The fiction in our election

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I have been torn about how to comment about the current federal election. I am struck by how emotional and fraught it is. But the most glaring characteristic is the amount of fiction the Conservatives base their platform on.

In the past few days, they’ve started just making things up about their opponents legalizing hard drugs, taxing principal residence sales and now raising the GST, despite the other parties never once mentioning any of these.

If the electorate swallows these whoppers, I will lose all faith in my country.

But they’re not the first times conservatives have made stuff up to justify their policies that concentrate wealth among the wealthiest. Here are some of my favourite conservative fictions, in no particular order.

How Canadian elections work

Andrew Scheer alludes to a Canadian “convention” whereby the party that gets the largest number of seats in a federal election always gets to become the government. That’s not how the system works, it’s never been, and as an MP of 15 years and former Speaker of the House of Commons, Scheer knows better.

Carbon pricing

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“The carbon tax does not work.” In fact, it does and it has. B.C. has had a carbon price for over a decade, a decade during which it reduced its emissions and led Canadian provinces in economic growth, and prosperity. Carbon pricing has also proved effective in Europe and the U.K., without damaging the economy.

The Conservatives’ video ad claims the Liberals’ carbon tax will increase the cost per litre of gasoline by 22.5 cents (plus HST). In reality, the Liberal’s current plan would only increase the cost by 11 cents per litre by the year 2022.

Clean Energy Canada is also accusing the Conservatives of misrepresenting its research — the ad cites the British Columbia think tank as one of its sources. Dan Woynillowicz, policy director for Clean Energy Canada, says their numbers were taken out of context.

From a Global News report:

“When asked to explain the numbers in the video ad, a Conservative Party spokesperson noted that the Liberals have committed to hitting Canada’s emissions targets under the Paris climate agreement and a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the current carbon tax would need to be five times higher (the equivalent of 22.5 cents per litre of gasoline) if Canada is to meet those targets.

“However, that estimate was based on a hypothetical assumption that the government would rely solely on a carbon tax in order to lower emissions, which none of the major political parties is proposing.

“‘On net, there actually isn’t an increase in the tax burden to Canadians,’ says Craig Alexander, chief economist at Deloitte Canada. ‘If you want to put a price on carbon and reduce its emissions but you don’t want to have a significant impact on the economy, you need to then rebate and refund all of the money that’s collected back into the local economy.’

“’If you care about the economy, then carbon pricing is absolutely the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’ says economist Dale Beugin with the Ecofiscal Commission, an economic think tank.

“He says a carbon tax is less expensive than other incentive-based programs, which reward individuals and businesses for reducing their carbon emissions.”

Deficits

“Trudeau’s deficits will cripple the economy.” In fact, the current deficit is one third what Harper’s Conservative government ran.

Conservatives around the world have proven to be poor economic managers. In Canada, Conservatives have not been able to balance the books since the early 60s. It took a Liberal government under Jean Chretien to balance the books in the late 90s.

Taxation

“Tax cuts will put more money in your pocket.”

Again, proven untrue. Mike Harris tried that in Ontario 25 years ago. Sure, it put more money into his pockets, and those of his cronies, allies and sponsors.

But for the rest of us, an income tax cut meant increases in property taxes (as provincial costs were “downloaded” to municipalities), as well as high user fees for things we never had to pay for, directly, before. It also resulted in longer waits in hospitals and for a range of other services. It led to libraries closing and larger school class sizes.

Employment

Conservatives at all levels are consistently opposed to increasing the minimum wage, saying it will kill jobs. The evidence is to the contrary. Jurisdictions across North America have increased minimum wages, and they’ve all had economic gains as a result. We can always find anecdotes about small businesses that could not afford to pay more for their workers, which to me is more of a sign of a shaky business model than a problem with paying people what they’re worth.

More evidence shows that, after adjusting for inflation, today’s minimum wage is still behind what it was in the 1970s.

Immigration and refugees

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“There’s an illegal immigration crisis at the border!” Scheer and his cronies cry. No, there is not. There never has been.

Yes, there are refugees who break a law by coming through an irregular border crossing. But we force them to. And of all those who have come through that way, how many have caused a single problem once they arrived here?

Canada accepted 30,000 to 40,000 refugees from Syria, all why conservatives screamed about the “threat” they posed. The refugees have been here for three years now. What problems have they caused? None.

Housing

The Conservatives propose bringing back 30-year mortgages and scrapping the mortgage stress test as a way to make housing more affordable. In fact, anyone can see that those measures will only make housing more expensive.

A longer mortgage means borrowers will end up paying much more for their house over the lifetime of the mortgage. The idea of the mortgage stress test was to make sure that home buyers will still be able to afford their monthly payments when interest rates go up—as they inevitably will, sooner or later.

The net effect of these measures will be to increase demand for mortgages and buying houses, which, as we know from Economics 101, increases prices.

There’s only one sure way to reduce the cost of housing: increase the supply. In other words, build more houses.

Pharmacare

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The Conservatives have rejected pharmacare for all, saying it would be too expensive. This ignores the fact that, collectively, we already pay more for our drugs than we would through government with pharmacare.

Conservatives love to say “we can’t afford it” about every proposed step forward. It reminds me of the words of my father-in-law: “They said there was no money for medicare. There’s no money to help people. But when war comes, there’s always money for that.”

Another lie: Conservatives insist that the Liberals plan to legalize all hard drugs. Conservatives in B.C. have produced fake ads to that effect. Yet the Liberals have not said a single word about that.

Oil pipelines

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Conservatives insist on building more pipelines. That will create thousands of jobs. For a while. Once the pipelines are built, we’ll be right back to where we are now. Doubtlessly with Alberta whining for yet more pipelines and subsidies.

Canada already has pipelines from Alberta clear across the country. Conservatives and the oil industry want to build more. The Liberals are providing tax dollars to do exactly that.

Here’s where they’re both lying: it is impossible to reduce carbon emissions by drawing more fossil fuel from the ground. Just as you cannot lose weight by consuming more calories.

The oil and gas industry’s claim of achieving “net zero carbon emissions” in the next few years applies only to the production of oil and gas. Consuming it only produces carbon dioxide and water.

To be fair, the Liberals make this same claim. It’s the same nonsense.

There is more. Much more. But this post is already getting long.

Vote rationally

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I intend to vote on October 21. To vote rationally. To look at evidence. At what works, what has been proven to work.

I wish everyone would do the same. That way, we might see some real progress in this country.

A message to Alberta’s oil and gas workers

Kevstan [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

We hear you, Alberta. We get it. Unemployment is up. Earnings are down.

You feel threatened. You feel your children’s future is threatened.

We get it. We’ve been there, too. We all have. We all are, right now.

Here’s the thing: as a civilization, we cannot afford to keep doing things the way we have been. Not if we want to keep our civilization in something resembling its current form.

While oil and gas has made some people very rich, and provided many more people with a good living, we all knew that it would have to end some day. At some point, we have to stop burning oil.

At one time, we thought that would happen when the oil ran out. (Remember those days, when Alberta saved a portion of the money it made in what was called the Heritage Fund? And then you decided to blow it all. But that’s another story.)

But now we realize that we have to stop burning fossil fuels while there are still fossil fuels in the ground — because the side-effects are killing us.

It’s like smoking: some enjoy it, but the side effects are killing us. So even though there are people whose living depended on tobacco farming or processing or cigarette manufacturing and distribution, we turned away from it. Sure, there are still smokers out there, but the numbers are a fraction of what they used to be.

We have moved on.

And that’s what’s happening with oil and gas right now. Yes, the Alberta industry has cleaned up a lot. Your emissions from producing oil and gas may have come down. That part may be on track to net zero.

But that argument is disingenuous. Production of oil and gas may have net zero carbon emissions, but not the consumption of the product. That cannot be net zero, because of chemistry. Perfectly efficient combustion of a hydrocarbon produces water and carbon dioxide. And less-than-perfect combustion produces a number of nasty things, like carbon monoxide, too.

We have burned so much gasoline, oil, coal and other fossil fuels over the past 200 years, we have put ourselves in grave peril.

Let’s not quibble about it. We all know it’s true. The world has already warmed, and it’s continuing to get warmer, as a result of our use of fossil fuels. You know it. Arguing about it just makes you look like you’re even more afraid.

And no, we don’t hate you. In fact, we—the whole rational world, that is—are offering you an alternative.

A way out.

We are moving on, and we want you to join us.

It seems to me that the major economic problem Alberta is facing is the classic one of putting all of your eggs into one basket. Oil and gas is a notoriously boom-and-bust industry. And Alberta has been through several busts, not all of them because of eastern Canada.

Three of the 20 wind turbines at the Magrath Wind Power Project in southern Alberta. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo .

The solution? Diversification. And there’s a huge opportunity seemingly custom-made for Alberta: renewable energy.

Imagine that, rather than investing billions in a pipeline that will never make money, Alberta invested in developing geothermal, solar and wind energy. Renewable energy installations now produce electricity cheaper than any other form of generation. It thus earns a better return than oil and gas.

Alberta gets more days of sunshine than any other province in Canada. And you are famous for winds, too. Developing the renewable energy industry could employ all the workers laid off from the oil and gas sector. And in many cases, the jobs require more training and education, and therefore pay better. Plus, they’re cleaner and thus healthier than many O&G jobs. And there’s a future in them. Finally, they won’t poison the environment.

It’ll take time and money.

Already, the O&G sector in Alberta cannot make money without subsidies from the rest of the country. No one is telling anyone to completely drop fossil fuels immediately.

And no one is saying that you should abandon the carbon reduction or sequestration development. Those are good.

Keep exporting technology around the world. We also support that.

It will take time. It will take work.

We are running out of time. By “we,” I mean all of us. The whole world. We have less than 11 years to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, to avoid raising average global temperatures to a point where the oceans will rise catastrophically.

The world has already warmed because of our activity. Yes, you know it.

There’s really no point in arguing that the world is not warming, nor whether it’s human-caused. The vast majority of people have accepted that, and change is coming.

Change is coming to Alberta’s energy sector.

It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a threat or an opportunity.

To my U.S. friends: Buying prescriptions in Canada will make you worse off

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From what I have heard on the news, I know I speak for a lot of Canadians on this following.

While we are happy to share what we have, please don’t think that buying the prescription medications in Canada, or in any other country, is a solution to the high drug prices you pay in the U.S.

It’s not a solution for several reasons, but mostly because it does not address the cause.

But let’s just focus on some of the other reasons it’s not a solution.

First, if you’re looking for cheaper drugs, Canada isn’t the optimal source. While the U.S. has the highest drug prices in the world — as much as ten times what Canadians pay for the same things — we’re also the fourth-highest jurisdiction in the world. So if you really want to save money, consider countries like Sweden, or maybe Mexico or Cuba.

Second, the drugs you can buy here in Canada are exactly the same as the ones you buy at vastly higher prices in the U.S. Most of our drugs are manufactured by companies with head offices in the U.S. or Europe. So when you come to buy drugs here, you are literally buying U.S. products and re-importing them back home. How does that make sense?

Third, it’s bad for Canadians. We already pay way too much for prescription medications here. For example, we’re paying in some cases $60 for a product that costs $6 to manufacture. And if you start mass importing, that will drive up our costs and reduce availability for people here.

Fourth, it’s bad for you. All that transportation of pills across the border and back adds unnecessary costs. And while the plan may be feasible for those near the border, most people in the U.S. live much farther than a short drive from a Canadian pharmacy. Plus there’s the environmental impact.

Finally, the main reason that Americans buying their prescription medications in Canada and re-importing them to the U.S. is not a solution: It does not address the root cause of the high prices.

The reason that your drugs have such has prices is because the vendors put those prices so high.

There are no restrictions on the prices the manufacturers can charge. Other jurisdictions put controls on pharmaceutical prices.

Now I know many of you are going to say “Pharmaceutical companies need to earn a return on the expensive research that goes into developing new medications.” And it’s true that it’s expensive to develop new drugs.

But that argument does not hold water when private corporations multiply the prices on drugs they’ve been making for a century. Like insulin. In 1923, the Canadian doctors who developed insulin as a treatment for diabetes, Michael Best and Frederick Banting, sold their patent for $1. The price for insulin doubled in the U.S. since 2012. For the same thing. No changes. No justification.

That’s just one example. In short, you’re being gouged. And by buying drugs in another country, you’re just extending the supply chain that leads to the same gouger.

For those of you who cry “free enterprise!” or are afraid of “socialism,” all I can say is that you are facing a choice. Which do you value more: health or money for a tiny minority at the expense of all?

Our leaders are embracing anti-facts


1894 cartoon; image courtesy of the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Anti vaccination.

Climate change denial.

Flat earth.

Creation science.

Trickle-down economics.

Refugees are a threat.

A flat-earth model by Hellerick. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Wind power is unreliable.

Carbon prices will ruin the economy.

Higher wages kill jobs.

Anti-facts are ruling. Which is to say, lies drive our society today.

Much of the social and political discourse in the West has devolved to people shouting obvious falsehoods.

Sometimes it’s funny, like the flat-earthers taking a cruise to search for the edge of the world.

But all too often, belief in anti-facts turns downright dangerous. Measles outbreaks in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are the results of people who refuse to vaccinate their children, claiming “My child, my right.” But it’s not just your child, just my child; that decision affects people around you, with dire impacts on the most vulnerable.

And more and more, venal politicians are repeating and amplifying these lies, taking advantage of the poor people who believe them to build their own bases and leverage that to take power.

Nothing new here

There is nothing new about any of these ideas. I remember occasionally finding poorly printed tracts at my grandparents’ house, warning about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or about communists being the real proponents of universal health care, and that would lead to our being conquered by Russia.

Even at the age of seven or eight, I recognized how amateurish these things were. And all the grown-ups I asked about them dismissed their authors as nuts and cranks.

But even so, they persist.

Oh, oh—something has changed

Today, rather than—or perhaps in addition to—cheap printing, these ideas find distribution over the Internet. Social media has amplified them, and enabled their authors to find people around the world who will choose to buy into their lies.

Celebrity culture was like nuclear power for the especially stupid anti-vaccination movement, when an otherwise obscure Hollywood actor used her profile to spread the false idea that vaccinations cause autism.

Another new trend is the way these adherents abuse free speech, freedom of religion and other civil protections to defend opinions based on falsehood. Religious groups in the U.S. force teachers to give the same support to the idea that God created the world in six days as they do for science.

Politics versus science

Politicians spreading anti-facts is nothing new. There are examples through history. It’s a sad fact of history that demagogues have driven people to massacres and genocide by stating that a group is a threat to general society.

Today, some politicians continue to demonize gay people. Prohibiting same-sex marriage benefits no one—heterosexual people are free to marry, or not, as they wish. So why spend so much time and energy to take rights away from people? Because the effort gives the politician a following. The end is power and wealth for the leader.

Around the world, we have politicians arguing against clear evidence pointing to the climate crisis we are on the brink of. The world is warmer than it was 100 years ago, even 30 years ago. There is no factual argument against this. And all the evidence points to the fact that the amount of carbon dioxide we’ve been spewing into the atmosphere and the oceans are the cause. This also has other effects that threaten our survival as a society and as a species.

But politicians argue against it, and spread falsehoods that others, for some reason, support. “Environment protection will kill jobs.”

To detour from this argument for a moment, how about this: instead of investing billions in oil pipelines that will only further damage the only environment we have to live in, we invest that money in developing alternative forms of energy so that we can continue to live?

Every technological shift has killed some jobs. How many typesetters can you find today? But new technologies have always created more jobs and more prosperity than they obviated.

We’re teetering on the edge

Jane Jacobs was right: we are approaching a new dark age.

But it’s not a result of hyper-specialization. It’s because we as a society have abandoned the benefits of the Enlightenment. It’s our intellectual and spiritual laziness. It’s out abandonment of facts and our unwillingness to carefully think an issue through. It’s our unwillingness to think for ourselves, and to believe pretty people.

It’s our willingness to be manipulated by the wealthiest, who apparently cannot see past the ends of their noses.

Roku advances comms tech and equality

TV is for everyone—even for pets, according to Roku, manufacturer of devices for streaming programs to your TV.

“According to customer feedback, many of you lean on the TV to help entertain their playful pooch when they’re not at home. For our favorite furry friends, the television viewing experience can be static, and dare we say, unfulfilling…and that’s ruff.

“We recently surveyed our customers and identified a major pet peeve: most dogs can’t operate our remote controls to tune in to their favourite shows on a Roku player or Roku TV. More specifically, 72 percent of Roku owners surveyed believed that their dogs would enjoy TV more if they could use the remote themselves to control what they watch.”

The PressPaws remote for dogs.

Roku says that its Press Paws Remote is designed to make it easy for a dog to tune in to their preferred TV entertainment. The Press Paws Remote includes a number of “paw-friendly” features:

Animal-Themed Shortcut Buttons: Ergonomic shortcut buttons provide a shortcut to a dog’s to favorite shows faster, giving direct access to pet-themed channels including Animal Planet and The Pet Collective on The Roku Channel, where they can watch hours of clips, entertaining memes, and funniest animal videos

Bark Assistant Technology: The Press Paws remote works seamlessly with the Roku player or Roku TV and features “Bark Assistant Technology.” Various commands are at a pet’s disposal, like bark-to-play, bark-to-pause (for emergency bio breaks) and bark-to-mute

Built in Sub-WOOFer: A Sub-WOOFer built into the Press Paws Remote produces very high frequencies, so your hound’s sound is happy in the home.

“In addition, The Roku Channel is getting even more paw-some with a row specifically dedicated to four-legged viewers. Starting on April 1, pets can tune in to some of their favorites,” Roku’s announcement says.

The Roku Press Paws Remote will be available for purchase for $19.99 via Roku.com in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Mexico starting on April 1, 2019.

Happy Streaming!

Don’t care your outline in stone

Of all the tools and techniques for writers that I have written or spoken about, the outline gets the most resistance. Students, bloggers, aspiring writers and tweetmates argue “I like to write by the seat of my pants” or “I can’t use an outline.”

But I have yet to find a professional writer, one who has been published and earned a living from it, who objects to outlines.

Remember, you’re writing your outline on paper or a computer, not carving it in stone. You can change it after you write it. The idea is to get all your ideas onto paper (or screen). Then you can move them around, change them, add some, take others out—whatever makes sense to you.

Once it’s written down, the outline will show you the logic of your argument, proposal or story—or the lack of it. An invisible outline, one that’s only in your head, just doesn’t make these errors visible.

Don’t like the order? Change it! Even after you start writing the draft, you can change the order of ideas. It’s your work, after all.

I do this all the time, with every document. In fact, I did it with this blog post. I jotted down a scratch outline of words, short phrases and the occasional full sentence. I thought about my outline, moved some ideas around, then started adding words to turn those phrases into full sentences and paragraphs. Even while I was writing these paragraphs, I reordered the ideas and moved a couple of paragraphs around.

I cannot imagine writing something as long as a novel without an outline. How else can you make sure you get your hero from the introduction to the conclusion without skipping over something important? Especially with the current trend to non-linear storytelling, where the plot is not chronological but rather thematic, I cannot see how anyone could tell a coherent story without following an outline. There’s just no way to make sure you’ve covered everything you have to cover.

I know this is still going to raise some objections, and I invite you to argue with me. You know you want to. Yes, you do!

Post your objections or different perspective in the Comment box. Tell me about your outline.

And you “pantsers” out there: tell me all about your novel written without the outline. How long did it take you?

Hieroglyphics image courtesy www.copyright-free-images.com