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MORGAN: Ottawa shouldn’t take advantage of COVID crisis to start a universal income experiment

The Liberals are talking about a massive new government subsidy, and we can’t afford it.

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There is no time worse than during a crisis for a government to implement a radical and permanent change in policy. Kneejerk responses to catastrophic circumstances are usually ill-conceived and cobbled together poorly.

We saw this with the Liberal government’s sudden rush to ban thousands of hunting and sport shooting firearms, and we are seeing it with Minneapolis’s absurd move to “disband” their police service in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We can only imagine how it will be for a Minneapolis citizen facing a violent home invasion calling the police, only to have a “community safety officer” arrive to try and calm the situation.

There has been a strong push by activists during this pandemic crisis for Canada to adopt a universal basic income program. As we enter what will likely be the worst world financial crisis seen since the Great Depression, embracing a program that will drain countless billions from our already empty treasury is a ruinous idea. But is it any more ill-conceived than disbanding a police service while the streets descend into riotous chaos? Don’t expect rational behaviour from the government right now; particularly while they are desperately trying to find a way to get back to a majority in Parliament right now.

Libertarian economists Friedman and Hayek both spoke to potential benefits of a universal basic income (UBI) system. What contemporary UBI proponents neglect to point out though is that both Hayek and Friedman proposed a program where all other forms of the welfare-state would be abolished before (for as) a basic income was implemented. No welfare, rent subsidies, food stamps, unemployment insurance, disability compensation, AISH, old age security, and so on within the myriad of boutique income support programs. Both economists also insisted that the basic income should be set at a bare minimum in order to encourage people to seek employment, and not become a substitute for it. The goal was to keep people from freezing or starving to death, but little beyond that.

If Canada were to implement a universal basic income program, do we truly believe that the government would have the will or courage to abolish the rest of the programs? Would Trudeau be willing to lay off the tens of thousands of bureaucrats tasked with the administration of all those programs, and then take on the union backlash? The question of course, is entirely rhetorical.

If Canada does embrace a universal basic income program, it will be on top the existing welfare-state programs already in existence. This would of course lead to an even more monumental fiscal deficit, add pressure on businesses as more people choose to stay home rather than work for a living, and currency devaluation as government fruitlessly tries to tax and borrow itself out of the hole. In other words, it will make an already bad situation much worse.

We are living through a rather large scale experiment in UBI with Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program. No questions are asked and monthly payments of $2,000 are sent quickly to every applicant. This program has been extended to apply until the end of summer, at least. As of now, applications for the CERB have been made by 8.4 million individuals. Payments to date have totaled $43.5 billion and there are still months to go. The cost of administering this massive program are still unknown, but it is safe to assume that they – and fraud rates – will be high.

In the next six months, we will really get to see how well this program works out. As people are weaned from the benefit this fall, how many will be willing and able to get back to work? I can speak from experience in the oilfield where you occasionally find yourself off work for months at a time, that the longer you sit on your backside, the harder it is to get off it. Work habits and ethic can fade quickly and with millions of folks having just enjoyed a four month paid vacation, many will not be eager to go back to the workplace grind. It is hard to measure but this will have a negative impact on Canada’s productivity as a whole.

The CERB is heavily based on the honor system. This is understandable. It was a crisis response and people needed help quickly. We don’t have the means and mechanisms to determine need over the course of weeks or months. While I am sure that the majority of applicants for the CERB were honest about it, we can’t be so naive as to believe that there have not been fraudulent or improper applications. It will take months to sift through everything at great cost; and let’s face it, collecting from low-income people who improperly took funds will be nearly impossible.

The CERB is taxable as well. Millions of low-income Canadians who are accustomed to a tax refund in spring will be greeted with a bill for taxes owing next spring. How many of them will be in a position to pay it? How much will it cost to chase all them down and how many will be bankrupted by the horrific interest rates and late penalties which come with late tax payments?

A universal basic income program may or may not have merit in the abstract; but it would be foolhardy to implement one while we are still sorting out our CERB program. Let’s hang on for a year before even considering a UBI program. By then we will see just how well the CERB worked out. We will see just how hard it impacted government finances as well as the economy in general. The CERB program should be viewed as the most expensive UBI experiment of all time, but it will still cost a bare fraction of what a permanent and true UBI program would cost.

Cory Morgan and a columnist for the Western Standard and a business owner in Priddis, Alberta.

Opinion

WAGNER: W. P. Kinsella – Alberta’s famous “redneck” writer

Michael Wagner profiles the Alberta man that wrote the book behind ‘Field of Dreams”, scorned by Canada’s literary establishment.

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One of Canada’s most famous fiction writers was Alberta born and bred W. P. (William Patrick) Kinsella. He’s probably best known for the fact that his book Shoeless Joe was made into the 1989 movie Field of Dreams that starred Kevin Costner and received nominations for three Academy Awards. Because of Shoeless Joe, Kinsella also won a couple of major book awards.

Kinsella’s stories tend to focus on either baseball (such as Shoeless Joe) or the lives of First Nations people. His book The Fencepost Chronicles, with fictional stories about the lives of “Indians” from Hobbema (now known as Maskwacis), won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1987. Kinsella was criticized for his portrayal of First Nations people and for the offence of “cultural appropriation.” Nevertheless, he rejected such criticism, and considered the fact that his books sold well as vindication of his writing.

Interestingly, Kinsella was politically conservative and this set him apart from Canada’s literary elite. His political views are described by University of Calgary Canadian Studies professor George Melnyk in Volume Two of The Literary History of Alberta which was published in 1999. 

Literary figures in Canada tend to be leftists, with Margaret Atwood being a prominent example. Partly because of his political views, Kinsella was disconnected from Canada’s literary establishment. As Melnyk put it, “His pro-Americanism, his rejection of political correctness on such issues as appropriation of voice, and his championing of right-wing causes such as the Reform Party have isolated him from many members of the Albertan and Canadian writing community.”

Kinsella was not at all bothered by such isolation. For as Melnyk explains, “This lone-wolf image is rooted in his solitary childhood (he has acknowledged that ‘childhood is the most influential part of a writer’s life’) and an American-influenced individualism in which writing is simply a means to an economic end.”

Melnyk points out that Kinsella’s writing has been well-received by the reading public – it’s only Canada’s literary elite that found him wanting…As a novelist, Kinsella has successfully blended both American and Canadian contexts; but the price of this popular success has been a certain ostracism by the Canadian literary establishment, where neither Kinsella’s personality, his political and literary pronouncements, nor his writing have found much favour. Despite the controversy, his writing remains popular with the general public.”

According to Melnyk, there are three distinct elements influencing Kinsella’s fiction. The first is an affinity for the loner and the outsider. “The second feature is his right-wing, pro-American sympathies which are reflective of popular sentiments in Alberta, but which are anathema to the Canadian academics with whom he has waged an ongoing battle for more than a decade. Kinsella certainly has not been averse to identifying with the image and values of a traditional Alberta redneck.”

The third element is his view of the value of commercial success: “In private-industry-oriented Alberta, he shares the popular conviction that the marketplace is the great judge of real value and success.” This view contrasts with the idea that success is determined by the favourable judgment of the academic community. Kinsella’s emphasis on the market as the standard for success reflects a much more populist view than that of many scholars in the Canadian literary establishment.

It’s likely that most successful fiction writers in Canada are left-wing, so Kinsella is very much an exception to that pattern. But if there’s going to be an exception to the leftist conformism of Canada’s literary elite, it’s only fitting that he should be an Albertan. One could even say that he was a bit of a maverick. 

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

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Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: ‘Second wave’ fears further threaten civil liberties

Navarro-Genie writes that politicians are using inflated numbers to justify an increasingly authoritarian crackdown on people living their lives.

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On September 18, Israel relocked down the country for the following three weeks, becoming the first developed country to shut down for the second time. This second COVID-19 lockdown comes four months after lifting the first one instituted in March. How Israeli citizens react to the unsustainable nature of re-lockdowns will be instructive for the Canadian jurisdictions that have increased a rhetoric of fear about a second wave. 

As of September 21, Israel counted 190,929 COVID-19 cases, with 1,273 deaths (among 8.7 million Israelis). Israel currently has 58,976 active cases, the fastest infection rate in the world, and 653 of its cases are considered serious. 

Reactions to the first weekend of the second Israeli lockdown seem worrisome. Shops and restaurants opened in protest despite fines of $1,500 US per day, religious gatherings and public protests organized in defiance of the new orders. Over 7000 police officers patrolled streets and manned check points. They handed nearly 5000 tickets to people violating the 1-kilometre radius zone from their domiciles that is permitted, and close to 200 tickets for failing to wear mandatory masks. Some restaurant owners were even arrested for refusing to close. Given the enforcement and levels of resistance, discontent and civil disobedience may increase.  Reluctant liberal democratic societies can only tolerate so much enforcement.

On this side of the world – in reaction to increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections in the province – Quebec may grant greater police powers, including the power to violate private domiciles to stop gatherings that break the 10-person limit. Given that infections do not by a long shot equal hospitalizations, civil libertarians are rightly sounding warning bells. 

Ironically, the new measures could be in place in time for the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, a painful chapter in Quebec history. Reacting to threats of domestic terrorism after the murders of a Quebec minister and a foreign diplomat, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau sent troops into the streets of Montreal as if it were Northern Ireland. Memories of countless violations of fundamental rights against so many suspected of sympathising with the separatist terrorists, forcibly rounded up, beaten and abused, still haunt surviving Quebeckers.

Next door, Ontarians should worry about Doug Ford’s vaporous rhetoric. On September 14, Ford heightened the COVID-19 panic. Following 31,143 tests and 313 new cases (1 percent of those tested), Ford torqued fear invoking a second COVID-19 wave: “I believe it is coming as sure as I am standing here.” He also raised the threat of a new lockdown: “…every option is on the table. We will take up every step necessary, including further shutdowns.”

Ford now boasts that Ontario leads Canada, reaching 40,000 and aiming at 50,000 daily tests. The connection between “hammering the testing,” as Ford calls it, and the infection increases seems to be ignored. The more tests, the more infected cases.

Alarmist headlines emphasising case growth scare some but only harden existing sceptics and make new ones. 478 new cases were reported on September 22, but what really matters is that there were 82 COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals, and that there is a legitimate concern this number doubled since September 13 (24 of whom are in intensive care, with 11 of them on ventilators). Of the 478 new cases, however, 8 people are aged over 80, the most critically vulnerable, and 3 new COVID-19 deaths were reported in a population of nearly 15 million people. The overblown emphasis on infection cases informs little and drives fears that may backfire.

Ontarians should be equally concerned with the escalating language and condescending vitriol toward challengers, sceptics and rule-breakers. On September 21, responding to questions about “clamping down,” Ford implied that people who attended an event in Ancaster are brainless and vowed to track them down for “putting people’s lives in jeopardy.” There is no evidence that the alleged brainless have infected anyone, yet Ford’s comments pave the way for unleashing coercive machinery against those who may legitimately disagree with his inflated medical rhetoric, his punishing instincts, and the desire to paint himself as a saviour. 

Unless there is a rational perspective about the rising number of infection cases and reasonable mitigating strategies to protect the vulnerable, the alarmist rhetoric risks panicking into another harmful lockdown while simultaneously increase scepticism, challenges and resistance. 

Albertans need not directly worry about police round ups in Laurentian Canada, but these are dangerous precedents for the healthy number of Albertans challenging the continuation of some lockdown conditions, the threat of returning to another unsustainable lockdown, and the fear-laden language of public medical officials.

Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the President of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of the upcoming COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic.

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Opinion

GRAFTON: Wexit’s morph into the Maverick Party a big missed opportunity

“Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.”

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On September 17th, Wexit Canada leader Jay Hill announced that they were jettisoning their catchy portmanteau, and had registered a new name with Elections Canada. Wexit Canada is now the Maverick Party.

The new name immediately became fodder for satirists, who drew comparison to the popular Tom Cruise character in the 1986 blockbuster action-drama “Top Gun”. Hill denied any intentional connection. 

“Maverick” seems an odd name for a party, considering the definition of the word, “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party” (Merriam Webster), and could be interpreted as conceptual confusion. Certainly, it does not convey any particular political orientation.

Hill’s own explanation, “There’s (sic) mavericks in the business world, in virtually every occupation you run across what is referred to as mavericks — people who chart an independent path,” seems to align with the dictionary definition of mavericks as individuals who can’t work together. 

In his message to members, Hill explained that the name change was designed to give the party an individual identity, separate from other movements like Brexit. In a CBC interview he said that the Wexit brand had been tainted by previous connections, and confusion among similarly named political entities. “We polled via Facebook, our members and some of the general public that would be interested in whether we should change our name or not,” Hill said. “It came back that (a) two-thirds majority thought it would be wise to change the name.” No argument there.

But, what’s in a name? As Juliette famously lamented, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

As it turns out, names can be important.

A 2017 CBS article entitled “What’s in a name? Plenty” quoted New York University Professor of Marketing Adam Alter; “You’d think it should just be a label, an idle label that doesn’t affect anything. But that’s not how the world works. It turns out it matters a huge amount.” Alter has a PhD in Psychology from Princeton University, and has analyzed and written about the impact of names. “There’s evidence that a good name is a simple name,” Alter said, “In law firms, people with simple names tend to make partner faster. In politics – with the notable exception of former President Barack Obama – fewer syllables generally mean more votes. People vote more for people with simpler names. We’ve got some results showing that.”

Dating back to confederation – excepting a blip in 1918 when the wartime Unionist Coalition under Sir Robert Borden formed a government, there has never been a governing party in Canada other than the Liberals or the Conservatives. The two brands offer serious credibility, and convey a clear and simple message of political orientation to voters. This became briefly muddled in 1920, following the demise of the Unionist Coalition, when the Conservative Party changed its’ name to the National Liberal and Conservative Party. 

The closest that any other party has come was with the decimation of the Liberals in 2011, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition. Formed in 1961 as the love-child of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and sometimes described as “Liberals in a hurry”, perhaps the brand may have resonated more with Canadians with a simpler name…the Democratic Party of Canada perhaps. “New” sounds…well, inexperienced. And nearly 60 years old, a bit inaccurate. 

The point is, a niche party has never come close to forming a federal government in Canada. Niche parties are easily identifiable by their names. Elections Canada currently lists twenty registered federal parties, most of them niche parties – the Animal Protection Party of Canada, the (festive but now obsolete) Marijuana Party, the Green Party, and the Rhinoceros Party. These parties will never form a government. In the serious game of national politics, you need a serious name to play. 

Bloc Quebecoise is a serious name, and it worked for them…thirty-two seats.

Should Wexit should have gone with something else? The Western Independence Party seems an obvious, credible-sounding alternative.

Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.

“Maverick” is also defined as “an unbranded range animal, especially a motherless calf.” 

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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