Sunday, April 30, 2017

Friday Night Video - Rest In Peace

I don't watch a lot of TV - I've never seen more than a few episodes of Breaking Bad or Arrested Development or a lot of other must-watch shows that all various friends rave about. What I do pick up tends to be a bit eclectic, and often pretty dated by the time I get to it. I didn't start watching Joss Whedon shows until Serenity came out, for example, and then I sort of random-walked my way through his back catalogue. He's got his own quirks that start to get a bit obvious after a while, but it's still good stuff, so I started introducing my bride to his work(she'd seen Firefly, but not the others).

So, we're currently going through Buffy and Angel, and as it happens the reason I didn't post the Friday Night Video on Friday was because I was watching the video instead. Yes, they did that silliest of all TV special episodes, the musical. And as silly as it sounds, it's really damn good. Big plot movement, tons of in-jokes, a very effective villain, and catchy tunes. Of course, those who have seen the series know this, and those who haven't...well, you probably shouldn't watch it standalone because of the aforementioned plot. But it does make sitting through the otherwise-questionable season 6 have one bright spot, and that's an impressive feat.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

CPC Leadership - Strategic Thoughts

This is part of my larger series on the CPC leadership.

I had a big long post planned here - analyzing voter transition matrices, running Monte Carlo simulations, the works - but yesterday's news scotched that.

We all know that Bernier will win now. I mean, it's still possible for Scheer or O'Toole to come up the middle, but we're looking at maybe a 10% chance now. Analyzing who will win has thus gotten a lot less interesting. Instead, this will be a grab-bag post.

1) Leitch is off my ballot. She was a strategic move to block O'Leary, not a conviction vote, and I have no need for such any more. I don't think I'll be replacing her - Blaney was next on my list, and I'm not sure I'd still vote Conservative if he won. It won't make any conceivable difference, but I wouldn't feel good voting for him as leader.

2) O'Leary's decision confuses me a bit. He says he dropped out because he couldn't win the general election, but apparently the moment of truth for him was membership numbers - he saw 60,000 more members than expected and assumed he'd have a tough time winning. I think he's being a bit blustery about his chances. That said, if we take him at face value, his weakness in Quebec is not news. I've been saying it for a year, and while I can forgive him for not listening to my advice, it's been the general opinion of the punditosphere as well. Dropping out because you can't win the general makes sense, but the time to do that was before launching.

I don't think O'Leary really took this job seriously. He didn't understand that party leader is a grossly thankless position of working 80 hours a week in the church basement circuit until you win, he didn't understand that a Prime Minister is not a dictator, and he didn't give his opponents enough respect if he's surprised by a membership of a quarter million. O'Leary spent a year running for the leadership quite openly before he declared, and he lined up a lot of support, but he didn't really lay the proper groundwork that someone with his wealth and connections should have been able to lay.

I mean, seriously, he doesn't actually need to work for a living. If he wanted the job, he should have dropped out of some of his other responsibilities and spent the year learning French in secret. A man of his intelligence and resources can do it if he wants to. Then pop into the race a day before the French debate instead of the day after(or maybe a bilingual debate, to preserve some surprise), and blow everyone away who was ragging on you for not being able to win Quebec. He'd have wrong-footed everybody, proven himself to be an utterly serious contender, and instantly upped his support by like 5% by extending such a clear olive branch to Quebec. He could have done it, and he'd have won the race, and probably the keys to 24 Sussex, if he had. Given that he wasn't willing to put in the work, I'm glad he's out, but alternate universe O'Leary who actually looked into the job and gave it thought before he ran would have been a hell of a lot more interesting as a candidate.

3) The ballots have already been printed, and O'Leary's name is on them - some people actually started getting theirs in the mail yesterday. That means he's going to get votes, and probably a decent number of them between the anti-Bernier protest voters and the people who live under rocks. My bet is he finishes about 6th on the first ballot. Despite being out.

4) Almost every Conservative leadership race in my lifetime has lost a candidate to the Liberals after it finished. Seriously, we've had almost as many defections as races.

2004 CPC: Stronach
2003 PC: Brison and Orchard
2002 CA: Nil.
2000 CA: Martin
1998 PC: Orchard again
1993 PC: Turner, though it took a while

Obvious candidates for that questionable honour this time are Chong and possibly Raitt, as the reddest Tories running, but part of me thinks it'll be someone out of left field, like Lemieux or Blaney. After all, most of those defections have been social liberals jumping over social policy(I've heard from one of his staffers that Brison was basically gay-bashed out of the party, to our shame), so maybe it'll be someone jumping over disagreement with a different policy, like Bernier's social liberalism or hard-nosed fiscal policy.

5) My preferred candidate will probably win. I think this may be the first time in my life that's happened in a leadership race where I live(I've supported folks like Danielle Smith and John McCain and seen them win, but never in Ontario or Canada-level races). This is trippy, but I can get used to it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

CPC Leadership - My Ballot

So, I've taken a look at the candidates - the viable ones, the reasonable ones, and the hopeless ones. I've figured out what I care about, and who I think will deliver it. That process is summarized below: 

In general, my ballot will be identical to these rankings, with two slight modifications.

1) Peterson vs O'Toole. They're tied, and Peterson is non-viable and awesome enough that I'd even consider putting him above Bernier for reasons described in my last post. I don't intend to do so - it's sort of crass for a Bernier volunteer, and I don't think it'll help anything much - but for the same reasons, I will put him above O'Toole. That vote will never count(I suspect no vote I make below Bernier will ever count), but it's symbolic.

2) Leitch vs O'Leary. They're both deep in my bottom four, but the thing is, they're both viable candidates. If we live in the worst of all possible worlds, the final vote may come down to Leitch vs O'Leary - it'd be an unhappy outcome, but it's plausible if the alt-right is bigger than we thought it was. I don't think that will happen, but I didn't think Trump would win either. As such, I want the one who I find less hateful to be on the ballot. And given a choice between cholera and dysentery, dysentery wins it by a nose. Leitch squeaks into my #10 spot, despite being my #12 preference, because I think blocking her is slightly less important than blocking King Wonderful I.

As such, the following will be my ballot, assuming nobody does anything too stupid between now and when I vote:
  1. Maxime Bernier
  2. Rick Peterson
  3. Erin O'Toole
  4. Deepak Obhrai
  5. Andrew Scheer
  6. Lisa Raitt
  7. Michael Chong
  8. Chris Alexander
  9. Andrew Saxton
  10. Kellie Leitch
Steven Blaney, Brad Trost, Kevin O'Leary, and Pierre Lemieux will not be getting votes from me, and I couldn't be happier to leave any of them off my ballot.

Edit: One thing I forgot to write up in the first version of this post is my "dream team". As much as I have strong preferences on which of these folks should and should not lead the party, all of them have useful skills, and all of them will quite plausibly be front-benchers in the next Parliament if we win in 2019. Here's how I think they could all be put to the best uses:

Chris Alexander: Minister of Foreign Affairs. Obviously his strongest point, and by all accounts he knows the file backwards and forwards.

Maxime Bernier: Prime Minister, naturally. Failing that, I'd be happy seeing him back in his old stomping grounds of Industry, with Agriculture and Intergovernmental Affairs as strong second choices.

Steven Blaney: Minister of Veterans Affairs. He's held it before, and it's far away from anything that requires me to trust him with actual authority.

Michael Chong: Minister of Democratic Institutions. If he actually stays in Cabinet this time, it's his pet issue that he could do genuinely good work on.

Kellie Leitch: Minister of Health, or maybe Minister of Canadian Heritage - the former because of her medical background, the latter because it's clearly her pet issue in this race, and when you split it away from the immigration file her approach is no longer terrible.

Pierre Lemieux: Minister of Agriculture. He's been Parliamentary Secretary to the role before, and he represents a relatively rural riding. Plus, there's not a lot for him to screw up.

Deepak Obhrai: Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I'm pretty enamoured of his "decentralizing the department" idea, and it's always important for a Conservative government to put someone who can take some heat with grace in this file.

Kevin O'Leary: President of the Treasury Board. It might seem low-status for someone like O'Leary, but controlling the purse-strings of the country and being in charge of cost control suits him perfectly.

Erin O'Toole: Minister of National Defence. Ex-military, and he clearly takes the topic seriously. He'd also be pretty good at Environment, I think.

Rick Peterson: Minister of Finance. Great policy, and a strong private-sector CV for the task.

Lisa Raitt: Minister of Transportation. She's a former harbourmaster, has held the portfolio before, and seemed to do reasonably well at it.

Andrew Saxton: Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. The most obvious financial roles for him are better assigned to others, but he's competent across the board, has a good grasp of a wide range of details, and can be trusted not to screw up one of the more important Question Period roles. This is a bit beneath him, but I don't see any other good fits.

Andrew Scheer: Government House Leader. This is the role where you need to know procedure backwards and forwards, and it's hard to think of a better choice than a former Speaker.

Brad Trost: Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. When it comes to inter-provincial trade barriers(both legal barriers and regulatory environment differences), he's got a sound policy approach, and it keeps him far away from hot-button social policy.

(Next: Strategic Thoughts)

CPC Leadership - Ranked Ballots 101

This is part of my larger series on the CPC leadership.

I've seen a ton of confusion about how the voting will work for the Conservative leadership race, so I wanted to post something that will help explain it to anyone who's confused.

The procedure being used is a fairly typical ranked ballot. There are 14 candidates, and instead of picking one and hoping they win(as we do in most elections), we get to rank our top 10 preferences in order. Voters fill out their ballots in full in advance, and don't get a chance to change their minds as they see how the voting goes.

Voting is done in rounds. In the first round, your ballot counts for your #1 preference, and all the votes are tallied up. It's important to point out that any rank below #1 is totally irrelevant here - this isn't one where you're splitting up "preference points" or anything like that, it's a single vote going to the single candidate ranked #1 on your ballot. You can rank a single candidate or the full 10, and it won't change anything at this point.

After the first round is done, they figure out if anyone has a majority of votes. If someone does, they win. If nobody has a majority, they figure out which candidate has the fewest votes. That candidate loses, and is removed from the election for all future rounds. The people who voted for that candidate no longer have their #1 preference in the race, so they then vote for their #2 preference in future rounds. Again, this is a single vote going to a single candidate - it's not split up, and your #3-10 preferences still don't matter at this point. Only the single highest-ranked candidate on your ballot will get your vote.

This process repeats until one candidate gets a majority. Each round the lowest-ranked candidate loses and is removed from all future rounds, and that candidate's supporters are moved to their next-ranked choice. If for whatever reason they run out of choices on a given voter's ballot(maybe they only picked one guy, maybe they picked the full 10 but all 10 lost), that voter's ballot is ignored after this point, and their vote plays no further role in the election. It's not a "None of the above" ballot, it's just like you never showed up. As soon as a single candidate gets a majority, the election is over and they win.

One further wrinkle arises from the way the party counts votes. Votes are not the same nationwide - instead of each voter being weighted equally, each riding is weighted equally. This means that voters in heavily Conservative ridings will have less impact on the election than voters in ridings with few members. This does not change how you should vote - you don't get to pick where you vote, and whether your vote is worth more or less you still want the same candidate to win - but it's something to be aware of.

A few strategic considerations arise from this system.

  1. There is very little reason to care if a candidate is "viable" or not. If you really like a candidate, vote for them #1, and if they're unpopular then your vote will go to your #2 preference. Your vote is extremely unlikely to be "wasted", and strategic voting plays very little role(other than as noted below). 
  2. Unless you genuinely have no preference between candidates after a certain point, or you feel like you can't support a leader who you wouldn't vote for, you should fill up your whole ballot. At some point it may feel like a choice between cholera and dysentery, but if you think one is better than the other, say so. If it comes down to a choice between those two, and you'd prefer one to the other, you'd do better saying so than leaving it blank and pretending that it can't happen. 
  3. Because of the fact that you can only rank 10 candidates, you can't express a preference between your bottom 4 choices. If you have a preference that you feel is important between your bottom 4, you may wish to move one of them up to 10th place to express that preference. In practice, this means that you should look at which candidates have a real chance of winning, and make sure that all but one of them have a place on your ballot - the one you hate most should be off the ballot entirely, but the others are all better than that one, and so you should have a chance to choose between them if it comes down to that. 
  4. If there's a non-viable candidate who you like second-best and you want to make them look better, but your true first preference is viable, you can safely rank the second-best candidate above the best candidate to artificially inflate their numbers. This is unlikely to do much of value for you or the candidate, but it's a choice you have. (I did this in the 2009 Ontario PC leadership - Hillier was grossly unelectable, but I liked the guy, so I ranked him #1 secure in the knowledge that he couldn't win)
Hopefully that helps anyone who's still confused about the system. 

(Next: My Ballot)

CPC Leadership - The C-List (Blaney, Lemieux, Obhrai, Peterson, and Saxton)

This is part of my larger series on the CPC leadership - see that post for my methodology. This post is on the five candidates who I think are not significant contenders, due to having minimal support nationwide - Steven Blaney, Pierre Lemieux, Deepak Obhrai, Rick Peterson, and Andrew Saxton.

Steven Blaney

Fiscal: 0/6 He's a bit hard to judge here(and on most other issues), because his policy platform is extremely thin. But the biggest thing he's pushing is fanatical support for supply management, and about the only fiscal policy I can see otherwise is a totally unspecified claim about making it easier to pass down family businesses(which is already strongly tax-advantaged) and a desire to have the government drop credit card fees(which is pure NDP populism). Literally nothing that I agree with him on, in the category where any Tory with a pulse should at least be able to score 2 or 3 on gimmies like a balanced budget.
Social: 2/4 He wants to reduce immigration, which I dislike, but his justice reforms aren't terrible, and his support for nuclear is a breath of fresh air.
Foreign: 3/4 He's actually decent here. Nothing crazy, nothing offensive, pretty much just generic conservatism.
Governance: 1/3 The only thing I can even loosely class as "governance" is a desire to have Supreme Court nominations be decided by an all-party committee. Which is fine, I guess, but it's not exactly a big deal.
Decency: 1/3 He's taking basically the same line as Leitch on "Canadian values", and while he's been less enthusiastic, it's still not great.
Electability: 1.5/3 He's not known for an abundance of charisma, but bilingualism is good for a point, and he's not obviously offensive.
Unity: 1/2 The biggest group he offends is the Bernier camp, who probably aren't going to leave no matter what, but he really offends us quite a lot. If he somehow became PM, another Bristol Aerospace-type screwjob like the one that kicked off the Reform Party seems more plausible than with any other candidate.
TOTAL: 9.5/25 Ugggh.

Pierre Lemieux

Fiscal: 1/6 So far as I can tell, he doesn't actually have any fiscal policy posted. One point for not actively offending me.
Social: 0/4 This is clearly his signature issue, and not in a way I like. He's a Bible-thumper, all about social conservative pet issues. I can tolerate being in the same party as socons, but I don't agree with them at all on this stuff.
Foreign: 2/4 He's fairly pro-military, and like I said for Bernier, simply saying "radical Islamic terrorism" out loud is worth a couple points. No actual policy regarding other countries aside from the obligatory support for Israel, but this is a good starting point.
Governance: 1/3 Free speech has somewhat morphed into a socon issue recently, because they're the ones who are most likely to get shut down these days. I believe in it as a generic, not to try to win debates, but that still means socons pushing free speech can make decent allies here. No big stuff like Bernier or Chong, but it's something.
Decency: 0/3 His post about the massacre of a bunch of Muslims was all about why we should oppose a nonbinding motion that mentioned Islamophobia. I'm normally willing to give a fair bit of credit to socons, even when I disagree with them, but that was profoundly terrible.
Electability: 0/3 He'll do well in rural areas west of Quebec, but everywhere else he'll be eaten alive. Given that those areas are the ones we'd win with a stuffed animal in charge of the party, no points.
Unity: 0.5/2 Like Trost, he'd be a sop to the socons, and everyone else would run screaming.
TOTAL: 4.5/25 Profoundly awful, and I'm very glad that he's got a lower chance of winning than I do.

Deepak Obhrai

Fiscal: 3/6 Much like Alexander, it's standard-issue Tory policy with a bit too much emphasis on ways governments can create jobs - almost half his economic policy is ways to expand the mandate of the Business Development Bank of Canada. He says lower taxes and private investment are the way to do it, but he doesn't actually act like he believes it.
Social: 3.5/4 Sensible immigration policy, good law and order policy, and a very sensible avoidance of the usual hot-buttons of gay marriage and abortion. I'd like to see a higher immigration target, and like all candidates besides Chong the environment is a bit of a notable hole here, but those are quibbles. Very good overall.
Foreign: 3/4 Some interesting stuff here. He pins the blame for terrorism primarily on the hopelessness of people living in dictatorships, which is an angle you don't see much of(but which seems closer to the mark than the bombing-based theories), he takes a very sensible line regarding Trump and the Muslim ban(basically, work with them on security but don't let them dictate our policy), and he has the suggestion of abandoning multilateral trade deals in favour of bilateral, going so far as to suggest dividing NAFTA into three separate bilateral deals(which I think will add too much overhead to be practical with existing deals, but as a future emphasis makes sense). I don't agree with him on all of it, but he seems to at least be grounded in reality, and he talks about the issues seriously. That's important, and sadly also quite rare.
Governance: 2/3 Not a lot here, but the one relevant post is extremely interesting. He wants to break up the bulk of the work of the Department of Indigenous Affairs and decentralize its operations into every other relevant federal department, to ensure that the work of implementing the Indian Act is done equally for everyone, whether on-reserve or off-reserve, and to encourage further decentralization and self-government. It's not a fully-fleshed out governance policy, but it shows a depth of thought that most candidates aren't showing, and I have a lot of respect for that.
Decency: 3/3 As should be expected of someone with a personal history of facing discrimination, he's pretty enthusiastic about not doing the same to others. No faults here I can see.
Electability: 2/3 His current material is deeply low-budget, and has an air of the elderly crank about it(weird capitalization, etc.), but like a lot of the others, I suspect that'd be fixed quickly if he had the resources of the whole party at his disposal. Also, he's not very good with French. Otherwise, he's pretty good - a visible minority leader will offset a lot of the usual attacks on Tories, he's got a slightly goofy charm that has served him well, and he seems to be good with the memes. I think he'd do well here.
Unity: 2/2 Everybody seems to like him, and his policy is very middle-of-the-road for the party. He'll have no problems.
TOTAL: 18.5/25 What can I say? I like the guy. He's got a fun style, he seems to actually think about issues, and his policy is good. We could do far worse.

Rick Peterson

Fiscal: 6/6 This is the sort of fiscal policy I expect from a think-tank, not from an actual politician. No corporate income tax, no corporate welfare, and a flat personal income tax(with a $24k basic exemption), all funded by a GST hike? Crikey. Like with Bernier's plan to eliminate capital gains taxes, I think the elimination of corporate income taxes is going a bit too far, and will raise more distributional issues than it's worth, but nobody can accuse him of timidity here. I'd much rather a politician go into office bold, as long as they're not stupid about it - the rough edges can always be filed off later. The only flaw I see is that his seniors policy is a bit silly, but it's harmless.
Social: 4/4 He wants to dramatically expand immigration, with a focus on economic immigrants, and wants security screening to be done in ways that might actually work. He's pro-choice, pro-SSM, pro-LGBT, and pro-euthanasia, but is willing to tolerate social conservatives despite that. He's got no environmental policy and is a bit thin on law and order, but with those two headliners I really don't care.
Foreign: 1/4 This is his weak spot. He doesn't say anything that I can see on anything outside Canada's borders beyond immigration, and he has no particular experience that makes me think he'd be any good with the issue. I trust his instincts, but not his knowledge of this topic.
Governance: 2.5/3 Some very good stuff here. He wants to let Revenu-Quebec collect federal income taxes in Quebec the way they already collect other federal taxes, to save Quebecers from filing two returns(which is so common-sense that I'm surprised it's not already the case), and he wants to loosen up the Canada Health Act substantially as well. Not quite as expansive as a federalism plan as Bernier's, but it's the closest of any of them.
Decency: 3/3 He seems to actually think before he opens his mouth, and actually care when he does. That's not unique, of course, but it's good to see. Delaying campaign announcements on his Quebec tour when the mosque shooting happened, for example, is a good sign that he actually cares about acting decently.
Electability: 2/3 He's bilingual, has a good resume, and satisfies the whole "not a career politician" kick that voters seem to be on. "Venture capitalist" is a bad line of work for a right-wing politician trying to appeal to the general public, as Romney proved, but other than that he looks good.
Unity: 1.5/2 We may lose a few squishy reds, but I don't think it'll be too bad. He even has a policy for building a stronger party, which is pablum("stronger party" proposals are always pablum), but pablum that other candidates don't seem to be bothering with.
TOTAL: 20/25 Why couldn't this guy have been as famous as O'Leary? He's got a very similar background and appeal, but he's sensible, non-abrasive, has far better policy, doesn't want to rule the country with an iron fist, and actually acts like he's Canadian. This is the sort of candidate I usually wind up supporting, because anyone this awesome is normally grossly unpopular with the broader public. The existence of Bernier is a happy fluke, but in a normal election I'd be one of the lonely few Peterson supporters east of BC.

Andrew Saxton

Fiscal: 4/6 Not as bold as some, but a very detailed portfolio of smaller measures that are all individually good. That said, he talks about lower taxes, but doesn't actually propose any tax cuts, and when he's got a detailed proposal that includes the fiscal impact of eliminating the LSVCC credit and turning the $5 bill into a coin, that tells me he doesn't actually intend to cut taxes at all. This is a really odd hole in his plan, and calls into question the rest of it, so I'm docking him a point.
Social: 1.5/4 He wants to drop immigration levels(as a cost-saving measure, no less, which is profoundly foolish), though he does seem to want to improve it administratively. His environmental policy mostly consists of praying for a technological breakthrough. His justice policy is fiddling around the edges, but it's at least decent fiddling.
Foreign: 1.5/4 Much like Peterson, whose campaign feels very similar, this is a hole. He talks about helping veterans, and he mentions being "familiar with international dynamics" and the importance of good government internationally in passing, but there's nothing concrete there. The closest he comes to real policy is "Expanded trade with the world"(which isn't a headline, that's the entire policy).
Governance: 1/3 Nothing here that I can see, for good or ill.
Decency: 3/3 As with a lot of others, he gets full marks here because he hasn't done anything offensive that I've seen. He talks about how it's a good thing that it's boring, and on this it is.
Electability: 1/3 He's decently bilingual, but doesn't have much else going for him. Unlike the last category, when it comes to electability, "boring" is really not a virtue.
Unity: 2/2 I can't imagine anyone having a problem with him, and he has a slightly-less-pablum-than-usual policy on rebuilding the party.
TOTAL: 14/25 I wanted to like him, but he's actually pretty disappointing now that I've dug into his platform. It's fuzzy, mushy, and not well-considered.

(Next: Ranked Ballots 101)

CPC Leadership - The B-List (Alexander, Chong, Raitt, and Trost)

This is part of my larger series on the CPC leadership - see that post for my methodology. This post is on the four candidates who I think are unlikely to win the election, but who have significant support within the party - Chris Alexander, Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt, and Brad Trost.

Chris Alexander

Fiscal: 3/6 Pretty standard conservative policy on most things - lower taxes, balanced budget, blah blah. That'd be 4/6, but he supports a lot of fairly intrusive government programs in various areas, though - his daycare strategy is downright Paul Martin, and he believes way too much in the power of job creation programs.
Social: 1.5/4 Doesn't seem to have much to say here aside from the environment(where he's a bit Liberal-flavoured, but not bad). What does come up is unimpressive, though - a lot of stupid little tax credits, a lot of government micro-programs, and he's against legalizing pot.
Foreign: 4/4 Generally pretty good - specific policies on a lot of hot-button topics(Ukraine, Syria, Cuba, etc.), though the details can be a bit off. I think his Syrian plan is unrealistic, and the Ukraine policy gets the date of the Russo-Georgian war wrong by three years, but those are quibbles - it's a low-budget campaign, the staff work will improve if he wins. Also, his trade policy is excellent. He thinks like I do, more or less, and he talks about these issues seriously. Definitely his strongest point.
Governance: 1/3 Doesn't seem to much care about federal/provincial division of powers, and is proposing a lot of new programs in provincial jurisdiction. Nothing truly awful, but the continuation of a pretty mediocre status quo.
Decency: 1/3 He's been one of the biggest people throwing red meat at the alt-right. He was one of the people pushing the 'barbaric practices hotline", he's been doing "Lock her up!" chants, and the like, with no remorse that I can see. Not as enthusiastically terrible as some others, but not good.
Electability: 2/3 No real slam-dunks, but he's fluently bilingual, seems reasonably personable, and doesn't have any huge skeletons in his closet that I'm aware of.
Unity: 2/2 I can't imagine any Tories leaving the party over him.
TOTAL: 14.5/25 I can live with him, but I'm not enthusiastic.

Michael Chong

Fiscal: 5/6 His policy here seems pretty good overall - tax cuts, tax code simplification, and no wild cards. He name-drops Jim Flaherty way, way too much, but that's a minor sin. The biggest problem I have is that the bulk of his income tax savings go to the upper-middle-class, while the funding mechanism for them(removal of tax credits and a carbon tax) hits everyone quite broadly. That's going to cause some ugly distributional issues.
Social: 2/4 Nothing huge here aside from the carbon tax, but he gets serious points for being the only guy with the guts to propose it.
Foreign: 1/4 So far as I can tell, he has no posted foreign policy whatsoever. I suspect I won't hate whatever he does, but if he doesn't talk about it, he only gets token marks.
Governance: 3/3 His signature issue, and the one that IMO answers all the "Why are you even a Conservative?" questions - on this issue, he's a classical Reformer. I think his exact approach could use a bit of work, but he's talking about it seriously, and seems to mean it when he says he wants to weaken the PMO and give power to MPs. I have a ton of respect for that.
Decency: 3/3 No messing around with dark arts, no skeletons in his closet I'm aware of, and he resigned Cabinet over an issue of principle and shows up to events in Alberta to talk about the merits of a carbon tax. Full marks here.
Electability: 1.5/3 I'm generally a believer in the "People would rather vote for a real Liberal than a faux-Liberal Conservative" school of thought, and he does have some issues there. But otherwise, he's got a pretty good argument to make about why he's a good leader, and I think he'd do okay. His biggest problem is that the issue of principle he left Cabinet over was the Quebec-as-a-nation vote, which is one that will not win him many friends in la belle province. Bilingualism will soften the blow compared to some of his opponents, but he won't do great.
Unity: 0.5/2 He's pissed off a huge chunk of the party talking carbon taxes, and while I tend to agree with him, that's not going to help much. The only saving grace is that those people have nowhere to go right now, but they're a part of the party known for fissioning off(cf. Reform, Wildrose, etc.), so that won't help much.
TOTAL: 16/25 A bit of an oddball, but I actually like the guy. Not my first choice, but we could do worse.

Lisa Raitt

Fiscal: 5/6 For someone who's always struck me as a very red Tory, this is surprisingly aggressive policy. Broad-based tax cuts, balancing the budget, upping TFSA limits, spending reviews, expanding use of P3s, and even a taxpayer protection act(which I thought went out with the 90s). She's still a bit fond of fiddly incentivization for my taste, she's pro-supply management, and she's light on concrete proposals, but this is still good stuff despite that.
Social: 1.5/4 There's almost nothing here besides healthcare. It's not terrible healthcare policy(though it does run afoul of the whole "The Constitution says that healthcare should be provincial" thing), but there's basically nothing on the environment, law and order, free speech, religious hot-buttons, or anything else.
Foreign: 2.5/4 Thin, but good. Rebuilding the armed forces, UN reform(which will never happen, but is good to support), plus the usual support for allies and opposition to dictators. There's no explicit mention of free trade, but infrastructure to support trade is mentioned. She'd get more if she expanded it out, I suspect, but this isn't bad.
Governance: 2/3 The only thing here is a one-sentence "Decentralizing Government" policy, but that's the core of what I want from governance policy, so it's worth some points.
Decency: 3/3 Like a lot of others, she gets full marks here simply for being inoffensive. It saddens me that the bar is so low, but it's good that she can clear it, unlike the ones who would prefer to dig a tunnel underneath the bar.
Electability: 1/3 She doesn't speak French, and she has a tendency to be pretty mushy and non-specific. She'll help shed some of the baggage of the Conservative brand, I think, but it'll be hard to make a positive case for why she should win, which means she'll be relying on Trudeau offending the public badly. That's not a good bet.
Unity: 1.5/2 She's definitely on the red side, and from Ontario, which will make the West think a bit about fissioning off Reform-style, but I don't think she'd offend them enough to pull the trigger.
TOTAL: 16.5/25 I tend to roll my eyes at fluffy red tories, but they're a lot better than Bible-thumpers or alt-right edgelords(or, god help us, the ones who are two or three of those at once). I wouldn't be terribly enthusiastic about PM Raitt, but I'd vote for her.

Brad Trost

Fiscal: 4/6 Pretty generic conservative policy here. Balanced budgets, some tax reductions, and so on. Nothing bold or special except eliminating capital gains taxes(which, like Bernier's proposal to do the same, I oppose for being too distortionary), but generic conservatism is still good here.
Social: 0/4 On top of being a massive Bible-thumper, he seems to have also jumped on Trump's Muslim ban idea. Not just no, but hell no.
Foreign: 2/4 Doesn't have much here, but there's some good talk on trade.
Governance: 2/3 Again, not much here, but loosening internal trade barriers within Canada is good policy, and his approach to regulatory harmonization also seems sensible.
Decency: 0.5/3 He loses points for the Muslim ban, and he genuinely claims that "Democracy is under attack" because a library kicked him out one time, but at least it's not a centrepiece of his campaign to act like a jerk towards people. That drags him above zero, slightly.
Electability: 0/3 No swing ridings anywhere would vote for him between now and the heat death of the universe.
Unity: 0.5/2 We as a party have a history of treating social conservatives pretty badly. They have no other options, because everyone else outright despises them, but we can't run on their pet issues and expect to win, so we dangle a carrot or two in front of them and then exploit them. If one of them was in charge, we'd lose, but it'd help prevent their resentment from building up to toxic levels, which could otherwise happen. That's worth a bit. That said, he scares the crap out of all the other parts of the party, so it's not worth very much.
TOTAL: 9/25 Less obnoxious than some, but still a pretty terrible candidate.

(Next: The C-List)

CPC Leadership - The A-List (Bernier, Leitch, O'Leary, O'Toole, and Scheer)

This is part of my larger series on the CPC leadership - see that post for my methodology. This post is on the five candidates who I think have a decent chance of winning the election - Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Kevin O'Leary, Erin O'Toole, and Andrew Scheer.

Maxime Bernier

Fiscal: 6/6 Top-notch policy here, probably the best of anyone. Large tax cuts, dramatic simplification of the tax system, the strongest opposition to corporate welfare of anyone, and so on. The only thing that I have to complain about is elimination of the capital gains tax(it'd be way too distortionary on the tax code, and encourage too many character-changing transactions), but I think that will be toned down in practice.
Social: 3/4 He's excellent here - pro-pot-legalization, pro-gay-rights, generally socially liberal without wanting to ram it down the throats of the party's backbenchers(who would lose a free vote, so let them have one), and an immigration policy that's good in most regards. Two things cost him the last point here - one, wanting to cut immigration numbers, and two, opposing a carbon tax(which sounds Liberal, but is by far the most market-based approach to environmentalism around).
Foreign: 3.5/4 Simply using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" is guarantees you a 2/4 on its own - it's code for "I am actually taking the war that the West has been fighting for the last 15 years seriously", while not being one of those idiots who wants to bash an entire religion for the actions of a few splodeydopes. On top of that, his trade policy is excellent, and his defence policy seems generally sensible. Not as well fleshed-out as Alexander's, but still very good.
Governance: 3/3 He actually understands the Constitution's division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, and wants to make it happen in reality. Getting the feds out of being the biggest revenue source of provinces, and letting them have their own responsibilities to enact as they see fit, is a huge win here. It allows more accountability, less duplication of efforts, and more experimentation. Plus, you know, it's actually constitutionally mandated, so doing it seems like a good call.
Decency: 2/3 He's been flirting a bit too much with the alt-right for my taste, and while I like to tell myself it's tactical and not because he likes them, I have to dock him a point if I'm to be honest with myself. But other than that, he's impressed me.
Electability: 2.5/3 He has a couple skeletons in his closet(leaving secret documents at his girlfriend's place, while overblown, doesn't speak well), but otherwise he's quite good. Polished, professional, hardworking, and while I wish province of origin didn't matter, simply having a Quebecois leader(especially one who favours decentralization of power) is good for a bunch of seats.
Unity: 1/2 Sadly, a lot of Westerners hate and fear Quebecois leaders, and a lot of red Tories hate and fear right-wing principle. He's also campaigned pretty aggressively. We'll lose a few, at least in the short term.
TOTAL: 21/25 Not perfect, but very good. There's a reason I'm supporting him.

Kellie Leitch

Fiscal: 4/6 This is actually pretty good. Balanced budgets, CBC elimination, and a cap on government spending. No tax simplification, tentative support of supply management(but not enthusiastic, which puts her ahead of most), and her 5% per year cut targets are unrealistic, but I can dig it overall.
Social: 1/4 Her big issues here are legalizing nonlethal weapons for self-defence(tiny, but good), her signature immigrant-screening stuff(I actually like the sentiment of ensuring the protection of human rights, but good lord she's picked the worst imaginable way to do it), and re-banning pot(where legalization is probably the single politically easiest improvement to freedom we have). Not zero, but ugggh.
Foreign: 1/4 Not a lot of policy here - pretty much the only thing she says is weirdly enthusiastic pro-Israeli policy. I'm broadly pro-Israel, but she takes it to excess. I can't find much of anything else she has to say.
Governance: 1.5/3 Citizen-initiated referendums and reducing the political donation tax credit are both small, but I like them. Not worth full points, but it's something.
Decency: 0/3 She's basically running on dog-whistle xenophobia as her primary issue. I might have given her credit for having the courage to discuss tough and unpopular issues seriously, but she isn't treating them seriously - her policies would not actually do what she says they would, and quite predictably so. That's not serious, she's just being mean for the sake of it. No thanks.
Electability: 0.5/3 She has a strong resume, but she's not bilingual, she's made basically everyone cranky, and she's got no particular charisma or appeal outside of a small group of people who are already party diehards. The alt-right thing will probably peter out by 2019(god willing...), and that's the only way she could win.
Unity: 0/2 The best case here is that she winds up being a Trump-like figure, who repulses huge chunks of the party.  The worst case is that she tries to triangulate, we all stay pissed-off, and she loses her base too. No points.
TOTAL: 8/25 Few redeeming qualities, and a whole lot of nope. She's fighting hard to be the worst candidate in the race.

Kevin O'Leary

Fiscal: 4/6 Obviously, this is his signature policy, and I like most of it. Thing is, while he's got a ton of micro-policy, there's some weird gaps on the big stuff. For example, while he dives into accelerated capital cost allowances and regulatory requirements for capital gains tax exemptions, he doesn't discuss balancing the budget that I can see. For the hard-nosed businessman, that's a really strange oversight, unless he intends to go full Trudeau with the deficit.
Social: 2/4 Not a lot here - the only thing I can see is a bit of immigration policy shoehorned into his economic plan. It's not bad policy, but it's nothing special. The 2 rating is mostly because my gut feeling on him is that he'll be decent, not because of anything he's actually said.
Foreign: 0/4 There is literally nothing on his website that I can find on foreign policy, so I'll judge him by some of his statements that have hit the public consciousness - namely, "there is nothing proud about being a warrior", and repeating the old lie that Canada is all about peacekeeping. He simply doesn't get it.
Governance: -3/3 All of my other ratings are zero or higher, but I feel like I need to make an exception here. His policy on governance is not merely bad, not merely wrong. It is actively terrifying. I can't believe that I need to say this, but in a free and democratic nation, we do not throw CEOs in jail for not following arbitrary government diktats, particularly not on 20-year targets for carbon emissions(because seriously, how many CEOs even have a 20-year tenure to begin with?). It's increasingly been my conviction that Mr. Wonderful doesn't even know what the job he's running for is, and ham-fisted idiocy like this is one big reason why. Also, insofar as he discusses the more traditional topics of governance, he's all about twisting the arms of provincial governments at every opportunity, which is pretty horrible policy in its own right. His famous open letters are all aimed at Premiers - he doesn't have a direct attack on Trudeau posted, but he has direct attacks on Wynne and McNeil on his website.
Decency: 2/3 For all that he plays an asshole on television, he actually hasn't done badly here. I like he fact that he's willing to defend the morality of capitalism, even if I wish we had a less abrasive priest. He gets compared to Trump a lot, but he doesn't have Trump's abusive streak, and hasn't engaged in a bunch of wild attacks on random people. The fact that he's half-Lebanese probably also helps here - the most obvious way for a right-winger to be a dick these days is ragging on Middle Easterners, and he's naturally disinclined to do very much of that. Much as attacking Premiers isn't the job of the PM, it's way better than just attacking everyone who crosses your path.
Electability: 1/3 In a sensible world, this number would be zero. We do not live in a sensible world. As I said above, I think the alt-right strongman fetish will die out as it becomes clear that they can't deliver the goods, but then I thought Trump was doomed too.
Unity: 1/2 He's offended a lot of people, but he throws enough bones to enough factions that I think he can hold it together well enough as long as he can win elections. But if he loses, the jackals will be out in force. He's promised to quit if he loses, so maybe we'll be spared the worst of it, but lord knows he's lost a lot of times in his life and never quit.
TOTAL: 7/25 If he actually had a reasonable sense of what the job he was running for was(and was willing to colour within the lines), he'd be way, way higher. But I can't go for someone who's so enthusiastic about ruling with an iron fist.

Erin O'Toole

Fiscal: 4/6 He's got some good stuff here, but also some more problematic proposals. On the good side, he's got concrete proposals for tax cuts, balanced budgets, and regulatory burden reduction, all of which I like(though no tax simplification, sadly). On the bad side, the "Generation Kickstart" idea has been around for ages, and while it looks appealing on the surface, it's a huge giveaway to a narrow part of the population, which is not generally good policy. He's also proposing some odd mortgage changes that I don't think generally make a lot of sense - encouraging 7+ year mortgages is a big part of the US's historical banking problems, and I'd rather we stay away from it.
Social: 4/4 Aside from Chong's carbon tax, he's got the best environmental policy I've seen from anyone running - he takes it seriously, instead of trying to pretend the issue doesn't exist, and is running on the historical Conservative record(which is actually pretty good) - that's a good way to rehabilitate our reputation long-term, as well as being decent policy. His immigration policy is reasonable, as is his law and order policy, with both having respect for security without resorting to walling off the world - heck, he even wants to eliminate civil asset forfeiture and demand a criminal conviction before assets are seized. This is good stuff.
Foreign: 4/4 Not quite as detailed as Alexander's plan, but in much the same vein - pretty standard conservative approaches of supporting Israel, opposing Putin, UN skepticism, and so on. That'd be good for 3 or so, but the fact that he's the one supporting CANZUK(and, inexplicably, the only one supporting it) brings him up to a perfect score. CANZUK's not a perfect deal, but it's very good, and has huge public support, which is a rare thing for a free trade deal to enjoy, never mind a free movement deal as well. We'd be fools not to run with it.
Governance: 2/3 Not a lot here, but in general he sounds like he's on the right page. His healthcare policy respects provincial jurisdiction passably well, and he seems to generally understand how government works in practice.
Decency: 3/3 I've seen no particular concerns with him. He seems like a decent person, he hasn't been baiting the alt-right, and he's addressed a lot of tough issues in his policy stances with a deft hand.
Electability: 1/3 He's more or less in the mold of Harper when he started - he's a boring white dude who speaks half-hearted French, and nobody outside the party cares much about Ontario vs Alberta or military experience. He won't light the world on fire, but he'll be quietly competent and not offend too many people, and we could do worse. Still, we could also do better.
Unity: 2/2 I can't imagine anyone in the party having a problem with him.
TOTAL: 20/25 A very strong candidate, and I'd be happy if he won.

Andrew Scheer

Fiscal: 3/6 Lots of sound-bite policies, but not much of substance. Balancing the budget is good, as is removing corporate welfare(though the juxtaposition of the anti-corporate-welfare and pro-supply management pieces being adjacent on his policies page is pretty funny), but everything else is Harper-style microscopic tax credits to perceived swing voters. Home heating tax exemptions, private school tax credits, forestry research incentives, et tedious cetera. No broad-based tax cuts whatsoever, and no details on his balanced budget proposal.
Social: 2.5/4 He's actually walked a fairly fine line here on the usual issues people think of when they hear "social policy" - he's appealing to the Bible-thumpers without being one of them. A lot of 'respect for parents" and "religious freedom" stuff, no ham-fisted abortion talk. It's not my dream policy, but for a would-be leader of a party with a strong social conservative wing, it's an eminently reasonable approach. His support for property rights in the Constitution is also excellent. His justice policy is thinner than I'd expect, but decent. His environmental policy is a bit of a joke, though - the only concrete proposal is a thinly-veiled attack on the mayor of Montreal. Overall, I can live with this, but it's nothing special.
Foreign: 3/4 Not as detailed as some, but it's all sensible. Support for the Ukrainians without sabre-rattling towards a nuclear war, the usual support for Israel and opposition to ISIS, enthusiasm about Asian democracies like India that other candidates haven't really talked much about(which I think is sensible - much as China is prominent these days, I think India has a similar amount of potential overall), and a pro-free-trade stance.
Governance: 2/3 He's a fan of MPs having more free votes in unspecified ways, and claims to have supported this as Speaker(which I don't know the history of, but I'll take him at his word). His other big proposals here are bringing back the FNFTA, which is good policy but tends to feel acrimonious(for some strange reason, natives are skeptical of Ottawa telling them what to do, especially when it's pushed by a party they haven't historically had good relations with), and punishing a lack of campus free speech with grant denial(which isn't the worst idea, but which feels really ham-fisted, and sets a terrible precedent for political manipulation by controlling purse-strings). It's not bad, but it's not that good either.
Decency: 3/3 He's done nothing wrong here that I've seen. Given that this category is mostly a way to punish race-baiting, demagoguery, and other such scummy approaches to politics, that gives him full marks.
Electability: 1.5/3 He's bilingual, young, experienced in Parliament, and well-spoken, which are all good, but he's not terribly impressive otherwise. He has all the charisma of a rock - he seems to be running as Harper 2.0, but the thing about Harper is that everyone knew he was really smart. Scheer is as bland as Harper, but it's the blandness of someone who's never seen anything interesting, not the blandness of someone who nerds out over things nobody cares about - given that a big part of the job of a politician is caring about things on the public's behalf, that's a problem. On top of that, his website has almost as many silly little grammatical errors and other such mistakes as some of the C-listers, and while I'll forgive that from the ones running a shoestring campaign, a guy who's spamming my Facebook with ads about how he's the frontrunner should be able to do better.
Unity: 2/2 He is literally the most generic possible Conservative while still being a human. Anyone who leaves the party over him was never ours to begin with.
TOTAL: 17/25 As is totally unsurprising, the blandwich scores exactly the same as a generic Conservative.

(Next: The B-List)

The Conservative Leadership Election, 2017

As with most right-leaning folks in Canada, the federal Conservative leadership race is a big topic for me right now. I know who I support first and foremost(I'm volunteering for the Maxime Bernier campaign), but the rather dizzying variety of candidates out there and the use of a ranked ballot is making the detailed list of who to support in what order a complex task. So I'm going to go through them all and evaluate them. Because this post is so large, I've broken it down into several sub-posts, to which you can find links below.

I'll be judging each of them on seven attributes, and giving them a rating. However, the ratings will be out of different target scores, depending on how much the topic matters to me. The categories are:

Fiscal(6 points): How well they will do at creating a smaller, more efficient government that taxes less and avoids running a deficit, while allowing Canadians to build a prosperous economy.
Social(4 points): How well they will do at letting Canadians live their own lives as they see fit without undue government interference, while still maintaining the necessary fabric of society.
Foreign(4 points): How well they will do at promoting Canada's principles and interests abroad, particularly in the realms of trade and security.
Governance(3 points): How well they will operate the actual apparatus of the government, keep power in the hands of the people who are supposed to have it, and encourage a functional, federal, democratic state.
Decency(3 points): How much I trust them to be a good leader, stand up for what's right in principle, and avoid catering to the ugliest whims of the mob.
Electability(3 points): How well they will do at actually winning the next election and getting power to implement their plan.
Unity(2 points): How well they will be able to lead the Conservative party into the next election as a unified, functional whole and avoid another PC/Reform split.

A perfect score is therefore 25. And to be clear, I'm judging them by what's on their website - if they don't care enough to post it, they don't care enough to have me vote for them because of it. This is not my final ranking of candidates - a few strategic considerations arise, which are dealt with below - but this will be the biggest part of how I decide who I'm voting for.

The most generic modern conservative I can imagine should earn about 4.5 on fiscal, 1.5 on social(I'm socially liberal), 3 on foreign, 2 on governance, 2 on decency, 2 on electability, and 2 on unity, for a total of 17/25. That's thus my standard of enthusiasm - if you're not as good as picking the average of the views of a random CPC riding association, I won't be bothered cheering for you.

I've broken my ratings up into three groups, based on how well I think the candidates are likely to do.

The A-List: Bernier, Leitch, O'Leary, O'Toole, Scheer. These are the candidates who I think have a real chance of winning.

The B-List: Alexander, Chong, Raitt, Trost. These are the candidates who are unlikely to win, but who have meaningful numbers of supporters, and who represent substantial parts of the party.

The C-List: Blaney, Lemieux, Obhrai, Peterson, Saxton. These are the candidates who have very thin or purely local support, and will not play a serious role in the outcome.

Ranked Ballots 101: I've seen a lot of confusion about how the voting for this election works, so I've written a post about how it all works, because it has substantial implications for how one should vote in order to express their preferences.

My Ballot: A summary of the rankings, combined with the all strategic considerations, to help me figure out how I intend to rank my own personal ballot.

Strategic Thoughts: This is my strategic-level thoughts on how I expect the race to shape up.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Video - Tired Of Waiting For You

For the last few weeks, posting has been light, mostly because I've been plugging away on some fairly giant posts. In particular, I've been working on a write-up of the CPC leadership race that's up around 5000 words, all of which require research, and only about half done. Between that, actually working for a living, and a perfectionist streak keeping one of my other posts under wraps, I haven't gotten much out the door. But that ought to change this weekend, because I figure you're all so tired of waiting for me. After all, I know that I have literally a reader who is looking forward to seeing what I have to say on this topic, and I'd hardly like to disappoint a crowd that numerous.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Radical Proposal For Alcohol

In Ontario, we have something of an antiquated alcohol distribution system. The only places to buy most forms of alcohol on a retail level are the Liquor Control Board of Ontario(LCBO), a government-controlled monopoly, and The Beer Store, a monopoly owned and operated by the three largest global beer companies. Needless to say, this has major issues - no competition, poor service, and on the beer side there's a lot of subtle ways that small brewers get screwed, because their only distribution channel is owned by their competitors. Some people are trying to change this, but there's been only very minimal movement since the time 15 years ago I was handing out pro-privatization flyers at a PC convention.

In 1927 when Prohibition ended, this wasn't a bad system to transition the province back to legal booze, but it's 90 years later, and the only real update to the system is nicer LCBO stores and a few private wine shops. We're so far behind the curve here that it's ludicrous. A beer-nut buddy of mine was on a brewery tour in the US, and asked the tour guide when they might be able to buy their beer. The guide asked where he lived, and when he heard that my buddy was Ontarian, exclaimed "Ontario? You guys are worse than Utah!". That's right - a state quite thoroughly run by a religion that prohibits alcohol is more open to brewers than Ontario is.

The interesting thing is that Ontario has a completely parallel system of alcohol sales that nobody talks about in this context, because it already works quite well. The Liquor License Board of Ontario(LLBO) controls the ability of restaurants and bars to sell booze, and it works on a perfectly sane set of rules. Servers need to be of age and trained in keeping alcohol out of the hands of the underage, the intoxicated, and so on, and there's a few basic rules on what sort of places can sell booze and a punishment process if the license-holders act badly, but that's more or less it. It's not perfect - nothing is - but it works.

So I have a radical proposal for alcohol sales:

How about we let people sell alcohol the way that we let them sell alcohol right now? 

Let the LLBO license retail stores, and let LLBO-licensed stores buy from any suppliers they want to without needing to go through the LCBO and Beer Store the way they do now. We already have a perfectly functional set of rules in place to ensure sales are done properly, and they're tested in practice literally millions of times a week. Just add retail sales of sealed product to the list of allowed things to do with an LLBO license, and then sell the LCBO for parts - I'm sure its distribution network and real estate portfolio will make the province a pretty penny. As for the Beer Store, they've fleeced the people of this province long enough, but they can keep selling if they want. They won't even need to sell their competitors' product if they don't want to. But they'll actually have competition, and I will shed not a single tear for their pain at the outcome.

There's a few objections to breaking up the LCBO system that I've heard, and some make more sense than others. People who talk about how we can't trust alcohol being sold by private retailers are living in a world I don't quite understand, and while the people who think alcohol sales should be actively restricted as a policy are folks I do understand, I don't agree with them. If we're going to have a society full of adults, we should treat therm like adults, and let them do things even if they're sometimes dumb.

The one objection that does deserve a more complete analysis is the concern about lost revenue. The LCBO earns about $1.7 billion for the province every year, and that's quite a bit of cash. Even people who aren't huge fans of the distribution model value this revenue source, because it's always good to have the provincial government funded by things other than taxes if we can - taxes are too high already, after all.

Thing is, when you're looking at a government-owned monopoly, "profit" is an odd word to use. Yes, it keeps separate books, but it's still a lot like calling car licensing fees a "profit" for the Ministry of Transportation. If you have to pay the government for something if you want to have it, then calling it a "profit" or a "tax" doesn't much change the outcome. Every buyer of alcohol has to pay a mandatory sum of money to the government, over and above the usual costs of distribution, in order to get alcohol. It's a tax already, it's just one that pretends to be a profit. So let's just spike that. Figure out what the LCBO profit per unit of alcohol is, and up the tax by that amount. Even if the LCBO isn't privatized, this will be a better representation of what's really happening - prices will stay the same, the amount of money being remitted to the government will stay the same, but we'll have an honest name for it. And once you're honest about the fact that the LCBO is a hidden tax, this argument disappears.

I know it's a crazy thing to propose that we sell alcohol the way we currently sell alcohol - after all, a beer bottle that's been opened is a totally different product than a beer bottle that hasn't been opened, so keeping two separate distribution and licensing systems is obviously a logical approach to the problem. But I think it just might work.

(Footnote: The LLBO is technically defunct, and now part of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. But everyone calls it the LLBO, so I used the traditional name)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Night Video - The Dark

It's odd how some bands come to prominence. An old 80s metal band called Savatage made a Christmas tune for a concept album, and then made a side project for a Christmas album, and copied the song over to it. With the new name, it did impressively on the charts, so they took the side band and ran with it. Turned into a rather unique show - one part classical, one part metal, one part traditional Christmas tunes, and about 4.72 parts stage lighting/pyro/ridiculous flying stage bits. I've been to see them a few times now, and they always put on a great show.

Thing is, if you haven't seen it, I'm not sure how much of a chance you'll have, because apparently the band's founder, producer, and guitarist died a couple days ago. They've always been an ambitious collection of touring musicians, so I'm sure they could carry on if they want to, but it's still a sad day when a great musician goes into the dark.

Wishlist - VOIP-Equipped Cell Phones

Internet phones are nothing new - they've been in common use for at least a decade. You connect into the traditional phone network via internet, maker calls, have a phone number, and so on. But weirdly enough, that doesn't apply to actual phones. You have to choose which type of service you want. For landlines, this is no big deal, but for a cellphone, which can easily lose its cellular connection, it's a problem. Yes, there's apps for cell phones that let you do the VOIP thing, but they're completely separate from its baseline phone functionality.

Imagine if your cell provider had an app you could install that tracked when you lacked cell service but had a stable wifi connection, and automatically shunted your number from being a traditional phone number to a VOIP phone number on the fly - heck, mid-call if necessary. You'd have the same number for both, and it'd be completely invisible to the outside world - they call you, and even if you're in a bunker a thousand feet below ground, if there's a wifi network down there, you can take calls like you're sitting beside the tower. The major providers wouldn't get so much benefit from this, but for the second-tier providers with limited networks(Freedom Mobile[formerly Wind] being the most obvious in my area) it'd be a godsend. Get cheap service, use towers when they're around, and bounce back to the nearest wifi hotspot if you're out of range or in a dead zone. 

The technical issues with this are profound, I'm sure - they always are for this sort of thing. But I think it should be doable, and I'd love to see it. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

One-Page Books - The American Way of Warfare (Stephanie Carvin and Michael John Williams)

One of the joys of getting a job that's a subway ride away is that I'm getting a lot more reading in, so more OPB posts should be coming henceforth. This one is on Law, Science, Liberalism and the American Way of Warfare - The Quest For Humanity in Conflict by Stephanie Carvin and Michael John Williams.

The United States has always considered itself a moral force as well as a traditional nation, and as such they feel that war should only take place rarely and for moral reasons. This means wars are crusades, and as such annihilation of the enemy is the only legitimate conclusion, but that they also need to be fought morally and legally. The tension between annihilation and restraint has dictated much of American strategy historically, and has led to using technology for quick victory as a common compromise. 

The first real challenge to the technological approach was poison gas in WW1 - deciding between effectiveness and perceived barbarism caused tension. It also illustrated an odd literalism in the American approach to laws of war - they never signed anti-gas treaties, despite being anti-gas, for fear that it may be construed as banning tear gas for police use, and instead called on "the general opinion of mankind" as cause to avoid it. 

The next great challenge was the atomic era. When total war is suicide, fighting without annihilation becomes necessary. Adjusting to this never sat right, but the best effort was heavy computerization, in ways that show a striking faith in Big Data even by today's standards. The biggest pitfall here was trying to make deterrence mathematical and simply assuming that the enemy would be deterred by the same things they were, which led to mistakes like refusing to bomb North Vietnam too much for fear of having nothing left to deter with. 

Vietnam illustrated that the only way to fight overwhelming technology is to fight a guerilla war. Americans regard this as barbaric, and they lash out and do silly things because they feel that an opponent who doesn't respect the law deserves no protection from law. This is a mistake that causes huge problems. The military's legal arm learned this and tried to enhance soldier's understanding of military law post-Vietnam, with moderate success. However, the brass wanted to pretend Vietnam didn't exist and plan for a conventional European war instead, with none of the difficulties of guerilla fighting. 

This worked for a time - the Gulf War in particular - but in most recent American campaigns, it's missed the mark. Iraq in particular was a victim of excessive optimism, where far too little thought was given to the state of the country post-war, and where the military was thus led into a series of problems technology couldn't solve. Law could, somewhat - troops acting better brings the locals onside, which is what wins guerilla wars - but the brass forgetting Vietnam meant that those lessons were applied weakly and too late, and legal training intended for high-intensity war falls apart in guerilla campaigns which leads to things like Abu Ghraib. 

Drones are the latest attempt to use technology to address competing priorities in war, particularly to lower the human cost to Americans, and while time will tell how they work out, the authors are not optimistic. War will never be "easy". 

This is a somewhat more academically-inclined piece of writing than I usually go for, but given that one of the authors is my cousin, and that it's a topic I'm interested in, I figured I'd give it a try. It's still quite readable, and I did enjoy it. I think it's a pretty comprehensive study of the topic, and a lot of the stories that came up really did illustrate things pretty well(e.g., efforts to turn strategic bombing as deterrence into a single mathematical equation, or a 2000s-era general being told about tactics that worked well for pacifying guerrillas in Vietnam exclaiming "This isn't Vietnam, this is Iraq!"). 

The overall thesis of Americans wanting to fight in the way that they consider decent and getting annoyed and lashing out when their opponents play by different rules does ring true(and while it's not just an American thing - the Japanese in WW2 did a lot of that as well, for example - they're the ones whose actions matter most today), and their sometimes-excessive reliance on technology leading them into mistakes. Acting decently towards foes, even when foes don't do the same, really is an important tool for improving the effectiveness of the military, as is keeping soldiers competent and controlled(which is one lesson the brass very much did learn from Vietnam). And sadly, wars will never be easy, and a crusading spirit will sometimes lead you astray. 

A few minor quibbles. One, the thesis seems a bit buried at times. I got the message the authors were trying to convey, and I understood roughly where it was going from the beginning, but it didn't quite become clear until later. I expected the broad idea to come up more strongly in the intro, while I felt that big parts of it didn't get mentioned until the appropriate chapter. For a book that is in large part a historical review, it seemed like a stronger effort to tie it all together would have helped.

Two, the title just seems really unwieldy. I suspect there was good reason, but my first thought is that it should be called simply The American Way of Warfare, with Law, Science, and Liberalism as a subtitle.

Three, I feel that too many books get footnotes and endnotes mixed up. IMO, citations should go in endnotes, while things that people will actually want to read while going through the main text should be in footnotes. Use footnotes like Terry Pratchett did, for digressions of interest, and stash the citations at the back of the book where they don't break up the flow. Almost no book does it this way, and I think it annoyed me in part because a few books I've read recently have gotten this wrong in just about every possible direction, but I do feel that the distinction is important - mixing them up either leads to pulling yourself out of the flow too often to check the notes, or to glossing over the content-containing notes because you get used to them all being citations.

Still, if this is a topic that interests you, I do think it's worth a read. It's not too heavy, and it covers a lot of ground pretty well. 

Friday Night Video - Sex, Drugs, and RRSPs

I make financial plans for a living, which makes it a bit surprising that I haven't talked money at all on here. There's a lot to say on the topic, and it's turned into a gigantic industry because it's both something a lot of people need and because it's pretty important. So, I'm going to do something a bit different this week(and I don't just mean posting my Friday Night Video on Sunday morning - those who have me on Facebook know that's nothing new). Also, ignore the rather obnoxious video portion here - it's the only version of this song on Youtube. If I ever decide to get into video editing, I may decide to upload this post in video form.

As a little boy I dreamed of playing Rock and Roll
Playing in stadiums with every ticket sold
Seven figure income from a six string guitar
Dating gorgeous women and drivin' custom cars
Well, who can blame him?

Then it happened when my record went gold
Then I'm thinking what'll I do when I get old?
Can't live forever as the King of Rock
Keith Richards disagrees, but 99% of the time he's right. This is quality planning, unlike the mistake so many people make when they get a lot of money. This goes double for an industry as fickle as entertainment, where it's easy to be making a seven-figure income from a six-string guitar this year, and be a "What ever happened to..." special on VH1 a few years later.
That's why I'm investing in some blue chip stocks
Those are a quality cornerstone to most portfolios. They generally shouldn't be 100%, but as we see below the singer has other asset types as well, so it should be fine.
I got SEX, DRUGS, and RRSPs
I'm a rock and roller with financial security
I'm a guitar hero with mortgage equity.
I approve of the financial security, though "mortgage equity" has two plausible meanings here. Does he have equity in his own house from partially paying off the mortgage, or is he writing private mortgages to others as an investment? I should hope he's got the first, but for a millionaire(especially in 1995, when this song was written, with higher interest rates and lower house prices), the second can also be a reasonable investment. The risk can be higher, because it tends to be poorly diversified - giving a quarter-million to a single person is obviously a fairly high concentration of risk unless you have several million. But if he does, then private lending can make sense.
I'm a modern rebel with a cause
I like finding loopholes in the new tax laws
Today, that's pretty hard - the Canada Revenue Agency has spent the last several years closing loopholes fairly aggressively, and I haven't seen any notable new ones since I entered the industry. Every budget seems to find a new one to close. Still, as rebellious tendencies go, this is a far more practical one than most. A famous person talking politics may sway a few votes, but a millionaire distributing tax loophole info can easily sway government finances by hundreds of millions, which has a far larger effect on society, and in the form of directly opposing the most prominent power structure in society. Would that so many rebels had such a practical view of rebellion.
My fans are reading 'bout me in the Rolling Stone
While I'm talking to my broker on the telephone.
Even an enthusiast for do-it-yourself investing hires a professional financial advisor. Given the number of people I've seen who think financial advice is a scam, this makes me a bit happy.
On stage I run around like some animal
But all my money's in a compound annual
I think "compound annual" is a dated term for a GIC, which today is a painfully conservative investment, but in 1995 produced passable returns. If he literally had all his money there I'd have questions, but given the context of the rest of the song it's clear that it's only part of his portfolio.
This life is dangerous but I don't care
'Cause I got insurance on my guitar and my hair!
Insurance should, in general, only be purchased when either a) you cannot afford to pay the cost of replacement out of pocket, b) when you're a higher-than-average risk and the insurance company does not properly incorporate that risk into their pricing models, or c) when there's a tax advantage greater than the costs of paying the insurance company's overhead. If his guitar was something irreplaceable like the legends of some guitarists who have modified their guitars so far that they don't know how to recreate it(I think Brian May of Queen is the example most commonly cited here, but I'm no guitarist), then insuring that would make sense. Ditto the hair for certain hair-focused musical genres - you don't want to go from Duran Duran to Devin Townsend, you know?
We used to be such a happy band..
Phil and Nick and Bob and Stan
But Phil choked on his vomit
And then Nick choked on his vomit
And then Stan choked on his vomit
And then so did Bob.
Well, it's hard to argue with that.
Their deaths sure meant an awful lot to me
'Cause now I'm getting all their royalties
This implies some deeply unusual estate planning on the parts of Phil, Nick, Bob, and Stan. If the band was a group of brothers then this inheritance would make sense, though the singer's mockery of their deaths would be remarkably callous in that case. But if they're the usual group of buddies, the most obvious way for him to inherit their royalty streams would be for them to have all explicitly listed him(or each other generally) as a beneficiary in their wills, since intestacy laws don't give assets to friends under any circumstances I've ever heard of. That's a deeply strange thing to do, unless they all happen to be estranged from their families or something. Alternately, the band could be structured as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship, which is not the default state of joint assets under most legal regimes(and is not even legal in some, such as Quebec), but it's possible. I'm not sure how one would even go about structuring a band as a JTWROS, but I suspect it could be done.

This one, more than any other, proves the superiority of the singer's approach to financial planning. They could have had the money go to supporting their kindly mothers, or their girlfriends, or whatever. Instead, it's going to their smug jerk of a buddy who's mocking their deaths. Seriously people, getting a proper will matters a lot.
They would have spent them on women and booze
But me I got commodities that just won't lose!
It's odd for a guy who brags about sex and drugs no less than eight times in a song less than three minutes long to complain about his bandmates liking "women and booze", but perhaps he's a bit more frugal in his habits somehow. Also, he's rather optimistic about commodities. Unlike stocks and bonds, which are investments in productive activities that can generate a long-term stream of profits which can allow for a long-term appreciation of your assets, commodities are inert - if anything, they cost money because of the needs of storage, security, and the like. The only way for commodities to go up over time is for them to become scarcer, and while that does happen sometimes, it's basically a bet against the future economy on the whole to think they'll do so. So when Paul Ehrlich bets on commodity prices rising, he's being perfectly consistent(and when he loses, he shows that fearmongering on scarcity isn't exactly a slam-dunk). When someone who has money in the usual spread of financial assets bets on it, at best he's hedging his bets, and in most practical cases it's better to do that by dropping your risk allocation overall instead of gambling on offsetting assets like that.
The things in life that I appreciate
Are any stocks and bonds that won't depreciate
Those don't exist. Conservative investing is one thing, but there are no guarantees in life(even contractual guarantees, when they exist, are subject to the risk of the other person going broke and being unable to follow through). I understand the desire, but a sensible investor acknowledges the possibility of depreciation.
My stocks are healthy and my bankroll's high
Rock and roll and real estate will never die!
I could say some snarky comments about indie being the death of rock and roll, or about real estate asset bubbles, but in principle I do agree.
(chorus x2)
I'm a guitar hero with mortgage equity.
I'm a guitar hero with mortgage equity!!!
Overall, the singer's financial plan seems generally sensible - good diversification, solid understanding of the market, and good involvement in his affairs. He has a bias towards bragging, and minimizing the possible downsides of his investment choices, which could lead him to an emotional overreaction when the next market crash happens - he'll need to make sure he doesn't do anything dumb, and his broker may need to talk him down when it happens. But he's sure doing better than his bandmates were, even before the vomit-choking. And hey, a seven-figure income can cover a multitude of sins.

(Also, in case it's not obvious, this is an opinion piece intended for general information, and in no way represents proper financial advice for any individual's situation, the opinion of my employer, or anything else besides me thinking it'd be kind of funny and perhaps a bit informative to take a parody song seriously. If you need professional financial advice, hire a competent local professional financial advisor, not a self-proclaimed Internet wit.)