Climate Change — the New Religion

I have been watching with some dismay the comments on Facebook and other places about the New York Times hiring Bret Stephens as a columnist. Ascribed to being an extreme climate change denier, parallels have been drawn with Holocaust deniers and suggestions made that the Times should be boycotted until they release him.

Interesting… he is accused of heresy for doubting the predictions of hard green religion and the demands for making specific changes in power generation and other things to save the planet. The science is fine but maybe we should not be so confident about our models and think about this a bit more. Guess this is what passes for non-belief in these hyper-partisan days. Infant damnation or atheism with no middle ground.

I will confess to similar leanings that have grown with the shrillness of the critics. I justify my thoughts with a comparison to political and economic forecasting — and the economic behavior of human society with its billions of interacting parts is quite simple compared with the climate.

Politicians of all stripes routinely tout specific programs to restore prosperity and end various flavors of unfairness. And their allies in business argue for policies to favor their industries with a heavy hand for similar reasons. Mostly these fail, often spectacularly. Trickle down, a favorite of the current White House occupant, has been proffered a number of times — cut taxes on the rich, the job creators and prosperity will flow down over everyone. So far not so much it seems — the latest was Kansas, where they had to dip into emergency funds to keep the state afloat. But the results are ignored… the real benefits achieved, if any, go to a more restricted group. So why do we believe them when the evidence is right in our faces?

So here in Ontario we have a Green Energy Act that removes planning control from local governments and substitutes the will of a highly politicized government power system. Rural areas are being covered with enormous wind farms against the will of most of the residents and in violation of various treaties and so forth. And harm… well, if the research was not done in Ontario it just doesn’t apply. And when locals fight it is against the government and the ‘renewables’ industry. And with the project across the street, the developer admitted that even though the costs are more than double any other project it is so profitable they have to do it. Curious… Ontario has a huge surplus of wind power being sold at a loss to surrounding areas, and soaring power costs — where is the money going?

Similarly, on a planetary scale, there is urgency in saving the planet by deploying more and more solar panels, wind farms and so forth. And making other changes to decarbonize the economy by industrial taxes and mandating expensive technology. But transportation, which accounts for almost 40% of greenhouse gasses in Ontario, continues to be the realm of cars, trucks and airplanes. Trains, which produce a tiny amount of GHG per passenger mile in comparison, continue to be under attack. And regional bus service has been shut down in a number of places. So if you don’t drive and cannot afford to fly you are going no place. And logging continues everywhere — although in North America there is replanting, unlike places where the forests are cut for agriculture, beef or palm oil.

The science is clear — hard to argue with years of rising temperatures, rising sea levels and melting ice. But some do… Where it gets trickier is in the efficacy of the models — and this is where things diverge. Problem as I see it is that compared with something simple like the planetary economy, the climate is a non-trivial system. We have human activity to be sure — coal, oil, gas and forests all cheerfully burned to power our civilization. And in some quarters nowhere near fast enough. But there are other factors — and more are discovered every week. We have the heat flow from the sun, the impact of large scale magnetic fields on all sorts of interactions, thermal properties of the earth and seas. And this is to say nothing of the solid gas hydrates on the ocean shelves, the gasses coming from permafrost organics that have been frozen for millennia. And the venting from millions of beef cattle who are very gassy on the diets we feed them to speed the trip to the table.

The problem with models is that at best we have simplifying assumptions about the factors we know about, the actual interactions may be a bit more complicated — and likely non-linear in ways we cannot even imagine. Then there are the factors we suspect, the known unknowns. And then there are the unknown unknowns… So while the models may be descriptive, I suspect they have a long way to go before becoming prescriptive. So airconditioning the arctic to refreeze the ice cap (and where does the rejected heat go one might ask?) or putting a giant parasol in space — if we could do it might have other effects than the one predicted by the proponents. But it is increasingly obvious that it is heretical to suggest otherwise.

Back to the columnist… the stuff I have read of his seems to be nothing more extreme than saying trust the science but the predictions not so much. A sense of modesty is called for about what we know and, probably more important, what we don’t. And what we can do to effect long term change. Not sure this is climate change denial in my book — but some seem to think so. And are suggesting that perhaps burning at the stake for heresy should be revisited.

There is one other factor that suggests caution. There are places right now that are being harmed by climate change — island chains vanishing under the sea, coastal erosion and flooding here in North America. And arctic communities under threat because the ice is melting and the permafrost is thawing — so their homes are vanishing. Curiously, we have no money to help any of these folks. But I guess if we don’t like them probably plenty of money to bomb them…

And changing the entire basis of our collective societies from burning stuff to something less destructive is not an overnight task, nor a free one. (Assuming there was the political will to do that, either.) Might be easier if we were not so eager to make more people and worsen the problem — but that is another rant. And if the climate modelers are right, even if we stopped everything right now it will take centuries before things change.

So I suspect that in reality the targets are where there is an easy buck to be made, like here in Ontario, and the sincere believers are being encouraged to think that these projects are the solutions to a planetary catastrophe and no one must stand in the way. Any one who disagrees is a heretic and must be burned. Of course that adds to greenhouse gasses but who cares, anyhow… not when there is money to be made. And in the end, the climate will do what it wants and we will adapt to it or perish.

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Deindustrialization

A number of factors came together in my mind this morning when I saw a comment on Farcebook. The individual was complaining about the retrograde progress being made in Ontario with the Green Energy program and the soaring price of power — the suggestion was that they were working hard to turn Ontario into a 3rd world province.

But on reflection I saw that there was some truth to this, and not just here. We are surrounded by initiatives that seek to redefine what used to be universal public services. What was once provided at a loss to some users but sustained because of the widespread public benefit derived — universal mail service, rural electrification, health care services and so forth.

And in the US it would appear that it is even worse — the civil war continues, not South vs North but 19th century values vs 21st. Social security, children’s aid, medicare, free public education (to say nothing of science and exploration) are all under attack. Socialist freeloaders and worse… what is odd is that in so many places those leading the charge claim to be religious fundamentalists — one wonders if they ever read the words of their founder about taking care of those around us?

There is this odd mantra that government services must make a profit — and if they cannot, outsource them to someone (no doubt well connected) who will. So costs go up and public services go down and the ghost is raised that if this austerity is not pursued, why in 20, 40 or more years the ‘system’ will be in trouble — so we have to act now and take things away from YOU.

In an odd sense this is all a logical extension of what used to be called the ME generation — narcissism so extensive that it has become the fabric of the culture. And all those folks being harmed by outsourcing, layoffs and soaring economic inequality — ‘tough’ seems to be the mantra. One might only point out to these people when they take a break from kicking others while they are down that these displaced people are the foundation of social instability. Ask the tsar how well that worked, or the Weimar Germans… or the rising pool of unemployed and underemployed in the US or Canada.

Ontario’s Alternate Power Reality

Just yesterday there was a news item that here in Ontario our power rates are going up again effective the first of May. In one of the discussions there was a link to an interview with Premier Wynne in the Ottawa Citizen where she mentioned that the government was dedicated to pushing power rates up and up, referencing the Long Term Energy Plan of 2013, released mid 2014.

So I located it online and started reading it — and a couple of items really attracted my attention, shock really:

1. The document shows power rates climbing steadily for years, leveling off likely after I will no longer care. This levels off somewhere around 50% higher than we are seeing now. And we already have the most expensive power in Canada and racing parts of the US for the most expensive in North America. And unlike many places I have lived, the cost to get power to my door is ‘distribution’ and is effectively a multiplier on this number. In our current bill the ‘cost’ of electricity is less than 50% of the total. So the numbers they toss around are somewhat egregious. The Premier feels we need to pay the ‘real’ cost of power and are not yet close. More on this later.

2. Their graphs show a plan to expand wind turbines until they account for 1/3 of Ontario’s power. Explains why every bit of prime farmland and vacation land is being covered with these things over the objections of the locals and one suspects their own environmental laws and treaties. The odd part of this is the Province cannot absorb the current amount of wind generation due to a simple fact of weather-tied power generation that seems to have slipped by. The wind blows when the wind blows… a detail that was observed in the early GE analysis. And in Ontario that is typically NOT when the peak power demands are. So the surplus is exported to the US at a deep loss and the difference added to the cost of power we pay — the wind guys get 0.18/kw but the power is sold for 0.03/kw. Solar is even worse… don’t ask.

Recently IESO got a reprieve on the requirement that wind have guaranteed access to the grid. So rather than compromise stability with these barely predictable surges of wind power, IESO is allowed to pay them to NOT generate power. Our Energy Minister states that power exports are profitable — but he neglects to mention for whom. My bet it is not the Ontario power consumer.

This brings us back to the question of the true cost of power. I suspect the real number independent of these ‘green’ power initiatives, the ‘smart’ grid (read central control is good for you) and the various science projects (like inertial storage of utility power) is probably still modest. Let us not forget that to accommodate the build out of these pinwheels both nuclear and hydro are being deliberately wasted. Much of the soaring cost is forcing the users to eat the losses resulting from the overproduction of wind power. What is curious is that a justification for the breakup of Hydro was their off the ranch experimentation wasting taxpayer money — and yet here we are again, even worse.

3. In a number of places the Minister refers to energy conservation as a new, clean power source. There are a number of graphs that show this power source as being added to more tangible forms of power like hydro or nuclear. To be fair, there is a footnote that suggests in some places this is recognized as generation construction avoidance. But from various statements in the LTEP and associated documents it is not at all clear that the Minister really understands it as such. The term is thrown about in a manner similar to suggestion that famine were a new food source. The parallel is apt — just as healthy bodies need adequate nutrition, a healthy economy needs affordable power. Just not here, it seems.

4. Despite the assertion that the government is pushing for more renewable power, there is nothing renewable about the explosion in gas turbines all over the place. We can see the Napanee plant from our window — being built right next to the existing idle Lennox generating station, also gas/oil. And by locating these things far from the point of use, they are really maximizing the transmission losses on the generated power.

5. And there is an odd thing to about the comment about the true cost of power — the LTEP has a couple of cost graphs that show nuclear refurb is about the cheapest power and wind sits smack in the middle of new nuclear. But to build a nuclear plant requires long term political stability. Not a characteristic of politics here — the weather is more stable and predictable than a politicians promise. Even this year.

6. But wait, there is more. The one thing we don’t really know and are definitely NOT looking at is what the long term impact will be on the Province. Remember that it is the prime farmland and recreation areas of Ontario that are being covered. Wind farms interfere with global circulation in a number of ways — they add turbulence that enhances heat transfer, so downwind it is both hotter and drier. There have been some studies that suggest the low level vibrations drive out earthworms. Will this impact agriculture? And do we care? There is always California… (no, wait!)

And from a weather perspective, Ontario is a small place with insufficient geographical diversity to have a variety of wind regimes — watch the Sygration reports, more often than not the wind farms all get idled at the same time. The Germans found that this was true even on a very small scale — pulsations in wind occurred across large areas and made for surges in output that were, shall we say, problematic. So the argument that the wind is always blowing somewhere is still valid — only on a far larger scale than their imagination.

All of this reminds me of that scene in Alice where the Red Queen is going on about all the impossible things she does before breakfast. Any of this seeming familiar? We seem to be swirling down that rabbit hole — and I am looking for the White Rabbit. Or perhaps it really should be the blue pill.

Political Impunity and Corruption

Somewhere, lost in a desert waiting to be discovered, is a battered cuneiform tablet with an essay complaining about how corrupt the current leaders are compared with their predecessors. I think about this when reading about a politician resigning from the legislature after a series of remarkably self-serving abuses (there have been a few). Or while under investigation another blandly stating that entitlements are entitlements so there is nothing to apologize for to anyone. Or much closer to home, the continued obsession of Ontario to cover the rural landscape with wind turbines despite any evidence that their power can be utilized (last weekend was a $10 million/day loss to ratepayers) or even afforded. Or what I like to think of as the ‘X-files’ view of government as a front for a group quietly working on some other agenda that will someday be revealed to our collective detriment.

Problem is that laws and codes of conduct are what we agree they are — nothing more. If I hold a raw egg out the window over a sidewalk, say from the second or third story, and drop it… there will be a mess on the sidewalk a few seconds later pretty much every time. There are natural laws — acceleration due to gravity, material strength of the shell and so forth, that dictate the survival of the raw egg. Human behavior is subject to no such clear cut and easily testable laws. Instead, we have culture and laws. And courts to argue the difference.

There is a lot of titter in the press of late about G-20 movements to reduce and eliminate corruption globally. But I suspect that everyone involved all think that corrupt practices are what the other guys do — but what they do is ok. Canadians are sure, for example, that what the Russians or Chinese do is corrupt. That in China, for example, there are no real business contracts but things get done or not based on personal relationships and obligations. Reminds me of what it was like getting consulting work in the Toronto financial services community — without personal ties, forget it.

Over the last weeks there has been mention in the press that some execs in OPG also sit on the boards of some of their suppliers. Or that the old head of the Ontario Liberal party was also the head of a wind turbine company. Is there a relationship between these connections and the obsessiveness by the Ontario government to landscape rural areas with unwanted wind farms? One wonders. But apparently it is not illegal for government execs to favor companies where they have personal financial interests. Is this corruption? Some might think so — others think its just business as usual.

As a taxpayer with little stomach for the long term manipulations of politics (learning what to kiss and when I’m sure) nor the massive personal resources and connections to play the game I can look at this with horror. But the problem with government and politics is that this is how it is played. A line from the play and movie ‘A Man for All Seasons’ comments on Sir Thomas Moore — ‘the first politician since Plato who did not grow wealthy from the bribes and benefits of office’. It is everywhere, not just Zimbabwe.

I suspect that as long as politicians are allowed to make rules that benefit themselves this problem will be with us. The US tries by making folks put their assets in blind trusts while in office to reduce this problem. But with lobbyists and the prospects of where they go after office makes arms length, impartial decisions a fond wish but dubious reality. And I may be wrong but I don’t think Canada even bothers to play this game of pretend.

What makes it worse is that everyone knows this so there is a corresponding culture of impunity — they can do what they want and no one can nay say them. At the worse a few bad days in the Globe and Mail, then back to the trough. Oh, occasionally someone will get tossed under the bus for appearances sake but jail is not a concern it would seem. And for someone with the right connections even that is not much of a factor.

The real miracle, one suspects, is that anything works at all.

End of Life as we know it – Ontario Red power continues

Being a retiree on a fixed income the various ripples in the force surrounding the flow of income that keeps us going is of immense concern. There is a confluence of factors that appear to be primed to cause at least wide spread misery and at worse social unrest. As we cannot be unaware, staying alive means paying more and more, often for less and less. In some fortunate circumstances that simply means that we ratchet our salaries or per diem rates higher and higher. But for many this means being involved in a continual struggle to reduce — resource usage, activities including travel and so forth. The dream of a golden retirement is more and more a bitter illusion. How much worse for those trying to raise a family?

The Ontario election that concluded yesterday confirmed that these trends will continue.  The Premier of Toronto will continue to lord it over the statutory have-nots in the rural areas. Service cuts will continue, costs keep soaring — and there is nothing that rural residents can do about it, as the local laws for managing grown and change were suspended. Oh, they have been pretty quiet about a lot of the changes — slowly cutting back subsidies to local governments, shutting down local health facilities and consolidating services into larger and larger catchment areas — too bad survivability means quick access. Better move back to Toronto and go back to work…

And let us not forget, should any of us chose to go back to work, that the MBA strategy of hire young, fire often, pay little is very much the order of the day. Our lifetime of experience is widely viewed as a liability — as we may remember what came before and have an opinion about what works and what doesn’t. There is a quote attributed to Andrew Carnegie, that if all his factories and wealth were taken from him but he was left with his staff he would be able to rebuild. The human capitol of a business or society at large is no longer held in such esteem save in some very rarefied realms (and how much of that is just mutual appreciation?).

In Ontario, wanting to work is now a revenue opportunity for the government. In essence one has to buy a license and pay an annual tax to be allowed to work in a wide variety of trades. I can understand electricians and construction workers. But I cannot understand call center staff, computer support technicans, animal herders and hairdressers — the list is quite unbelievable. If the intent were public safety they should be going after the hordes of semi-skilled folk who provide home services to the over-stretched residents of the GTA. My son the electrician would like to see that, I think it would be ok too. But instead their enforcement activities are directed at the easy targets — long established hair dressers. And no grandfathering… not enough revenue I am sure.

And for those who are currently working or hoping to work let us not forget the other part of this Dickensian labor market. Increasingly the risks are born by the job seeker, not the firm. Industry no longer recruits promising talent but expects the individual to invest time and large sums of money in preparing for a job that may or may not exist when they are done — ha, ha…fooled you. There was a time when job-specific training was paid for by the company, so the loss was on them if needs changed dramaticly, but no more. And if you do get a job the wages have been going down in real terms for many years. And don’t be surprised if you are expected to speculate as to whether you actually get work when you go in — you may just sit around for an hour or two and get sent home with nothing.

One hears of the increased intellectual demands of future jobs — and the relentless credential escalation that squeezes people out of the job market. An experienced therapist with decades of experience can no longer get a help line job — but a new grad with no work experience and a masters can. Other than the increased speculative investment one must make there is another problem — what happens to all the people who cannot? The jobs that once absorbed so many who did not have exceptional talents seem to have vanished — much exported abroad to foster development of another economy at the expense of our own. So what happens to these displaced people? Are the ‘yobs’ of the UK the prototype of the future?

Company pension funds have been fair game for years — just ask the Nortel retirees… (But that pension money was just sitting there…). And now governments are getting in on the game with the latest ruling on Detroit, no doubt soon to be emulated elsewhere. And in the US, the Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security for decades — better to spend that money on the war machine and the surveillance state. The conservative answer all along, for those who did not inherit a fortune from Daddy’s tar and feather business, is to privatize pensions and mandate larger contributions. But no longer just the conservatives — the Ontario Liberals want to start their own pension scheme, no doubt like the QPP. Given what has happened to other special purpose taxes, like the gas tax, that just vanished into general revenues one has to wonder if this is just another sneaky tax that will run like a Ponzi scheme for a few years and then collapse. CPP has done a pretty good job with their investments. Ornge and eHealth suggest the Ontario experience may be different.

But there is a small problem with privatizing pensions — i.e. turn retirement funds over to the same banks that have already demonstrated a prudent, steady hand on managing the flow of our money into their pockets.  It is not at all clear as to how honest a game the market is — too many incidents of fraud, insider trading and phony analysis. Too many of us lost big chunks of our retirement funds when the markets melted after the last financial fiasco — institutionalizing this through rule of law only looks attractive for the banks and their kin.

So for the typical retiree, dependent upon what is left of their investments and their (taxable) government stipends, the future does not look promising. And worse for the generations yet to come. Both in the diminished resources available and the relentless escalation of costs — taxes, energy, food, services.

It does make me wonder — are we reaching the end of the whole concept of money and work as it has been known for millennia? Or government? The Greek model of democracy was based on citizens gathering together to discuss and decide on issues. The Normal Rockwell classic New England town meeting was similar.  We are a very long way from that. In a sense, we have become more like Imperial Rome with the emperor, chosen by the senators, ruled until they stepped down or someone got sufficiently annoyed with them to initiate an Ides of March moment. Those allied with the winner got everything — taken from the losers. And lots of money changing hands in the background — to be revealed in a few decades to be sure. Watching the wind farm go up across the channel over the strenuous objections of the locals and wondering when the bulldozers will roll across the street from us — probably the last bird sanctuary in Ontario to be deliberately populated with wind turbines by non-resident corporations.

Increasingly, the vision of the future looks like the world imagined in 1984. ‘Imagine a boot smashing a human face forever’  Winston Smith was told. Makes me think of the sarcastic responses by the Energy Minister to questions around  soaring power prices. Clearly that administration may demand tribute from all Ontario but it seems fairly clear that it only serves a much smaller group. For everyone else it looks pretty bleak.

Oh No, Another Election

Well, Ontario is going to the polls again to vote, well, some of the voters will no doubt go. The rest will either ignore it all together or look at the choices and despair. I tend to fall into the later camp but will muster my courage (liquid or otherwise) and head out to the polls on election day. Problem is that representative democracy lives or dies based on voter participation. Further problem is that I am not at all sure that this is a democracy although various people flatter themselves by claiming it is. The MPP for this riding, Randy Hillier, seems to be working hard for the interests of his constituency and has even been known to respond to email inquiries with a personal phone call. Amazing and wildly different from my experience in Toronto. Unfortunately this MPP seems to be in bad odor with his boss for not toeing the party line of the moment. So whether the concerns the electorate voice to our MPP makes it to the top is hard to tell. Hence my quandry.

Watching the Agenda the other night I was horrified to hear that the faithful for the party in power are not concerned about the scandals, waste and general abuse. Or, it seems from the many conversations our new Premier claims to be having, with no evidence that there is any listening going on. Or the panels that are formed to ‘study’ an issue — but with no evidence that anything that results is other than just ignored. Quite frankly, if it happened to me I would be most annoyed even if there was a fat consulting fee associated with it.

Meanwhile, the ‘blue’ party seems to have dusted off the Mike Harris campaign strategy and is threatening to bring back the old days of layoffs, outsourcing and tax cuts for big business. Some folks are encouraged, others horrified. But with no evidence that the prior experience has been evaluated and learned from. One though troubles me — I was once told that unlike some other governments around, the employment strategy in Canada is to maximize government employment. One might guess that in a land of hewers of wood and drawers of water working for the government is as effective a welfare approach as any other make work solution (my mind goes to the CCC of US Depression fame). Despite an abundance of natural resources and skilled people, it would seem that no one wants to locate a plant here — soaring power costs, taxes and poor transportation and communications infrastructure suggests those jobs should be elsewhere. So I don’t know if cutting taxes even further and laying off government workers will be much help — what non-government jobs there were have moved offshore and there are only so many burgers to be flipped. And as long as the 11th Province is pouring taxpayer dollars into marketing for the oil sands and the pipelines to get them to China and other offshore markets there seems no hope for any movement on climate or reducing the somewhat surreal energy prices here.

Maybe if it would help if the people in government, especially at senior levels, had some sort of career outside of politics before. A quick sampling shows that most got into politics right out of school and have spent their entire working life inside the government hot house. Probably explains a lot. But as was once pointed out to me, the intricate ballet of Canadian politics requires decades of apprenticeship. (The cynic would think it is a matter of learning what to kiss and when…) So no possibility for anyone with some real world (as opposed to hot house) experience. There are exceptions to be sure but hard to tell if a difference will be made.

As mentioned before, nothing would make me happier that to see some glimmer of evidence-based policy making. No matter how convinced our leaders are of their unshakeable rightness of thought, reality has other opinions. One wonders how things would end up if instead of just being dicta from above, policy makers would articulate their objectives, measurements and expected results and have the courage to change or cancel policies if the (public) results were not being achieved. I recall reading in a book on major project failures that the number one cause of (big, expensive) project failure was the overcommitment of the executive to a project — pouring endless resources down a rathole of failure because their egos somehow got entangled in doing the project rather than the results. Nothing exotic about this — more likely business as usual, especially here.

Speaking of which, across the channel the first close-in wind turbines are being erected. No doubt soon to be followed by even more surrounding us in this formerly peaceful rural haven. Be nice if the power was needed someplace — but no, it is dumped at giveaway prices to benefit the New York economy and our power bills continue to soar. This illusion of green masks the conversion to natural gas burning — so ‘green’ energy is really going backwards. Less hydro, less nuclear, more gas. Terrific. Now what was the point of this exercise again?

So as we stare at the threat of yet another election, the thought goes through my head ‘Red seems to be skilled at making more (accounting) red. Orange is really just another shade of red these days. And Blue? Thinking of blue just makes me blue.

A Political Dream

Just today there were a few articles in the news on politicians and their failings. The continued antics from France are hardly worth mentioning save to comment that I am glad someone is having fun… David Brooks in the New York Times had a hopeful op-ed piece called ‘The Leadership Revival’ with his thoughts on the people who get into public service and how they might improve their leadership qualities. In the end, he was not very optimistic. Andrew Coyne at the National Post took a different view in ‘How little we expect from our leaders’ – highlighting Governor Christie and Stephen Harper. I would certainly add a few other names to the list.

Living in Ontario one certainly learns to have low expectations from the political class. We have a government enthusiastically pursuing programs of dubious benefit to the public, wasting vast amounts of the publics’ money. And when scandals break or some new abuse comes to light, there are a few days of political theater and commentary in the press, then it’s back to business as usual. While the occasional unfortunate may lose their job, no one goes to jail. And what is worse, their masters don’t even express dismay and promise to reform (not that anyone would believe them). Clearly, crime does pay – one just needs to have an appropriate scale and the right connections.

Even cataloging the issues is hard – eHealth electronic records, Ornge air ambulance, the politicization of provincial electricity (one example – wind turbines producing power that cannot be effectively used pushed into rural areas over the objections of the residents and in violation of the oh so flexible environmental rules). Province-wide school curricula that demand unique (unintelligible) and expensive textbooks, and produce deteriorating results on international tests. New licensing and restrictions on trades; a push to turn community colleges into four year schools – shutting out those who just want to learn employable skills. And even better, a recruiting blitz to lure even more foreign students (they pay higher fees) and give them special permits to work — a move that many say locks even more Canadians out of the universities, since no money is being spent to add spaces.  And since there is a shortage of spaces in both hospitals and long term care facilities, people are being quietly pushed out and sent home (nominal limit is after two weeks) with care needs and equipment that once was the province of critical care wards — guess we have all grown smarter.

Clearly these folks feel they are right, have a clear insight into what is needed (regardless of the evidence) and are completely disinterested in the results of their policies or even the opinions of the taxpayers who end up funding it all. And what is worse, they are contemptuous of any requests for ‘why’ or where the benefits are for the Province as a whole.

In the midst of a bought of depression brought about by thoughts of yet another provincial election – ‘what, from that lot????’. ‘Red’ seems incapable of doing anything that does not generate more (accounting) red. ‘Orange’ is really just another shade of red, I certainly cannot tell the difference – especially when I find that party is behind some of the big wind plant rollouts. And ‘blue’… just makes me blue. Forced amalgamations, service downloading and selloff of provincial assets did not produce the predicted savings, just as ever lower business taxes stubbornly do not produce more jobs. Bad memories all.

Thinking about all this I had a wild thought:

What if our leaders approached public service as though it were a responsibility bestowed by the electorate? Could any of the current crop stand before the taxpayer and truthfully say that they had been careful with the tax dollars entrusted to them and had produced results beneficial to the province? As opposed to the elephants taking turns ‘guarding’ the peanuts…

What if public policies were piloted? Whether popular or not, the result of policy changes are generally not deterministic – as the old saw says, in spite of the most careful controls and design, the experimental animal just does what it pleases. The weasel words on a financial prospectus are exactly right – ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future results’. Could our leaders consider and articulate the intended results of a policy change or initiative? But more important, could they be clear as to how those results were to be measured? And to be even more radical, could they report how things were going and have the guts to cancel a failed program before too much of our precious tax dollars were wasted?

And is it too much to ask that they explain themselves to those self-same taxpayers and attempt to communicate their reasons for the things they do? Instead of being dismissive of objections and suggesting that one is either (blindly) with us or the child molesters (or whoever…).

One further wild though occurs. What if the people in charge actually had some expertise in the area they were responsible for? So people with engineering and large scale project management backgrounds to run the power utility.  Or medical backgrounds to decide about health care. Not career politicians who likely have a better understanding of backroom deals than when do families need to cook dinner and need affordable power.  Some decades back, when the ‘MBA’ was just starting to creep out onto the business landscape, there was this mythology being pushed that if one understood the principles of management (from the ‘right’ schools, of course) then one could successfully run anything — be it a steel mill, a farm or a restaurant. The disastrous history of corporate conglomerate empires demonstrated this. But the idea of the minister in charge of a portfolio persists. One hopes they can at least spell it, but the results suggest this is unlikely.

Perhaps these are such alien ideas, certainly on this side of the border, because so many politicians have done nothing else. Oh to be sure, they may have gotten a university degree in economics or animal husbandry. But instead of working in the real world (they would have different opinions) they associated themselves with a party and forged a lifetime career in politics. One response to a comment years ago was that a political career requires decades of training to understand the delicate art of the deal. A cynic might suggest the difficulty is acquiring an instinct to know what to kiss and when… but the field might simply eliminate those for which this does not come as second nature. Personally, I dread those who have no idea what life is like outside the hothouse when they are making decisions about my life.

One fears that our leaders more and more behave as a self-appointed aristocracy that has their candidacy occasionally rubberstamped by the electorate but are otherwise not responsible or accountable. The phrase ‘let them eat cake’ would seem to roll out naturally as they borrow more money to give us a ‘discount’ on our power bills or hand out gift cards to some groups (but not everyone) affected by the recent blackouts while making sure the cash flow to their buddies is not interrupted.  And the last G8/G20 conference in Toronto seemed to show that they are also willing to turn the guns of the police on the citizenry if it suits them.

So one can dream of enlightened leaders that will make a positive difference in our lives. But the reality seems quite the reverse – and every time ‘it cannot possibly get worse’ is thought, some new abuse comes to light. Are we in the last days of this new Rome? Makes me wonder what will be left for my children and grandchildren.