Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ugly American

I'll let the oleaginous Republican Senator Ted Cruz stand in for the rest of his ilk:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Less Than Meets The Eye?

Given its recent rather dubious pursuits of lost tax revenue, I readily admit that I don't know what to make of the latest report that the CRA has actually begun to pursue monies lost to offshore tax havens.

Zach Dubinsky reports the following:
Canada Revenue Agency officers, backed up by police, raided locations in three provinces Wednesday as part of a criminal tax-evasion probe stemming from the Panama Papers, the agency said.

About 30 criminal investigators from the CRA executed three search warrants in the Toronto area, Calgary and West Vancouver, with assistance from the RCMP and the West Vancouver police, the CRA said in a statement online.
My first reaction, upon reading this, was that it was bloody-well about time. However, then I started wondering whether or not this was a move intended more for public consumption than fiscal rectitude in advance of the upcoming federal budget, full of sound and fury and perhaps signifying little.

Consider the evidence.
Last year, CRA assistant commissioner Ted Gallivan told the Star his priority was going after lawyers and accountants who orchestrated offshore tax evasion schemes for “dozens” of clients.

Last month, the Star reported that tax authorities around the world had recovered more than half a billion dollars in tax through their investigations into the Panama Papers.
By contrast, Canada has recovered nothing.

Additionally, in recent months, the CRA has had domestic targets in its sights, targets that in some cases seem like easy, even dishonorable, pickings.

The Guardian from Prince Edward Island reports that citizens, some among our most vulnerable, are feeling the tax man's wrath:
A 25-year-old Stratford woman struggling to pay off her student debt has been hit with a $15,000 tax bill by the Canada Revenue Agency over her tips.

Anita Casey is one of dozens of servers with the Murphy Hospitality Group who received letters three weeks ago saying they were being audited over their tips, retroactive two years.

“It’s pretty crazy that they’re coming after the poor young population who are in school and just trying to support themselves,’’ Casey told The Guardian.
Then there is the CRA operation targeting people's postal codes:
The Canada Revenue Agency's Postal Code Project is targeting the wealthiest neighbourhoods in all regions of the country, those with gold-plated postal codes, where auditors will pore through the tax filings of every well-heeled resident, address by address.

They're looking for undeclared wealth, signs that a taxpayer is actually richer than their income tax filings suggest.

"Comparing someone's lifestyle — cars, boats, houses — to their reported income helps us identify people who are non-compliant," said CRA spokesperson Zoltan Csepregi.
A well-publicized initiative, it has the whiff of class-warfare about it, one that will inevitably prompt some to look upon the wealthy with suspicion and disdain. And perhaps yet another effort at misdirection, given their singular absence of progress on bringing the offshore havens to account?

Our country is renowned for its "snow washing," a testiment to the ease with which money can be hidden and laundered thanks to Canada's laws facilitating shell companies. It will therefore take more than a well-publicized raid to convince me that the Trudeau government and the Canada Revenue Agency are serious about making corporate evaders pay their fair share.

As Fox Mulder would say, "I want to believe." However, I shall wait to see the money before I am convinced that serious changes are underway.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ain't Love Grand?

A little something for you incurable romantics on this most 'sacred' of days.

H/t Theo Moudakis

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Parochial Post?

While I realize that a post about Ontario politics is likely of little interest to those living elsewhere, I believe what has happened in my province serves as a solid object lesson about the creeping privatization of public assets.

I have written in the past about Premier Kathleen Wynne's betrayal of the province. Upon winning a majority in the last election (after the holder of the balance of power, the NDP's Andrea Horwath, decided to go for the gold and triggered an unnecessary election), Wynne announced the sell-off of 60% of one of the province's crown jewels, Hydro One, despite the fact that it generated just under $1 billion in annual revenue. Her avowed purpose was to "broaden ownership" (how much broader can public ownership be?) and use revenues from the sale to finance transportation and other infrastructure projects.

Now, a report by the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) confirms the folly of that sale:

To sum up, as Rob Ferguson reports,
It would have been $1.8 billion cheaper for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to borrow money for transit and infrastructure projects than sell a 53-per-cent stake in Hydro One.
Even more distressing,
...the provincial treasury will lose $1.1 billion in dividends from Hydro One this year and an average of $264 million annually until the 2024-25 fiscal year.
So one has to ask, why didn't Wynne simply borrow the money for these infrastructure projects? My belief is that, despite some progressive policies, hers is essentially a neoliberal regime, committed to the notion that government should play only a supporting role so that the depredations of the corporate agenda can prevail. That, and, as New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns observed,
“It was all about making the books look good [i.e., a balanced budget] for the election".
What can the rest of Canada learn from this debacle? If nothing else, it teaches all of us to remain vigilant about our public assets, and to keep a steady eye, for example, on the Trudeau government, which is currently studying privatization of our major airports.

In the latter case, my prediction is we will hear nothing more about it until after the next federal election. Should the Liberals secure another majority, be ready for the next round of corporate nest-feathering at the expense of our federal treasures.

Monday, February 12, 2018

For Canadian Banks, It Is Never Enough

It is not enough that banks are making record, some would say obscene, profits. Nor is the fact that the banks' regulatory body, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, has not conducted an unannounced audit since 2005. No, it would seem that these institutions want as much as they can extract, even from those customers who fall victim to banking errors and incompetence.

The thinking person must ask, "Why are they being given virtual carte blanche by our government?"

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tiger Williams' Disgrace

Let me be clear. I have not been a fan of hockey since I was a boy, when only six teams constituted the NHL. However, I am struck by the disparity in details between a newspaper and a television news report surrounding the conduct and arrest of former Leaf enforcer Tiger Williams for incidents that occurred on a military flight to Latvia, a flight intended to boost the morale of Canadian troops overseas.

Here is how the Toronto Star reports it:
Former NHL player Dave “Tiger” Williams has been charged with sexual assault and assault following incidents on-board a Canadian military flight as he headed overseas for a morale-boosting visit with deployed troops.

“The charges related to reported incidents during a Canadian Armed Forces flight to Latvia,” said navy Lt. Blake Patterson, spokesperson for Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and military police.

“The accused was a passenger . . . the victim reported the assault during the flight,” he said Friday in an interview.

Williams could not be reached for comment. However, his lawyer, Michael Lacy, issued a statement urging people to hold off judgment.

“I understand from the police it is alleged that Tiger inappropriately touched the complainant over clothing on the buttocks,” Lacy said. “Tiger denies any wrongdoing and is confident he will be vindicated.” official told the Star he believed the hockey player remained on the tour and was not sent home [emphasis mine].
Now here is the unsanitized version of the event, as reported by Global News. You need only watch about the first 52 seconds to learn of two crucial details omitted from the Star report, details of Williams' behaviour that can only be described as shameful and disgraceful:

For me, the stories are significant for two reasons:

First, the disparity between the two underscores the importance of getting our news from a variety of sources for a fuller picture of events.

Second, if Williams' conduct was as egregiously inappropriate as the Global News report suggests, why did the military not take immediate action against him, rather than letting him continue his participation in the tour?

Or is all of the military's recent talk about 'zero tolerance' for sexual harassment and assault merely PR and essentially meaningless?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who Do You Trust?

When it comes to a choice between believing a government with a vested interest in protecting a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and independent reports that those armaments are being used against domestic populations, I tend to side with the later.

Consider the evidence.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard, a buyer of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles, posted this photo on Twitter in November, 2015. It shows combat vehicles being moved to Najran, a Saudi town near the border with Yemen.

Two years ago, the following was reported in the Globe and Mail:
Canadian-made armoured vehicles appear to be embroiled in Saudi Arabia's war against Yemeni-based Houthi rebels – caught up in cross-border hostilities that critics say should force Ottawa to reconsider a $15-billion deal to sell Riyadh more of these weapons.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis – who are aligned with Iran – has already been accused by a United Nations panel of major human-rights violations for what its report called "widespread and systematic" air-strike attacks on civilian targets. Along the Saudi-Yemen border, constant skirmishes pit Houthi fighters against Saudi ground forces such as the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

...a retired Canadian general consulted by The Globe and Mail, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the LAVs being transported to Najran as fighting vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems. Stephen Priestley, a researcher with the Canadian American Strategic Review, a think tank that tracks defence spending, also identified the LAVs as Canadian-made.

Critics say having Canadian-made arms enmeshed in a conflict that has claimed more than 2,800 civilian lives should prompt Ottawa to rethink the recent $15-billion deal to sell hundreds or thousands more to the Saudis.
And last summer, a video emerged appearing
to show for the first time Canadian-made light armoured vehicles being deployed by Saudi security forces in an operation against militants in the Shia-populated eastern part of the kingdom.

Add to the above the fact that Saudi Arabia is a notorious abuser of human rights, so much so that a group of British lawyers has launched a campaign to remove the country from the UN's Human Rights Council.

None of this, however, has forked any lightning with the Trudeau government. The Toronto Star reports that an investigation by the Canadian government has concluded that there is "no conclusive evidence" that the above is true, and so the arms deal will continue.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a Commons committee Thursday the “independent objective opinion” of her departmental officials [can there truly be independence in a government department?] did not determine that was the case. When the NDP asked for the report to be publicly released, the minister deferred to her department.
As frequently happens with Mr. Trudeau's regime, while they continue to give Saudi Arabia carte blanche in its abuses, they are vowing to toughen up the export permit process.
Governments should be required to deny permits where there is a “substantial risk” that an export on Canada’s control list “could be used to commit human rights violations,” Freeland said.

Freeland said the Liberal government will accept amendments to enshrine such an obligation in law, via a bill now before Parliament to allow Canada to accede to the international Arms Trade Treaty. At the same time, she said, pre-existing contracts would be honoured, meaning the Saudi contract would not be subject to review under new criteria.
That kind of fancy footwork may provide a measure of political cover for a government aiding and abetting the Saudis. However, one can't help but wonder how reassuring it will be to those domestic populations who will continue to be abused by the Saudis and quite possibly fall victim to the Light Armoured Vehicles that Canada will continue to ship to the repressive nation.