Tag Archives: Canada

There is no such thing as a skyscraper curse

But just in case, Saskatoon leaves Parcel Y undeveloped

Until recently, however, there had been no formal analysis of the skyscraper curse. A new paper by Mr Barr, Bruce Mizrach and Kusum Mundra (all of Rutgers) investigates Mr Lawrence’s musings in detail. They look at the building of 14 world-record-breaking skyscrapers, from New York’s Pulitzer (which opened in 1890) to the Burj Khalifa, and compare them to American GDP growth (which they see as a decent proxy for the world economy).

If, as the skyscraper curse suggests, the decision to build the biggest towers happens near the peak of the business cycle, then you could use record-breaking projects to predict the future path of GDP. However, the range of months between the announcement of the towers and the business-cycle peak is large, varying from zero to 45 months. And only seven of the 14 opened during a downward phase of the business cycle (see chart). In other words, you cannot accurately forecast a recession or financial panic by looking at either the announcement or the completion of the world’s tallest building.

With such a small sample, it is tricky to draw firm conclusions. But the paper expands the sample to 311 by looking at the tallest building completed each year in four countries (America, Canada, China and Hong Kong). The authors then compare building height to GDP per person. They find that in all countries GDP per person and skyscraper height are “cointegrated”, a fancy way of saying that the two things track each other. In other words, developers tend to be profit-maximisers, responding rationally to rising incomes (and thus increased demand for office space) by making buildings bigger. While ego and hubris afflict the skyscraper market, the authors argue, its foundations appear sound.

Effects of climate change ‘irreversible,’ U.N. panel warns in report

More bad news on climate change from the United Nations

The Earth is locked on an “irreversible” course of climatic disruption from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the impacts will only worsen unless nations agree to dramatic cuts in pollution, an international panel of climate scientists warned Sunday.

The planet faces a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels and melting polar ice from soaring levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, the U.N. panel said. Only an unprecedented global effort to slash emissions within a relatively short time period will prevent temperatures from crossing a threshold that scientists say could trigger far more dangerous disruptions, the panel warned.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” concluded the report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which draws on contributions from thousands of scientists from around the world.

The report said some impacts of climate change will “continue for centuries,” even if all emissions from fossil-fuel burning were to stop. The question facing governments is whether they can act to slow warming to a pace at which humans and natural ecosystems can adapt, or risk “abrupt and irreversible changes” as the atmosphere and oceans absorb ever-greater amounts of thermal energy within a blanket of heat-trapping gases, according to scientists who contributed to the report.

Meanwhile in Canada, we don’t care about climate change, only our own economy.

Canada’s hopes of securing an outlet for its landlocked oil wealth and pulling an end run around the eternally deadlocked Keystone XL project took a big step forward Thursday with the release of formal plans to build a U.S. $11 billion pipeline to the Atlantic.

TransCanada, the biggest Canadian pipeline company, submitted its application to Canadian energy regulators for a nearly 3,000-mile-long, million-barrel-a-day pipe running from oil-rich western Canada to refineries and shipping terminals in the east. The so-called Energy East Pipeline Project, which TransCanada officials hope could be in operation as soon as 2018, would provide an export outlet for huge volumes of current and future oil production that right now has no easy way to get to market.
The project wouldn’t replace the Keystone XL pipeline — Canada’s other high-profile, multibillion-dollar oil-transport project, which has been awaiting U.S. approval for years — but it could give Republican critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration fresh fodder ahead of the midterm elections. Republicans have long argued that the White House’s refusal to sign off on the Keystone project would cost the United States tens of thousands of jobs. The Obama administration has finished reviewing the environmental merits of Keystone, but pushed back any decision until later this year or early 2015.

If the new Canadian route gets approved in 2016 by Canada’s National Energy Board, as TransCanada expects, it would give the eastern provinces a source of domestic oil — removing the need for some 700,000 barrels a day of oil imports — and would give producers in Alberta and Saskatchewan a direct route to big refineries that could turn the sludgy tar sands into valuable products such as diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel.

Over in Germany

On any given day, Johannes van Bergen, director of the municipal utility Stadtwerke Schwäbisch Hall in southwestern Germany, conducts his team’s array of gas, heat, and electricity sources to meet the energy needs of at least several hundred thousand Swabians in the region, as well as about more than 90,000 customers elsewhere in Germany. And every day — in fact, every hour — that energy mix is constantly in flux.

Technicians at the town’s smart-grid center monitor and manage the utility’s roughly 3,000 regional energy suppliers: several thousand solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, two wind parks, one gas-and-steam power station, six small hydro-electric works, three biomass (wood pellet), sixbiogas plants, and 48 combined heat and power plants, as well as other conventional and renewable energy suppliers outside the municipality.

The population that this ballet of coordinated energy sources serves is admittedly modest, but it’s here that the future of Germany’s energy industry is being tested in full — and proven.

Which of course is a model that we could use here but for whatever reason, the province and the country isn’t willing to experiment.

Their output, and increasingly that of the conventional, too, is distributed through a tightly knit, cross-border smart grid. The composition of supply changes from minute to minute depending on weather, demand, and other factors from one corner of the country to the other. Increasingly electricity is generated in and traded from locality to locality, and even across the country (or countries) via intelligent networks much like that in Schwäbisch Hall and other places in Germany.

No one predicted this scale of locally driven, citizen-led energy boom when the Energiewende began. Even just four years ago, just about everybody involved in the Energiewende thought that big-ticket projects like enormous offshore wind farms planned for Germany’s northern seas and Desertec, the mega-project to import solar energy across the Mediterranean from sprawling concentrated solar power arrays in the Middle East and Northern Africa, would be integral to Germany going renewable.

These projects, however, have flopped spectacularly.

Offshore wind has proven extremely pricey and technologically much trickier than originally assumed, which has led to billons in cost overruns and years-long delays. Germany’s seven operational offshore parks constitute a tiny fraction — just 0.6 percent — of the country’s renewably generated electricity, compared to onshore wind’s 34 percent. The offshore industry claims there’s smooth sailing for offshore wind just around the corner, but it’s been saying that for years.

Canada joins a rare club of repressive states

The list of oppressive countries legislating the wearing of masks keeps growing: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now … Canada.

Rioters in Vancouver

Last month, we reported on Saudi Arabia banning the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, which have been a staple of populist protests from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, and now the Taksim Square protests in Turkey. The Canadian ban is a bit different — but just as strange.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes it illegal to wear a mask in Canada “during a riot or unlawful assembly.” (Because apparently Canadian laws against rioting aren’t dissuasive enough?) Those caught wearing masks during riots could spend up to six months in jail, not including additional charges for rioting; masked miscreants caught “inciting” a riot face a potential 10-year sentence. CBC reports that “exceptions can be made if someone can prove they have a ‘lawful excuse’ for covering their face such as religious or medical reasons.”

Does that include dust masks to prevent getting sick at crowded, dirty protests? Balaclavas so protesters don’t freeze on cold Canadian nights? Handkerchiefs to stave off the inhalation of tear gas? Do fake beards, like the one worn by the Canadian student above, count as masks? That’s unclear, and will be left up to law enforcement officers’ judgment. “In policing that’s always the challenge — we’re required to use our discretion and judgment in every situation,” Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association and Vancouver Police Union, told CBC.

Not only are the terms of the new law loosely defined, but the legislation may be redundant. Critics of the bill point out that there is already a Canadian law on the books prohibiting wearing a disguise “with intent to commit an indictable offense.” But Canadian law enforcement officials counter that the law’s original purpose — it was aimed at incidences of armed robbery — have made it difficult to apply to rioters.

“We can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been safer with [the bill’s] passage,” the law’s sponsor, Member of Parliament Blake Richards, told reporters.

So, if you’re planning on rioting in Canada, remember the old “only break one law at a time” rule and don’t wear a mask. Or hope that the law goes unenforced — like that mask ban in Saudi Arabia.

Even Foreign Policy is making fun of us now.

Can Canada assert its sovereignty over the Arctic

Especially when we can’t even get a handle on some of the worst social issues in the country?

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern has two Twitter accounts on which she chronicles the ups and downs of the Nunavut capital.

On the plus side of her online ledger is the recent catch of a 70-tonne bowhead whale by local hunters and the first visit north by Governor-General David Johnston.

On the other side are the territory’s lamentable schooling levels and a stream of suicides, including a young man who took his life just days after his girlfriend killed herself.

It goes on to say

Tangible improvements are difficult to highlight, but there is more training available for northerners to take advantage of employment in newly opened mining projects. Two dozen young aboriginals also signed up for a summer boot camp this year to give them a taste of the soldiering life.

But education remains the biggest roadblock to northern prosperity — and also to Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic, Inuit leaders insist.

“If we have strong, educated, engaged northerners who are part of managing the north — which includes the resources and asserting sovereignty through living in strong, vibrant communities — then we all benefit,” Mayor Redfern noted in a Twitter posting.

“It’s very difficult for any other countries to be able to assert those claims when we are active participants in those discussions.”

The Shape of Things To Come

60 Minutes had a feature on the budget crisis’ that are happening at the state level.  Stay with me on this one.

"The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency," Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

"It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy," she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, "’Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to."

Whitney says it’s time to start.

California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status. It now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system, which had to increase its tuition by 32 percent.

Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner. The state also eliminated Medicaid funding for most organ transplants.

Then there’s New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.

Gov. Christie acknowledged that’s a lot of jobs. "I cancelled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don’t have the money. And you know what? I can’t pay people for those jobs if I don’t have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don’t have it. I literally don’t have it."
Asked if this is going on all over the country, Christie told Kroft, "Yes. Of course it is. It’s not like you can avoid it forever, ’cause it’s here now. And we all know it’s here. And the federal government doesn’t have the money to paper over it anymore, either, for the states. The day of reckoning has arrived. That’s it. And it’s gonna arrive everywhere. Timing will vary a little bit, depending upon which state you’re in, but it’s comin’."

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.

"This is the state of affairs in Illinois. Is not pretty," Illinois state Comptroller Dan Hynes told Kroft.

Hynes is the state’s paymaster. He currently has about $5 billion in outstanding bills in his office and not enough money in the state’s coffers to pay them. He says they’re six months behind.

"How many people do you have clamoring for money?" Kroft asked.

"It’s fair to say that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people waiting to be paid by the state," Hynes said.
Asked how these people are getting by considering they’re not getting paid by the state, Hynes said, "Well, that’s the tragedy. People borrow money. They borrow in order to get by until the state pays them."

"They’re subsidizing the state. They’re giving the state a float," Kroft remarked.

"Exactly," Hynes agreed.

"And who do you owe that money to?" Kroft asked.

"Pretty much anybody who has any interaction with state government, we owe money to," Hynes said.

That would include everyone from the University of Illinois, which is owed $400 million, to small businessmen like Mayur Shah, who owns a pharmacy in Chicago and has been waiting months for $200,000 in Medicaid payments. Then there are the 2,000 not-for-profit organizations that are owed a billion dollars by the state.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois has been around since 1867 and provides critical services to 70,000 people, mostly the elderly, the disabled, and the mentally ill. The state owed them $9 million just before Thanksgiving, and they nearly had to close up shop.

Asked how long his organization can go on like this, Rev. Denver Bitner, the president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, told Kroft, "Well, we wonder that too because we really don’t know."

He says they were forced to tap their entire line of credit and all their cash reserves before the state would finally pay them as a hardship case.
"It has to be that you’ve sold off all your assets, you have borrowed from everybody that you can borrow from, and then, we’ll think about it," Rev. Bitner explained.

And according to Bitner, that’s even though the state owes his organization the money.

"The first words out of my mouth are usually an apology, because they have been you know put in this situation, that is really unacceptable. And you know there is very little I can do or say other than apologize," Comptroller Dan Hynes said.

It’s not just the social safety net that Hynes has to worry about: there have been Illinois legislators that have been evicted from their offices because the state didn’t pay their rent, and stories about state troopers being turned away from gas stations because the owners refused to take their state credit cards.

"The state’s a deadbeat," Kroft remarked.

"Yeah. I mean, the state of Illinois is known as a deadbeat state. This is a reputation that has taken us years to earn and we’ve reached, you know, the heights of, I think, becoming the worst in the country," Hynes said.

In the early 1990s, Saskatchewan was on the verge of bankruptcy because the Grant Devine governments of 1982-1991 would not curb government spending and the deficit for a province under a million people grew to over one billion dollars.  The incoming NDP government of Roy Romanow was more pragmatist than idealistic and spent almost a decade trying to get the province on solid financial footings.  That journey was documented in the book Minding the Public Purse by the Hon. Janice MacKinnon, who was the Finance Minister during the most of the cuts.  Like I said, it was a decade of austerity.  There was funding cuts to healthcare, almost no building on the University of Saskatchewan or University of Regina campuses, a higher number of students in classrooms, longer waiting lists, rural hospitals closing, decaying highways, and it was really a lost decade.  Yes Saskatchewan did grow a bit during this time but with our financial house in disarray, growth was hard.

MacKinnon talks about how close Saskatchewan was to defaulting on it’s loans.  With the precarious state of the Canadian economy (pre-Chretien and Martin), there was some legitimate concerns that this could lead to an IMF bailout and intervention.  Luckily it never came to that but it did mean higher tuitions, higher taxes, more fees, a lot of lost opportunities that we are just now seeing as a province.

What’s scary is that the deficit numbers coming out of the U.S. states are worse and for all intents and purposes, the US economy is soon going to be in as bad or as worse shape as the Canadian economy was in the early 1990s.  I keep looking at the debt crisis that is swamping the EU economies and I can’t help but wonder until how long it is that you see places like Michigan, Illinois, and California needing massive financial bailouts.  Good grief, California has even looked at dissolving as a state and becoming a territory again (I don’t think it was a serious option).

How many lost decade will the United States go through to pay for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greed of the banks?  It took over a decade to recover from Vietnam and the state and cities economies weren’t in such tough shape.  This could either take decades or it could be the start of the long decline of the United States as a economic power.

The good news is that from Saskatchewan and Alberta’s experience is that as voters, we understood that it had to be done.  Whether it was the right wing Ralph Klein in Alberta or the centre-left Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan, we knew it had to be done and as a whole, we stood by them as they did the heavy lifting and hard cutting.  The  bad news for many states is that Saskatchewan has a natural inclination to support the NDP and Alberta has a natural inclination to vote Progressive Conservative which means that during the tough times, the provinces returned (or in Alberta’s case, they only ever elect Conservatives) what they knew and trusted during rough times.  If you don’t have you could have a series of one term administrations that moved from spend to cut to spend to cut for short term partisan advantage which could derail or destroy the entire process.  Too make spending cuts that are needed, you need a really strong majority which is not a strength of the American system which features a lot more checks and balances.

I can’t see many states turning themselves around.

Stephen Lewis: The PMO Might Not Be The Best People To Run a Security Council Campaign

From CTV News

Lewis, who also served as the UN’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said the government bungled its campaign.

"I got the impression in this election for the Security Council that the Prime Minister’s Office actually didn’t know what it was doing, that it was too arrogant, it didn’t have a careful plan of what might be done," Lewis told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday morning.

"As a result, our diplomats were largely hung out to dry."

Lewis said when he worked at the UN during Canada’s Security Council campaign in 1989-1990, he worked with seasoned diplomats in the Prime Minister’s Office to address specific issues that were of key concern at the time: apartheid in South Africa, African aid, and the U.S. government’s scheme for nuclear ballistic missile defence, dubbed "Star Wars."

Lewis said this time around, failing to adequately address key issues likely "sealed our fate" at the UN. The Conservative government’s resistance to taking strong action against climate change, cutting back foreign aid and openly lobbying for a seat all likely turned off various nations in the run-up to the vote, he said.

"So what the government failed to understand was that on balance, the policies they had propagated were not well received within the international community," Lewis said.

I was watching CPAC the other night and Andrew Coyne brought up the really good point that while Canada lost, Portugal won.  They ran a long term and effective campaign that courted blocks of votes… basically all of the things that Canada would not do.  While Canada was ineffective, Portugal ran an excellent campaign and did deserve to win.

My own personal theory is that while Canada’s external affairs had something to do with it, the economic meltdown did as well.  Countries are more comfortable with a nation that has been affected like them rather than a country that went through relatively unscathed.

The Land of the Free: It’s Now Canada

As the Atlantic Monthly shows, Canada has the freest economy in North America.

Canada’s economic freedom trails the world average only in government spending. Elaborate social and welfare state programs swell overall government expenditures. Government spending has also increased slightly due to implementation of a significant stimulus package. However, good fiscal management and federal budget surpluses have enabled the economy to undertake stimulus measures without undermining fiscal soundness and long-term economic competitiveness.

Wow, I guess we can break out the “communist American” jokes now.  Personally I get a kick out of study that links free economy to low spending and I think it was used more as a partisan attack on President Obama but still I think it makes a point when it is talking about the long term impact of the American budget deficit.  Obama and Clinton liked to speak of American spending as a looming national security issue before the election and now they have the stimulus package to pay for.  Canada may not be the “land of the free” quite year but wait until interest rates start to climb.  Then it will get interesting.

The Cold Shoulder?

Liberal Leader Michael IgnatieffThere is a good article in the Walrus on why Canadians have not warmed up to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

Despite his earlier run for the prize, Ignatieff remained an unknown quantity, a stranger in our midst. He was our first deconstructionist politician: he kept repeating that political leadership was about storytelling without ever telling us a story; he said that Canadian unity needed a narrative but didn’t articulate one. Like a critic dragged up onstage to play the lead on opening night, he couldn’t help analyzing his own performance instead of being in the role. Too often, when audiences were looking to him for bold direction, he tormented himself over the details as though still in a seminar at Harvard. He rambled. He mused. He tiptoed ever so cautiously through the minefields. He walked into rooms without any apparent idea of the message he wanted to deliver or who was who. He excused himself on the grounds that he was new, not just to the role but also to acting, which only sowed more seeds of doubt about whether he was genuine and his own man.

I tend to agree with the analysis.  I follow Ignatieff closely and after several months as Liberal leader, I don’t know what he stands for other than a couple of cliches he repeats in television ads.  Peter Donolo is correct, Liberals need to be more than just opposing the government, they need to be about showing Canadians they are ready to be our next government.  That starts with the Leader of the Official Opposition. 

The good news for Liberals is that Ignatieff’s problems can be fixed.  A narrative can be developed and told and I think he will grow into the role.  The question is will his narrative be compelling to Canadians and will his playing of the role be one that we want as Prime Minister? 

I guess that’s why elections matter.

(You may also be interested in this ridiculous article about a Liberal caucus revolt, whose members also want to can Ralph Goodale because he hasn’t “delivered” Saskatchewan, kind of like how these four MPs locked up Ontario).

Canadian Medicare Does Work

I have watched with bemusement seeing Republicans denouncing Canada’s socialist Medicare system and how it doesn’t work.  While the system isn’t perfect, it does work.  Since Saskatchewan is the birthplace of Medicare, I thought I would offer up some thoughts.

Former Saskatchewan Premier Hon. Tommy Douglas

The positives

It’s free.  I have had two shoulder surgeries over the the years.  Resetting the separated shoulder, seeing doctors, seeing specialists, getting a surgery, reinjuring it, getting it reset, getting it reset again, seeing more doctors, seeing a different surgeon, having a nurse pass out while pulling out the drainage tube, having a friend of mine play with the morphine injecting thing, having to explain to the nurses that I was fine, it was someone else who pushed the button, all of the rotten hospital food… it’s all free.

The only thing I paid for with Mark and Oliver being born was parking and food for myself (and Mark).  Wendy had some serious complications with the birth of Oliver and for days she had a 24 hour nurse in her room.  Outside the Starbucks I would get for the nurse, none of that cost me a sense.  The total priority was on Wendy’s health.  Not just my focus but the focus of Royal University Hospital.  After Ollie was born, this included 22 days for Ollie in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit.  All of it was free.

(What’s funny is that one night someone came by to tell me that if the cost of coming up to see Wendy was too expensive, maybe the Salvation Army could help out – we had a good laugh when she found out what I did for a living but the Government of Saskatchewan does even have resources to help out with food at the hospital)

With Oliver being premature, he was given $10,000 in booster shots to help his immune system his first year.  Unless you could teething as an ailment (I don’t but I am sure he does), he has been remarkably healthy.

There is no government death squads in Saskatchewan.  No HMO to decide what resources Wendy or Oliver received.  There was just the knowledge that when you go into the hospital, ALL of the resources you need are at your disposal and we will deal with it all later (apparently the Minister of Health has a big check book).

It’s fast in an emergency.  When my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, the surgery was within a couple of days and the radiation treatment started soon after that.  When I had heart pains a couple of years ago, I was into an angiogram within hours.

My mother was sick before she got cancer.  There was numerous surgeries on her foot and a lot of complications.  When that didn’t work, my mom had her leg amputated when I was 16, she was given amazing quality of care from the Sask Abilities Council.  She would go over there almost weekly and was always coming home with a new foot or ankle that would help just a little bit.  Sometimes they worked great, other times not so great, and one time her leg snapped while walking across the lawn.  She wasn’t hurt but it must have been quite a site for anyone driving by to see a women’s leg snap off as she watered the grass – when I found her, she was both yelling for me to help her and laughing at her situation.  We never paid for any of the work Sask. Abilities Council did.  Part of it was they were aggressive because my mom worked hard at rehabilitation but that goes both ways, she worked hard because she knew that the Abilities Council was so supportive and aggressive on her behalf.  I remember getting phone messages from her worker Stan, who would tell me to tell mom to come by for a new ankle or something.  These were not revolutionary upgrades, they were incremental upgrades (like Snow Leopard for your leg) which makes it even cooler.  All of the effort and resources were there for her, despite when what she had was doing okay already.

The negatives

We don’t have enough family doctors and really hard to find a good one.  When I define a good one, I mean one that you can trust and develop a comfort level with.  One doctor reminded me that not all doctors graduate at the top of their class and I think some coast but that’s probably a universal issue rather than a Canadian one.

Elective surgeries can take a long time and I think it’s fair to say that we have a pretty broad definition of elective here.  If you need surgery to fix anything that isn’t ruptured, having an attack, or developed a tumor, you are going to wait.  Actually waiting is a part of the Canadian health care system.  Wendy is struggling with her depression again.  Her medication isn’t working and when we called her doctor, the first appointment available was September 16th.  When you know your depression medication isn’t working, waiting three weeks for an appointment is pretty tough (that being said, he left a message for her doctor and she made an appointment today for Monday morning early).

My personal opinion is that we underfund essential services at times.  When I hear the RUH Foundation say that we need to fundraise for a new emergency room, I can’t figure out why the government isn’t paying for that.  When we were pastoring in Spiritwood, the expectation is that the town needed to build a new hospital (I know it was renovated and added on to but for all intents and purposes it was new).  They had to fundraise for years to pay for it, that isn’t right.  That isn’t a shot at either the NDP or the Sask. Party, it’s a criticism at both of them.  When Wendy was in the hospital with Oliver, they had a big reception to celebrate a gift from the RUH Foundation, the purpose of the gift was new hospital beds.  Again, I wonder why the government is not paying for that.  We should not need golf tournaments, home lotteries, or other fundraisers to pay for essential hospital services.

The poor still receive very poor medical care.  Part of it is they don’t have good family doctors but part of it is that I don’t think the system works well with those with limited mental capacity or mental health issues.  It’s a complex problem but if you are living at the shelter, the level of primary care you will get is not as good as I get.  This may be the biggest frustration I find at work. Of course this is connected to lack of family doctors (an emergency room is not designed to provide effective long term care) and lack of inner city doctors (the amazing Westside Clinic is an exception)

This isn’t the problem of Canadian healthcare but Canadian politics but any attempt of privatization is considered too American.  Now my doctor’s office is privately owned, my blood work is done at a private clinic but when someone wants to open a MRI clinic and bill the government, that is two tier American style health care (please explain that to me).  What I am saying is that in Saskatchewan and parts of Canada, we haven’t learn how to have a health care debate yet and I think that hurts the system.  Again, that isn’t a Canadian thing, Americans are also having a problem with having a good debate on the topic.

My ways to improve it

Charge a service fee when I go and visit my doctor.  Make it $10.  My doctor’s office charges $10 for a sick note but waived it when I needed it because I was incredibly sick.  Do the same thing if someone comes with something really serious or if they can’t afford it (a supplemental health card type of thing if your household income is below a certain rate).  If you are coming in with a runny nose… $10 may encourage you to wait it out.  If you come in again with the same runny nose, the fee goes up.

A box of Metformin As a diabetic, I felt an old doctor was milking the system by demanding the amount of visits he did.  Every time there would be a battery of blood tests (and my veins are so hard to find, they are rumored to be under the witness protection program).  When I changed my doctor, the need for non-stop blood work and visits to have a prescription refilled stop (I take a small about of Glyburide and some Metformin twice a day).  I know it is hard to prove given the personal nature and differing styles different family doctors have but over the years I have often wondered if I was only being summoned in for more tests because someone had a car payment to make.  One one hand I keep hearing in the media that over usage is hurting Medicare while on the other hand part of me wonders if this is at least partially the fault of some doctors.

Waive ambulance fees in an emergency.  At work I see a lot of people abusing 911 because they don’t have to pay for it.  It drives me crazy but yet when a co-worker has something seriously go wrong, they get a massive bill from MD Ambulance.  If you sprain you ankle, pay the bill.  If you appendix burst or you have a heart attack, maybe that bill could get waived.  I am sure common sense could be the determining factor.

See health care as only part of the solution.  If health spending crowds out investments in education, childhood development, housing, environment and other measures that improve living conditions, then health status suffers.  Of course we don’t do that here.

"If you look internationally, and you look at what you’re getting for health-care spending, beyond about $600 or $700 US per person per year, there is literally no correlation between life expectancy, infant mortality, and how much you’re spending," the University of Saskatchewan’s Janice McKinnon said. "So countries that spend $800 to $1,000 Cdn have pretty much the same health care indicators as we do. And we’re spending four times as much."

Related: CBC has more.  So does the Toronto Star.  If you still doubt medicare works in Canada, there are other examples to look at: Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland, where medicine is not regarded primarily as a business but as a fundamental human right.

More Stimulus?

Paul Krugman feels we need a bigger stimulus package.

Since the recession began, the U.S. economy has lost 6 ½ million jobs — and as that grim employment report confirmed, it’s continuing to lose jobs at a rapid pace. Once you take into account the 100,000-plus new jobs that we need each month just to keep up with a growing population, we’re about 8 ½ million jobs in the hole.

And the deeper the hole gets, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out. The job figures weren’t the only bad news in Thursday’s report, which also showed wages stalling and possibly on the verge of outright decline. That’s a recipe for a descent into Japanese-style deflation, which is very difficult to reverse. Lost decade, anyone?

Wait — there’s more bad news: the fiscal crisis of the states. Unlike the federal government, states are required to run balanced budgets. And faced with a sharp drop in revenue, most states are preparing savage budget cuts, many of them at the expense of the most vulnerable. Aside from directly creating a great deal of misery, these cuts will depress the economy even further.

So what do we have to counter this scary prospect? We have the Obama stimulus plan, which aims to create 3 ½ million jobs by late next year. That’s much better than nothing, but it’s not remotely enough. And there doesn’t seem to be much else going on. Do you remember the administration’s plan to sharply reduce the rate of foreclosures, or its plan to get the banks lending again by taking toxic assets off their balance sheets? Neither do I.

I don’t know enough about macroeconomics to agree or disagree with him but I can’t help but wonder how much longer the United States can borrow and spend this amount of money without driving up interest rates.  I am assuming this will be a necessary evil but it does mean it will be a long and painful recovery. 

Related: Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that Canada’s unemployment will continue rising until 2010.

Happy Canada Day

To celebrate I’ll quote Malcolm Gladwell talking about what he learned about the United States.

In history class, in seventh grade (or as we like to say in Canada, grade seven) we learned the story of the American Revolution — from the British perspective. Turns out you were all a bunch of ungrateful tax cheats. And you weren’t very nice to the Loyalists. What I miss most about Canada is getting the truth about the United States.

Outrage at the deficit is all politics

Ian McDonald is saying what I have heard all this week about the deficit.

A federal deficit that was forecast at $34 billion as recently as the January budget is now projected to be a least $50 billion. That’s quite a miss, 50 per cent on the upside, from a finance department better known for underestimating the surplus during the era of the fiscal dividend.

Then again, as our editorial page noted the other day, $50 billion isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t go far as it used to, either. Or in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, you get cash and it’s as good as money.

In the House of Commons, the opposition parties were shocked and appalled, demanding that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty either resign or be fired, his credibility in tatters, his competence destroyed.

Then the Liberals demanded that Flaherty add another $1 billion to the ballooning deficit by lifting regional variations on qualifying for Employment Insurance and imposing a national minimum standard.

And of course, the NDP would like Ottawa to guarantee the pensions of autoworkers that are on the table in talks to restructure the North American auto industry.

As for the Bloc, it just wants more money for Quebec, starting with the forestry industry.

In politics, you have to make more than the usual allowances for hypocrisy.

It was in January that Jack Layton and the entire Liberal party were screaming for an Obama like stimulus package (which would have required a $200 billion deficit to proportionately match).  While I am a deficit hawk and I hate seeing this much debt, 3% of GDP is not out of control if it is only short term.  Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge is saying the same thing.

“The Canadian federal deficit of 3 percent of GDP, in a year where the output gap is as large as it’s going to be, is certainly not inappropriate,” Dodge, a former deputy minister with the Finance Department, said in remarks at an economics conference in Toronto.

He went on to say that all Canadian jurisdictions need to commit to balancing their budgets after this mess is over and pay it off.  What frustrates me in all of this, we are missing out on the real debate which needs to happen during a financial recession and that is how do we get out of it and how do we best handle the suffering that comes with living in the Great Recession.  We need to have more discussions on the ramifications of the proposed changes to EI versus leaving it alone.

The Liberals have taken a position that is clear and easily explainable. To summarize, more pogey now. They want employment insurance, as we euphemistically call it, to be available anywhere across the country after only 360 hours of work. The Liberals believe 150,000 people would be helped by their policy, but the political benefit is even greater. The employment insurance system we have now is so complex and difficult to understand that any Canadian who fears losing his job would rightly worry about whether he would quality for payments. Expect the worriers to back the Liberal plan.

As it is now, Canadians must work between 420 and 700 hours to collect EI, depending on the rate of unemployment in the region in which they live. Those eligibility requirements mean that 40 per cent of people who pay into the plan aren’t actually able to collect. For EI purposes, the government has divided the country into 58 regions and length of time that EI will pay out varies by region.

The Conservatives have chosen to champion this absurdly complex system, although they certainly didn’t invent it. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff wants change so Prime Minister Stephen Harper is against it. It’s as simple as that. The substance of the matter is irrelevant.

The side benefit of the pogey issue, perhaps accidental, is that people have actually started to pay a bit of attention to a big-ticket program that does need a serious rethink.

There are also other debates to had about taxation (did the Conservatives cut too much from the GST?) and why despite all of the stimulus money, we are still seeing serious job losses not only in Ontario but even in Alberta?  With our economy being battered by the problems in the United States, maybe it is time to rethink our economic relationship with the United States, I am not saying with become protectionists but rather ask ourselves is it is wise to be so closely hitched to an economy that could be in trouble for years to come?

One Good Example, One Bad Example

There's no way like the American way

Newsweek is pointing to Canada as an example to follow in terms of banking regulation.

The legendary editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, once held a "Boring Headline Contest" and decided that the winner was "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Twenty-two years later, the magazine was rescued from its economic troubles by a Canadian media company, which should have taught us Americans to be a bit more humble. Now there is even more striking evidence of Canada‘s virtues. Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it’s Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world. America’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

The must read link however is Michael Lewis’ feature in Vanity Fair about how Iceland basically destroyed their economy beyond recognition for generations to come.

Iceland instantly became the only nation on earth that Americans could point to and say, “Well, at least we didn’t do that.” In the end, Icelanders amassed debts amounting to 850 percent of their G.D.P. (The debt-drowned United States has reached just 350 percent.) As absurdly big and important as Wall Street became in the U.S. economy, it never grew so large that the rest of the population could not, in a pinch, bail it out. Any one of the three Icelandic banks suffered losses too large for the nation to bear; taken together they were so ridiculously out of proportion that, within weeks of the collapse, a third of the population told pollsters that they were considering emigration.