November 02, 2006
Humour Break: Right on the mark...
What will the "Trust-Tax" announcement affect exactly? Oh, just the economy...
Canada Tax Move Hits Shares
Key Index Falls 2.4% on Bid To Impose Levies on Income Trusts
By MARK HEINZL
November 2, 2006; Page C12
TORONTO -- Canada's S&P/TSX composite stock index sank 2.4%, as investors fled income trusts in the wake of the government's unexpected announcement that it plans to put an end to the tax advantages of the popular investment vehicles - a move that riled many in the country's financial community.
Income trusts involved in businesses from oil and gas to pet food and pizza chains saw unit holders bail out of their securities. The S&P/TSX Canadian Income Trust index plunged 12.4% amid the frenzied trading. The broader composite index fell 294.20 points to 12050.39.
After the Canadian stock market closed Tuesday, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty blindsided investors by announcing plans to tax income trusts in line with corporations, though he said Ottawa would allow a four-year grace period for existing trusts. The Conservative government, elected earlier this year, had pledged to avoid adding taxes to trusts during its election campaign.
Canadian income trusts currently pay little or no tax and they distribute much of their profits to unitholders. As a result, most provide higher payouts than other publicly traded companies, with yields ranging anywhere from 4% to 15% or even higher. The attractive yields and favorable taxation treatment for foreign investors also have made Canadian income trusts popular among U.S. investors.
The Canadian government's move was "a total stunner," especially since trusts were "a winning political issue for the Conservatives," said Chip Hanlon, president of Delta Global Advisors Inc., Huntington Beach, Calif., which advises a Claymore Securities fund holding Canadian energy trusts.
"This was right out of the blue...it's a total flip-flop," said Sandy McIntyre, senior portfolio manager with Toronto-based Sentry Select Capital Corp., which manages 3.5 billion Canadian dollars (US$3.11 billion) of income-trust assets. The Canadian government "misled and really adversely affected the retail investor, many of whom are very dependent on the trust income they receive to make day-to-day ends meet."
Some tax experts and politicians have been crticizing the trust structure since it encourages business to pay their income out to investors rather than reinvest in equipment, technology or other assets that generate future growth.
Mr. Flaherty, the finance minister, said the tax measures are needed "to restore balance and fairness to Canada's tax system, to ensure our economy continues to grow and prosper and to bring Canada in line with other jurisdictions." With companies increasingly converting to trusts to skirt tax obligations, Canada's tax burden was shifting too much to "hardworking individuals and families." If the trend were left unchecked, the government stood to lose billions of dollars of revenue, he said. In order to mitigate the trust-tax hit to older Canadians, Mr. Flaherty also announced tax breaks for pensioners and seniors.
About 250 Canadian companies have converted to trusts, most in the last few years, commanding a combined market value of about C$230 billion. Over the past year, however, dozens of trusts found their payouts were unsustainable and were forced to slash their distributions, which sent their unit prices nosediving even before yesterday's bloodbath.
Among the big, widely held trusts that sank sharply yesterday were Canadian Oil Sands Trust, down C$3.01, or 9.9%, to C$27.41; Penn West Energy Trust, down C$6.09, or 14.4%, to C$36.12, and Yellow Pages Income Fund, down C$2.86, or 18.9%, to C$12.26.
"The erosion of market capitalization observed in the marketplace today resulting from this decision far outweighs any tax leakage, real or perceived," and has "effectively raised the Canada risk premium," said Richard Fortin, vice president of Stonebridge Advisors LLC, a Wilton, Conn., investment firm that specializes in Canadian income trusts.
The timing of the tax measures appears aimed at heading off the planned conversions to trusts of two of Canada's biggest companies. Telus Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, and Montreal-based BCE Inc., both telecommunications companies, recently announced plans to turn themselves into trusts and pay out a substantial part of their income to investors. Those moves won applause from investors and sent Telus's shares, in particular, sharply higher. Yesterday, Telus shares gave back much of those gains, sinking 13.5% to C$56.15. BCE shares dropped 11.4% to C$28.10.
Some fund managers argued the trust selloff was overdone. "We're in there buying," said Sentry Select's Mr. McIntyre. He said some trusts now yield as much as 20% or more and, if their distributions are maintained, an investor would receive most of her capital back before the tax measures go into effect in 2011.
Copyright 2006 - The Wall Street Journal
Fight for real choice in Education...
By CLINT BOLICK
November 1, 2006; Page A18
By a single vote, over 87,000 children were given an educational reprieve last Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled that public charter schools are constitutional. But the narrowly rejected legal theory remains alive, a cancer that threatens to destroy education reform around the nation.
Over one million children in 41 states attend charter schools - semi-autonomous public schools that are freed from stifling requirements and offer distinctive educational environments geared toward the special needs or interests of particular students. Although experts differ over the academic quality of charter schools as a whole, a disproportionate number of the nation's top public schools are charters, and charters often provide important alternatives for children who are not performing well in traditional settings.
It is beyond dispute that where traditional public schools are faced with meaningful competition from public charter schools, or from private schools whose students receive public funds, the performance of traditional public schools improves. But competition from nonunionized public charter and private schools threatens those who have a pecuniary stake in the status quo; and they are determined to snuff it out by any means necessary.
The cudgel wielded against Ohio charter schools was a section of the state constitution that directs the legislature to "make such provisions" as "will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state." No one disputes that the legislature has done just that: Charter schools were added as an option to pre-existing common schools that are available to every Ohio child, as Justice Judith A. Lanzinger explained in her majority opinion.
But Justice Alice Robie Resnick's dissenting opinion found, in the constitutional guarantee of "thorough and efficient" schooling, an unwritten constraint against the legislature enacting "something other than a system of common schools." The charter-school law, Ms. Resnick asserted, "effects a schismatic educational program under which an assemblage of divergent and deregulated privately owned and managed community schools competes against public schools for public funds." Decrying the fact that charter schools are "free to adopt their own specific instructional approaches, educational goals and philosophical agendas," she further opined that the very purpose of the education clause was "to bring order to the chaos of individualized approaches."
Ms. Resnick confuses the means - common schools - with the end they are supposed to serve: thorough and efficient education. The court's majority noted that charter school students must take the same proficiency and graduation tests as other public school students, but acknowledged that the schools are free from certain other state rules. "In exchange for enhanced flexibility," the court explained, "community schools face heightened accountability to parents and sponsors," who can shut them down if they are dissatisfied. "Traditional schools, on the other hand, may not be shut down no matter how poorly they perform."
Unfortunately, the education establishment's defeat in Ohio does not spell an end to the litigation campaign against public and private school choice. Shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court (in 2002) upheld the Cleveland school voucher program against claims that it constituted an establishment of religion, National Education Association legal counsel Robert Chanin said at a forum in New York that the union had an entire legal "bag of tricks" at its disposal, including "Mickey Mouse" constitutional provisions such as the one used in Ohio.
Most state constitutions contain education guarantees that can be twisted to thwart the interests of schoolchildren. The argument that all publicly funded education must be "uniform" was first used against the Milwaukee school voucher program. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected that claim in 1998, ruling that its state constitutional guarantee of uniform access "provides not a ceiling but a floor upon which the legislature can build additional opportunities for school children in Wisconsin."
But the unions hit paydirt last January, when the Florida Supreme Court construed that state's guarantee of a "uniform" and "high quality system of free public schools" to preclude a school-choice program. The court held both that "free public schools are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children" and that all publicly funded schools must be "'uniform' when compared with each other or the public system." Read literally, the Florida court's ruling would forbid any type of educational diversity - magnet schools, charter schools or private school scholarships - no matter how far traditional public schools stray from their "high quality" mandate.
So construed, the constitutional guarantees would impose a straitjacket when millions of children desperately need the constraints loosened and every possible option made available. A mandate of uniformity separated from the underlying goal of quality education is anathema to school choice.
Despite the flimsiness of the Florida court's logic and its dire ramifications, the closeness of the Ohio Supreme Court vote suggests that the precedent may spread. Already, Arizona's recently enacted private scholarship program for children of modest means has been challenged on uniformity grounds; and the Florida teachers unions are gearing up for challenges to the state's remaining school-choice programs, including a voucher program for disabled children.
It is increasingly clear that the interests of the public charter-school movement and the private school-choice movement - which have proceeded in parallel but never in united fashion - are aligned. As the Ohio litigation demonstrates, those whose interests are served by the status quo are determined to destroy school choice in all its forms. All forms of school choice, in turn, must be defended in order that any school choice can flourish.
Though educational uniformity has emerged recently as a primary device to stifle education reform, it is nothing new. Nearly a century ago, the Ku Klux Klan and other nativists sought, nearly successfully, to ban private schools established by Catholic immigrants in the name of educational uniformity. The U.S. Supreme Court repudiated those efforts and proclaimed the right of parents to control their children's education. Judges faced with similar arguments today need also to reject arguments that would destroy parental choice for the sake of those whose motives are far from noble.
Mr. Bolick is president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, and a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute. He is a recipient of the 2006 Bradley Prize.
Copyright 2006 - The Wall Street Journal
Pandering for NDP support, or a betrayal of fiscal conservative values?
TERRY PEDWELL, Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has announced tough new rules designed to curb the growing corporate move toward income trusts.
Mr. Flaherty says the trend is worrying, and if left unchecked could shift billions of dollars of the tax burden onto individuals and away from corporations.
"This trend has now moved into the core of our industrial and knowledge-based economy," Mr. Flaherty said at a surprise news conference late Tuesday, shortly after financial markets had closed.
"It is a trend that has caused me growing concern. If corporations don't pay their share of taxes, this tax burden will shift onto the shoulders of hardworking individuals and their families."
The minister said the move toward income trusts has been so swift and dramatic that it threatens Canada's economy, as well as government priorities such as health care and tax relief.
"Left unchecked, such corporate decisions would result in billions of dollars in less revenue for the federal government to invest in the priorities of Canadians," Mr. Flaherty said.
There have been $70-billion worth of corporate conversions to income trusts announced in 2006 alone, including Telus Corp., and BCE Inc., which announced its plans on Oct. 11.
However, when pressed on the impact of the changes, Mr. Flaherty said the new rules would apply to the two communications giants, since neither has yet completed their conversion to income trusts.
"BCE and Telus will not be able to become income trusts and have the tax benefits that are currently available," he said. "Does that make it clear?"
Canada has about 250 trusts — worth about $200-billion — in real estate, oil and gas, telecom, industrial, food processing and manufacturing sectors. They have become a popular investment vehicle but can be risky investments if business conditions deteriorate and companies are forced to cut payments.
The proposed rules would apply a new tax on the money distributed to shareholders by newly formed income trusts. Existing income trusts would be given a four-year transition period, ending in 2011, that would allow them to adjust to the new rules.
Meanwhile, corporate income taxes would be cut by 2011 to remove some of the market incentives to forming income trusts.
William Holland, chief executive officer of mutual fund company CI Financial Income Fund said Tuesday evening that it's "incredibly irresponsible" for the government to make any changes at all after saying the rules on trusts would be left alone.
"They shouldn't make any changes. They said they were going to leave income trusts alone. Well, they're not leaving them alone. That's the problem.
"Companies like ours have made a long-term strategic change because of what they said. We tried for three years to (convert into an income trust) and they changed the rules three times. And then, finally, we converted when they said they'd leave them alone."
Mr. Holland said the government's actions are like those of a third-world country.
"This just highlights the ridiculous nature of the present state of government in Canada," he said.
"Changing rules on a quarterly basis like that is really almost like an emerging market, like a third-world market economy."
As part of his wide-ranging tax reform plan Tuesday, Mr. Flaherty also announced that the government would:
- Increase the Age Credit Amount for seniors by $1,000, to $5,066 from $4,066, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006, affecting low- and middle-income seniors.
- Allow income splitting among pensioners, giving tax relief to retired seniors and encouraging others to save for their retirement.
Independent MP Garth Turner, a longtime advocate of income splitting who was tossed from the Tory caucus, predicted last week that such a measure could mean a tax break worth up to $301-million for two million seniors.
Retired couples can now split Canada and Quebec pension payments, but can't split other income, such as retirement funds and company pensions. That concentrates income in the hands of the higher earning spouse, with the resulting higher tax bite.
Mr. Flaherty said all the tax measures he announced late Tuesday would cost the federal government about $1.24-billion annually by 2011, when they all come into effect.
Earlier this month, the federal New Democrats complained about recent high-profile income-trust conversions, warning that the trusts could threaten Canada's social programs.
Mr. Flaherty also hinted strongly Tuesday that the Conservative government would cut personal income taxes, although he wouldn't provide details.
Ontario Liberals fight the dirty fight...
By KEITH LESLIE
October 28, 2006
TORONTO (CP) - The man who ran Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign and gave political advice to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former South African president Nelson Mandela is lending his expertise to Ontario's Liberals.
James Carville, the man known as the Ragin' Cajun, spoke to 1,200 Ontario Liberals at their annual general meeting in Toronto Saturday, the last such gathering before the party tries for re-election next October.
Carville opened by joking that based on U.S. talk radio, he expected to find the Canadian audience freezing to death while waiting in line for health care.
He then launched into a defence of Liberals, who are now going by the moniker "progressives" in the United States.
"The Conservatives are always willing to take on people in the interests of power," he told the audience.
"We should never fear to take on power in the interests of people."
Carville, who refused to allow reporters to record his speech, peppered the 18-minute address with Canadian references, talking about Molson's and Labatt's beer, the Dixie Chicks' appearance in Toronto this weekend, and about how an H-bomb dropped on Detroit would also hurt Windsor, Ont.
He earned huge laughs and applause for an impression of U.S. President George W. Bush as a reformed drunk who loved Jesus Christ "and was going to fight terrorists in Iran and homos in Hollywood."
Carville also explained his defence of Clinton at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, saying it was the right thing to forgive a friend who did a bad thing and to stand by him.
But it was Carville's message about standing up for the little guy in the face of the powerful that Tourism Minister Jim Bradley said hit home with him and other Liberals.
"His resonating message with the audience here would have been that we as Liberals, and as progressives, have to be always cognizant of the needs of less advantaged people in our society, and that we should continue to work towards that and not apologize for that," said Bradley.
Ontario's opposition parties saw a more sinister message in Carville's appearance before the governing Liberals, especially at a meeting where planning for next year's general election is so high on the agenda.
"I think this is just more fear and smear, teaching Liberals how to campaign negatively," said Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.
"They're talking about choosing the high-road, but they obviously took it with low intentions, and they're here today convening with James Carville, probably one of the nastiest back-room strategists in all the world."
New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, who survived a Liberal smear campaign to win a recent Toronto byelection, said Saturday that the appearance of Carville meant the Liberals had learned little from their loss to her.
"I'm the perfect example of the Liberals trying U.S.-style electioneering in a byelection and it blowing up in their faces," said DiNovo.
The Liberals said Carville's contract stipulated that his price for his Toronto appearance not be disclosed, but one estimate had the party paying $50,000 for the speech and an autograph signing session for party members.
A good lesson for the taking...
The Sanford Model
By STEPHEN MOORE
October 30, 2006; Page A13
Just when you thought that there weren't any small-government conservatives left in the Republican Party, along comes South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who may be the only politician in America this year under assault for governing as a fiscal tightwad. What's really unusual about Mr. Sanford's bid for re-election is that some of his most formidable adversaries are the old bull politicians in his own party.
The state's Republican Senate Finance Committee chairman Verne Smith, for example, has just cut a campaign ad for Tommy Moore, the Democrat running against the governor. The ad slams Mr. Sanford for his attempts to squeeze too much grease from the state budget. Mr. Smith has evidently never forgiven him for dramatizing the legislature's overspending by holding a press conference inside the state Capitol in Columbia with two squealing pigs: one named "Pork" and the other "Barrel."
"Hey, it worked," Mr. Sanford says unapologetically of this stunt, which attracted nationwide attention. The legislature went back and cut $16 million in earmarks. He has vetoed hundreds of spending bills, including the entire budget in 2004 and 2006 - although almost all of these vetoes were overridden by - who else? - the state Republican House and Senate. "If I weren't fighting the legislature on overspending, I wouldn't be doing my job," he says about this intraparty squabbling. Then he adds: "Frankly, I wish there were more of this budget strife in Washington." Words for George W. Bush to live by.
Despite the turmoil Mr. Sanford has stirred up during the past four years, he's racked up some pretty impressive accomplishments. Though his effort to phase out the state income tax was killed in the senate, he chopped the personal income tax rate on small businesses, to 5% from 7%, for the first time in South Carolina history. He took a state that was labeled a "judicial hell hole" and passed reforms, despised by trial lawyers, that will penalize frivolous lawsuits. He even cut the average wait time to get a driver's license renewal to 15 minutes from over an hour.
Mr. Sanford's real passion is school reform - which is urgently needed in a state that ranks 48th, 49th, or 50th in almost all measures of student performance. He openly ridicules the "failed monopoly" school system and for this the left has accused him of being virulently anti-public education (although school spending rose 20% in his first term). He also persuaded the legislature to approve charter schools and a private school tax credit bill - and might have gotten more done if it weren't for his prickly personality.
This is the lingering complaint about Mr. Sanford (which he readily concedes): He "doesn't play in the sandbox well with others." Even some of the governor's first-term supporters, who at first liked the idea that this former three-term congressman would shake up the stuffy political establishment in Columbia, have come to regard Mr. Sanford as too abrasive and self-righteous.
Just last week South Carolina's largest newspaper, The State - which endorsed him four years ago - published a scathing denunciation charging among other things that the governor "doesn't want government to be more effective as much as he wants it to be cheaper," and that his first term has been all about "tax cuts and privatizing everything he could - even the schools." The fiercest indictment: "He had run as a conservative . . . but [is] as close to an ideologically pure libertarian as you can get." Egads!
But with qualifications like his, it is no wonder that a number of leading conservatives across the country, disgusted with GOP gorging on pork and deficit spending, are looking at Mr. Sanford as a potentially attractive new entrant into the 2008 presidential race.
First, however, there is the little matter of re-election. Opponent Tommy Moore - a man who boasts that he has spent half his life (28 years) in the state legislature - is predictably attacking the governor for slashing vital services like education. Mr. Sanford is certainly vulnerable to the Democratic tide that could oust many GOP incumbents next week, but he remains admired by most voters. The latest Clemson University poll has him leading the race 58% to 31%.
Those good numbers may seem surprising, given the budget wars in Columbia and the drubbing he has taken from the media for being so aggravatingly uncompromising. But Mr. Sanford has a gift for turning liberal complaints against him into virtues with voters. After Time magazine rated him one of the three worst governors in America, Mr. Sanford openly scoffed. "All the top grades went to the tax and spenders," he laughs. "Believe me, I'm never going to win that kind of beauty contest, nor do I want to." He points out that in the same issue Time rated Ted Kennedy one of the top 10 senators in America. In South Carolina, that's enough said.
Mr. Sanford is still criticized to this day for the piggies stunt - the House speaker claimed that he "defiled" the state capital - but the governor says the voters have a different attitude. Breaking into a pronounced Southern drawl he says: "They tell me: 'You go bring some more pigs up there, governor. We're tired of the way they're spending our money.'"
That's the way many conservative Americans feel about Washington these days - and why Republicans may fare so poorly next Tuesday. Political commentators such as the Washington Post's David Broder may write glowingly about how California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has discovered the new formula for GOP governance: Toss aside ideology and sprint to the 50-yardline. But the Sanford model - holding firm on limited government principles - is a far more compelling lesson for how Republicans can recapture the good graces of their conservative voting base.
Mr. Moore is a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Copyright 2006 - The Wall Street Journal
Thoughtfulness can pay...
Is voting important? Why or why not? $5,000 cash prize for the winning essay.
The 2006 Canada West Foundation Essay Contest is open to students under the age of 35 and attending a post-secondary institution in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba as of December 1, 2006.
Essays must be 750 to 1,000 words in length. Essays should answer the question "Is voting important?" and explain why the author does or does not think this is the case. Essays should be submitted to the Canada West Foundation via email by December 1, 2006.
Please provide your full name, address, phone number, and the name of your post-secondary institution at the beginning of your essay. Please paste your essay into the body of the email message (attached files will not be accepted).
The best essays will be published in the Canada West Foundation's Dialogues Magazine. Essays should be emailed to:
Robert Roach, Canada West Foundation Director of Research firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: The winner will be required to show proof of age and post-secondary enrollment.
November 01, 2006
Some background on the posts to come...
Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, October 23, 2006
OTTAWA - Canada is violating its international human rights obligations regarding women and children by allowing polygamy to persist unchecked, says a new study commissioned by the federal Justice Department.
"Polygamy is a violation of international law," says the study's author, Rebecca Cook, a University of Toronto law professor. "Canada has an obligation as a matter of international law to take all appropriate steps."
While polygamy is technically illegal in Canada and punishable by up to five years in prison, the practice has flourished for more than 50 years in Bountiful, B.C. - the home of a colony of adherents to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The breakaway Mormon sect teaches that men must have at least three wives to achieve eternal salvation.
After more than a decade of refusing to lay charges amid concern that the federal law is too weak to survive a constitutional challenge, the provincial Crown is conducting a fresh review of a new police report to determine if criminal prosecution is warranted.
Ms. Cook's report, posted on the Justice Department's Web site last month, is part of a broader $150,000 study about polygamy launched by the former Liberal government in 2005.
One controversial report commissioned by the Status of Women, which was published last year, called for repealing the ban on polygamy in favour of other laws to help women and children.
But Ms. Cook takes a more conventional view, maintaining that Canada is required to enforce the law because it is a signatory to numerous international treaties and conventions such as the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ms. Cook focuses solely on the practice of polygyny - a man having more than one wife - rather than the broader term of polygamy, which refers to either a man or a woman. (The practice of a woman having more than one male partner is called polyandry.)
Polygyny, she wrote, robs women of their entitlement to marital exclusivity, family life, security and even enjoyment of their citizenship. It also puts them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and mental-health problems.
Polygyny, therefore, also flies in the face of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, she says.
The Political Covenant, for example, requires signatories to "take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution."
Ms. Cook says the harm to girls in Bountiful "could be particularly serious, given that some girls reportedly enter unions at as young as 14 or 15 years of age."
The study "reaffirms the position that polygamy will remain illegal in Canada," says Justice Department spokesman Chris Girouard, adding that it remains up to individual provinces to enforce the Criminal Code.
Section 293 of the Criminal Code bans "any form of polygamy" or "any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage."
While the Justice Department insists its law is legally sound, there have been several legal opinions over the years that say the law would not withstand a constitutional challenge to the freedom of religion guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Ms. Cook's study concludes there is a difference between religious beliefs and practices.
"While Canada is not entitled under international law to restrict religious belief, it is entitled and in fact obliged in some circumstances to restrict religious practices that undermine the rights and freedoms of others," she wrote.
In Bountiful, leader Winston Blackmore has admitted to having had several child "brides."
In the United States, the leader of the sect, Warren Steed Jeffs, awaits trial in Utah, where he is accused of arranging marriages between young girls and older men.
© National Post 2006
My view on the debate below...
Sent: October 24, 2006 11:20:59 PM
>>(Social) Liberals want the government to be your Mommy.
>>(Social) Conservatives want government to be your Daddy.
>>Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult.
Best definition so far. Both ultra-liberals and social conservatives tend to lean strongly towards statism. This is bad. While there are many a valid argument out there warning of the pitfalls of SSM (the polygamy issue being the most prominent, but certainly not the strongest), you simply cannot deny the right to homosexuals on purely libertarian grounds. Still, libertarianism in its purest form is anarchy, which also is bad. What I find is that society must strike a working balance between tradition, common sense, and freedom, and something that tends to distinguish self-proclaimed social libertarians from self-proclaimed social liberals (and really those are just words that have many different connotations to many different people) is where exactly this line should be drawn. As a free-market libertarian conservative, I understand that traditional values are not a bad thing. Indeed, their promotion and acceptance can help to create a generally freer and safer society. At the same time, the argument does not hold that SSM will screw up society, when society is already screwed up to begin with. We can see many examples of social problems that have been wrought upon us at least in part from society deviating from traditional values, but in general, a more free will-oriented society generates more wealth, more prosperity, more innovation, and this works to offset many of those problems.
So-Cons need to understand that they have to be more willing to make compromises. As so-cons tend to become more reactionary to social change, it only seems to provide more fuel to the Leftist fire, and things end up changing even faster and farther than anyone had wanted. If North American conservatism continues to allow itself to run by religious ideologues, more people (especially of our freedom-to-be-yourself immersed generation) are going to be drawn towards social liberals and (worse) the socialists that they spoon with. Social libertarians (in my books) value freedom above all else, but understand that gradual evolution and stabilty are always preferable to revolution and the "brave new world." If social liberals say "condoms" and so-cons say "abstinence" social libertarians naturally offer both (at the same time). And it is a social libertarian who is best able to acknowledge that taxpayer-funded, partial-birth, and third-trimester abortions are bad, however, interfering with women's personal rights is also wrong. Until ALL so-cons are willing to make that compromise, abandon the "all abortions are bad" rhetoric, and argue strictly for that case, there will be government sponsored abortions-on-demand for all eternity. And if abortion is wrong then let women (and women only) make that determination, (why the frig is the anti-abortion movement 70% male? Like Chris Rock once said, "I wouldn't want some woman making decisions about, like, my balls or something.") A social libertarian would be more likely to see value in that compromise (to balance competing interests and rights), while a social liberal likely wouldn't. If anything, social libertarians and social moderates are synonyms.
Social libertarians are also best distinguished by their support of economic liberty, and therefore are identified as fiscal conservatives because they know that, well, capitalism is good. I think that, rather than social liberals who believe in anything and everything for all (leading to a somewhat more likely anti-capitalist mindset), social libertarians are more mindful of balancing a wide range of rights and values. This includes the understanding that conservative values can be and are beneficial and should not be discarded outright, because a truly free society requires stability and moral direction. Social liberals believe morals are relative, I don't think social libertarians buy that. It is in everyone's best interest to fall behind a more social libertarian mindset, because it helps to take away from the polarizing so-con vs liberal-hippie showdown which is gradually becoming a showdown of capitalism versus socialism as well. Libertarians and rationalists understand and appreciate the validity and correctness of Mark Steyn's poignant arguments. However, firebrand conservatives (Falwell, Dobson, Santorum, et al.) are a lefty's best friend right now, and it is giving credence to the idea that unworkable 19th-century economic theories are also "hip and modern" as well. Not cool. There is no doubt that social liberals are (generally) working to erode the moral fabric of our society, but a social libertarian understands that (generally) the same people opposing same-sex marriage and abortion also once opposed interracial marriage, sexual freedom, and even today routinely denounce free speech as being "not family-friendly." Neither side is right, and a social libertarian understands that while every society changes, not all change is a good thing for society, and not all "rights" are legitimate. I guess this is more a spiel for Republicans and not Tories, ...but perhaps for certain others here too.
PS - Change all legal definitions of marriage to "common law domestic partnership," pass legislation with teeth that bans not only polygamy, but also any proven exploitive Bountiful-esque mutli-partnership, and tell homosexuals that if a religious organization chooses not to recongnize or sanctify their union as a "marriage" (or its reception), tough shit, go somewhere that will. Rights and freedoms are balanced. Problem solved.
Social Policy: liberal vs conservative vs libertarian part deux...
Sent: October 23, 2006 11:01:38 AM
What a great topic!
I’d define today’s “social libertarian” as someone who defends the right of the individual to pursue whatever lifestyle they may choose, between consenting adults, from interference from the state no matter the cost.
This is completely opposite from the proclaimed “social liberal,” who is someone who wishes to disrupt the status quo to “right the wrongs” of today’s society to the point that the status quo is completely opposed.
The easiest issue to differentiate the two in my opinion is same sex marriage:
A “social libertarian” will argue that the state should get out of the marriage business; that all are free to choose their relationships; or when benefits are extended to one form of relationship, they should be extended to all. The easiest way to figure this one out is to ask if they believe marriage benefits should be extended not only to same-sex couples but also to conceptual polygamous couples.
A “social liberal,” on the other hand, will disagree with today’s definition of marriage, but only to argue that the status quo is wrong and that this wrong should be fixed to the point that it is no longer the status quo. In this case, by changing the traditional definition of marriage to include same sex couples. This, of course, will lead to “future wrongs” to fix, keeping the social liberals in business.
BTW: I’d go with “social conservative” for maintaining the “traditional” Judeo-Christian status quo, (or whatever the status quo is for other countries).
Harder yet is the “Blue Tory,” usually a social libertarian wannabe, but one who still sees the status quo as useful (or fears going to hell), and thus either aims for total freedom, or the status quo, but usually not the social liberal half-measure. At all times, however, they block all efforts for the State to actively attack the status quo. Nine times out of ten you can tell who they are by how they hate social issues and wish someone would move the topic on to something involving free-market economics, or taking out the communists/terrorists with A-10s and the like.
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 12:05:33 PM
"Granting minority rights that do not serve the best interests of society as a whole is a slippery slope."
I have a few problems with this claim.
1) I have written at length about the slippery-slope argument being a bad one before, as it can always just be turned the other way. Picture not a skier on a ski hill, where her point on the hill represents society's place in the range of options on an issue, but instead a lever and the placement of the fulcrum representing where society is on any issue. Place an object on the lever right above the fulcrum. The pressure of either side will make it slide down the slope of the lever. Consider: "granting SSM will lead to granting polygamous marriages" vs. "removing SSM will lead to removing interracial marriages."
2) How do any minority rights serve the best interest of society, if society is defined as the majority of the entire population, as I assume you mean the Canadian society? More people would be better off if society collectively screwed over any group that represents a small percentage. You and I, and most of this list, would have more money if all with last names starting with 'Y' or 'Z' were double taxed, and everyone else was given a tax cut so that the tax revenue would remain the same. So, how do we define the "best interests" of society? Remember, democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to eat for dinner. We do need to look out for minority rights.
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 11:56:44 AM
While I am thoroughly tired of the marriage definiton issue and find it to be the perfect distraction and fuel for the opposition, and while I would much rather be discussing taxes, and finances, and federalism, and foriegn policy, I will say this:
I sympathize with the more thoughtful opponents of the same-sex marriage. I don't mean McVety and that tribe. They almost never fail to do more to harm their cause than help. I mean guys like Ted Morton.
Ted made some excellent observations about how laws, privileges, and societal expectations concerning marriage have developed over time. He made a case that appealed to people who may not have cared one way or another about the current debate, but who care very much about deliberative and real democracy.
In doing so, folks like Ted did succeed, in my opinion on some fronts:
1. They showed, very clearly and intelligently, that the courts/Charter approach to achieveing the objectives of same-sex maarriage would have serious effects that would be not necessarily desirable - for most gay couples in the long term, and for those Canadians whose soft support for the re-definition of marriage pushed the cause over the finish line in places like the Grit party.
2. They established that the greater source of legitimacy or validation, if that was or should have ever been even a primary objective of anyone here, was Parliament and the democratic processes and institutions, and not the courts. (This is why I think Harper's approach on this issue was fairer and more respectful of all lobbies on all sides of the issue than Chretien's, Martin's, McDonnough's, or Layton's).
3. They tried to remind folks that there was a purpose behind the state's involvement in marriage that went beyond simplistic worship of couplehood, or arbitrary awarding of "shower gifts" by the state.
On #3, people still don't get it... We've decided we don't want to take the purposeful approach to any of this. We just wanna have "stuff" forked over to couples because, well, they're couples...
Cases will now more frequently arrive on the courts' doorsteps questioning what's so special about couples too... And there will come a point where Canada's supposedly enlightened political orthodoxy will include discussions of things like polygamy, because we greased the legal slopes ourselves.
Because of our allergy to policy discussions, our lack of respect for democratic institutions, our misunderstanding of the nature of the Charter, our Bambi-like view of the Charter, and our disinterest in legislative history, the tools that will allow the relatively new political creature - the gay or lesbian family that wished to preserve the "couplehood" level of marriage the new defenders of the family, and potential (if strange) allies of the McVetys on battles such as anti-polygamy - are all but gone.
The only likely solution left to the social conservative, the democratic conservative, and the self-labelled pro-same-sex marriage-anti-further-re-definition-of-marriage conservative is to end any mention of marriage in legislation.
The other remotely possible alternative is a full-on restructuring of the stuff that got us here. Reassess the charter; reassess the structure of our governments and courts; maybe even reassess whether we need to allow for differences to evolve, in different ways among different provinces; then study marriage in as full a manner possible, before even beginning the discussion of how it can/should be defined by the state. Any such discussion should have some ground rules. No name calling. No pre-assumption of inherent rights to a name even if society and convention have different definitions for that name/word. No automatic assumption that religious views somehow trump the rest. Those are things that shape who the zealots are on each side of this issue. The more useful discussion for the silent majority would be one based on meeting the practical needs of society in this federation.
2nd option is near-impossible and hated probably by everyone. Then again, so is the first option... but abolishing reference to marriage by the state is probably ever-so-slightly easier... and at this stage, I'm just too damn tired, and whipped, and vilified, to try anything outside that easier option.
Now back to the good stuff - reducing government, taxes, finances, economics, federalism...
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 12:42:16 PM
Prefacing all this with an acknowledgement that there are no absolutes that work in discussions of rights or deliberative democracy, here we go...
--- In email@example.com, [name withheld] wrote:
>> "Granting minority rights that do not serve the best interests of society as a whole is a slippery slope." I have a few problems with this claim.
>> Consider: "granting SSM will lead to granting polygamous marriages" vs. "removing SSM will lead to removing interracial marriages."
The greatest guardian against such a thing is actually the same guardian it has been since reforms away from such backwardness began - the Canadian population.
Minority rights get enforced, written down, interpreted, and codified because people believe in them. There's a reason why there are countries with as good or better a record of equality and civil rights without ever entrenching a charter. They understand that not every distinction drawn equals real discrimination; they also understand that they can best safeguard principles of equality by engaging in discussions on it in the context of the legislature instead of the court.
If most of society doesn't support the concepts of rights, its courts will hardly enjoy any confidence or, in short order, any authority to do anything much differently...
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 24, 2006 3:09:12 PM
Sometimes we do not advocate for what we really want.
Voters, for instance, vote for their second-best option for strategic reasons. My favourite option (Libertarian) is not an option that will win. I therefore vote Conservative, not because I really want Conservatives, but because they are closer than the rest to the Libertarian, and they have a chance of winning, and my vote will have a greater impact this way. The Libertarian is the best possible option, but there are good things about the Conservative. Those good things are things that overlap with the libertarian position.
So, too, with the social libertarian. The social libertarian wants the government out of the marriage business. This is what they will advocate for if it is a realistic choice. But it is not. They may decide to pursue the second-best option for strategic reasons. Many libertarians, myself included, think that marrying a person who happens to be of the same sex is one way of living out your personal vision of the good life. If getting the government out of the marriage business is not realistic, then the second-best option is to ensure that gays and lesbians can get married. (I once read the following quote: "Homosexuals should have just as much a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.")
Many libertarians believe that we should be neutral on the good life (this is what used to be the defining feature of the liberal, but that label no longer means what it used to). Many libertarians, myself *not* included, believe that we should be neutral because we have no way of knowing what makes a good life, and what does not.
This is the in-principle defence of neutrality. There is also an instrumental defence of neutrality.
It runs like this. There is one good life (or a list of good lives), and many bad lives. The good life is spent in Christ, following the Bible, and having a personal relationship with Jesus. But this relationship must be chosen, it cannot be foisted on anyone, and it cannot be incentivized. If I do what the Bible teaches because otherwise I will rot in a jail cell, I am not choosing to follow Christ: in no way can my behaviour be described as following the teachings of Christ. Thus while, personally, we should not be neutral on the good life, the requirement that people choose the right good life means that, politically, our policies have to be neutral about the good life.
At any rate, you can support libertarian policies even if you do not support the in-principle grounds for libertarian policies. You can pick them because they are the second-best realizable option.
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: Tuesday, October 24, 2006 2:31 PM
At the beginning of the social liberal/libertarian debate I agreed with [name withheld] that there is no difference. While I'd still like to call myself a Classical Liberal (in the economic and social sense) I think this defintion might serve as a guide for the SoCon Squadron:
(Social) Liberals want the government to be your Mommy. (Social) Conservatives want government to be your Daddy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an adult.
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 26, 2006 7:56:12 AM
The problem with calling marriage a "basic human right" is that it's not. Marriage is, as far as I can tell, (I could be missing something) three things:
- A religious institution.
- Something the government recognizes to let you divvy up your property and benefits, and...
- A label that people give themselves when they're in love and in a relationship.
The second definition is, far as I can tell, as close as marriage gets to being a government-granted right (although I would argue that it's actually a right that the government just shouldn't interfere with) - property rights. The government should let anyone divvy up their property and benefits however they like... but the right to decide what to do with the fruits of your labour does not necessitate the label of "marriage." (This definition would, I suppose, also have to include benefits that the government gives married couples... this isn't a right by any stretch of the imagination, but in the same way, I don't see why the extension of these benefits needs to be because of "marriage" and not because of some other label.)
As far as the last label goes, anyone can call themselves married if they believe that they are. If you can get someone to perform a ceremony or you make the decision to stay in a relationship for the rest of your life then sure, go nuts, say you're married. I guess the problem on this one comes when you try to force everyone else to accept your label, because you can't. Supporters of the traditional definition will always consider marriage to be the exclusive union of a man and a woman, and regardless of what laws you pass, you're not going to change their mind.
In the same vein, though, if SSM had never been passed, nothing would stop a gay couple from saying that they were married - it's likely that the same people who accept it now would've accepted their label before, and the people who didn't before, wouldn't now. The biggest difference would be that they wouldn't be legally entitled to the second definition unless their union was also recognized by the government... but, like I said, that doesn't necessitate the label of "marriage."
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 27, 2006 8:48:21 AM
I would also tie the law into promoting an environment which promotes men/women to take responsibility for their children; attach a blatantly obvious paper on how children living with their fathers statistically are less raised by their mother; children living with their mothers statistically are less raised by their father, and that keeping them together increases the odds of said child being taken care of. You may or may not wish to then extend that to social work theories which argue that parents impact opportunity.
This is far more humane and libertarian than any law which would force parents to take care of their children and leave the door open for cases like divorce and other social complexities (i.e. “well, at least we are promoting it”).
There is also precedence to the State taking a best “shot” - the anti-smoking campaign. One does not want to ban smoking but clearly can take a “best shot” and try to discourage it.
An even more important example is the foster care system which tries to put children into households as soon as possible when, alternatively, State-run orphanages could do the trick. Somehow society already values the contribution of parents versus that of the social worker; I don’t think it is that much of a stretch to argue that the state ALREADY recognizes a child’s connection to a father and a mother; I don’t see why it wouldn’t go farther in acknowledging a child’s connection to his or her own father and mother.
Of course social liberals would love to get rid of any hint of an acknowledgement of such a phenomena as it removes any argument for “the family” and by extension opens the door for State-run orphanages.
From: [Name Withheld]
Sent: October 26, 2006 10:58:40 AM
Even if God is the fount of our rights, this does not avoid the problem of interpretation. We still need to interpret what it says in the Bible. There will be differences in interpretation. These differences will mean that some people have certain rights while others don't, because some places may interpret what it says in one way, and another way in another place.
Judges do the same. They do not think of themselves as taking and giving rights, they think of themselves as interpreting what was kind of "there" anyways.
As for giving "terrorists" constitutional rights (in the U.S.), the conservative position (held by Sean Hannity, for instance) is unbelievably dumb. The Constitution's preamble begins with a claim about all people, everywhere. That we are all created equal, and that we have certain inalienable rights. That the government of the U.S. was established to uphold those rights. This means that whenever the U.S. government has dealings with *anyone*, it must abide by the constitution. Terrorists included. You do not "give" them constitutional rights, the preamble says they had them already. The Constitution, however, binds the U.S. government, and not other governments.
I put "terrorists" in scare quotes because the argument assumes that we know that this is who we are dealing with. It assumes that we always get it right, that we only capture terrorists. But we might capture innocents in the process. This is why we should give them the same procedural rights others get. To weed out the guilty from the innocent.
Interested conservatives take note...