Thursday, April 24, 2008

But... But... But the Liberals were worse.

I recently had a discussion with an acquaintance of the True Blue variety (and I’m not referring to a Maple Leafs fan) and the subject of the ever-increasing litany of Conservative misdeeds, missteps, alleged illegalities, and outright lies came up. (Okay. I admit it. I, kind of gloatingly, happened to toss the old in-and-out scheme into what had previously been quite a nice conversation. Hoowee!)

The immediate response, right from the Cons own playbook, was, “Yeah, but the Liberals were worse.”

Okay. I’ll admit it. By some (but not all) measuring sticks, the Liberals were worse. But using that tired old attack approach misses the key point in all of this, which is the Harper Cons got elected in large part because of their promise to be more open and accountable. They set themselves up as Mr. Clean on steroids. Their new government was going to be better and cleaner and everything they did would not only be legal but pass the smell test. No exceptions.

They set the bar and now, 2 years or so later we have (partial list only):

- Watered-down Accountability Act.
- Lies on income trusts.
- The head of Public Works and Government Services – arguably one of the most influential cabinet posts – still held by an unelected Senator.
- Intentional sabotage of the House Committee process.
- NAFTA-gate, which has been quietly swept under the Conservative rug (must be getting crowded under there by now).
- The Cadman affair. Ditto.
- Sacking heads of independent bodies for independent thought.
- Jim Flaherty’s contracting practices.
- And now, the in-and-out scandal.

Sorry guys. You put yourselves up on that pedestal and swathed yourselves in white linen. If your nice white sheet is now mud-spattered, you need look no further than the gutter in which you choose to play. That’s not the fault of the Liberals or the NDP or the Bloc or the Greens or space aliens.

Remember, the first step towards a cure is to recognise that you've got a problem.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A eureka moment

I think I’ve figured out Harper’s communications strategy when it comes to dealing with all these scandals, mini-scandals, Liberal conspiracies, Elections Canada conspiracies, bureaucratic incompetencies, etc. You just pick the most inarticulate, inept member you can find and make them the spokesperson. Then whenever the subject comes up and the face of the not-so-honourable member in question graces your TV screen, the viewing public will just say, “Oh, not that (insert your favourite pejorative adjective here) again” and change channels.

Devilishly clever those Tories.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Income tax blues (repost)

Another year, another cheque to Stevie and the boys to waste in some creative manner. So even though it's a year old, this post still seems relevent, and besides, a) I'm lazy, and b) I'm brain dead after finishing our tax returns for another year.

The only annual event that seems to come around faster than Christmas and the spousal unit's birthday is income tax time, so, as a public service, here's a handy guide to help you through this 'taxing' time.

First, start by procrastinating as long as humanly possible, but not beyond the due date because then you'll owe even more in interest and penalties (like missing the aforementioned spousal unit's birthday). You can ignore this rule if you expect to get a huge whack of cash back in which case do your taxes early. However, in actual fact, you'll probably get your check about the same time regardless because unless it involves sending huge dollops of your money to mega-rich Alberta oil sands companies or Quebec's Bombardier, Inc. the feds truly hate to write checks - even when it is your money coming back to you. It's almost as if, by writing the check, they are admitting guilt for keeping and using your money (for oil sands, Bombardier, et al) all this time without paying so much as a penny of interest on it.

Collect all your documentation in one huge pile. This involves sorting thrtough various other huge piles of paper that have accumulated over the year. Last year you decided to set aside one file folder for tax documents to make the job easier this year. That lasted exactly one month, and now you have tax information all over the place again. Multiply by the number of taxpayers for whom you are completing returns - 1 for the spousal unit, and 1 for each income-earning child up to the age of 30 or until they can find someone else to do their taxes for them. This may or may not coincide with them leaving home.

Buy some tax completion software. I cannot stress this one enough - there is no way the average mortal human can navigate through all the rules and regulations necessary to be able to complete their income tax return without the use of a computer and associated software. Let the pros figure out what's allowable and what's not; what needs to be reported and what doesn't; how the entry of medical expenses affects the deductibility of charitable contributions; etc. You are only going to screw it up if you try to do this manually. You will still screw it up doing it with software, but hopefully not as badly - and it's a lot easier to correct than having to erase a few dozen pages of entries.

Install the software on your computer. You may think this is a no-brainer, but people are getting dumber all the time, just witness the need to warn people not to place their hands in the mouth of an operating snowblower, or to have to tell them to take the plastic off the frozen pizza before putting it in a 450-degree oven. And I won't even mention Paris Hilton. Oops. Consider this a cautionary warning. It will also keep me from being sued.

Now wasn't that a fun way to spend 3 or 4 hours?

The next 3 or 4 hours should be somewhat easier, but just to make sure everything goes smoothly and relatively stress-free, pour yourself a large scotch - previous experience would indicate a tumbler full is about the right amount. And since you spent all morning getting ready, the sun's already passed the yard-arm - at least in Newfoundland - so it's time. If you did the preparation the night before and it's now 7 AM, remember that Europe is 5+ hours ahead, so it's really past noon there, and since this is all their fault in the first place (income taxes were established to fund the war effort in The Great War, aka World War I) it's fitting to start drinking on their clock.

Complete the form by following the simple step-wise approach recommended by the software manufacturer. This is a multi-stage process, the details of which I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that you will frequently find yourself in uncharted territory without the necessary forms and suffocating under an electronic pile of very unhelpful Help information. You will go through this process multiple times until all your T-4, T-4A, T-5, T-2020, Teed-off forms are present and accounted for and all deductions have been properly recorded. And now, according to your $20 software, you owe the government (Bombardier, oil sands, et al) about $5,000.

Refill your glass, because the next step is the creative aspect of income tax reporting and you're going to need all the help you can get.

What you want to do now is 'adjust' your return so that instead of you owing the government $5,000, they owe you money. This is harder to do than you would think, but possible. While large corporations like Bell Canada and Telus can take "tax holidays" where they 'adjust' their books to avoid paying any taxes at all for an extended period of time, the average taxpayer (known in Revenue Canada circles as "the sucker") has much more limited options at their disposal. Look for help from your investment advisor, accountant, and the latest Taxes for Dummies guide. Just stay legal - especially if you don't want to run afoul of the dreaded auditors who like nothing better than to slam the door on any taxpayer who might try to save a couple of hundred bucks by cheating. (Now if you owe several million dollars in unpaid taxes, don't worry about this and be as 'creative' as you want because they know you'll put up a strenuous legal challenge and they don't want all that court time to distract them from their primary mission to catch the small fry, so you'll probably get away with it.) This is also an iterative process during which you will try every reporting option available until you get the best possible result - i.e. a refund owing.

Okay, you're done. It's now seven or eight hours later and if you've been successful you have a completed tax form with a refund owing that you can mail in (postage required + GST!) or file electronically, assuming, of course, Revenue Canada's electronic filing system is functioning again.

Now you can just sit back, relax, and wait for your refund check so you can afford to buy another bottle of scotch, the price of which, ironically, is about 60% tax.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Harper crowd has started to sound very Trudeau-esque..."

Now that’s a quote you’re not likely to see showing up on the Conservative Party web site any time soon.

Jim Meek, in the Chronicle Herald, describes the latest underhanded move by the Cons to siphon money into one of Jim (Flim-flam) Flaherty’s favourite projects. The fact that his wife and his executive assistant are both on the board is a mere coincidence.

As Meek says, “The audacity at work here is nothing short of astounding.”

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Once a biker .....

Well, spring has officially sprung, and even though there’s still snow on the ground and ice on the lake, the oh-so-familiar stirrings of desire to get back on two wheels are surfacing.

After more than 30 years of riding, I got rid of my last street motorcycle – this gorgeous ‘74 Norton Commando – about 7 years ago. Work pressures and some physical problems at the time kept me from riding, so it just sat in the garage. But like any thoroughbred it needed to be ridden hard, and on a regular basis, so, sadly, off it went to a deserving home (actually, we delivered it to a downtown bank, after hours, rolling it into a back room where it was to stay until the proud new owner could figure out how to explain it to his wife – but that’s another story). While I haven’t seen it personally since then, I’m told that it’s still in the area and being thoroughly enjoyed, so I guess he finally got whatever approvals he needed.

But I digress. Where was I? ... Oh, yes. Spring. The time of year when the biking magazines find their way into my shopping cart with more frequency and the stack of back issues of Bike Trader reaches epic proportions and threatens to topple off the side table. The time of year when conversations with the spousal unit lapse into 3-word exchanges – “Dreaming again?”, “Yep.” And the time of year when the most remarkable aspect of any trip into the city is how many bikes I saw on the highway.

Spring also triggers the requisite visits to the local dealerships, just to “have a look”. The new bikes, all shiny and proud, sit out front, and the “previously enjoyed” models hide in the back, seemingly embarrassed by their flashy counterparts with their hefty price tags and “DO NOT SIT” warnings. Yet it’s to the back I go, looking for that one-in-a-million find – a pristine, slightly used, and most importantly, cheap, ride – and secretly hoping I don’t find it because then I’ll have a REAL decision to make (and explain).

And then, to top it all off, my brother sends pictures of his H-D Road King, all tuned up and ready to go, along with the link to the Sturgis web site, “in case you’d like to come along”. Sigh....

So yeah, once biking gets into your blood it never, ever leaves. Other pastimes, hobbies, sports, etc. come and go over the years, but once bitten by the motorcycling bug you are hooked for life. There will be times you change your riding interests from cruising to touring to sports riding to dirt or any of the other dozen ways in which one can have a blast on two wheels. And there will be periods when you don’t ride for a whole variety of reasons. But inevitably you will come back at some point and either buy that dream machine you can finally afford (or have finally figured out how to rationalise) or pick up an older model more appropriate to your budget and riding style. Whatever the choice, you will be back on two wheels, and I’ll be seeing you on the road.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

None of the above ....

In my voting lifetime (40 years and counting ...) I don’t recall ever being put in a situation similar to that in which I now find myself. As I have never been particularly faithful to any party, I have always had the option to vote for the candidate and/or party that I felt was the best option for Canada at that point in time. But I always had a choice. I don’t now – at least not any palatable choice. For the first time in my experience, I would be voting for the least objectionable option.

The Conservatives under Stephen Harper will never get my vote. I tried to keep an open mind when they won a minority last time, but after 2 years of their antics on the Hill, I now not only despise the man personally, but his band of incompetent sycophants make my skin crawl. This is a party whose only purpose has become to embarrass and belittle their opponents in the hope that the electorate will end up hating the Opposition more than they hate the Conservatives. Now that’s something to vote for!

Then there’s the Liberal Party, a party which allowed itself to be self-consumed and marginalized by the sponsorship scandal (relatively minor by most political scandal measures), but probably more accurately, as a result of the Chretien-Martin feud among senior party ranks. Then the Liberals blew the one opportunity they had to resurrect themselves as a political force by electing St├ęphane Dion as leader. When the best any of the political pundits could offer at the time he was elected was to comment on his honesty and integrity, you just knew he wouldn’t do well in Stephen Harper’s gutter. And now, with their continuing abstentions and gamesmanship making a mockery of the concept of opposition, I am beginning to question their ability to govern even if they were elected in a minority situation. Perhaps if they actually had the balls to stand on their principles and put up a fight I might change my mind, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The NDP have made an art out of being in opposition. Their entire shtick has, for some years now, been to sit on the sidelines and take potshots at whoever forms the government of the day. They have always had the luxury of never having to be in charge, so they know not what it means to compromise, to take a chance, and to accept responsibility for their decisions, whether good or bad. They simply wait in the wings, and then, like auditors, come in after the battle and bayonet the wounded. They have made themselves largely irrelevant, and will have to do a total refresh of their party before they’ll attract any serious attention from me. That’s not to say they couldn’t, as they have some strong members, but Jack would have to go for sure, along with many of his colleagues who seem to be stuck in some sort of socialist time warp.

I might consider the Greens if I knew what they stood for, but Elizabeth May distancing herself from Paul Watson and The Sea Shepherd (which any rational, thinking person did many years ago) does not constitute a platform in my humble opinion. I’ll accept that it’s at least partly my responsibility to find this stuff out, but until the Greens start making some noise and getting some traction on the other big issues of the day besides the environment, then I can’t see them getting my vote.

So I’m stuck with three choices, none of which is acceptable: don’t vote; spoil the ballot; or vote for the party I dislike least. What a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Leaf Nation - a classless act

The Ottawa Senators were fighting for a playoff berth and the Toronto Maple Leafs had already been eliminated from the post-season when the two teams met in Toronto last night. So this was a “must-win” for Ottawa, while Toronto had nothing to lose. Nonetheless that didn’t stop Toronto’s Mark Bell from felling Ottawa’s Captain, Daniel Alfredsson, with a hard hit to the head near the end of the first period. Now there is lots of debate in the blogosphere and in the media about whether it was a clean hit or not – typically Ottawa supporters crying foul and Toronto fans saying it was clean – hard, but clean.

Whatever. It’s hockey. People get hurt. That’s part of the reason they make the big bucks.

But what was really disgusting was how the Toronto fans reacted to an injured player lying on the ice. They cheered. Yup, that’s right. They cheered the fact that a player had been injured. And then they booed him when he eventually made his way to the bench.

In civil society and among true sports fans, an injury is never something to celebrate and the cheering is reserved for the player when he or she eventually makes it off the ice - regardless of which team they represent. Except in Toronto apparently. No wonder The Leaf Nation is the most hated fan base in pro hockey. You should be ashamed and embarrassed.

Postscript: Ottawa won 8-2, but Alfredsson is out for an indefinite period as a result of the hit, along with Mike Fisher, another recipient of a questionable Mark Bell hit, this time to the knee.

“Stagnation wrapped in delusion. That's Canadian public life.”

This from The Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner today in a piece that I believe goes a long way to explaining why we are all so bloody sick and tired of our political masters, of all stripes.

Entitled Our Great Bounty Brings Trivia and Bloat, Gardner’s piece doesn’t only skewer politicians, but also goes on to poke holes in our collective image of ourselves. As one example, he points out that although we have never met our international commitments for foreign aid, and our contribution to peacekeeping has been steadily declining to a point where it is now virtually non-existent, we still puff out our chests with pride, “proud as a beaver with a new stick”.

Well worth a read.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cold and wet

This joke struck a tender nerve, arriving as it did just after I had finished slip-sliding my way along the half-mile skating rink we euphemistically refer to as a driveway. I think it perfectly sums up the winter we’ve had here in Ontario.

A curious fellow died one day and found himself waiting in the long line of judgment. As he stood there he noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the pearly gates into Heaven. Others though, were led over to Satan who threw them into the burning pit. But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul off to one side into a small pile.

After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow's curiosity got the best of him. He strolled over and asked Satan what he was doing. 'Excuse me, Prince of Darkness,' he said. 'I'm waiting in line for judgment, but I couldn't help wondering, why are you tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the Fires of Hell with the others?'

'Oh those . . .' Satan groaned.' They're all from Ontario. They're still too cold and wet to burn.'