Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Goods and Services Talk...

Libleader Stephane Dion today said if elected PM (what a dreamer!), he would rescind the GST reductions made in the last year by the Conservative government.

The Grit leader said many people believe the two percentage point cut to the goods and services tax was the wrong move. He said it amounts to $34 billion that the govenrment could spend elsewhere.
Where? Kyoto? And who are these "people"? Economists, professors, blah blah blah. Why doesn't he ask the average Canadian, who in the majority, don't like this tax.

Former Deputy PM, Sheila Copps, wrote today about this very thing and said that the further GST cut was "a masterstroke":

In their rarefied world, budgets are designed solely to boost productivity. Measures to achieve other public policy objectives are deemed political, as if somehow politics has nothing to do with taxation. Economists pontificate without having to get elected. Elected officials have to measure specific advice against the bigger picture.

On that count, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pulled off a masterstroke yesterday. Flaherty gave half a loaf to those looking for across the board personal and corporate cuts. But he ignored their railing about the GST.

He listened instead to the taxi driver and the small retailer hanging on by a thread.

Most Canadians don't like the GST and want governments to reduce it. Political parties who ignore the consensus do so at their peril. It would be suicidal for any opposition party to bring down the government on the GST.

The biggest argument against a GST reduction is how it will affect inflation and whether the Bank of Canada increased interest rates. When the GST went down from 7 to 6%, did interest rates go up?

Go to the Bank of Canada website and see. Choose the daily Bank Rate from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006 and click 'Get Rates'.

Look at what happened from July 1, 2006 (when the GST went down a point) and onward. Did the rate change? Nope, not one bit. The rate held steady at 4.50 all the way until July 2007 when it increased to 4.75.

So should we listen to these "experts" who talk about inflation and all that when it comes to the GST? No. Even they can't find the info, which took me 2 minutes to find on the web.

I just don't see how anyone can disagree with a tax reduction that puts more money directly into the coffers of Canadians. Dion keeps yapping about how income tax reductions are better. The GST cut also helps those who don't pay income tax at all, which they'll be more people in this category now that the personal exemption has been increased and the lowest bracket reduced by half a percent, retroactive to New Years Day of this year. Sure, it's not a lot, but anything is better than nothing.

Reports are showing that the average tax savings for a Canadian will be about $250 a year, or about $21 a month.

Methinks too, that this reduction was just the beginning. In fact, methinks the only tax reduction the Liberals would have ever done was the lower bracket going to 15% if elected.

With the small business tax going down to 11%, guys like me who receive profit sharing bonuses each year also welcome this move as my company will have more money to dish out. Then that bonus will be taxed less as well. Then when I go spend that money, they'll be less taken out even further.

Now that Flaherty has trumped the Liberals on taxes, and believe me, I was getting worried they wouldn't, the Liberals have now been squashed on the right side of the spectrum.

It'll be up to the NDP to further squish them on the left and we can finally get rid of this ideologically and principly void party called the Liberals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Feds be cuttin' taxes!

Here's some news I've been waiting for for many years. With hordes of federal revenues coming in, this is welcomed relief, but they can always do better.

In a fall fiscal update today, federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty announced the following:

  • 1% reduction in the GST effective Jan. 1, 2007 putting it at 5%
  • An increase in the basic personal amount exemption to $9,600 from $8,929, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007;
  • Two years later, on Jan. 1, 2009, the basic personal amount exemption will be increased to $10,100;
  • Reducing small business income tax to 11 per cent by 2008;
  • $10 billion in federal debt relief; and,
  • The lowest personal income tax rate moves to 15 per cent from 15.5 per cent, effective Jan. 1 2007, undoing a change made in the first Conservative budget.
  • Corporate tax rates to fall by a third by 2012 (22% to 15%).
This is all good news. And it looks like the Liberals are going to support it.

I wished that the lower and middle income tax brackets were cut further though, say a steady decline like they're doing with corporate tax rates. Why not a 1% reduction each year for the next 5 years?

I like the $10 billion going to the debt. Little does anyone remember that a month or two ago, he put $12 billion, but made little announcement about it. That payment saved on interest payments, so that is probably where he can retroactively cut the low income rate by half a point.

With the GST cut, too bad it wasn't before Christmas. Methinks a lot of gift certificates will be handed out in stockings. The cut also makes Canadian goods look cheaper, although we're getting gouged by up to 25% by middle men who aren't passing the exchange rate import savings onto consumers.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with this and it's put me in a good mood.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Royal Reserve?

A lot of folks have blogged about their opinion and the opinions of others, experts, panels, about Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach's final decision on the oil and gas royalty review that has been all over the news.

To name a few of these bloggers, which I read on a daily basis (and you should too!):

Ken Chapman
Calgary Grit

Each offer a different insight. Ken says Ed made good. Dave, not at all. Grit, pretty much the same as Dave.

So under Ed's plan, in a few years "we'll" be getting $1.4 billion more than before where the panel recommended more sooner to put us at $1.9 billion. So the panel's recommendation would have added a couple billion more to the provincial coffers. Whatever.

Already, the government isn't lagging on the intake side and what have they done with it? How's our infrastructure and roads. How is our environment doing? How are the cities, homelessness (which Ed addressed today actually, but we'll see about that). Any better? Health insurance premiums eliminated? No no no?

And on the other side, since this announcement, as Big Oil was screaming about a crisis, jobs lost, etc., the markets didn't do much, and I suspect their profits will continue to rise due to higher and higher oil prices.

But as I said, in the end, Albertans really won't see a dime. I doubt even those who

With this extra revenue, do you think our taxes or insurance premiums (read: tax) are going down? Nope. It's all going to infrastructure and health.

Well okay, but still, do you trust that this will make ANY difference to these things?

With their record to go on and already record revenues, I have no faith whatsoever.

My last post said I'd drink a double Crown Royal to the oil workers themselves. Now I'm going to switch to Royal Reserve, although a lower quality, it's a much more fitting name to this whole thing don't you think, and symbolic of how the average Albertan is really being treated.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crown Royal

I think I'm going to have a double Crown Royal and Diet Coke tonight. Why?

Well, two things...

Today the federal Liberals will likely sit on their hands for the Throne Speech confidence vote. Being that this speech was delivered by the Governor General, who represents the Crown and the Royals, the first ounce will go to Stephen Harper for cornering the Libs and making some of them vote for the things they don't believe in. Mind you, not that the Liberals really care about believing in anything other than gaining power, so I doubt the backbench Liberal MPs will lose sleep over it. In fact, I think they'll sleep better knowing they don't have to face an election, which many of them would likely lose.

Secondly, also today, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is appearing on TV to deliver the government's plan for the oil and gas royalty increase (see, there's that word again!). My guess is that he won't go all the way and increase it by 20% as the Alberta Liberals have suggested, matching the royalty review and auditor general's recommendations. I predict it will be smack dab in the middle at 10%. As I've said before, it doesn't matter if it's 20% or 0%, we're screwed anyway. We wouldn't see a dime regardless. So who does the second ounce of my delicious rye and diet go to? It goes out to the oil rig workers who put in countless hours of strenuous and dangerous work. Especially to those guys, and I know many of them, who do this to save money for tuition or who are simply supporting their families. I drink to you!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Bell Tolls For Thee or The Highway to Hell?

I'm wondering if Peter Lougheed has been reading my blog.

Back in May '07, I made the suggestion on this blog that Highway 63, that deathtrap of a road to Ft. McMurray should be a toll road, as it's mostly used by business anyway.

The provincial and federal government have already set aside millions for the road, but only 16km has been twinned south of Ft. Mac. There's hundreds of clicks to go, so why the delay?

Here is my quick project plan for twinning this road:

  1. Take out a big loan to pay for twinning the whole road. Oooh, I know, "debt" is such a bad word in Alberta, but the costs down the road would definitely overrun any interest incurred now.
  2. Immediately begin twinning construction with a tight project timeline (say 2 years).
  3. Open newly twinned road with a toll booth. I don't know the exact numbers, but let's say $20 each way.
  4. Over a period of time, road pays for itself (including debt interest) without any cost to the taxpayer. Maintenance costs (paving, snow removal, emergency response) all paid for by the toll.
Is that so hard?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Speaking of Deep...

A study just released states that Canadians are deeper in debt than ever before (not including mortgages). This is not surprising. Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses in purchasing the latest technologies, cars, and clothes, instead of saving or investing for the future.

Thing is, let's not forget that Canadians are also highly taxed. When the Chretien/Martin Liberals were in power, sure they eliminated the deficit and starting paying down the debt, but in order to keep inflation low, through the mid-late 90's, the average family saw their annual income tax bill increase by over $3,500... and a little each time, so we'd barely notice.

So it's refreshing to hear that the the current Conservative Finance Minister is looking to reduce our tax burden, and maybe, just maybe Canadians can pay off their OWN debt and save for the future.

Canadians have had deep wounds from high taxes for many years and even had salt poured on it. It's time to heal them, don't you think?

The First Cut Is The Deepest

So with the Throne Speech out of the way, and as I predicted, Stephane Dion's Liberals are going to let the Speech pass. Today, the Conservatives have introduced an omnibus crime bill with measures and tougher sentences that died on the order paper when the last session was ended.

Now, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is talking tough on taxes.

Flaherty would not tip his hand Wednesday, but he made clear that he was about through with the targeted tax cuts of the past two budgets -- which included the significant, such as a tax benefit for low income earners, and the esoteric, such as benefits for children in sports programs.

"We've fulfilled most of our tax obligations that were in the platform, so now we can move to more broad-based tax reform," Flaherty said.

There is also talk of the promised further 1% reduction in the GST, putting it at 5%.

But getting back to income taxes, being that the Conservatives have been emulating the John Howard Australian Liberal Party, I challenge Minister Flaherty to take a page out of that party's pledge to significantly cut taxes by $34 billion over several years.
Under the plan announced jointly by Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello, all taxpayers would get a tax cut — about $20 a week for those currently on average weekly earnings from July, rising to about $35 in 2010.
In annual terms, $20/week amounts to $1040/year and $35/week amounts to $1820.

So, come on Minister Flaherty, for this new session of parliament, make the first cut the deepest. Thing is, any of the wounds felt will be by the opposition Liberals, and now's your chance to pour salt on it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Thrown Speech and the Blue Pill

  • Bert Brown was just sworn in as a senator. Appointed by Prime Minister Harper in April 2007, Brown was elected in the 2004 Alberta Senatorial Election and becomes the second person to be "elected" to the senate, after Stan Waters ran under the Reform banner in the late 80's and was appointed by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

  • Will the NDP and Bloc vote against the "Thrown" Speech?
    - Yes. But it won't be enough to topple it. The Conservatives need only one of the parties for it to pass, and I don't think the Liberals are going to balk.

  • So will the Thrown Speech contain stuff everyone can agree on (i.e. cut taxes) except one blue poison pill that Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, might swallow and if he doesn't, Harper could blame Dion for triggering an election?
    - You bet your prescription.

  • What's that pill?
    - Admitting that the Kyoto Accord targets cannot be met. Why? Because even Dion says, "We didn't get it done. It's not easy to make priorities."

  • How do I know this?
    - Because the Conservatives ran TV ads exposing this very thing that Canadians now attach to Dion. They'd simply need to be reminded.

  • So will the Speech get thrown and trigger an election?
    - Nope. Dion's a pacifist and with no money, low support (especially in Quebec), and low leadership confidence, the Liberals would lose badly.

  • Which means?
    - Dion will have to swallow the blue pill and no election will ensue and Harper wins either way.

Predictions vs. Results

At about 7:45pm yesterday, I went to my polling station and voted. There was absolutely no other voter there. I felt like a lone wolf.

I made the following Edmonton Civic Election 2007 predictions...

Mayor: Stephen Mandel*
Ward 1: Karen Leibovici*, Jane Batty* <-I made a mistake and meant Linda Sloan
Ward 2: Kim Krushnell*, Ron Hayter*
Ward 3: Ed Gibbons*, Tony Caterina
Ward 4: Jane Batty*, Debbie Yeung
Ward 5: Bryan Anderson*, Mike Nickel*
Ward 6: Dave Theile*, Amarjeet Sohi

RESULTS (correct in bold) Mayor: Stephen Mandel*
Ward 1: Karen Leibovici*, Linda Sloan*
Ward 2: Kim Krushnell*, Ron Hayter*
Ward 3: Ed Gibbons*, Tony Caterina
Ward 4: Jane Batty*, Ben Henderson (edit -- thanks Steve)
Ward 5: Bryan Anderson*, Don Iveson
Ward 6: Dave Theile*, Amarjeet Sohi

So, not bad. I thought Debbie Yeung would do a lot better and am very disappointed that my good friend, Mike Nickel, didn't win. Much like I felt in the polling station, Mike has been the lone wolf on council being that he vote for budget tax increases the least number of times compared to the other councillors and didn't vote for their own salary increase. The only real conservative on council.

So I don't get it. We've got enough liberals and socialists on council, why add more? Council raised taxes above inflation while core services lagged. Sadly, Mike may have come across as not being conciliatory in not voting for the budgets while demanding the 23rd avenue interchange be done and a recreational centre in his ward be built.

But that's the thing. There should be no doubt that the city lacks efficiency and can save costs in many non-essential areas. But the left-leaning council simply takes the easy route and raises taxes, which hurt middle to low income folks--ironically, the folks that these so-called bleeding hearts are trying to "save". Makes no sense.

Mike told me at a friend's funeral last Saturday that he wins either way. "If I win, I win and am back on council and will fight the good fight. If I lose, I still win, because I get to spend more time with my family and family business."

Mike will be missed on council. Maybe not by the other councillors and mayor, but by the thousands of voices of concern and true fiscal conservatives out there. Too bad they didn't show up to vote.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Predictions vs. Preferences

One thing I love about politics is trying to predict what the future holds, whether based on past elections and history, media, or just a "vibe" I get. In conversations with folks I know who are VERY involved in political parties, I sometimes think I actually have a better idea of the broader, unbiased scope and feeling of the people. But then again, sometimes I'm totally out to lunch because I let my preferences get in the way. Regardless, it's still fun, so away we go...

Edmonton Civic Election

Our council has a priority problem and lacks focus. Some of that blame can be put on the mayor, but besides Councillor Mike Nickel, there is general groupthink mentality. Yes, something can be said about consensus and compromise in order to move forward, but there needs to be more concern and opposition as regards spending and priorities to balance out . The last thing this council needs is more left-of-centre tax and spend liberals.

The continued increase in property taxes above inflation is hurting middle to low income folks who have seen housing prices get out of control, plus increased rents. While our infrastructure still lags, traffic congestion explodes, pot holes remain open, and garbage and street cleaning aren't being done, we are completely losing focus of the core services that need to be improved.

Oh sure, the mayor can beg for more provincial money, but it also needs to get its house in order.

I voted for Stephen Mandel for mayor in 2004 with great expectations, but when he showed his stripe by supporting Jim Dinning in the Alberta PC leadership, plus the pot holes, and lack of focus, I ended my support for him. I don't necessarily know Don Koziak, but his back to basics approach aligns with my view. I'm more supporting him as a protest to Mandel.

Mayor: Stephen Mandel*
Ward 1: Karen Leibovici*, Jane Batty*
Ward 2: Kim Krushnell*, Ron Hayter*
Ward 3: Ed Gibbons*, Tony Caterina
Ward 4: Jane Batty*, Debbie Yeung
Ward 5: Bryan Anderson*, Mike Nickel*
Ward 6: Dave Theile*, Amarjeet Sohi

Mayor: Don Koziak
Ward 1: Karen Leibovici
Ward 2: ?
Ward 3: Tony Caterina
Ward 4: Debbie Yeung
Ward 5: Mike Nickel
Ward 6: Chuck McKenna

Throne (thrown?) Speech and Federal Election?

My friends who are very involved at the federal level all say there's going to be an election this fall. You see, I just don't think there will be one. This will require the Liberals (96 seats) and the Bloc Quebecois (49 seats) to vote against the Throne Speech or all or part of the Conservative caucus (126) doesn't show up.

Keep in mind that the prime minister can no longer "call" an election anymore as we now have fixed four year election dates (the first one is set for 2009). He can still determine whether a vote in the house of commons is a matter of confidence, but the seat scenario in this minority government situation doesn't change and only the Liberals + Bloc can do it.

Prime Minister Harper is baiting the opposition parties to bring down the government, otherwise help pass the bills eventually mandated out of the Throne Speech. Liberal leader Stephane Dion doesn't appear to be taking that bait. Although it's a minority, Harper is bullying the other parties into treating it like a quasi-majority. Dion is a pacifist and is appearing to back down from a fight.

And why wouldn't he? Dion is embattled after the by-election losses in Quebec and the sharks are surrounding him. The party has a lack of donors. The Quebec separatist movement is dying and the Liberals can't use the old Trudeau centralization mantra to win federalist support.

Ideology and familiarity are the keys here. Unfortunately, while most people look at political things as either left or right, they fail to look at other dimensions, and a broader principled view. That said, with a lack of sound policies, Canadians aren't clear on who the Liberal party is under Dion ... or is it Ignatieff, or Bob Rae? It's not that comfortable familiarity they once enjoyed.

The New Democratic Party under Jack Layton has a golden opportunity to move to a little to the right here and squish the ideologically defunct Liberals, much like the Labour Party did in Britain. But again, people need to become familiar with the NDP, as the highly respected Ed Broadbent did when he was leader during the 80's. The Green Party movement is essentially filling the void the NDP has failed to invigorate. A stronger NDP in certain parts of the country is good for Conservatives, debate, and Canada as a whole.

Of course, Harper wants a majority, and his grand plan to transform this recently merged right-of-centre party into the new "natural governing party" may perhaps become reality. The longer Harper stays in power, the more opportunity people have to get to know him and how he governs, which is a good thing.

It's all these reasons and more that I don't think there's going to be a federal election, nor would I prefer there be one anyway. I'm just not in the mood, nor do I get a sense that anyone cares or wants one either.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Dollar vs. The Prime Ministers

Based on a graph I found here and a hunch spurred on years ago by Mike Jenkinson at the Edmonton Sun, I added the election years and Prime Minister elected at that time. See if you can see any correlations between who gets elected, what policies they introduced, and the Canadian dollar vs. the U.S. greenback.

I'd say it's kind of interesting, don't you think?

R o y a l t i e s. Royalties.

I remember that Trailer Park Boys episode where J-Roc put out an album using the tunes of another rapper, Detroit Velvet Smooth (DVS.), and called it "cross promotion, mafa." Then the evil Mr. Lahey called DVS and told him about all this. So DVS shows up at the rap concert party at J-Roc's, shoots a gun in the air for attention, and tells J-Roc that he's a punk for "jackin' my tunes" and deserves a thing called "r o y a l t i e s ... royalties".

First off, it makes me laugh that rappers are going after other rappers for jackin' their tunes when everyone knows that everyone does it and a lot of it is simply unoriginal.

Secondly, it reminds me of the whole "sitchiation" in Alberta with the oil sands, the missing $6 billion in r o y a l t i e s, and the provincial government's ineptitude. In this case, J-Roc is the oil company, DVS is the Alberta government, and Mr. Lahey is the auditor general who brought this to our attention in the first place.

I'm not sure where I stand on this issue. It's complex... formulas, backroom deals, and stuff.

But what I do wonder is, even if we got that $6 billion, what would the provincial government do with it anyway?

I mean, they already have large surpluses and squander it away. MLAs and bureaucrats already rack up high expenses on trips and the like. All while, cities are still under the crunch and raise property taxes, lack of affordable housing, lower-middle class hurting health care insurance premiums are still around, power bills are still high, tuition is high, taxes are high, and our roads, highways, and infrastructure are at least a decade behind in maintenance, upgrades, and creation.

Yet at the same time, what do these big energy companies do with that massive profit? Some of them have threatened to pull out of Alberta. Yeah, right. Callin' you on that bluff there, sharky.

So to me, it really doesn't matter who has that $6 billion. No matter what, the average Albertan still gets screwed and we wouldn't see a dime of it anyway.

That said, we need a decision on this, immediately before it gets muddled. It's obvious what Albertans will say, so why have a citizens' review? Premier Stelmach should have the interest of the people of Alberta and the government in particular, not bow to idle corporate threats and simply needs to act like Detroit Velvet Smooth, shoot a gun off in the air, go up to J-Roc Oil and say, "You jackin' our oil? R o y a l t i e s... royalties".

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

14 thousand thousand thousand

Or you can call it $14 billion.

With the federal Conservatives paying off $14 billion in debt, there are two things I can expect:

1. My generation got really screwed by the previous generation for leaving us this massive debt to pay off with a continued high tax regime.

2. Hopefully my taxes that are paying down this debt won't be has high as my children's.

But I doubt the latter will prevail as I note the situation in Alberta, where since the debt has been paid off, there have been absolutely no tax reductions, other than seniors who don't have to pay health insurance premiums anymore. Now we find out today from the Alberta Auditor General that political staffers are getting insane bonuses, a couple MLAs got paid for no work done on a trip to Idaho, expenses are racked up, and the big whopper... that the province (read: taxpayer) has been short-changed up to $6 billion (that's 6 thousand thousand thousand) in oil and gas royalties over the past several years.

This article says it all.

I'd like to add that no social engineering or program can help a middle to low income person or family more than them simply keeping more of their OWN hard earned money other than lower taxes.

In conclusion: