Entries from April 2009 ↓

Running of the pigs

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The radio station employees were incredulous when I talked about Ottawa real estate this morning. On air, the interview was about politics. Off air, it was about them.

If you think this market is immune, you’re delusional, I said with my normal diplomacy. Especially now.

Apart from the usual reasons, new ones have emerged. It’s now about 75% certain Chrysler will go bankrupt and GM will be nationalized. America’s biggest carmaker says it will throw Pontiac overboard along with 21,000 more workers. It will be shutting 3,000 US dealerships, and by this time next year will have shuttered 30% of its factories. It also wants Washington to take a 50% ownership stake in return for outstanding debt.

If you thought the worst of the recession was behind us, look out.

But it could get a lot worse.

Financial markets are bracing for the Year of the Pig, as swine flu pandemic-manium sweeps across the western world. The fear is a public health emergency coming just as the first green shoots of recovery are appearing could seriously hamper economic activity. It’s already happening in Mexico, of course, as the government bans public gatherings and companies mull over shutting operations.

Let’s hope the thing dies out fast with no further loss of life. But if it doesn’t, this scare is the kind of event economists and governments have been secretly dreading. Like a bin Laden terrorist attack, Iraq tipping into chaos, Pakistan imploding or North Korea’s nutbar leader hurling a nuke, it has the potential to cause chaos just when order is needed most.

If the swine flu turns into a widespread epidemic – or even if it looks possible – then I reserve the right to review my long-standing odds of a neo-depression taking place (the misery meter now sits at 20%).

Already we know the ranks of the jobless will swell far. We know interest rates and taxes have just one direction in which to travel. We know one of the key North American manufacturing sectors will be decimated further before it stabilizes. We know families have done next to nothing to reduce their debt loads and their exposure, since this crisis hit last autumn. We know a faux spring of hope, fuelled by artificially-low interest rates and politicians desperate for us to borrow, has put lots of new home buyers are risk.

Hang on. And if you see a pig, see if he’s in the market for a condo.

Ottawa

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As a former MP, your overbearing hubris has been your ultimate downfall.  With your sick, smug attitude, Canadian folks became disenchanted with your disgusting flamboyance. You persist in pronouncing your perspicacious stance as Mr. “know it all” yet, fail to realize that your audience yawns at your mendacious stance. You are a true loser who, like many psychiatric patients, fail to recognize their illness. Garth, give your head a shake and see a “shrink” soon. Hopefully, you are not beyond help. – Jim O’Toole (somewhere in the Maritimes)

Well, actually, I am way beyond hope.

Why else would I tape for CBC national TV news in Toronto at daybreak on a Sunday, jump on a plane to Ottawa, only to do battle in a public debate with a Conservative groupie, while being pummeled by Harpies? And that was just the start of a two-day launch of my latest book, “Sheeple.” On Monday I have wall-to-wall media events in Ottawa, during which it’s fairly certain I will end up like a rag in the hands of the ShamWOW guy.

Nonetheless, I will carry on. Not to exact revenge on others (as deserving as some may be), but rather to cattleprod the system closer to reform. My message is simple. I will state it here once, then move back to the safer high ground of our economic mess.

My goal with this book is not to pave the way for another election campaign, because I’m done with this. It’s not to bring down Stephen Harper, because he’s doing an excellent job on his own. It’s not to denigrate my former Conservative colleagues, since they made their choices just as I did. It’s not to make money, which every Canadian book author will understand.

I wrote this miserable, disappointing, upsetting story because voters and citizens need to understand more of how the system works, so they can demand better.

* Leaders should lead by example and inspiration, not repression and bullying. I have sat in the caucuses of several leaders, including Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion. I heard only one of those people threaten his or her colleagues.

* Political parties have become obtuse clubs or, in the case of the current Conservative Party, a cult. Those who do not fit in are shunned, shamed and excommunicated. The rules are made up as things go along. There is very little transparency or accountability, and grassroots’ members wishes are trampled any time a leader feels like doing so.

Is it any wonder that just 1% of Canadians are members of a party?

* Parliament has to be a lot more inclusive and responsive in order to stay relevant. With today’s technologies and the fact that 80% of Canadian have high-speed internet access, there is no reason MPs can’t constantly poll their constituents, conduct electronic surveys, hold online straw votes and ask for opinion on proposed legislation. They can still be free to vote their own minds and consciences, but voters will at least have been consulted.

In the absence of this, is it any wonder our voting participation rate is crashing? Half of us did not even bother to turn out in the last election.

* More than anything else, I think voters should demand the people they send to Ottawa to represent them actually try to do that. The idea is for MPs to be the voice of their citizens to a party and a leader, not to be the voice of the leader and the party back in their home towns.

We may have evolved a presidential, leader-oriented style in this country, but unlike Americans, we cannot vote for our local federal politician, our senator and our nation’s leader with three separate ballots. We get only one, and it is for the man or woman we want to carry our torch in Ottawa.

Also unlike the Americans, we do not have a leader who embraced the new digital technologies, who asked voters to come inside the process, who made a commitment to rise above partisan politics or who inspired millions to vote for the first time while in Canada millions stayed home.

I hope that will change. I hope future MPs will be proud to stand by their principles.

I’ve not enjoyed returning to Ottawa these few days. Nobody needs this crap. But the country belongs to the people, not the political elite or the media elite which serves them.

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For today’s blog, “Thousands powerless in Ontario”, go here.

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