Monday, 27 March 2017

World’s richest country and it can’t even do health care. Sad!

Watching the Americans thrash about trying to put together a decent health care system prompts much head-shaking and eyeball-rolling. The Republicans have bitched and moaned about Obamacare for seven years, but in all that time haven't been able to come up with a plan they can agree on.

"It's complicated," wailed President Trump. But of course it isn't. It's a challenge every other advanced country mastered generations ago. All the Americans have to do is open their eyes to the variety of universal programs in effect in other countries and choose those elements that would create the best system for their purposes. The result could be a system that covered all their people and provided better outcomes, all at a much lower cost.

Universal, publicly-funded medical care is one of the finest social inventions in all of history, and our system is, along with the Charter, one of Canadians’ two most popular institutions.

One can only speculate about why our good neighbours to the south seem incapable of what we and every other modern nation has managed. Their failure is due in large part, certainly, to a hard core of market fundamentalists who still haven't forgiven FDR for his "socialism" and have never quit attempting to roll back the state to little more than the police and military. Their commitment to ideology is such that they have no qualms about sacrificing the peoples' health, or even lives, on the alter of dogma.

Not even the master of the art of the deal could get a new program past the Republican zealots. And considering what was on offer, it was just as well. Obamacare will now persist for the foreseeable future. It may be a third rate system, but it's still much better than anything that went before.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

You can't educate Republicans on global warming

Many progressives believe that if the public were better informed about the science behind climate change, people would be more inclined to accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming. A U.S. survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that's only true for some people.

Climate scientists tell us that global warming will result in phenomena such as rising sea levels and more severe storms and droughts. Pew asked samples of Democrats and Republicans with low, medium and high levels of science knowledge whether they believed the scientists. They found that only about 20-30 per cent of the Republicans agreed with the scientists and the level of science knowledge made little difference. More of the Democrats with even a low science knowledge agreed with the experts and the number increased rapidly with the level of knowledge.

The same was true regarding the cause of climate change. Ninety-three per cent of the Democrats with high levels of science knowledge agreed that climate change is mostly due to human activity whereas only 49 per cent of Democrats with low science knowledge believed this is the case. Among Republicans, again the level of science knowledge made little difference to their beliefs about the causes of climate change.

It would appear that when it comes to climate change, you can lead a Republican to knowledge but you can't make him think.

One might reasonably suspect, I hope not unfairly, that Conservatives in this country share this rejection of science with their Republican cousins. Unfortunately, a lot of available evidence, including the attitude and behaviour of our last federal government, suggests they do.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Will Alberta revert to Social Credit?

In August, 1971, Alberta had its quiet revolution. For 36 years it had been governed by Social Credit, a largely rural-based, social-conservative party led for most of those years by E.C. Manning, father of leading conservative intellectual and unite-the-right guru Preston Manning.

By 1971 Alberta, like the rest of the country, was increasingly urbanizing and Albertans wanted to join the modern world. The Progressive Conservative party, led by the very urbane Peter Lougheed, answered the call.

Social Credit was ultimately absorbed by the PCs, but a rural-urban split simmered within party ranks, the urban element generally predominating while vestiges of Social Credit periodically emerged as fringe parties. Then in 2007, Premier Ed Stelmach announced he intended to increase oil royalties. The oil industry was not amused and decided to show Ed who was boss. They poured their big bucks into the coffers of the latest fringe party, the Wildrose and turned it into a contender. It very nearly unseated the Conservatives in 2012 (and would have if some of its fundamentalist views hadn't leaked out) and currently sits in the legislature as official opposition.

The Alberta Progressive Conservatives (the "progressive" may soon disappear) have now elected Jason Kenney, a strong social conservative, as their new leader. Kenney ran on a platform of uniting with Wildrose, an almost entirely rural party to the right of the Conservatives.

He has stated he wants to create a big tent party. The big question is whether or not the urban moderates will go along. Already there have been defections. The two women candidates for the leadership both dropped out, citing personal attacks, and one has crossed the floor to the NDP. And long-time Conservative stalwart Senator Ron Ghitter has indicated Kenney's views are inimical to his and hinted that he, too, may support the NDP.

It will be interesting. If the right merges into a rural-based, social-conservative party and wins the next election, Alberta will have come full circle.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Shell bails on the tar sands

I read with interest Royal Dutch Shell's decision to sell sell most of its stake in Alberta's tar sands. It brought back memories. I toiled for Shell Canada during my days in the oil patch, now a long time ago, and the last project I worked on was in the tar sands.

Shell was a good company to work for. It paid well, offered generous benefits and excellent training opportunities, and always allowed you to progress to the limit of your abilities. And I made many good friends. I packed my bags mostly because I wanted a change, but also partly because I thought of myself as an oil man and considered tar sands development more as mining, something I had no interest in. Since then, my attitude toward the sands has hardened further and I now oppose their development entirely.

So when I read about Shell's disengagement, I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't tracking my journey. Its decision was no doubt economics based—its hard to wrestle a profit from the sands at $50/barrel—but I suspect economics fueled by environmental concerns to some extent at least. Investors in the industry are becoming increasingly worried about stranded assets. According to CEO Ben van Beurden, "I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long term future."

Shell has for some time shown sensitivity to environmental concerns. It intends to increase its investment in renewable energy to $1-billion a year by the end of the decade. Ten per cent of its directors’ bonuses will be tied to how well the company manages greenhouse gas emissions. Van Beurden has said that government policies, including a carbon price, are essential to phase out the most polluting sources of energy, and, indeed, when Alberta Premier Notley revealed her climate change plan, which included a carbon tax, the president of Shell Canada stood on the stage along with other executives, academics, environmentalists and First Nations' leaders.

In 1991, years before Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, Shell produced a film entitled Climate of Concern in which it warned about climate change "at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age—change too fast perhaps for life to adapt, without severe dislocation." It continued, nonetheless, to invest heavily in oil and gas, largely ignoring its own warning, even as it continued to recognize the threat. Habits are hard to break, particularly when they're profitable.

I am delighted, therefore, that it is now joining other oil firms, including Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips and Statoil, in writing down or selling tar sands assets. Still a long way to go, but at least it's moving in the right direction.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Congrats to Commanding Officer Butterworth-Carr

It's always encouraging to see a woman get a top job, and encouraging also to see a Native person get a top job. With Brenda Butterworth-Carr we get two for one.

Ms. Butterworth-Carr, from the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Han Nation in Yukon, has been appointed Commanding Officer for the RCMP in B.C., the country's largest division.

In her 30 years in the Mounties, she has held positions that include Assistant District Commander in E Division's North District, Officer in Charge of Prince George Detachment, and Director General of National Aboriginal Policing and Crime Prevention Services, National Criminal Operations. Prior to returning to B.C., she served as the Criminal Operations Officer and then Commanding Officer in Saskatchewan.

Active in provincial, federal, and international committees and associations, she has been a member of the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Chair of the RCMP's National Women's Advisory Committee, and a member of the Canadian and International Association of Chiefs of Police. She was invested as a Member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces for her work throughout the country.

An impressive resumé indeed. I wish this supremely qualified lady all the luck in the world in her new role.