue.

Your advisors may have emphasized the importance of Britain’s friendship with Canada, but true friends are truthful with each other, and in the long run it will not help Canada if it is allowed to continue its delusory path. As you know, Nicholas Stern has recently warned of the risk of ‘stranded assets’, and Canada is at risk of becoming The Country of Stranded Assets. Honest speaking about the tar-sands industry, and a vote in favour of implementation of the FQD,  would be a friendlier act to Canada than giving in to its lobbyists. …………..

There is one point I wish I had included in the email, which is that it is a very strange situation, when a Liberal Democrat MP expresses a lack of faith in the ability of the EU to do what it says it is going to do (carry out a review of the FQD in 2015), but no such scepticism is being expressed by Greenpeace.

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The Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders

Doug Saunders is a Canadian journalist based in London. In this book he takes apart the mythology, current in both Europe and North America, that Muslim immigration threatens Western culture. The book is divided into four sections:

In the first titled ‘Popular Fiction’ he examines the mythology as it is presented by various right-wing ideologues in Britain, North America and Europe. Its main proponent in the UK is of course Melanie Philips who set out her ideas in her book Londonistan.

In the second section ‘The Facts’ he shows how way-off reality the myth-makers are.  This section is very well researched, peppered with statistics and makes for some fascinating reading.

In third section ‘We’ve been here before’ Saunders looks at the historical reaction to Irish and Jewish immigration, and draws parallels with the present.  I found this section quite chilling in that there seems to be so little historical progress in the way we view immigrant groups with different cultures to our own.

Finally, in ‘What we ought to worry about’ he examines what the real problems are in immigrant communities and makes some suggestions about what we should be doing about it.

I learned a lot from this book, including the uncomfortable realisation that I’d had some misapprehensions and prejudices of my own. I highly recommend it. It would also make an ideal Christmas gift for your irritating Daily Mail reading in-law.

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Review of The Carbon Crunch by Dieter Helm

Climate change is speeding up, exceeding the worst predictions of the IPCC. The arctic could be ice-free in summer within five years.  Without ice, the sea warms up more quickly, melting the undersea tundra, and releasing huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon-dioxide.  We may  already have reached the tipping point beyond which lies catastrophe.  Two degrees of warming is inevitable, but six degrees, by the end of this century, is a real possibility — a level which threatens the continuance of our species, but if humanity does survive, there will be far fewer of us, living in very changed and worsened conditions on far less of the planet’s surface.

International attempts to tackle the problem have failed utterly. Emissions keep going up.  We Europeans were apt to be smug because we were meeting our Kyoto targets, but that had nothing to do with the EU emissions trading system, which is dead in the water. Our emissions went down because of de-industrialisation. If we take into account the carbon emitted in the goods we import, then UK emissions have gone up by around 20%. The conferences at Copenhagen and Durban were a disaster.  To quote Dieter Helm:

“what was ‘agreed’ was that the parties would try to agree by 2015 what they may do after 2020.  This really would be hard to make up!”.

So what is the way forward?  Is there a way forward at all?  Helm thinks there is and that is one reason to read this book. Another reason is if you are unsure how shale gas fits into the picture.  As a relatively low carbon fuel does it buy us time, or is the environmental cost too high? And finally, Helm is reputed (according to Simon Jenkins) to have the ‘ear of the Treasury’, which in itself makes what he has to say interesting.

Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford, has written extensively on climate change, but this is his first book for the general reader.  If he wanted to reach a wide audience, it was possibly a mistake to be so politically partisan, particularly in the early chapters. His centre-right perspective may give him more leverage with Conservative politicians, but it is off-putting if, like me, you are not so committed to one side of the political divide. While he painstakingly teases out the different strands of Conservative thought (basically Roger Scruton’s traditional Conservatism = good, Neo-Cons = regrettable), he has Scruton’s tendency to lump everyone else  together, as impossibly idealistic and often authoritarian socialists. Contrast Helm’s sympathetic treatment of  Nigel Lawson who, he tells us “found it hard to get his book on climate change published, even though he accepted that climate change was likely to occur” (and also showed a profound lack of understanding of the science, questioned whether climate change was in fact occurring, asking whether a 3 degree rise really mattered, called for the IPCC to be disbanded, and set up a climate change sceptic organisation), with Helm’s treatment of John Sauven, who is labelled intolerant for calling the delegates to Copenhagen ‘criminals’.  Although I’d agree that Greenpeace is  often intolerant,  an exhausted and frustrated lobbyist lapsing into hyperbole at the end of the Copenhagen debacle is not the best example.

Because solutions to climate change are long term, any realistic strategy must command  a large degree of consensus across the political spectrum. It would have been helpful for Helm to acknowledge the heterogeneity of environmentalism. They are not all socialists who want to ration carbon worldwide to one tonne  per person per annum. Helm thinks that almost everything  done so far has been either useless or counter-productive, but he would not have difficulty finding environmentalists who agree with his criticisms: nuclear is needed — ask Mark Lynas; wind turbines are an expensive irrelevance — try James Lovelock; solar power also —  George Monbiot agrees; carbon emissions trading has failed, and we need a carbon tax — widespread agreement; coal is the main problem — over the pond, James Hanson has been shouting it from the rooftops for years; insulating people’s home may reduce fuel poverty but won’t reduce emissions — try the Canadian Mark Jaccard, and so on.

Helm proposes a three-fold strategy to set us on the right track. Firstly we need shale gas as an interim transitional fuel. He stresses that extraction must be properly regulated (he is, unsurprisingly, pro-nuclear, but doesn’t see it making a significant contribution for another 20 years).  Secondly we need a carbon tax, charged at the point of consumption not production, which would include a tax on imports. Thirdly we need a major programme of R&D, funded by the carbon tax,  to find technological solutions.

I’m not competent to make a detailed critique of what he proposes, but there is one glaring problem — that of persuading  the public, and governments, that carbon taxes are necessary.  Recent history is not encouraging.  In the UK the Labour government was forced to back down on road charging.  In Canada, the Liberal Party’s ‘Green Shift’ manifesto, which proposed a carbon tax, lost them an election. In the current US presidential race neither candidate dares even mention the subject of climate change. Helm is critical of leftist greens for making politically unachievable demands. but on the other hand, he is critical of governments for misleading the public by telling them that we can tackle climate change without any cost.  He wants politicians to come clean and admit that it will cost money and jobs, and cause a drop in standard of living for us all. Given the public reaction to austerity budgets, what chance is there that any government that tries to impose a carbon tax will stay in power?

To allow import taxes on carbon, Helm proposes WTO rules should be amended if necessary.  How many decades would it take to get international consensus for that?

If Dieter Helm does have “the ear of the Treasury”, I’d love to be a fly on the wall  to hear the conversation. It follows from Helm’s position that Britain should vote to implement the EU Fuel Quality Directive.  I hope he points that out, and the government listens. It is a small thing, but something they can do without angering the electorate.

For a more informed review than mine — by development economist Simon Maxwell — see here.

The Carbon Crunch by Dieter Helm - link to Amazon.co.uk

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Another CAPP ad

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has restarted its campaign to green-wash the tar-sands. I will be failing in my duty if I do not comment on the latest ad.

The star is Chelsie Klasson, who works in community relations for Imperial Oil.  She beams from the page in a head and shoulder shot accompanied by the headline: ‘Every day I see the positive impact oil sands development is having on our communities’.  

She continues: ‘Working in community relations I get to see how tax dollars and royalty payments from oil sands development are making a difference. It’s funding hospitals, schools and social programs. I tell everyone I possibly can about how the oil sands are having a really positive impact on our communities.’

CAPP ad connoisseurs (we happy few) will notice the difference between this ad and the previous series.  Chelsie stands against a blurred background — though you can just read the word ‘hospital’.  Gone are the pristine lakes and woodland scenery, which were such inappropriate backdrops for justifying an industry which is transforming northern Alberta into Mordor. Does this represent a move by CAPP to meet its critics half-way? If only.

I cannot disagree with Chelsie that the profits from the tar-sands are providing jobs and having a short-term positive impact on public finances in Alberta, and the rest of Canada. Not everybody feels their community is benefiting, and as so often in Canada the losers are First Nations people,

Imperial Oil is a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest company ‘able to determine America’s foreign policy and the fate of entire nations’. (Daily Telegraph). Chelsie might find that the residents of Chad would also disagree with her about the benefits of the company’s activities. Would you want to be the public face of this company?

Canada is not immune from the effects of climate change, but there is a facile fantasy here that the country will benefit, or at least adapt.  Canada may be losing its pine forests to red pine bark beetle; the prairies may become too subject to drought for agriculture, but elsewhere agricultural productivity will increase, new land will become cultivatable further north, and the melting ice means that the mineral riches of the Arctic can be exploited. However, all this depends on the rest of the world’s economy continuing to function in some fashion for Canada to trade with. It depends on Canada avoiding the effects of world conflict (which may become nuclear) over diminishing resources.

It also depends on climate change happening slowly enough for adaptation to take place, even though Canada is doing nothing to help slow the process down, and everything it can to make sure that there is no meaningful mitigation. The warming is accelerating. The arctic was forecast to be ice free by 2050.  The latest prediction is 2020.  At that point we lose the albedo effect of the ice cap  that reflects sunlight back into space, and methane is released from the melting tundra further speeding up warming, which may become unstoppable. The window of opportunity for Canadians to bask in the ‘positive impacts’ of the tar-sands industry is growing smaller. If Chelsie lives to old age, she will probably have witnessed the deaths of billions caused by climate change, and I predict that by then she will regret having been the public face of the tar-sands industry.

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Alberta Election

The biggest losers were the pollsters, who got it totally wrong

Contrary to their predictions, the Tories got a safe majority, and Wildrose only got 17 seats, although that makes them the official opposition.

One of the possible reasons for the pollsters cock-up is interesting. They rely on “robocalls”.  Personally, as soon as I hear a recorded message, I hang up without waiting to hear whether they are offering me credit, cut price double glazing, or want to know which way I’ll vote, and apparently I’m not unusual.  But, not Wildrose voters apparently. I wonder why.  Do you think it might have something to do with IQ?

When I lived in Staffordshire, I used to look forward to reading the correspondence from Mrs Biddulph, the local press spokewoman for UKIP, in the local press.  The Biddulph  Weltanschauung was great fun. She apparently believed that Christianity started in England, and that membership of the EU meant we were threatened by ungodly countries like Italy. I’ve really missed Mrs Biddulph since I moved here. Now I have great hopes of Wildrose to provide me with entertainment during my last two years in Canada.  Without a majority, they are likely to be an undisciplined group of wackos, given the opportunity to voice their obsessions in prime time. Even though the “caucasian advantage” and the “gays will burn in hell — fact” candidates didn’t get elected,  I’ve heard Wildrose  leader Danielle Smith is not only a climate change sceptic, she doesn’t believe smoking causes cancer, so it’s an opposition led by the female equivalent of Christopher Brooker.

Amended 5.48 pm — eliminated typo.

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