Archive for category Crown Corporations

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night … Bad weather, on the other hand …

Considering the union’s public relations efforts, Canada Post didn’t pick the best time to stop home delivery:

What happened to the mail?

It’s a question occupying the minds of Isabel Ward, a retiree who has yet to receive her Metropass; Peter Stiegler, an accountant in need of tax documents to help his clients; and Russell Bennett, a self-employed father anxiously awaiting cheques to pay the rent and support his family.

They are three people who live or work in three different Toronto neighbourhoods — all complaining that they haven’t seen a Canada Post mail carrier in more than two weeks. But they are far from being the only residents who have gone with empty mailboxes since just before Christmas.

This being The Star, it is obviously the fault of Canada Post, not its workers:

"Working during bad weather isn't in my contract."

“Bad weather isn’t in my contract.”

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has accused Canada Post of overworking permanent carriers by expanding routes, leading to sudden absences, and of not having enough temporary workers on standby.

“We’re seeing people booking off on stress at levels like we’ve never seen before,” said Gerry Deveau, national director for Ontario.

Is this the first winter these carriers have ever experienced? Didn’t someone tell them when they took this job that Toronto is in Canada?

“Stress” levels? Are these people for real?

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Meandered standards

I simply don’t get the criticisms of standardized testing in public schools by anyone other than a union leader. Case in point, from last weekend’s StarPhoenix editorial:

The government doggedly is pursuing standardized testing to fix the underachievement by Saskatchewan students in some subject areas, even as other jurisdictions are moving away from such testing because of a plethora of problems that range from cultural biases to the inability of “a snap shot in time” test to gauge a student’s performance over time or what she actually knows.

Aren’t all school tests “a snap shot in time,” whether they are held in September, in March or in June?

And aren’t standardized testing supposed to capture deficiencies due to factors such as “cultural biases?” I mean, isn’t the point of public education to ensure that all students are prepared to enter the workforce or post-secondary institutions no matter their culture of origin?

The most bizarre thing about the criticism is that the government remains committed to implementing these testing even while putting a “pause” on other priorities, “including a do-over of the school capital priority list.”

Why do we need to re-evaluate the capital priority list? We all know that the rapidly growing areas in the province, including especially my own community, need new schools, stat, and only a couple of schools are typically funded in a given year, if that. More importantly, the education minister doesn’t set the capital budgets; that’s the finance minister’s job. One item doesn’t affect the other.

The editorial is just an aimless attempt at a cheap shot at Education Minister Russ Marchuk that could have come straight from the mouth of the teachers federation.

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Letter to the Editor

In her March 12 letter (“Wall setting stage”), Joan Bell indicates an astounding lack of awareness about the ownership of the Crown corporations and about markets in general.

First, we the people do not “own” the Crown corporations; the legal corporate entity known as the Crown owns them. The government manages the companies on the Crown’s behalf, while the people both elect and are forced to fund the government. However, none of us owns a share individually in the enterprises.

I cannot sell my supposed share in these companies, I do not receive a dividend from their earnings, and I certainly cannot use my share to secure a private loan. Therefore, I have no right to be consulted directly over their sale. I can only hope to persuade the government to manage the Crown corporations the way I want them to.

Second, the Crowns were established both to provide theretofore non-existent services to the people of Saskatchewan and to help fund government operations. If the present government is indeed taking money from the Crowns to “balance the books,” the Crowns would then be helping to fund government operations, which is their legitimate purpose. (The fallacy that the free market cannot supply services presently offered by the Crown monopolies is a separate issue.)

Third, even if the current government were really trying to divest the Crowns, they wouldn’t be devaluing the companies. Instead, they would do their utmost to maximize the sale price by ensuring the balance sheets look very attractive to potential investors.

The only ideologically driven policies here are promoted by those economically illiterate, fear-mongering statists who persist in the fiction that we need Crown monopolies in order to survive.

Submitted today, awaiting publication.

 

UPDATE: Published March 15. They took out my “fallacy” line in the fourth paragraph but used the term in the headline. Figures.

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Choose Your Booze

Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union, writes in the StarPhoenix:

We assume that people we elect to run our province will make logical decisions.

Bob Bymoen assumes this. “Logical” people don’t.

Yet at a time when underfunding is forcing our universities to cut programs and hospitals to postpone surgeries, the provincial government has decided to give up a substantial source of revenue with a policy that says all new liquor stores will be privately owned.

Apparently, “not taking in potential revenue” = “giving up revenue”.

The government’s rationale is that public funds are better spent on education, health and infrastructure than on building liquor stores. If you think about it for a moment you realize that it doesn’t make sense.

That we require unionized employees to stock liquor onto shelves and ring in tills doesn’t make sense either, but please go on.

Public liquor stores actually make quite a lot of money for the province – $218 million last year. In the past five years, public liquor stores contributed more than $1 billion in net profit – over and above the taxes on alcohol sales. That’s hundreds of millions that can be invested in schools, hospitals, universities or long-term care homes.

Selling liquor stores can be profitable for the government too, particularly if they are already profitable, and don’t forget that private liquor vendors would also have a chance to be profitable. Statists like Boemen conveniently forget to mention that private-sector profits also benefit society — moreso, I might add, because this profit re-investment doesn’t come with the typical redistributionist markup.

Or, for that matter, the 24% year-over-year increase in to liquor-store employee salaries, wages and benefits (see Schedule 2).

Public liquor stores are such a good investment for taxpayers that the TD Bank’s former chief economist Don Drummond warned the Ontario government in a 2012 report against selling them.

If the public liquor-store monopoly were only in place to raise money for the government, then why don’t we just nationalize all profitable industries, like food distribution, oil companies or real estate? (Don’t answer that, Bob.) That way, the government can take all the profits from all the industries and distribute it and take care of us and we would have no worries.

The Wall government claims it will keep our existing public stores, but the experience in other places tells a different story. In the 10 years since British Columbia allowed private liquor retailers, 24 public stores have closed. A recent study shows B.C.’s private stores have the highest liquor prices among the three western provinces.

In other words, the state-owned liquor monopoly is so good at its job that it requires a state-enforced monopoly to survive.

Our elected leaders need to think logically and act in the best interests of Saskatchewan people.

Damn straight.

First, they can start by separating the regulatory function of the SLGA from the purchasing (“upstream”) and distribution (“downstream”) arms. The current system creates an unethical conflict of interest. As with any self-regulating industry (as opposed to market-regulated industries), the incentive among the SEGU guild members and SLGA management, whether they would admit it or not, would be to cover up their fellow employees for any misgivings. This is not to say nefarious goings-on are going on, but current situation can reasonably be perceived as a conflict of interest. If a particular monopoly regulates itself, then why bother having a regulator?

Second on the list is to allow permits to private retailers and to sell off all government-owned stores altogether. I’d suggest making an offer to union members to purchase the government-run stores so as to encourage their support for reform. I would also remove the cap on specialty stores and any remaining limits on store numbers or placement. Not only would this move remove the regulatory conflict of interest but it would spur investment in new stores.

Alberta gets this part right. I used to live on Calgary’s trendy 4th Street SW which features condos, apartments, restaurants, small shops, a couple of pubs. In between 17th and 26th avenues, there were no less than three liquor vendors — an upscale wine merchant and two conventional beer and booze stores featuring more modest fare and markup. Beyond that stretch, there were at least a couple of other liquor (i.e. more than just beer and wine) stores within walking distance, and even a few more located between my downtown office and home. In other words, the stores offered me not only a variety of selection and price, but also convenience.

And fewer 0.5% sales

Also, fewer 0.5%-off sales

As an illustration, a recent report from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has shown that the number of liquor vendors since privatization has increased almost 250% while the variety of product has increased from 2,200 to a whopping 17,741.

Meanwhile, Saskatoon features pretty much the same number of liquor stores to which I once had regular access in the entire city. In a time of unprecedented growth and prosperity, Sask Liquor has only built one new store in Saskatoon in the past decade. That Broadway Avenue, Saskatoon’s street most analogous to Calgary’s 4th Ave. with its shops and pubs, walkable blocks and hipster clientele, doesn’t have its own liquor store speaks for itself.

I might also mention that during all my time in Alberta, I never once saw a lineup to get into a liquor store:

You can’t spell “licensed monopoly” without  L-I-N-E-S

Third, what Alberta didn’t get right was with its liquor wholesale purchasing system. In 2006, notable shortages in liquor were caused by issues at the provincial warehouse. While the warehouse is privately operated, wholesale distribution still operates by a government-enforced monopoly, which has resulted in supply bottlenecks and a poorly responsive distribution of product.

If Saskatchewan were to go this route, they must not stop at private liquor stores; they must also get out of the monopolized wholesale purchasing business. Again, it would not only remove the regulatory conflict of interest, it would allow for vendors and distributors to purchase goods in a more efficient manner.

Finally, if this province were to truly attempt to unshackle themselves from the statist/temperance yoke, it would discontinue the practice of segregating booze from other consumable items — in other words, allow for liquor sales in any commercial outlet. You can buy smokes anywhere, lottery tickets too. Both sets of items are prohibited to be sold to minors. If we trust private vendors to check for IDs in this circumstance, then there is no reason they cannot be entrusted to check IDs in selling liquor as well.

Now, I do not believe for a second that the provincial political climate is ready for such a radical change to allow adults to be treated like adults. Therefore, on the point of feasibility, I would be willing to drop the latter recommendation.

I do believe, however, that the good people of Saskatchewan are ready and willing to accept an increased liberalization which would include private-only vendors, the sale of provincial stores, and the dismantling of the provincial wholesale purchasing monopoly. This would result in increased convenience, better selection and more freedoms, not to mention one less area of social policy for Bob Bymoen to bitch about.

Everybody wins!

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At Issue: Staying Awake

Nothing on the telly last night, so I casually switched to CBC’s The National for masochistic kicks. I tuned in during the “At Issue” panel, which the CBC calls “Canada’s most watched political panel,” which after only a few minutes of observation led me to conclude that it’s Canada’s “only” political panel.

The term "watched" is also suspect.

The term “watched” is also suspect.

Feast your eyes on this riveting display of punditric power (which, apparently, won’t embed in this WordPress app).

For the viewing-impaired or MotherCorpophobic, the panel features four “opinion makers” agreeing with each other while the ponderous Peter Mansbridge solemnly posits mumbled queries in the manner of an Oxford don, albeit not as electrifying.

Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if there was, you know, a variety of opinion on this opinion panel? Even the token “conservative” here is arguing for cap-and-trade on carbon. Say what you want about Sun News, but those low-budget personalities are at least interesting and, I might add, not afraid to debate with those with opposing viewpoints.

Next up on the Sun News Network

“Next up on the Sun News Network …”

The only saving grace on The National is, of course, Rex Murphy, who actually has an opinion and isn’t afraid of sharing it, as last night’s performance shows.

In three minutes, Murphy made a stirring argument highlighting the general permeance of the papacy and Christianity in Western civilization, and offered up a swift rebuke to those who would rather mock the institution and its associated beliefs because these do not conform to the supposed modern mindset. Though he didn’t mention the recent controversial remarks from Thomas Mulcair on the suitability of an evangelical Christian charity doing work in Africa, Murphy provided an indirect response on a intellectual and philosophical level by illustrating the enduring depth and cultural resonance of Christianity in our society.

So there.

So there.

Murphy doesn’t seek to conform (he once defended the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming to a lunch with the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists I attended), and as such provides an almost singular point of opinionated illumination on the dark, drab CBC.

Why some of the $1.2 billion in annual taxpayer dollars can’t be used to find more than two individuals who thwart the official party line is beyond me.

Though not for a lack of trying

Though not for a lack of trying

Still, there’s no reason for me to turn back to The National any time soon. I get my news from a multitude of varied sources who are, at the least, moderately interesting. I don’t have to agree with everything my news offers, but I want to be challenged.

And, no, the challenge of staying awake during The National isn’t enough.

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Big Sale at the LBS

Ladies and gentlemen, your state-owned liquor store:

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The Perilous Peter Prebble and his Perilous Plan

The NDP’s green energy plan to supply half of Saskatchewan’s energy from renewable sources is as dangerous as it is useless. They want to follow their ideological counterparts from around the world in both developing an uneconomic renewable energy policy and neglecting to acknowledge the actual costs from such schemes with respect to their meager benefits.

In Spain, two jobs were lost for every job created under their solar energy program, while in Britain, 3.7 jobs have been lost per “green” job. On the low end, Germany’s wind-power program has cost them only $250,000 for every job created, while the United States spent an astounding $5 million per green job since 2009. These scams have resulted in a net greenhouse-gas reduction of precisely zero.

The NDP would experiment with their green follies using SaskPower, the taxpayer-subsidized Crown corporation, which was recently criticized by the party for constructing a natural gas-powered generation facility. Ironically, under the NDP plan, many more gas plants would be required to supplement every wind and solar facility because of the unreliability of those energy sources.

I doubt the cost of these gas plants will be featured in their election platform. And don’t hold your breath for the NDP to include those costs associated with constructing thousands of kilometres of transmission lines required to support the proposed renewable energy facilities spread across the province.

Predictably, would-be environment minister and rabid anti-nuclear activist Peter Prebble hasn’t included nuclear power as part of his perilous plan. One has to wonder, however, if he also has plans to reduce or eliminate the uranium mining industry in the province as he has advocated in the past.

Given the disaster wrought across the globe when unaffordable and useless renewable energy programs are foisted upon the public, we would be fools to trust the NDP. Their plan would do nothing but satisfy their ideological yearnings while devastating our economy, destroying jobs and threatening our energy security.

UPDATE: The letter was published in the StarPhoenix today. I left out the second-to-last paragraph above to cut down on length as well as it smacked of pecuniary interest on my part as being a worker in the nuclear industry. The rest of the edits, including the odd inclusion of a comma near the end of the published third paragraph, are theirs.

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